VATICAN CITY — “We want this to bear fruit, for us to go back to these communities and bring to those communities of faith the insights and energy we’ve drawn from this — so that people will be restored in their hope that marriage can be protected where it’s still intact and that marriage and the marriage culture can be rebuilt where it has been so badly eroded,” said Princeton professor Robert George.
George was speaking to the Register at the end of a three-day Vatican-sponsored international, interfaith colloquium titled “The Complementarity of Man and Woman,” which drew together 14 different religious traditions from 23 countries from Nov. 17 to 19.
The main host of the meeting, also known as the Humanum Colloquium, was the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Efforts to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions barely got a mention, as the focus of the gathering centered on the sanctity and beauty of matrimony. Six professionally made films on the theme were shown to the participants, each highlighting the contribution of traditional marriage to society.
Pope Francis opened the colloquium, which took place in the Vatican’s Synod Hall, calling for a new human ecology that upholds marriage.
“To reflect upon ‘complementarity’ is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all creation,” he said.
“Family is an anthropological fact,” the Pope added, and it should not be “based on ideological notions.”
Several speakers called on all people of goodwill to courageously defend marriage in the face of efforts by a vocal minority to redefine it. American evangelical preacher Rick Warren, one of many high-profile participants, made the point that rarely is a normal marriage and sexuality portrayed on television and in film; usually, sexual relations are “between singles or they’re adulterous.”
“Billions and billions” of people believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, Warren said, and those in good marriages need to hold up their good example for others to follow. Marriage must be celebrated, he said.
Marriage’s Redemptive Power
Former U.K. chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in his conference address, noted that “almost everything” that marriage once brought together has now been “split apart.”
“Sex has been divorced from love, love from commitment, marriage from having children and having children from responsibility for their care,” Lord Sacks said. But when a man and woman turn to one another in a bond of faithfulness, he added, they are able to redeem “the darkness of the world by the radiance of love.”
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, marveled at how representatives of 14 world religions could come together to give witness to basic convictions about matrimony, and he underlined the urgency of doing so.
“The way the family is undervalued or threatened in many places is akin to standing on a precipice; we must stop and not make that final step,” he said. “When you’re standing on the precipice, stepping back is the best form of progress.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said sexual liberation had created “a culture obsessed with sex,” which has simply led to a “boredom of sex shorn of mystery.” The sexual revolution, he asserted, is destroying families.
Meeting participants also included representatives from the Pentecostal church, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
“We have found that by coming together we are not alone,” said Princeton’s George who lectures in jurisprudence. “There’s a deeper understanding of what marriage is, and it’s at the center of the treatment of marriage of all the great world faiths.”
He added, “We agree on what marriage is in its most fundamental aspect: that it’s the conjugal union of both husband and wife in a bond that it is procreative in nature, oriented to having children.”
Helen Alvare, media director for the conference, said the “intermingling” of all the representatives of different religions was “very gracious,” with each showing a willingness to listen to the other. The six films were also an “unmitigated success.”
She said the colloquium succeeded in “surfacing new language” to the dialogue on marriage. She said that she has already had requests to replicate the conference in other countries.
“We’re really talking about, if it comes to pass, what we hoped would be sparked by this meeting,” she told the Register.
The strength of the witness given at the colloquium did not go unnoticed: The Humanum website was hacked into, and the event provoked a firestorm of abuse from anti-family protesters on Twitter.
Worldwide Interreligious Movement
The organizers, however, insist their effort is just the start of a worldwide, interreligious movement defending traditional marriage that is now emerging.
After years of relative silence in the face of persistent assaults from a vocal minority, pro-marriage advocates report that a vision of authentic matrimony appears to be beginning to fight back.
“There’s no question the understanding of conjugal marriage is under severe assault, and that has gone on for more than 50 years,” said George, who also warned that defense of marriage is vital if religious liberty is to be protected.
“There are going to be terrible consequences in the area of religious liberty and the rights of conscience from the redefinition of marriage,” he predicted.
Asked why this sort of conference hasn’t been organized before, Alvare said, until recently, it was “taken for granted” that everyone knew about the beauty and wisdom of marriage, “but, actually, they hadn’t thought about it much at all until they lost it” in the wake of the cultural current.
Said Alvare, “We’re finding the language to hopefully recover what we’ve lost.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent. He assisted with public relations at the Humanum conference.