This Election Year makes it clear that we have a lot of learning to do.
After Nov. 6’s results, old certainties are now uncertain: It used to seem that people were generally pro-family on social issues. It doesn’t seem so now. You used to be able to say that voters had never agreed to redefine marriage; it was always imposed by courts. You can’t say that now.
So, what happened? How did we lose the culture so completely? Here are a few ideas that emerged from a Gregorian Fellows session at Benedictine College.
1. The fish won’t come to our favorite spots anymore.
We can no longer count on inertia to do our work for us. The seekers are no longer knocking at the door of the Catholic Church for answers. It’s not enough simply to know our apologetics cold; we need to learn how to pierce a cloud of cynicism that considers us irrelevant and provoke the questions ourselves.
It’s a lesson our opponents learned long ago.
Those who fought to redefine marriage certainly don’t count on inertia. Read the comments on any Catholic blog post defending marriage and you’ll see what I mean. The opponents pour in, pressing their arguments for same-sex “marriage.”
Then, visit a website that promotes homosexual “marriage,” and look in the comments for an articulate defender of marriage posting there.
Pick your favorite quote about the battle for ideas to sum up the problem. Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Yeats: “The best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.”
I realize that many Catholics have certainly done a lot more than “nothing.” But it is worth asking: Have we been trying to seek out the lost where they actually are, or are we trying to order them back in line from a distance?
2. Use a lure the fish like, not the lure you like.
In a post the week before the election, I noted that the president’s re-election campaign had begun to assume the snarky, cynical tone of the Huffington Post. “Is he hopelessly out of touch or am I?” I asked.
On Nov. 6 the answer became clear: I am the one out of touch.
So I need to relearn the lesson a wise man taught me when I was first looking for work in Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s: Don’t live in a bubble. Read the arguments of your side with a critical eye, and read the arguments of your opponents with an open mind.
Too often, we read to reassure our assumptions instead of reading to correct our presumptions. This leaves us unable to relate to what others are feeling, unable to use a language they recognize, unwilling to treat opponents with decency and fairness, and impotent to convince others of anything but our own cluelessness.
Here’s a challenge: Read the blogs and essays of the anti-family side. A superficial reading will make you say “What are you thinking?” in despair. A deeper reading should make you say, “Oh, that’s what you’re thinking. Here’s what you’re missing,” with understanding.
When souls are at stake, Christian owe the world that second response.
3. Fishing isn’t hunting.
As Vaughn Kohler pointed out at the Gregorian earlier this year, there’s a reason Jesus told us to be “fishers of men” and not “hunters of men.”
Christians are right to feel a certain righteous rage against people who are denying a whole class of people the right to life, destroying the family, and taking away our religious liberty: These people are destroying America. But Christians are missionaries in this world. We are also meant to feel compassion and empathy: These people are destroying themselves, too.
There are those who are rightly culture warriors: Lawyers, politicians, public figures, and others. But most of us are missionaries, living among the ones we need to catechize. If we adopt the attitude of a warrior, we will fail as missionaries.
We have to move from culture warriors to New Evangelizers if we are going to make headway for Christ in the culture.
We remember that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
We forget that Jesus so loved the world that he sent us.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.