Ryan Anderson: Evangelizing for Religious Liberty

RyanAndersonBeginning in 2012, Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., has hosted a symposium on the New Evangelization each spring. As nature rejuvenates, speakers, guests, and Benedictine College religious, faculty, staff, and students all gather to discuss new ways of rejuvenating the Church in this new millennium.

This year, the Symposium brought in Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., as the closing keynote speaker.

Anderson is a senior research fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation. He is also the founder and editor of Public Discourse, the Princeton Witherspoon Institute’s online publication, and the co-author of Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, written with Princeton’s Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis.

Anderson’s work was cited by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in his argument for traditional marriage in the 2015 same-sex marriage court case.

At the Symposium, Anderson spoke on something very relevant to recent world events: Religious liberty, particularly in relation to same-sex marriage.

“We’ve got a culture that’s got marriage wrong,” Anderson began. “And we’ve got a legal culture that’s got it wrong, starting with no-fault divorce.”

No-fault divorce, Anderson argued, made marriage all about the couple itself and their feelings, rather than about children, as marriage had always been. Legalized abortion followed, and now, as of last year, legalized same-sex marriage.

The idea of allowing same-sex marriage has become so ingrained in our culture that the majority of people – including many Catholics – simply accept it without thinking of the moral and cultural effects it has. To them, it is simply the way of the modern world. With same-sex marriage now accepted into our legal system, even more people will look at countries and institutions that do not accept same-sex marriage and wonder how they can be so backwards.

Catholics are leaving the Church over the issue, Anderson said. “’If the Church is wrong on something as obvious as marriage, what about the other teachings of the Church?’ That’s what these people are thinking,” he told his audience.

“It’s going to be harder for the Church to do her job in a culture where the teachings of Jesus on marriage are illegal,” he went on. Policies allowing religious liberty are necessary, but, “we’re seeing now a reaction from the elite to attack this,” Anderson said.MemorareMonday

“Why do I talk about this?” he asked. “Why do I talk about a bunch of policies? Because these bills, post-Roe v. Wade, are what has allowed the Catholic schools, the Catholic hospitals, the Catholic adoption agencies, to do what they do.”

With the HHS mandate and legalized same-sex marriage, Catholic-run adoption agencies fought for their right to refuse adoption to same-sex couples.

“‘Can we be left alone to find these children homes?’” Anderson paraphrased adoption agencies as asking. “Districts all said no,” he continued. “Whether it’s grace or ‘Catholic guilt’ – or both, as I believe – Catholic adoption agencies have the most success in placing children.”

“Bakers, florists, photographers … They don’t separate what they do on Sunday morning from what they do Monday through Friday,” he said. “They want to live an integrated life.”

“Why all this at a conference on the New Evangelization?” he asked. “It’s going to create the condition” in which the Church can thrive again. It will give the Church the “ability to be the field hospital.”

Anderson quoted Revelations 21:1-5 and Gaudium et Spes 39, both on the New Heaven and the New Earth, before saying, “It’s not a pie in the sky … It’s something we’re starting to participate in now.”

“Everything that happens, even when it’s starting to look worse,” is watched over by God, Anderson reminded the audience.

After reading from Pope Saint John Paul II’s homily to the youth during his Mount Sinai pilgrimage, Anderson said, “Every discipline that studies the human heart is a study of the New Evangelization – provided it teaches the truth,” Anderson noted.

Addressing the students in the room, Anderson said, “As you discern your vocation, we need people in every field. We don’t just need a theology of the body, we need a philosophy of the body. A sociology of the body. A psychology of the body.

But, Anderson continued, just as we learn about the Church and her teachings, so we should also learn about the secular world. “People assume they know what the Church teaches,” he said. Such assumptions often lead to incorrect information and misunderstandings. “They also assume they know what the secular teaches.”

However, “Piety is no substitute for competency,” he warned, garnering a slightly shocked silence from the young people of the audience and happy agreement from the older members.

Ending his address, Anderson quoted Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-21 on the Mystical Body of Christ, and said, echoing countless saints: “The one thing not optional is holiness.”

The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

Eileen Wittig