“The Church cannot be salt and light in a crumbling culture if we cave into the sexual revolution and if we fail to provide a counter culture witness,” warned Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church at this week’s Humanum conference. The interreligious, international conference sponsored by The Vatican brought together over 30 religious leaders and scholars to reinvigorate marriage and family life by sharing wisdom from their various traditions. Notable speakers included Pope Francis, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, The Rt. Rev. NT Wright, Dr. Russell Moore, and Archbishop Charles Chaput.
Although some Christians are yielding to the sexual revolution, Warren emphasized the temporal nature of all revolutions, trends, and cultures. “The only way to always be relevant is to be eternal,” he said. Further, “the debate over the definition of life and of sex and of marriage is in reality a question of leadership,” and the Church must lead rather than follow, Warren explained.
For the Church to lead in these matters, she must be grounded in God’s Word, and what it says about marriage. The pastor pointed to Mark 10:6-9 as “the owner’s manual for marriage,” where Jesus gives “convictions about marriage that are unchangeable, incontrovertible, and unmovable.” The Bible is clear that gender matters, God created sex for procreation and connection within marriage, the marital union is a unique relationship between one man and one woman, and marriage is permanent, Warren stated. All of these truths, he continued, “are disputed, debated, and denied today … But a lie doesn’t become a truth and wrong doesn’t become right and evil doesn’t become good just because it becomes popular. Truth is truth.”
In addition to knowing what marriage is, we must understand what marriage is for, Warren said, as “you cannot value something [if] you don’t understand its purpose.” The most important among the many purposes of marriage is “for the reflection of our union with Christ … [which] is the strongest reason why marriage can only be between a man and a woman,” he stated. God intended marriage to be a picture of His relationship with the Church, and only marriage between a man and woman can accurately illustrate this relationship.
Warren encouraged pastors and priests to actively celebrate and promote marriage in their congregations by sharing testimonies of healthy marriages, honoring long-married couples, and highlighting the benefits of married life. Preserving a marriage is so important that couples should sacrifice financially to get counseling if necessary, and choose friends who will encourage them to fight for their marriages.
In addition to promoting marriage within the local church, “we have to tell better stories about marriage and about sex,” using various media, he said. Right now, Warren explained, the “lies that are being perpetuated in our culture are told over and over and over and people simply believe them because they’re not being questioned.”
Affirming the truth about marriage and sexuality will not be easy, the pastor admitted. “If you stand courageously for the truth, you’re going to be attacked. You can count on it.” Despite popular opinion, Warren said, “it is a total myth that we must compromise and give up on biblical truth and marriage in order to evangelize,” pointing to Saddleback’s consistent growth while abiding by traditional Christian teaching.
Although compromise is not an option, Warren said Christians must “show grace to the struggling … [and] be patient to the doubting.” In matters where “God’s Word is clear,” the pastor concluded, “we must not, we cannot, back up, back down, back off, backslide, or just give in. The Church must never be captivated by culture, manipulated by critics, motivated by applause, frustrated by problems, debilitated by distractions, or intimidated by evil.”