WASHINGTON (BP) -- Advocates for the biblical, traditional meaning of marriage should take a page from the playbook of the pro-life movement, Southern Baptist lead ethicist Russell D. Moore says.
Appearing on a nationwide radio broadcast Thursday (April 10), the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said pro-life gains in public opinion provide a pattern to follow as same-sex marriage ascends in the polls.
The pro-life advance among Americans has occurred "because the pro-life movement took a 30-year strategy to seek to persuade people at multiple levels, to work legally but also to work to spend a lot of time showing people how the unborn child is our neighbor," Moore said. "And I think that's starting to bear a great deal of fruit."
The pro-life movement did not start that way, Moore told leading social conservative Bill Bennett on his "Morning in America" broadcast.
"[T]he problem early on for the pro-life movement," Moore said, "is there were a lot of social conservatives who just assumed, 'Of course, everybody's going to oppose abortion. It's something that's crazy.' But over time the pro-life movement said, 'We need to learn how to talk to the people to be able to demonstrate to them this really is your issue, you really ought to be concerned about this.'
"I think we have to do the same thing with marriage and say, 'Here's why this really does matter for you, for your community,' and spend time building the case for what that looks like," he said.
Polls in March showed 59 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, 69 percent among those under age 30. Already in 2014, federal judges have struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Those decisions have yet to be enforced while the cases proceed through the courts.
"What I say to folks in my community all the time is to say, 'If you think that you're isolated from this simply because you're in a red state, you're wrong,'" he told Bennett, secretary of Education under President Reagan and drug czar for the first President Bush.
The result should not be to refrain from discussing the issue, Moore said.
"I think we talk about it more, and I think we talk about it in a way that we don't simply assume," Moore said. "And I think a lot of people who agree with me about what marriage is have for a long time simply assumed, 'Well, we all agree on what marriage is except for some elites out there in society.' No, we have to spend time talking about why this is important and what this has to do with society and how it isn't an expression of hate but that we all agree there are some limits on what marriage is, that you can't just make the term so elastic that it means anything.
"So what's significant about the union between a man and a woman? What's significant about a family with both a mom and a dad? I think we need to talk about that more, not less, but talk about it in a way in which we are trying to persuade, not simply trying to vaporize our opponents," Moore said.
Bennett asked how political parties and candidates should approach gay marriage. The Republican Party is the only one that will face that issue in its next platform, since the Democratic Party already supports same-sex marriage.
"I would say that a party ought to say, 'We believe marriage is important. And in order to say marriage is important we have to define what marriage is,'" Moore said.
"I think that's a good thing to say and to stand up for, recognizing that not everybody in America agrees on that issue, recognizing that this is something that has to be a conversation, we have to make a case. But I think that's important to say."
Bennett said he senses ambivalence from conservative Republicans on the issue. When a candidate or officeholder says, "I'm reluctant to speak about it because our country has changed," Bennett asked if that is a good answer.
Moore replied, "No, it's not a good answer, but the person who speaks about it has to know how the country has changed in order to know how to talk about it. So you're not simply talking to the people who already agree with you. You're wanting to talk to people who don't agree with you right now to say, 'Here's why you really need to think about this and really consider that.'"
Moore's appearance on the radio broadcast came three days after he co-authored an opinion piece with Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, for Time magazine on the controversial, forced resignation of Mozilla's chief executive officer, Brendan Eich, who had donated $1,000 to the 2008 campaign for California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
The way Mozilla and others are framing the issue "has nothing to do with actually what was on the ballot," Moore told Bennett. "It's just this almost religious fervor that's an inquisition, and I don't think it's grounded in rationality at all."
He also said, "There's a group of people in America who don't know what evangelical Christians and traditional Roman Catholics and orthodox Jews and Muslims believe on issues of marriage, and so they assume: 'Anybody who doesn't agree with me about how the state ought to define marriage must be a bigot, must hate people, must do all sorts of terrible things.' And I think that's bad not only for civil society. I think it's bad for business. If you don't understand people in the country, that's not a good way to go forward."
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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