WASHINGTON (BP) -- American evangelicals' view of themselves should resemble more closely that held by the church in the first century than that held by Christians in recent decades, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore said in a nationally televised interview.
Moore, in an appearance on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" Monday (July 8), said there was a message for evangelicals and other social conservatives in the U.S. Supreme Court's invalidation of a federal law defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.
"For a long time, social conservatives in America had a kind of silent majority view of ourselves, and conservative evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics had a moral majority view of ourselves, as though we somehow represent the mainstream of American culture -- most people really agree with us except for some elites somewhere," the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said. "That really isn't the case."
Instead, Moore said, Christians "need to start seeing the fact that we're very similar to the way the Christian church was at the very beginning of its existence -- a minority of people who are speaking to the larger culture in ways that are going to sometimes seem freakish to that larger culture. I don't think that's anything that should panic us or cause us to become outraged or despondent. I think it's a realistic view of who we are."
Asked about the church and politics, Moore said Christians need to find a path between two erroneous approaches.
"[T]he church can become a political action committee in a way that detracts from the mission of the church and destroys the mission of the church," Moore told C-SPAN host John McArdle. "But I think there's also a way in which the church can stand back and say, 'We don't speak to anything that we believe to be political,' which really means the old question that the Scripture gives us: 'Who is my neighbor?' If we care about our neighbors and if we care about our society, then we have to speak to those things that are for the common good and are for human flourishing."
He said there was a time "when evangelical Christians in America became too triumphalistic, had a Christian definition of a balanced budget amendment or a Christian position on a line-item veto or a Christian position on foreign aid in ways that there is no clear, biblical authority for that. But I think there are some foundational issues that we must speak to out of the convictions that we hold."
Moore was not surprised the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in its June 26 opinion, but he was startled by the justices' reasoning, he said.
The majority "essentially said there's no reason to define marriage as the union between a man and a woman exclusively except for hostility and animus toward persons, which we don't believe is the case," Moore said.
"I think [Associate Justice Antonin] Scalia is right [in his dissenting opinion], that it will be very difficult for the court now to allow states to state-by-state define marriage in the way that they currently do," Moore said. "I think the language there is setting the court up for a Roe versus Wade type of decision in the future."
Roe v. Wade was the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that invalidated all state restrictions on abortion.
Defenders of the biblical, traditional definition of marriage are not saying "the state ought to somehow penalize or stigmatize people," Moore said. "We're just saying that children have a right to a mother and a father, and there's something distinctive about that sort of family structure that the state has an interest in."
"The question is whether a child needs a mother and a father, and whether a mother and a father bring something distinctive to the task of parenting," Moore said. "I believe that God did not design us simply to be parented but to be mothered and to be fathered."
Twelve of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.
"This isn't a situation in which what we're trying to do is to have the state affirm the love of two people," Moore said. "We don't need the state to do that. We can affirm love in all sorts of ways without the state becoming involved. The reason the state is involved is because there's something distinctive about marriage, the union between a man and a woman, that's different from other relationships. And we think that's because the state doesn't create marriage. The state doesn't define it. The state simply recognizes something that already exists."
A caller from Ashburn, Va., who identified himself as a "bisexual polygamist" wondered how the Supreme Court might define him.
Moore responded by acknowledging he isn't "sure where this is going to go in terms of expanding the definition of marriage. I think there are obviously some polygamists and polyamorists, such as the caller, who are saying they would like to see the marriage definition expanded even further. I'm not sure where American culture is going there. All I can say is that I believe there is a unique, distinctive good that comes to honoring and recognizing the union between one man and one woman for life."
During the 45-minue program, Moore responded to questions from McArdle, phone callers and tweeters. Among other topics Moore commented on were the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate in its health-care regulations, immigration reform and surrogate motherhood.
Video of Moore's appearance on C-SPAN is available online here
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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