Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Professor, Robert A. J. Gagnon, Rebukes Russell Moore’s ERLC for Posting Flawed “Evangelical Declaration on Marriage”

(Photo: Robert Gagnon)Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice.
(Photo: Robert Gagnon)Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice.

Russell Moore’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has posted a flawed “Evangelical Declaration on Marriage” entitled “Here We Stand.” While I appreciate the effort at getting evangelical leaders to declare affirmation of a male-female requirement for marriage, I think that every evangelical leader who signed this (and there are already quite a few) signed a statement that errs at some points and gives the wrong advice at others.

This is not an attack on those who have already signed the document. Doubtless, many signed simply because it does contain a number of good statements. For example, the first paragraph states, “We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot”; and the second paragraph affirms strongly Jesus’ own affirmation of marriage as a male-female union. Nor should my comments be construed as a personal attack on any formulators of the statement or an accusation of doctrinal heresy. However, substantial disagreements or concerns exist about the content of the statement that I hope my friends can hear with some degree of openness.

So here are at least five problems that I see with the statement.

I. The Necessity of Godly Outrage as a Moral Force

I believe the unnamed author(s) of the document (presumably primarily, if not exclusively, Russell Moore, especially this Washington Post article by Moore) erred in claiming that Christians should not express outrage at this decision: “Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus.” When I read the document, this statement jumped out at me more than any other. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one for whom this was the case. Christianity Today highlighted that remark above all others (in apparent approval, unfortunately).

Jesus expressed outrage at sin repeatedly in his ministry. The cleansing of the temple is a fairly concrete case in point. So too his “brood of vipers” lambasting of the Pharisees. Most would see outrage in his indictment of Galilean cities: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades” (Luke 10:13-15 par. Matt 11:21-24).

John the Baptist too expressed outrage by criticizing publicly Herod Antipas for taking his brother’s wife and so violating Levitical incest law. Paul certainly expressed outrage in his comments on tolerance for the incestuous man in 1 Cor 5. So did John of Patmos in Revelation when he compared the Roman Empire and its emperors to a harlot and a disgusting 7-headed beast rising from the sea, a puppet of the dragon that symbolizes Satan; and likewise symbolized the provincial imperial cult leaders as a blasphemous beast rising from the earth.

When I talk about outrage, I’m not talking about hating anyone but rather a holy outrage against injustice that motivates believers to take action. For decades the church has been overly passive about the liberties of their children being taken away and naive about the enormously negative impact of the imposition of acceptance of homosexual relations. Given the outrage expressed by Jesus, Paul, and every prophet, to claim (as this document does) that outrage against injustice is antithetical to trusting in God’s promises is absolutely false and just plain silly. Everybody understands the concept when one is talking about outrage against economic exploitation, racism and abuse of women.

Friends, if this were the Supreme Court attempting to restore the Dred Scott ruling, would it be unchristian to express “outrage”? This is not a tea party. Democracy and liberty in America have been struck the greatest body blow in our lifetime. The action of the five lawless justices will have enormous negative repercussions for the church corporately and Christians individually. And outrage at egregious immorality is not antithetical to love. This action by the “Lawless 5” will harm many, especially those who experience same-sex attractions. We should have a godly outrage toward that.

In my view, although the statement polarizes outrage and faith (implicitly also love), the real polarization is between outrage and “niceness.” In other words, the statement perpetuates the myth that if we were just a bit nicer, we wouldn’t be persecuted so much. David French puts it well in a recent article:

“Christians often strive to be seen as the ‘nicest’ or ‘most loving’ people in their communities. Especially among Evangelicals, there is a naïve belief that if only we were winsome enough, kind enough, and compassionate enough, the culture would welcome us with open arms. But now our love … is hate. Christians who’ve not suffered for their faith often romanticize persecution. They imagine themselves willing to lose their jobs, their liberty, or even their lives for standing up for the Gospel. Yet when the moment comes, at least here in the United States, they often find that they simply can’t abide being called ‘hateful.’ It creates a desperate, panicked response. ‘No, you don’t understand. I’m not like those people — the religious right.’ Thus, at the end of the day, a church that descends from apostles who withstood beatings finds itself unable to withstand tweetings. Social scorn is worse than the lash.”


Click here to read more.

SOURCE: The Christian Post
Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice(Abingdon).

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