The recent Evangelical Protestant declaration, the Nashville Statement, may best be seen as a contribution—whatever its limitations—to the promotion of an integral human ecology. I shall provide a context for discussing the Nashville Statement in light of the Salzburg Declaration (SD). In Salzburg, Austria, September 6, 2015, a historic ecumenical Congress organized by the (Protestant) International Christian Network (Internationale Konferenz Bekennender Gemeinschaften) met to consider current cultural threats to the human person and his created nature, and a plan for responding to them. This document is called the “Salzburg Declaration: Current Threats to Human Creatureliness and Their Overcoming. Life According to the Creator’s Will”. The participants expressed concern that while the ecology of the environment is well developed the same cannot be said for the “ecology of man.” It is in the light of the call for an integral ecology of man that we should understand and appreciate the Nashville Statement.
What is, in brief, an ecology of man? Says the SD: “The ‘ecology of man’ means that humans are to treat their own nature (and not only the nature that surrounds them) with care, respecting the order of creation and the commandments that God has given them to their own benefit.”
Furthermore, what are the serious cultural threats to our humanity identified by this document? SD identifies the threat of the destruction of human existence in the increasingly accepted practices of abortion and active/passive euthanasia. “Today many people die by human hands, especially at the beginning and the end of life.” Moreover, so-called emancipatory ideologies, such as [third-wave] feminism and gender theory [à la Judith Butler], threaten the “creaturely basis and hence the nature of being human.”
This threat is happening in two respects. First, “Sexual difference of male and female as the God-given and God-willed basis for marriage and the family, and thus also for the dignity of human beings as men and women and as fathers and mothers”; secondly, “the order of creation regarding marriage and family and the divinely given orientation of human sexuality towards [unity and] procreation as indispensable conditions for any decent society and civilization.”
With this basic concern SD is expressing agreement with a claim first identified by St. John Paul II in his 1991 Encyclical, Centesimus annus. He wrote:
In addition to the irrational destruction of the natural environment, we must also mention the more serious destruction of the human environment, something which is by no means receiving the attention it deserves. Although people are rightly worried—though much less than they should be—about preserving the natural habitats of the various animal species threatened with extinction, because they realize that each of these species makes it particular contribution to the balance of nature in general, too little effort is made to safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic ‘human ecology’. Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God’s gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed. (no. 38)
This is an extremely important point, which is at the root of an ecology of man, made later also by Benedict XVI in his address to the Bundestag, September 22, 2011. He, too, referred to the need to develop an “ecology of man.” He reiterated this point in an Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2008. Furthermore, Benedict stated regarding so-called “gender theory” in a later Address to the Roman Curia, December 21, 2012:
The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, which serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation.
These truths regarding the creational duality—male and female—of human nature, and that marriage is a two-in-one-flesh union of a man and a woman, are grounded in the order of creation, and hence are fundamental to an integral ecology of man. The Nashville Statement agrees (cf. Articles III-IV).
Those Catholic critics of declarations such as the Nashville Statement who appeal to the teaching of Pope Francis couldn’t be more mistaken in doing so. For instance, Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, reaffirms or confirms definitive doctrine infallibly taught regarding marriage and family by the ordinary universal Magisterium of the Church. Much of what Francis says in Amoris Laetitia formally attests to truth already possessed and infallibly transmitted by the Church. Most to the point, Pope Francis criticizes the “various forms of an ideology of gender that ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family” (no. 56). Furthermore, he continues to emphasize the urgent need for an integral “ecology of man” in his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ (no.155). This too is acknowledged in SD.
In this light, we can understand the stated purpose of SD: “The purpose, then, of this Salzburg Declaration is to give an account, at least in outline, of that underdeveloped ecology of man and to explain the significance of life lived in accordance with the Creator’s will for the protection of the human person and our very humanity.” This is the heartbeat of the Nashville Statement:
Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.
Consider in this connection the current pontificate of Francis (cf. Amoris Laetitia, nos. 73-75) and the last two—St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI—in order to highlight the essential elements pertinent to the perspective of marriage as a two-in-one-flesh (multi-leveled) unity—a bodily-sexual, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual union. Each of these popes affirm the moral and sacramental significance of this two-in-one-flesh unity, that is, of the sexually different bodily reality of the man and of the woman, in short, sexual differentiation and the dual unity of the human couple that appears as part of the original character of the image of God and is foundational to the form of love that is marriage.
For instance, Pope Francis recently wrote concerning so-called “gender theory” that it “seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards.” In other words, Francis adds, such a step is an “anthropological regression because it would weaken an institution that . . . reflects nature and anthropology.” Furthermore, he adds, “Learning to accept our body, [in particular, the biological difference between male and female], to care for it, and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology” (Laudato Si’, no. 155).
But it is precisely the embodiment of human persons, as man and woman, which has been lost in our culture, even among Catholics, for a proper understanding of marriage. The unity attained in becoming “two-in-one-flesh” in marriage is grounded in the order of creation (Gen 1:27; 2:24), persists through the regime of sin, and it is affirmed and simultaneously renewed through the redemptive sacrament of marriage. Real bodily oneness, a one-flesh union between a man and a woman, actualizes marital unity.
Agreeing with Pope Francis’s critique of “gender ideology,” Cardinal Gerhard Müller, until recently the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, has stated that gender ideology claims, “that man’s identity does not depend on nature, with a body that is limited to a masculine or feminine sexuality.” He adds, “There is an evident dualism behind all this: the body loses its significance vis-à-vis its own identity.” Contrary to this anthropological dualism, the Catholic tradition—and the Nashville Statement (V) concurs—affirms that the body is intrinsic to selfhood, the human person is, bodily. This affirmation is rooted in the Church’s teaching on the soul/body unity of the human person. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 362-368). As John Paul says, “In fact, body and soul are inseparable: in the willing agent and in the deliberate act they stand or fall together.” (Veritatis Splendor 49) Therefore, we can easily understand why separating “the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition.”
Francis’s teaching in this regard is in line with John Paul II. The latter held that this two-in-one-flesh unity is constitutive of the form of love that is marriage, which is a communion of persons, man and woman, in being a reciprocal gift for teach other. And John Paul underscores the constitutive nature of this one-flesh unity by stressing that man, as male and female, is unable to express that communion and hence to achieve unity “without the body.” “He is constituted in such a way from the ‘beginning’ [from the creation] that the deepest words of the spirit—words of love, gift, and faithfulness—call for an appropriate ‘language of the body’. And without this language, they cannot be fully expressed.” In other words, one-flesh unity is the language of the body for one-life unity. Although expressed differently, we find similar ideas in the Nashville Statement (cf. I, V).
In the same line, Benedict XVI wrote: “marriage is no longer defined as a bond between a man and a woman but a bond between persons; with this, obviously, the basic idea [of marriage as a two-in-one-flesh unity] is destroyed and society from its roots becomes something quite different. The awareness that sexuality, eros and marriage as a union between a man and a woman go together—“and they become one flesh” (Gn 2:24)—this knowledge is growing weaker and weaker; every type of bond seems entirely normal—they represent a sort of overall morality of non-discrimination and a form of freedom due to man.”
In conclusion, SD calls Christians of various confessions to strive for a “credible recovery of an ‘ecology of man’.” Urging, then, a “common public confession of the apostolic truth,” the document posits the urgent need for a basic ecumenical vision regarding foundational convictions of a theology of creation, anthropology, sexual ethics, and marriage. This vision would “make known the goodness and beauty of the order of creation and to testify even to the non-believing world that it can be lived.”
SD and these references to the current pope and his predecessors are sufficient to make clear that the major theme of the Nashville Declaration is what the Catholic tradition calls an “ecological conversion.” John Paul II, speaking of ecological conversion, said: “At stake, then, is not only a ‘physical’ ecology that is concerned to safeguard the habitat of the various living beings, but also a ‘human’ ecology which makes the existence of creatures more dignified, by protecting the fundamental good of life in all its manifestations and by preparing for future generations an environment more in conformity with the Creator’s plan” (General Audience, January 17, 2001, §4).
Hopefully, the Nashville Statement may serve as an ecumenical catalyst for the ongoing development of an integral human ecology.