Editors’ note: Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, delivered the following address to a worldwide gathering of religious leaders at the Vatican on the necessity of complementarity and the importance of of marriage from an evangelical Protestant perspective.
Poet Wendell Berry responded to the technological utopianism of naturalistic scientism with an observation that I believe frames the entire discussion of what it means to affirm the complementarity of man and woman in marriage. His observation was that any civilization must decide whether it will see persons as machines or as persons. If we are creatures, he argued, then we have meaning and purpose and dignity—but with all of that we have limits. If we see ourselves as machines, then we will believe the Faustian myth of our own limitless power and our ability to reshape even what it means to be human.
This is, it seems to me, the question at the heart of the controversies every culture faces about the meaning of marriage and of sexuality. Are we created, as both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus of Nazareth put it, “male and female” from the beginning, or are these categories arbitrary and self-willed? Do our bodies, and our sexes, and our generational connectedness represent something of who we are designed to be, and thus place both limits on our ability to recreate ourselves and responsibilities for those who will come after us?
Those of us at this gathering have many differences. We come from different countries, sometimes with tensions between those countries. We hold to different religions, sometimes with great divergences there on what we believe about God and about the meaning of life. But all of us in this room share at least one thing in common. We did not spring into existence out of nothing, but each one of us can trace his or her origins back to a man and a woman, a mother and a father. We recognize that marriage and family is a matter of public importance, not just of our various theological and ecclesial distinctive communities, since marriage is embedded in the creation order and is the means of human flourishing, not just the arena of individual human desires and appetites. We recognize that marriage, and the sexual difference on which it is built, is grounded in a natural order bearing rights and responsibilities that was not crafted by any human state, and cannot thus be redefined by any human state. It is no accident that questions of marriage and of family bring such heated debate, since our consciences, and our very being, testify that these matters are of critical importance for how we shall live.