Rich Stearns is a servant, a Wharton grad who leapt from the top of corporate America and landed in a stream, knees bent bracing. Arms outstretched, he is a fisher of men, desperate to save the poor, sick and suffering. Stearns’ talent has transformed World Vision into the eighth largest charity in America, with annual revenues of more than $1 billion. Some 40,000 employees are active worldwide doing disaster relief, providing food, and assisting refugees.
According to a 2009 interview, Stearns intends to reduce by half the number of children who die daily from poverty-related causes. If he succeeds (count me among those who believe he will) that number will still be 13,000 dead children daily.
At a recent gathering in Los Angeles, Stearns privileged the work he and others do around poverty issues and criticized Christians who he sees as preoccupied by work focused on the meaning and purpose of marriage. “No one ever died of gay marriage,” he argued.
It is unlikely that “number of deaths prevented” is actually Stearns’ metric for determining the legitimacy of a vocation. Surely he recognizes the mundane contributions of faithful Christians in education, law, engineering, art, and a thousand other fields as legitimate whether or not life hangs in the balance.
No, the comment tells us that Stearns finds marriage a trivial issue. Nero fiddled as Rome burned; meanwhile, Teetsel blogged about same-sex marriage. And so he pleads, “Why don’t you do something that matters?”
Stearns is not alone. As the 29 year-old director of the Manhattan Declaration I am often asked that question. Founded in 2009 by Charles Colson and more than 100 religious leaders from the three historic Christian traditions, the Manhattan Declaration defines life, marriage, and religious liberty as foundational principles necessary for the common good. The Declaration asks Christians to prioritize these concerns and refuse to “render unto Caesar” when the laws of man contradict moral obligations to God. Why be involved in such work?
Life, marriage, and religious liberty are not arbitrary choices; they are inextricable. The ethic of life is premised on the doctrine of Imago Dei, the inherent dignity of every human being as a creature uniquely crafted in the image of God himself. Why do we care about the poor, oppressed, and suffering? Because they are human beings.
Marriage is the beginning of family, the foundation of human society. By design, one invaluable man and one invaluable woman come together and create new lives of inestimable worth. The same biological reality that creates life is mirrored in the anthropological reality that children need a mother and father. Marriage is the social institution that binds woman and man in the kind of permanent, exclusive relationship that nurtures children into adulthood.
Religious liberty allows mothers and fathers to order their lives according to their most deeply held values and beliefs. America’s “first freedom” obliges the state to preserve a vibrant public square in which citizens are free to express themselves and advocate policy according to the demands of their conscience in a democratic process resulting in compromise and accommodation.
Why don’t I do something that matters? The meaning and purpose of marriage is important. The disconnect between sex and its intended purpose has resulted in dire consequences for society, especially its most vulnerable members, children. In the unlikely event the Supreme Court makes same-sex marriage the law of the land this week, I’ll keep working for a culture of marriage and family because it’s too important to be forgotten, no matter what the law says.
According to research by Robert Rector and Pat Fagan of the Heritage Foundation, in America children raised in a home with their biological mother and father are 82 percent less likely to be poor. The U.S. Department of Health finds 63 percent of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. Seventy-one percent of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes, according to the National Principals Associations. And the National Fatherhood Initiative finds the absence of a biological father increases by 900 percent a daughter’s vulnerability to rape and sexual abuse.
President Obama understands these facts. In 2008 he argued:
We know the statistics – that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.
Some say such statistics are unrelated to the question of same-sex marriage. Any two parents are as good as a biological mother and father, they claim. University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus has conducted the largest study comparing outcomes for adult children of biological two-parent families to those of parents who had been in a same-sex relationship, were divorced, and so on. According to his 2012 New Family Structures Study, there are statistically significant differences on variables for children of a mother or father who had a same-sex relationship—ranging from joblessness to educational attainment to increased rates of depression—when compared to children who lived with their married, biological parents throughout childhood. There were also differences for the adoptees, stepchildren, and the children of single parents. Regnerus’ research incited much debate, and the journal Social Science Research, which published Regnerus’ peer-reviewed article, later published a critical audit of it. Still, Regnerus’ study indicated children have better outcomes in stable homes. Future research is needed, but for now, Regnerus’ work is the gold-standard.
The science may be debatable; what isn’t—at least for Christians—is the importance of sex differences. The first time our Lord declared that something was not good was the lack of a suitable partner for Adam; the remedy was Eve. “Male and Female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The world may argue that a woman can fulfill the role of father, but Christians must reject such a claim.
Even if there were no harms for children of same-sex couples, Christians would rightly continue to work against sexual brokenness. Homosexuality, like all sexuality outside the bounds outlined in scripture, is harmful to those involved. Sin destroys, so the same compulsion that drives us to save our neighbor from poverty and injustice ought drive us to help them escape sin.
In the fall of 1939 C.S. Lewis gave a sermon titled Learning in War-Time. England had just declared war with Germany. Europe was at war, but Lewis was at Oxford. What explanation could there be for indulging in higher education at such a time? Lewis summarizes the question: “Why should we—indeed how can we—continue to take an interest in these placid occupations when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance? Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?”
After reminding his audience that war is really no unusual circumstance for human beings are always living on the edge of a precipice between life and death, Lewis answers that we are called to different things:
The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God … This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation. … If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can be lead to the glory of God at present is the learned life.
Mr. Stearns is right to lament. He has been called to a tremendous cause and has too few helpers. Some Christians fail to obey their call to help the poor and sick, to strive for justice and righteousness. But Stearns and others are wrong to question those whose vocation leads them upstream to the source of so many social ills. Businessmen creating jobs, teachers equipping underserved communities for future success, and policy advocates rebuilding the foundation of human society—the family—are each part of an interconnected network of human beings with differentiated skills working towards a common goal.
Those of us working to reaffirm and renew a culture of marriage and family have been given a difficult task. It is too much to expect those outside the Church to understand our commitment to such a cause; their hatred can be forgiven. In times such as these there is no time for dispute within the body. Instead, let us offer one another a nod in solitude as we pursue the call God has given to us, knowing that ultimately all things work together for good.
Eric Teetsel is the executive director of the Manhattan Declaration. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife. Follow him on Twitter @EricTeetsel. Learn more at www.manhattandeclaration.org.