Herche and Mark Tooley
Institute on Religion and Democracy
November 17, 2000
In a stunning turn-about, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches this morning withdrew his name from a ground-breaking ecumenical statement that had “recognize[d] an unprecedented need and responsibility [for churches] to help couples begin, build, and sustain better marriages, and to restore those threatened by divorce.” Robert Edgar told the delegates of the NCC’s General Assembly that he was wrong to have joined top officials of the U.S. Catholic Conference, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention in endorsing the November 14 “Christian Declaration on Marriage.”
Edgar’s reversal followed strong pressure from pro-homosexual elements within the NCC that objected to a single phrase in the declaration defining marriage as “a holy union of one man and one woman.” Nowhere in the declaration was there any direct reference to homosexuality.
“This Declaration on Marriage was a test of Bob Edgar’s pledge to revitalize the NCC through expanded cooperation with Evangelicals and Catholics,” noted IRD president Diane Knippers. “He confronted a fateful choice: He could make common cause with the vast majority of this nation’s Christian churches, in support of a divine institution (marriage) that is honored in all major branches of the Christian faith. Or he could cater to a small extremist minority within the NCC that is campaigning to legitimize extra-marital sex. He chose the latter. I am sad to say that at this point Mr. Edgar’s pledge of expanded ecumenism is a dead letter.”
Edgar told the NCC delegates gathered in Atlanta that he was offering a “public apology” for his “mistake” in having signed the ecumenical marriage declaration. In previous statements, he had characterized the declaration as “controversial,” implying that it touched on issues on which NCC member denominations were divided. Yet virtually all of the NCC’s member communions continue to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Edgar himself is a minister of the United Methodist Church, which explicitly bans “same-sex unions” in its Book of Discipline. But he affirmed to the NCC Assembly today that he supported “a blessing of [same-sex] partnership, marriage of people who love each other.”
The marriage declaration became a public issue at the NCC Assembly when a speaker at a November 16 breakfast of the council’s “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Caucus” attacked the document as “a denial of rights for gays and lesbians.” Edgar, who was present, acknowledged signing the declaration, but claimed to have taken out language that was “extremely offensive.” He said that only one “offensive” sentence remained – an apparent reference to the statement’s definition of marriage. During the subsequent 24 hours, pro-homosexuality forces appear to have put extreme pressure on Edgar to renounce the declaration.
Ironically, the NCC delegates this week ratified, at Edgar’s behest, an “Expanding the Ecumenical Vision” resolution that calls for increased cooperation with Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals. “If the NCC cannot even uphold the Christian understanding of marriage, on what meaningful issues can they possibly cooperate with the rest of the nation’s Christians?” Knippers asked. “The NCC clearly prefers the politics of sexual liberation to any kind of true ecumenical cooperation. Bob Edgar was hired as the NCC’s general secretary to reverse its long demise. Instead, he may be ensuring its ultimate collapse.”