National Council of Churches logo represents the church 
as ecumenical ship, serving the world

EDGAR REMOVES NAME FROM "CHRISTIAN DECLARATION ON MARRIAGE"

November 17, 2000, ATLANTA, Ga. – Dr. Bob Edgar, National Council of Churches General Secretary, today removed his name from "A Christian Declaration of Marriage," released in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, expressing concern that a statement meant to support married couples is being misused to attack gays and lesbians.

In his letter to the other signatories – Bishop Anthony O’Connell of the Roman Catholic Church, Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and Bishop Kevin Mannoia of the National Association of Evangelicals – Dr. Edgar said, "I did not adequately consult with the 36 member communions of the National Council of Churches prior to agreeing to sign the statement.

"A number of the NCC member communions interpret the document more as a condemnation of same-sex unions than as an affirmation of marriage," he said. "The fact that the declaration omits mention of same-sex unions is taken by some as proof that all of the signatories disapprove of such unions."

He expressed his concern that "in our dangerously fragmented and violent society, misinterpretation of the declaration may be used by some as a pretext for attacks on gay and lesbian persons."

Dr. Edgar -- in Atlanta, Ga., for the National Council of Churches annual General Assembly (Nov. 14-17) – opened this morning’s plenary session with his apology for having "signed my name to a letter that committed us to a position that hadn’t been approved by a working group, the Executive Board or the Assembly …." He offered a "personal apology to those I hurt by that signature."

The NCC’s 36 Protestant and Orthodox member communions hold widely differing views on matters of human sexuality. The Council’s General Assembly – the NCC’s highest legislative authority, whose delegates represent the member communions – has taken no position on same-sex unions but had long-standing policy for full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons.

"As a council of 36 diverse Protestant and Orthodox communions, the National Council of Churches itself does not ordinarily take positions on doctrinal matters such as standards for ordination or sacraments and rites, including marriage," Dr. Edgar said. "Such standards lie within the purview of each member communion."

"My personal views on certain issues are much more progressive than those of the General Assembly," Dr. Edgar continued in his comments to the General Assembly. "I affirm and support the inclusion of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in our membership. I support a blessing of same-sex unions…."

In his letter to the three other signatories, Dr. Edgar said, "My hope, when I signed the ‘Declaration on Christian Marriage’ on November 14, was a sincere one that we could find ways to work together as Christians to reduce the high rate of divorce in our nation by better preparing people for marriage and supporting them in their marriage vows. I still hold that hope, even though I find that I cannot support this particular declaration.

He further said, "My withdrawal should in no way be seen as a weakening of my commitment to building the larger ecumenical table about which we have talked….I remain committed to that goal and confident that we can find ways to work together."

Already on Wednesday, Dr. Edgar warned against misuse of the "Christian Declaration on Marriage." He said then, "I believe that churches must support Christian men and women in marriage—especially in our "disposable society," where marriage is often diminished and undermined, a practice contrary to Christian teaching and heritage. This statement signals that churches can do a better job of offering married couples the kind of support that helps them keep their commitments."

But he went on to say, "I would not want this statement to be misconstrued as if it were an oblique comment on same-sex unions. Even more importantly, it would be unconscionable if support for married couples, so desperately needed today, were to be twisted into a weapon that can be used to attack gays and lesbians, their families and friends and all in our churches who love and care for them."

The full text of Dr. Edgar’s letter, faxed today, follows:

November 17, 2000

Bishop Anthony O’Connell, Chairman
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Committee on Marriage and Family Life

Dr. Richard Land, President
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Southern Baptist Convention

Bishop Kevin Mannoia, President
National Association of Evangelicals

Dear Anthony, Richard and Kevin:

I write to remove my signature from the November 14, 2000, statement on "A Christian Declaration on Marriage."

I do so because I did not adequately consult with the 36 member communions of the National Council of Churches prior to agreeing to sign the statement.

A number of the NCC member communions interpret the document more as a condemnation of same-sex unions than as an affirmation of marriage. The fact that the declaration omits mention of same-sex unions is taken by some as proof that all of the signatories disapprove of such unions.

Further, I am concerned that in our dangerously fragmented and violent society, misinterpretation of the declaration may be used by some as a pretext for attacks on gay and lesbian persons.

My hope, when I signed the Declaration on Christian Marriage on November 14, was a sincere one that we could find ways to work together as Christians to reduce the high rate of divorce in our nation by better preparing people for marriage and supporting them in their marriage vows. I still hold that hope, even though I find that I cannot support this particular declaration.

My withdrawal should in no way be seen as a weakening of my commitment to building the larger ecumenical table about which we have talked. I have been heartened this week as Father John Ford, the Rev Jim is, and the Rev. Bernard Wilson spoke eloquently at our General Assembly from the Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal traditions about the promise and potential of an expanded ecumenical vision.

I remain committed to that goal and confidant that we can find ways to work together.

May God bless you and may God guide us in our journey on the path of Christian unity.

Peace,
Bob Edgar
General Secretary

-end-

NCC News Service/2000 General Assembly Index
NCC Home Page