Thursday, August 1, 2013

Faith and Reason in Our Response to the Collapse of Marriage

I presented this paper on the Supreme Court decisions on redefining marriage, the new papal encyclical on the light of faith (Lumen Fidei), and the collapse of marriage, at the conference of the Catholic Social Workers National Association, July 27, 2013. (Revised August 2, 2013)

Paul Adams

Catholic social workers, understanding the centrality of marriage and its collapse to the social problems they address, now face increased difficulties as a result of the Supreme Court decisions of June 26, 2013 on the redefinition of marriage.  The new encyclical, Lumen Fidei, issued three days later, gives us an opportunity to consider the deep roots of this collapse in the light of faith.  In this paper I want first to discuss some early responses of Catholic scholars and writers to the Supreme Court rulings and the strategies arising from them.  I then examine Lumen Fidei in terms of the light it casts on the relations among faith, truth, knowledge, and marriage.  Finally, I want to explore two approaches to protecting marriage that rely on and nurture the faith of Catholics while strengthening civil society.

Part I.  Responses to the Supreme Court’s Rulings: How Bad Is It?

Pat Archbold, writing in National Catholic Register, proclaims that the fight for marriage is over in the memorable headline, “Marriage Is Dead and the Church Is Next.”  “Marriage,” he says, “as the union of a man and woman for the purposes of raising children and for mutual support as recognized in culture and law, has ceased to exist.” 

Another renowned blogger and apologist, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, said on the day of the Supreme Court’s rulings that he was scared. “The reason I’m scared is that the powers of the mass media and the state are lining up with the powers of the Culture of Death. The homosexualists and those who back abortion and a huge proportion of the American population who support their views are joined by an even larger proportion of the American population who are indifferent and who perceive liberty as letting everybody do whatever they want." Behind the intensity, the vehemence, the bullying, the substitution of ridicule and coercion for argument, he discerns another reason for fear. “The reason I’m scared is that behind all of this is an irrational, demonic rage.”

Sometimes they “bully you with a phony niceness, but underneath is a simmering rage.” So, Fr. Longenecker says, 

I’m scared because I think that rage is not going to remain behind the mask of nice-ness for long. We’re seeing that demonic rage lurking beneath the surface beginning to emerge, and when it does take cover. That’s why I’m scared, and that’s why I am very careful what I write on this blog–because I have already had threats from homosexualists that they know where I live and they are out to get me. I have already witnessed the burning acid of irrational rage against the Catholic Church in com boxes and in emails to a priest friend who dared to criticize Obama. I’ve already witnessed the howling, screaming rage against the truth, beauty and goodness of the Catholic Church and her saints. 

Three weeks later, Fr. Longenecker’s response to the news that “gay marriage” had become legal in the UK was calmer and offered a way forward, based on the assessment that the battle for civil marriage was lost.  He argues in his column, “Phony Marriage or Holy Matrimony?” that

It is now time for the Catholic Church to distance itself from civil marriage. The best thing we can do is withdraw from every aspect of civil marriage. I would be in favor of the situation which exists in France and other countries–where two people who want to be married go to the local registrar to be married civilly and then go on to the church for the Christian ceremony. This will give us a clarity. It will also allow us as pastors, to restrict church weddings to those who really intend to enter into a Catholic marriage. To do this we need to clarify what Holy Matrimony is. 

As distinguished canonist Edward Peters pointed out when George Weigel (2012) proposed serious and accelerated debate about the Church’s withdrawing from the civil marriage business, it is unclear what this means, among other reasons because the Church is not in the civil marriage business.  The complexities of this proposal lie beyond the scope of this paper, but it is clear that it reflects the pessimistic (defeatist?) view that the struggle for marriage as a civil institution grounded in sexual complementarity and the needs of any children that result from it is already lost.

Other major defenders of marriage in the public square, like the National Organization for Marriage and the authors of the most rigorously reasoned case for marriage (Girgis, Anderson, & George, 2012), are not ready to abandon civil marriage.  Their response may be summarized in the slogan adopted by the British government in World War II to sustain the morale of civilians who were being bombed daily during the Blitz, but now widely used in every other kind of context, namely, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” The Girgis, Anderson, and George column in The Public Discourse the day after the rulings was quite different in tone and content from those of Archbold, Longenecker and many other defenders of marriage.

What happened yesterday at the courthouse matters, and we must keep up our witness to the truth about marriage, by word and deed, until it is safely beyond judicial overreach. 

Here’s the least reported fact about yesterday’s rulings on marriage: the Supreme Court refused to give Ted Olson and David Boies, the lawyers suing to overturn Prop 8, what they wanted. The Court refused to redefine marriage for the entire nation. The Court refused to "discover" a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Citizens and their elected representatives remain free to discuss, debate, and vote about marriage policy in all fifty states. Citizens and their elected representatives still have the right to define marriage in civil law as the union of one man and one woman.

And we should continue doing so.

But Hadley Arkes, who helped craft DOMA, had a much darker view. The decisions, he argues, are “far worse than they sound.”  They affect to be restrained and limited in scope, but

They lay down the predicates for litigation that will clearly unfold now, and with short, easy steps, virtually all of the barriers to same-sex marriage in this country can be swept away. Even the constitutional amendments, passed by so many of the States, can now be overridden.

In this respect, philosopher Michael Pakaluk (2013), points to some important differences between these rulings and Roe v. Wade, to which they are frequently compared.  First, the Court did not overturn, in one fell swoop, all state laws that recognize marriages as only between one man and one woman, as Roe overturned the abortion-restricting laws in 47 states.  Instead, as Justice Scalia shows in his dissent, with only light editing the majority opinion can be adapted to overturning state laws. [Scalia] hints that the language was written with this purpose in mind. What this would mean is that the Supreme Court intends that state marriage laws be dismantled by a kind of collaboration of other like-minded agents, which it is empowering to act for this purpose by its decision.

Second, though like Roe these rulings are decisive victories for certain combatants in a culture war, unlike Roe, which recognized the good intentions of the opponents of abortion on demand, 

In contrast, Windsor allows no good motives whatsoever for those who defend traditional conceptions of the family. They are motivated purely by spite. Moreover, they always have been: note that the Court’s opinion requires that we go back almost 25 years, to when a law like DOMA was first being proposed and contemplated, and read back into that entire history nothing but spite. Furthermore, it is obviously implied by the opinion that if a “pro-traditional marriage” movement ever rose up in response to Windsor, like the pro-life movement which arose after Roe, the Court would regard this movement, and would instruct and urge others to regard this movement, as nothing but a spiteful and hateful reaction of bitter “losers.” In that sense the Windsor majority already “has its back up” and has already accused in advance anyone who disagrees with them of being merely spiteful.

A related point is that while Roe at least appeared to be open to new evidence and argument, e.g., about when life begins, 

this “new Roe” is written in such a way as to make it clear that no arguments are pertinent and that in no way will the Court ever be open to a reconsideration of its finding (as it was with Roe, re-examining it multiple times and almost reversing it in Casey). There is no better way to signal that no further reasoning should be undertaken than (i) ignore all past reasoning, as though it were irrelevant, and (ii) imply that anyone who even engages in reasoning to question the Court’s opinion is already in the grips of a hateful spite.

Finally, Pakaluk, argues, Windsor - once it has been used to overturn all state laws that restrict state-recognized marriage to a man and a woman - is far more coercive in its effects.  

[T]here will be many occasions on which people will be in effect coerced into saying that, or acting as though they believed that, two members of the same sex are married or can be married (or, alternatively, that the State has the power to define marriage as it will). Equally, there will be many occasions on which they could be entrapped by enemies, or betrayed for what they say in private, or be subject to “tests” by those who for some other reason want to injure or get revenge against them.

The Court has abandoned, in the sphere of the sexual revolution, any commitment to impartiality and the “public reason” which Rawls saw it as exemplifying. It

is now re-engineering fundamental social institutions based on unworkable and essentially adolescent ideas of liberty (for that is what the Casey mystery passage is), while hurling insults at the other two branches of government, half of the American electorate, major world religions, and in effect our own history and heritage.

In doing so the Court is clearly not an impartial observer, deciding fairly a difficult question, but rather, without the requisite impartiality, it has obviously made itself a partisan player in a culture war, and is reveling in that. Its irresponsibility is objectively so patent, that maybe it has overplayed its hand.

Pakaluk identifies three likely consequences of these rulings: persecution, civil strife, and loss of respect for the Court, which will increasingly be seen as a partisan player in the culture war and a cheerleader for the sexual revolution.

Part II  Faith, Truth, and Marriage

There are two contrasting views of marriage in conflict that have been described variously as conjugal and revisionist (or consent-based), or institutional and relational, or by similar terms.   The conjugal view rests on the structure (sexual complementarity of man and woman) and outcomes  (babies, partner bonding) of sex and the needs of children.  The revisionist view sees marriage as about the love and commitment of adults, with or without reference to children or even sex.  Many advocates of the revisionist view claim that the objections to their view of marriage and support for the opposing conjugal view are religiously motivated.  In response, many scholars and advocates have taken great care to make their arguments for the conjugal view in non-religious terms.  There is no appeal to faith or revelation or the Bible in such writings, for the good reasons that 1) such appeals have no persuasive force with those they aim to persuade and 2) because the use of them simply confirms the view that opposition to redefining marriage rests upon religious faith that has, in their view, no place in the public square.

Appealing to reason and the evidence of the social sciences without reliance on divine revelation, the arguments are well made at scholarly (George, 2002; George, 2013George & Elshtain, 2006; Girgis, Anderson, & George, 2012;) and popular (Eberstadt, 2012; May, 2012) levels and are necessary to engage non-believers and heterodox Christians. They are essential because, in the extraordinary rush to transform same-sex “marriage” (SSM) from joke to dogma in little over ten years - it did not exist anywhere on the planet before 2000 - most people have simply not heard or thought about the arguments, so successful has been the strategy promoted by media and courts of ignoring them. 

In contrast, of course, Lumen Fidei is explicitly religious, Christian, and directed to faithful Catholics. Here I will consider just one of its themes that is of particular importance both to understanding the two views of marriage and to considering a distinctively Catholic approach to protecting and nurturing marriage in a deeply and increasingly hostile society.  That theme is the intrinsic link between faith and truth. 

In modern times, the encyclical points out, faith is often contrasted with reason.  It does not illumine reason or truth but offers at best a consoling alternative to them for individuals who lack the maturity or courage to face uncertainty.  In the process, truth itself has become a suspect category. 

But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion. Surely this kind of truth — we hear it said — is what was claimed by the great totalitarian movements of the last century, a truth that imposed its own world view in order to crush the actual lives of individuals. In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant. It would be logical, from this point of view, to attempt to sever the bond between religion and truth... [#25].

St. Paul says that “One believes with the heart” (Rom. 10:10) and the encyclical notes that 

In the Bible, the heart is the core of the human person, where all his or her different dimensions intersect: body and spirit, interiority and openness to the world and to others, intellect, will and affectivity. If the heart is capable of holding all these dimensions together, it is because it is where we become open to truth and love, where we let them touch us and deeply transform us. Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes [#26]

By way of contrast, the popes cite Wittgenstein’s very different view of the connection between faith and certainty, namely that 

believing can be compared to the experience of falling in love: it is something subjective which cannot be proposed as a truth valid for everyone.[19] Indeed, most people nowadays would not consider love as related in any way to truth. Love is seen as an experience associated with the world of fleeting emotions, no longer with truth.

Let me interject here the note that Wittgenstein’s view of love calls to mind love’s association, as a fundamental metaphor in all known languages, as I understand it, between love as feeling and madness (as in the English expressions “mad about,” “crazy about,” and so forth).  But love in the Biblical understanding, as presented by the popes, is something different, a matter of truth, certainty, fidelity, and knowledge.

But is this an adequate description of love? Love cannot be reduced to an ephemeral emotion. True, it engages our affectivity, but in order to open it to the beloved and thus to blaze a trail leading away from self-centredness and towards another person, in order to build a lasting relationship; love aims at union with the beloved. Here we begin to see how love requires truth. Only to the extent that love is grounded in truth can it endure over time, can it transcend the passing moment and be sufficiently solid to sustain a shared journey. If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time. True love, on the other hand, unifies all the elements of our person and becomes a new light pointing the way to a great and fulfilled life. Without truth, love is incapable of establishing a firm bond; it cannot liberate our isolated ego or redeem it from the fleeting moment in order to create life and bear fruit.

If love needs truth, truth also needs love. Love and truth are inseparable. Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives. The truth we seek, the truth that gives meaning to our journey through life, enlightens us whenever we are touched by love. One who loves realizes that love is an experience of truth, that it opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved. In this sense, Saint Gregory the Great could write that "amor ipse notitia est", love is itself a kind of knowledge possessed of its own logic.[20] It is a relational way of viewing the world, which then becomes a form of shared knowledge, vision through the eyes of another and a shared vision of all that exists [#27].

Love is thus a source of knowledge, of faith-knowledge that is born of God’s covenantal love. Truth and fidelity go together in the Bible.  “Faith-knowledge sheds light not only on the destiny of one particular people, but the entire history of the created world, from its origins to its consummation” [28].

A full exegesis of this rich and profound document is beyond the scope of this paper, not to mention being beyond my capability.  The point I want to draw out here is that underlying the view that makes “same-sex marriage” even conceivable is the modernist split, going back to the nominalism of William of Ockham and descending to the Enlightenment via Bacon and Hobbes, Luther and Calvin, between a mechanical understanding of science on one hand and subjectivism and relativism on the other.  This transformation in consciousness, in theology and philosophy - with its roots in late medieval nominalism and its underlying voluntarism - is well diagnosed elsewhere, for example by Pinckaers (1995) in The Sources of Christian Ethics, Waldstein (2006) in the long and brilliant introduction to his translation of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and by Gregory (2012) in his The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society.

The encyclical is rooted in this critique.  It builds on the papal struggle to combat an impoverished, mechanical or scientistic view of reason, moral and epistemological relativism, and a view of faith and love as fundamentally subjective with no connection to reason or truth.  The need to contest this modern subjectivist and relativist view of truth has been a major theme of John Paul II (Fides et Ratio) and of Benedict XVI  (e.g., his Regensburg Address and his 2008 lecture intended for delivery at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”. The modernist assumptions that John Paul II and Benedict XVI devoted such energy to opposing are just what informs the series of ‘privacy’ rulings from the Supreme Court - see Lawrence v. Texas, Bowers v. Hardwick, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Roe v. Wade, Eisenstadt v. Baird, and Griswold v. Connecticut - that culminated, for now in US v. Windsor.  It is a view expressed in Casey in what Justice Scalia has called the "the famed sweet-mystery-of-life passage” - in his scathing dissent from the plurality opinion co-written by Justice Kennedy, he called it the “passage that ate the rule of law.”  ("At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's concept of existence, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.")

Kennedy does not accept that marriage is a ‘natural institution’ that antedates the state - that would imply the state is charged with identifying and endorsing rather than creating or effecting marriage.  For Kennedy marriage is a free creation of the human will.  The State has the power and authority to define marriage how it likes, with or without reference to procreation.  It may “confer” the title of marriage on any relationship it wishes. 

This is a conventionalist understanding of the law (Pakaluk, 2013), one profoundly at odds with that of the American Founders.  The Constitution, if anything, rules out rather than requires conventionalism.  It gives priority to natural law and natural institutions over human convention (“laws of Nature and Nature’s God” in the phrases of the Declaration of Independence).  The essence of Federalism is that in some matters human authority is consequent to something else, e.g., to antecedent claims based in nature, longstanding custom, or original authority of the people.  Reality in that sense acts as a constraint on Federal power.  But it also constrains the power of the states to do whatever they like.  As Pakaluk (2013) puts it,

True Federalism, then, must acknowledge that the states too are checked in what they can do, by antecedent norms and realities, just as the Federal government is checked in what it can do, by the antecedent authority of the states. But the conventionalism which Kennedy espouses in Windsor is incompatible with this understanding of Federalism: it reduces the division of power between the Federal government and the states to a merely administrative decision, according which the states have, in principle, only the “power” to define marriage in the manner and to the degree that the Supreme Court assigns this “power”. The Federalism of Windsor provides absolutely no barrier to a Federal Court finding that a state’s marriage law is contrary to the US Constitution as interpreted by Windsor.

From the Supreme Court to the media to elite culture more broadly, the corollary of the conventionalist view is that marriage has no intrinsic meaning, no basis in reality, nature, or the way humans reproduce and the needs of their young, in the nature of the human person as rational animal (much less one created by God as the country’s founding documents assert and assume).  When objective reality is replaced by individual subjectivism, law loses its basis in intractable reality and becomes a matter of will and power.  Marriage becomes whatever the state says it is.  Reality in that sense imposes no evident constraint on state power. Indeed, insofar as reality does impinge on the state, the state has to become ever more coercive to impose its lie on a populace that confronts the truth in everyday life.    

Whatever one’s view of global warming or the Dust Bowl, one can see the sexual revolution championed by Kennedy through a judicial overreach - above all in Roe and Windsor - that has cut loose from any mooring in the Constitution or legal reasoning, as an ecological disaster.  

Social workers deal every day and at multiple levels with the effects of that disaster in the collapse of marriage in the poorer and less educated half of the population - in terms of increased divorce, cohabitation, non-marital births, single parenthood, crime and delinquency, family violence, poverty, inequality (the widening marriage gap and its economic effects), and negative effects on health and mental health.  Forests, as Ibsen said, get their own back.

Part III. Rebuilding a Culture of Marriage: Lincoln and St. Benedict

What is the way forward? It will be hard to raise much money or grassroots organizing enthusiasm for passing pro-marriage state constitutional amendments, laws, or initiatives when it seems clear that those state officials charged with defending them may choose not to do so and effectively veto them, relying on a liberal conventionalist judiciary.  Or when both existing and any new laws and propositions that define marriage as between a man and a woman can be nullified by the courts up to and including the Supreme Court.  So a major strategy of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and other pro-marriage groups has effectively been shut down or at least called seriously into question.  After the corruption of the rule of law and the defeat of democracy in the way courts and politicians handled Proposition 8, it will likely be impossible again to organize 250,000 volunteers, as the Prop 8 campaign did, to work for a measure that will be overturned with a flick of the wrist and the stroke of a pen (Schubert, 2013).

Such organizations, as Arkes (2013) says, 

may have to ponder again the use of Article V of the Constitution to amend the constitution on the appeal of two-thirds of the States. If we add the number of States that have constitutional amendments now to protect marriage, along with States that have resisted same-sex marriage in their laws, they would be more than enough to call for a constitutional convention to amend the Constitution on this subject.

NOM has already moved in this direction, throwing its support to the Marriage Protection Amendment introduced by Rep. Tim Huelskamp and backed by over 40 co-sponsors.  Given the weight of the media and the Court’s ruling in Windsor on a shifting public opinion, this will be an uphill battle.  Kennedy’s “hate speech” (Arkes) in Windsor effectively rules out serious debate on such an amendment, legitimating treating supporters of marriage as hostes humani generis, as Justice Scalia put it. Hostes humani generis are enemies of the human race - it is a legal term used for those, like pirates, who are beyond the protection of the law and may be dealt with as one sees fit.

a) Build an alternative

Any chance for a constitutional amendment, Arkes (2013) suggests, depends on the Republican Party’s producing a leader with the courage and integrity of Lincoln.  The comment reminds me of the famous ending of MacIntyre’s After Virtue, where he recalls the examples of Trotsky and St. Benedict in face of our own dark ages.  “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.”  In our own dire times, “the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have been governing us for quite some time” (p. 263).  “Benedict’s greatness,” MacIntyre explains, “lay in making possible a quite new kind of institution, that of the monastery of prayer, learning, and labor, in which and around which communities could not only survive, but flourish, in a period of social and cultural darkness” (p. 34).

The similarities notwithstanding, our own age is very different from Benedict’s, and a Benedict for our times would, as MacIntyre says, doubtless be very different. Combined with MacIntyre’s call for local forms of community, the monastic example suggests the need - not instead of parish-level initiatives discussed below to support marriage in a hostile environment, but in addition to them - the importance of distinctly Catholic communities centered on faith and family.

MacIntyre’s call to construct local forms of community, combined with the need in our time to rebuild an authentic culture of marriage and Benedict’s example of a strong community of faith and learning, brings into focus the promise of a small seriously Catholic university and community like Ave Maria.  To this combination we may add the path-breaking work of Mary Eberstadt (2012; 2013) on the profound impact of the pill as the technological base of the sexual revolution and on the relation between faith and family.  With regard to the latter, Eberstadt (2013) confirms the strong link between the religiously observant and high fertility, but she emphasizes the ways in which large families foster religious observance and not simply the other way around.  Children drive their parents to church, as she puts it.  She notes how Christianity in particular, with its Holy Family, its God the Father who loves, guides, and protects, with a Son who addresses God the Father as Abba (Daddy), and so forth, is near to unintelligible in communities where fathers who love and protect their families are rare.  Christianity and the family, she argues and shows empirically, rise and fall together.

Ave Maria is a community of large families and strong faith, each reinforcing the other. It is a source of attraction, as a faithful Catholic community and locus of Catholic learning and culture (home of Ave Maria University), to many who live in isolation from these things.  Serious Catholics, social workers not least, live and work amidst a hostile liberal-secular media, academia, legal and political elite (and social work profession) - the aggressively secular world to whom what Alvare calls sexualityism, the sexual expressionism of the sexual revolution, is absolute dogma and state religion, dissent from which is not to be tolerated.  For this cultural elite the Catholic Church is the main obstacle to their vision of the future, which they seek unrelentingly to impose on the entire world, all talk of respecting other cultures notwithstanding.  Serious Catholics also receive little support or encouragement from other Catholics - whether those in the Democratic Party leadership like Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden or dissident nuns on the bus or those at parish level who substitute political activism for religious faith, a dumbed down “beige Catholicism” (as Fr. Barron calls it) for serious catechesis, and liturgical “innovation” for reverent worship.

In this cultural context, Ave Maria offers a haven, a training ground, and a beacon of light in the encircling darkness.

Ave Maria, FL

Most families in Ave Maria chose to live in this Florida swampland far from a major city or other centers of learning because they had experience of that kind of Catholicism and the erosion of faith and family around them.  For many others who remain behind, Ave Maria is one beacon reflecting and keeping alive the light of faith (lumen fidei) amidst the powerful forces that seek to extinguish it as a public presence in their world.  It does not substitute for other strategies for building a strong culture of marriage, of faith and family.  But it helps.

b) Patiently explain

Being surrounded by friends and family who unconditionally support a couple's marriage is itself a predictor of marital stability.  But many couples are geographically or socially isolated, far from family or estranged from them.  Many are unconnected in their parishes, or are children of divorce (so with a higher risk of divorce themselves), or live among secular liberals who are intolerant partisans of the sexual revolution.

In whatever circumstance we find ourselves, the duty to “patiently explain” (Lenin’s term in another context) remains.  Most people, including Catholics, it seems safe to say, have never heard the arguments for marriage.  It will be harder than ever to find forums for debating the issues rationally, since Windsor itself refused to give consideration to any of the arguments advanced in many briefs and in court, dismissing them all out of hand.  The arguments need not be taken seriously on their merits, Kennedy concludes, because they are motivated, in his view, by spite.  Even before Windsor, a Washington Post journalist, supported by the paper’s ombudsman, justified covering only one side of the marriage debate on the grounds that opponents of gay marriage were equivalent to racists.  In this climate, fairness and intellectual honesty will be in short supply, not least in social work schools and agencies.

The Supreme Court and supporters of marriage redefinition, more than ever, will spread gloom and despondency among supporters of conjugal marriage by promoting the sense that the war is over, the matter is the court and its supporters did in the cases of Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade.

Making the arguments in this context is a major challenge. Still, even in California, where supporters of Prop 8 sometimes put their jobs and their personal safety at risk, Catholics took initiative at grassroots level to support marriage and family by joining together to evangelize the culture with Faith and Action Circles and similar efforts.  Parish-based Faith & Action Circles are a foundational part of the Stand with Children movement to rebuild a marriage culture around a simple reality-based message that "Marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union."  The Circles:

1. Forge community and fellowship for learning, action, and mutual support that will alleviate the sense of isolation so many lay Catholics feel and enable positive coordinated action for evangelization and civic participation.
2. Provide an opportunity for personal formation in the thought and method of John Paul II and Catholic Social Teaching. The emphasis is on learning new positive techniques for discussing issues related to marriage, family, and human sexuality with family members and friends in secular terms that they can repeat without fear of retribution or intimidation. 
3. Build a prepared and committed team of people conversant in positive messages and techniques who can mobilize and quickly activate others to effectively promote or oppose policies related to marriage and family with school boards and government officials at all levels - i.e., a cadre.

The Faith and Action Circles, as the organizers say, are 

similar to programs like Renew, self-guided Bible studies, or models used by Legion of Mary and other Catholic movements. Circles can be started within parishes, or with people in parish organizations like the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters, Cursillo, and prayer groups, or among friends across parish boundaries.

The meetings involve reading a designated text, offering personal reflections, and discussing and committing to a simple action such as sharing an insight with a friend or family member or writing a letter to the editor using an insight from the circle.

The circles become support groups “for finding practical solutions in dealing with cultural influences that undermine the understanding of true love, marriage and family with our children and family members” (May, 2012).

The key text, which evolved from the Stand With Children movement and these circles, is William B. May’s (2012) Getting the Marriage Conversation Right, A Guide for Effective DialogueThe book offers a positive, reality-based, non-defensive approach to making the argument for marriage, addressing objections and common misconceptions.  It is ideal for Catholics who find themselves at a loss when confronted with arguments like, “If two people love each other, they should be able to get married, whatever their sexual orientation” or “What’s the harm?” or “Isn’t your objection to SSM like racists’ objection to interracial marriage?” 

Faith and Action can be part of and supported by a new focus on marriage in homilies (the major source of information about the faith for 72% of Catholic women in a recent survey), public prayer intentions, private prayer for marriage in the family and in society (as well on threats to it like pornography, divorce, and contraception).  Parishes can complement it with lay marriage-supporting initiatives like couple-to-couple marriage mentoring, "'marriage prep' in its most natural and effective form" (Puigbo & Towers, 2013) This approach fits well within the emphasis in Catholic Social Teaching on the associations and institutions that mediate between individual and state - and with social work’s historic emphasis on strengthening families and communities.  As Girgis, Anderson, and George (2013) put it the day after the Supreme Court decisions, 

If you believe, as we do, in the importance to children and to society of the marriage-based family, then of course you were hoping for different results in yesterday’s marriage cases. But you probably also put your trust in the institutions of civil society—in that vast arena between man and state which is the real stage for human development. And in that case, you never expected a court of law to do our work for us, to rescue a marriage culture that has been wounded for decades by cohabitation, out-of-wedlock child-bearing, and misguided policies like no-fault divorce.

The task is to use whatever space we can find in face of an increasingly coercive state and hostile media (and social work profession) to rebuild an authentic marriage culture family by family, parish by parish, community by community.

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