Pope Francis Monday opened an unusual high-level interfaith conference to support traditional marriage, saying “children have the right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother.”
The three-day “Complementarity of Man and Woman” conference includes global faith leaders including prominent U.S. evangelical pastors Rick Warren and Russell Moore, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Jonathan Sacks and Anglican, Muslim, Pentecostal and Hindu leaders. For the first time, a top Mormon leader – Henry Eyring – is in official attendence at a Vatican conference.
The conference in Rome comes a few weeks after Francis convened another event that garnered major attention for a very different reason: opening greater room to discuss the role of families with divorced and same-sex parents. That event made clear there is a great deal of debate even at the top of the Catholic Church about how to support traditional marriage while also considering ways to accept and embrace gays and lesbians.
This week the focus is on what participants call a “crisis” in traditional marriage.
“We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable,” Francis said in opening the conference. “Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”
The participants at this week’s conference come primarily from the conservative side of the spectrum, people who are often outspoken critics of gay equality.
Among them is Moore, perhaps the most visible public leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, who wrote earlier this month in explaining why a Baptist is going to talk with a Pope: “As one who has been charitably (I hope) critical of Pope Francis on more than one occasion.. I can hardly criticize from across the Tiber and then refuse to talk, when invited, about these matters,” he wrote. “Here’s what I hope comes out of the meeting. I hope that this gathering of religious leaders can stand in solidarity on the common grace, creational mandate of marriage and family as necessary for human flourishing and social good.”
Also attending are Dr. Eugene Rivers, a prominent Pentecostal minister from Boston and his wife, Dr. Jacqueline C. Rivers, who leads a research center on the black church.
In the next few days participants will hear various concepts of male-female “complementarianism” from leaders coming from places including Scotland, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Nigeria, France and the United States. To some that term that translates into explicit roles for men and women—in society, in the family, in religious institutional life. Francis in his opening remarks used – as has become typical – less specific language.
“When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern,” he said in opening remarks. “Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma.”
Also Monday, Pope Francis confirmed that he will visit the United States next fall. He is coming to attend a global meeting on family issues in Philadelphia, and a spokesman has said he’s still considering invitations to New York and Washington D.C.