Nearly two decades ago, theologian Timothy George coined the expression "the ecumenism of the trenches." It referred to the way that Protestants and Catholics had managed to set aside their theological differences and work together on the picket lines in defense of human life and the family.
"Setting aside" isn't the same as "sweeping them under the rug." The differences remain real and worth arguing about. It was simply recognition that there are times when it's necessary to move beyond our divisions and stand together, especially when the most important issues like life and marriage are gravely threatened.
The letter is entitled "The Protection of Marriage: A Shared Commitment." The word "shared" isn't mere rhetoric. Among its signers are include leaders from various traditions including Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Baptists, Evangelicals, Lutherans, and Pentecostals.
Unlike the Manhattan Declaration, this letter is not limited to professing Christians: Its signatories include other faiths, like Jewish, Mormon, and even Sikh leaders.
What the signers all share is the belief that marriage is the "permanent and faithful union of one man and one woman." It is the "natural basis of the family" and "an institution fundamental to the well-being of all of society." All of society, not just religious believers.
As Archbishop Timothy Dolan put it, "people of any faith or no faith at all can recognize that when the law defines marriage as between one man and one woman, it legally binds a mother and a father to each other and their children, reinforcing the foundational cell of human society."
Thus, "the law of marriage is not about imposing the religion of anyone, but about protecting the common good of everyone."
This last point is especially important: At the same time that the statement was being issued, the Ninth Circuit was hearing arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which overturned California's ban on same-sex marriage.
At the heart of the district court's ruling was the idea that the ban served no rational purpose and was merely the imposition of a religious point of view.
As the letter makes clear, if anything, the opposite is true: traditional marriage is a universal human phenomenon and the kinds of things Judge Walker is talking about, like so-called gay "marriage," they're the real imposition in this case.
Maybe that's why you would have been hard-pressed to hear or read about the letter in the media. The same people who trip all over themselves to tell us what the likes of Lady Gaga think about so called same-sex "marriage" were conspicuous by their silence in this instance.
What a double standard! The news media report everything about the gay-rights movement. But a statement historic in its broad sweep of religious leaders is utterly ignored.
So, it's up to us to spread the word. The only way people are going to understand that our belief in tradition marriage is not the product of "religion-based hostility to homosexual persons" as the court says, is if we tell them. The only way they are going to understand what is universal and what is now being imposed on them is if we show them.
But these are times we live in. The media may be silent, but we must winsomely, lovingly speak the truth to our neighbors.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Published on December 10, 2010.