Leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination on Wednesday said Scripture – and not words from the pope – determine what is true about marriage and sexuality.
Their comments came the same day news broke about a new documentary, Francesco, in which Pope Francis discussed homosexuality and same-sex civil unions.
“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” he said, according to Catholic News Agency.
He added, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”
Catholic News Agency (CNA) said the pope’s comments were not about same-sex marriage but instead about a legal recognition short of marriage that would grant benefits of marriage. Even so, it would be a first: “While Pope Francis has previously discussed civil unions, he has not explicitly endorsed the idea in public before,” CNA said.
“An endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples is a very different approach for a pope, one that represents a departure from the position of his two immediate predecessors on the issue,” CNA said.
J.D. Greear, president of Southern Baptist Convention and the pastor of the Summit Church in North Carolina, urged Christians to look to the Bible for answers.
“No matter what a pope, pastor, or elected official says, we do not get to define sexuality or the family, the Creator does, and on this His Word could not be more clear,” Greear said.
Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, agreed.
“As Southern Baptists, our authority on sexuality and marriage is the Bible – the living Word of God,” Floyd said. “Our authority does not come from a man or a group of men and women, but from the Bible alone. When the Bible speaks, God speaks. The Bible teaches marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.
“Other faiths may choose other authorities to determine their beliefs on marriage, family, sexuality, and other matters of life,” Floyd added. “However, as Baptists we believe the Bible has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. We need not add anything to the Bible about marriage, family, sexuality or anything else because the Bible is God’s perfect treasure of divine instruction.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, also urged Christians to rely on the Bible.
“I am not exactly sure how to interpret Pope Francis’ comments, but I do know that every wing of the church – Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox – has for 2000 years affirmed Jesus’ view of marriage: that marriage is, from the beginning, a union between a man and a woman in covenant fidelity to one another (Mk. 10:6),” Moore said. “The Bible also makes clear that marriage is a mystery that points beyond itself to the gospel, the union of Christ and his church (Eph. 5:31). We ought to treat everyone justly and with compassion, including those with whom we disagree, but no church has the authority to put asunder what Christ has joined together in the Word he has given to us.”
Catholic News Agency said Pope Francis’ remarks “did not deny or call into question any doctrinal truth that Catholics must hold or believe.”
“In fact, the pope has frequently affirmed the Church’s doctrinal teaching regarding marriage,” CNA said. “... Pope Francis’ statements in ‘Francesco’ do not constitute formal papal teaching. While the pope’s affirmation of the dignity of all people and his call for respect of all people are rooted in Catholic teaching, Catholics are not obliged to support a legislative or policy position because of the pope’s comments in a documentary.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.