Previewing the Next Anti-Marriage Equality Manifesto

About Frederick Clarkson

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Top leaders of the Christian Right plan to issue a fresh manifesto against marriage equality in March.  It may be the defining document for the anti-marriage equality forces in the run up to the legal show down at the Supreme Court this summer (not to mention the 2016 presidential elections). It is certainly an advance in the evolving alliance between conservative Catholics and conservative evangelicals—and a remarkable expression of their fears about the survival of Christendom as they see it.

David Gibson of Religion News Service, who received an advance copy of the manifesto, reports that it “reads like a declaration of war,” and that it claims “that a faithful Christian witness cannot accommodate itself to same-sex marriage.”  What’s more, “it suggests that believers who accept gay marriage are no longer fully Christian.”

The manifesto, entitled The Two Shall Become One Flesh:  Reclaiming Marriage, has been signed by several dozen Christian Right leaders so far, and will be published in the March issue of the neoconservative magazine First Things, which provided copies to selected reporters.

“If the truth about marriage can be displaced by social and political pressure operating through the law, other truths can be set aside as well,” the signers of the manifesto warn.  This, they assert, can lead “to the coercion and persecution of those who refuse to acknowledge the state’s redefinition of marriage… ”

Evangelical signers of the statement reportedly include megachurch pastor Rick Warren; Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University; Mark Galli, editor of the evangelical magazine Christianity Today; and Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Catholic signers include Robert P. George, chairman emeritus of the National Organization for Marriage;  longtime NBC News “Vatican analyst,” George Weigel; and prominent anti-marriage equality activist Maggie Gallagher.

Some of these leaders have been threatening civil disobedience over abortion, marriage equality, and religious liberty since at least the publication of the 2009 Manhattan Declaration.  In the Declaration, the culture-warring leaders of both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and of conservative evangelicalism threatened massive civil disobedience if they didn’t get their way.

Just before the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Hobby Lobby v. Burwell in 2014, Rick Warren told a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) gathering that the fight for religious liberty might bring persecution.  He warned that this may require personal sacrifices.  “And,” he declared, invoking Martin Luther King, Jr., “[this] may take some pastors going to jail. I’m in. I willingly said it, I’m in.”

Megachurch pastor David Platt of Alabama added, “I hear Pastor Rick say, ‘I’m in,’ and I’m with you. And I want to raise up an army, an entire body of members that says, ‘I’m in,’ who are in regardless of what happens in this case.”

While Warren and Platt claimed that they were willing to go to jail for their notions of religious freedom, SBC official Russell Moore said, “I’m doing everything we can to keep out us out of jail, but there is one thing worse than going to jail.  And that is staying out of jail and sacrificing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

But for all the big talk over the years, the published quotes from The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage suggests a group of leaders on the eve of a major battle they are about to lose—trying to rally themselves and their followers for the rest of the war.

They remind themselves of their professed “obligation to speak the truth in love,” and express regret for “injustices against those who experience same-sex attraction.”  But their words also drip with scorn for those who do not share their views. Compared with divorce and cohabitation, they claim that “so-called same-sex marriage is a graver threat” to the institution of marriage.  They complain that it is “a parody of marriage” that not only “distorts the Gospel” but “threatens the common good.”

They also complain that “those who refuse to conform are regarded as irrational bigots.”

Perhaps they doth protest too much.

In any case, this group insists that any accommodation of marriage equality violates their religious freedom—for which they have repeatedly indicated that they are willing to fight. How far they are willing to go remains to be seen.

Frederick Clarkson is a senior fellow at Political Research Associates. He co-founded the group blog Talk To Action and authored Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @FredClarkson.