While evangelical leaders are deeply concerned about the move to redefine marriage, they are also troubled by problems in existing marriages and by the growing practice of cohabitation, according to the July Evangelical Leaders Survey.
“When God created Adam and Eve he said that his creation was very good. That included their marriage. Sadly, God’s gift of marriage is being undermined by too many bad choices by American couples,” said Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Evangelical leaders were asked to select what they see as the greatest threat to traditional marriage between four options. Unfaithfulness topped the listed, followed by cohabitation, divorce and same-sex marriage.
“No one particular threat to traditional marriage dominated the poll. They are all significant. They are not all the same but sure can be connected. We need a revival of marriage commitments of one man to one woman for a lifetime. Blessed is the man and woman who wait for marriage to have sex and then stay faithful for a lifetime,” Anderson said.
Selecting “unfaithfulness,” William Hamel, President of the Evangelical Free Church of America, said that the lack of understanding of what marriage is and what it takes to make a marriage last is the greatest threat to marriage. “Evangelicals with their view of marriage should be leaders in setting the example, but too often that is not true,” he said.
David Neff, Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today, expressed concern about the increasing prevalence of cohabitation before marriage or in place of it. “Cohabitation is a denial of traditional marriage, a way of short-circuiting traditional marriage, seeking certain of its pleasures and benefits without the necessary commitment. Statistically, it will touch all of us,” he said.
While divorce rates among practicing evangelicals are lower than those outside of the evangelical community, divorce is still a major concern to evangelical leaders. Greg Johnson, President of the Utah-based ministry, Standing Together, said, “While we can be upset about the external threats to the institution of marriage, it is high time we become troubled by our own degradation of the institution of marriage through our failure to keep marriage a sacrament.”
Other leaders agreed with Randall Bach, President of Open Bible Churches, who believes that same-sex marriage is the greatest threat. “Cohabitation, divorce and unfaithfulness limit or erode the strength of a traditional marriage standard, but classifying same-sex unions as marriage attacks the foundation of a centuries-long, commonly understood definition of what marriage is,” he said.
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.