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How to Discuss Same-Sex “Marriage” With Dissenting Family Members

November 15, 2015 21 Comments

SocratesI was out on the preaching circuit this past week and spoke at five parishes (including my own) on the biblical vision of Holy Matrimony (marriage) as set forth by God and the Church. The talks were sponsored by the pro-life group Defend Life.

While I cannot succinctly reproduce the talk in today’s blog, I spoke from notes that are available here and here. A video of one of the talks will be posted soon.

I heard a consistent concern voiced by those in attendance that pulpits have been too silent on this critical matter of marriage, and by extension, sexuality and the family. Since I don’t get around to many other parishes on Sundays, and I don’t have statistics or polls to consult, I can only assume that this complaint is widespread. That said, nothing prevents a Catholic layperson from breaking out the Catechism and teaching his or her children and grandchildren. There seems to be a lot of waiting around for the Church to “do something” regarding ignorance of the faith. Pulpits must get better, but so must adult religious education. Parents, too, must actively seek out sources for instruction so that they can learn and hand on the faith. I recommend two places, among many, to start: The Institute of Catholic Culture and Catholic Answers.

Another common question that came from distressed parents at the talks was how they could counteract the bewitching effect of modern culture on their children (30 and under) when it comes to the redefinition of marriage. Many of their young-adult children see “no problem” with same-sex unions (a.k.a. gay “marriage”) and parents wondered how to counter this position.

My recommendation would be to use the “Socratic method.” This method, rooted in the teaching style of Socrates, uses questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw a person to find answers by examining his own premises. Rather than simply refuting the position of their young-adult child, it is often more helpful for parents to ask questions that permit him or her to see for himself/herself the faultiness and/or emptiness of the logic underlying this modern thinking. Today it seems that logic, critical thinking, and proper premises are often lacking.

The additional value of the Socratic method is that it requires the “accuser” (the one who wishes to set aside biblical and Catholic teaching) to account for his view rather than the faithful Catholic to mount a complete defense. The method also involves listening respectfully as the accuser speaks.

Consider a scenario in which an adult son or daughter makes some remark that indicates opposition to the Church teaching on traditional marriage. You might ask,

Do you oppose the fact that the Church upholds only traditional Marriage and rejects same-sex “marriage”?

Assuming the response is yes (or some form thereof), follow up with this question:

How do you define marriage?

Now just wait as long as necessary. Give no assistance, just wait patiently. Let the question hang there. It is quite likely that he or she will struggle to answer the question because those who have redefined marriage have not really redefined it at all; they have simply made it increasingly devoid of content. Saying what marriage isn’t is not the same as saying what it is.

The response might be something like this: “It’s when two people love each other and want to be together.” You might then pose some of the following questions:

Could you be more specific? For example, why do you say two people? Could it be more than two? Why or why not?

Or,

When you say, “two people” do you mean any two people? For example, what if the two people are related, such as being brother and sister, or two brothers, or a father and his? Must the two people who love each other have to be unrelated? If so, why?

Or,

You say that they love each other. Must this be the case? Are there other reasons they could marry other than love?

These are not intended to be merely “gotcha” questions. The purpose is to force the dissenter to stake out a cogent position by carefully thinking through his premises and where they lead. If the dissenter responds to the above questions with some limits, it forces him to consider why those limits make sense while others (such as one man and one woman) do not.

The Church knows what marriage is and so does God, who taught us clearly (in Genesis 2 and other places) that marriage is one man for one woman in a life-long, committed, and faithful relationship, open to the procreation and rearing of children.

This traditional definition is clear, sets limits, and has been the way marriage has been understood for thousands of years. Those who wish to remove these limits must account for what restrictions are left and why they think those should be kept rather than also set aside.

Just ask these questions. Wait for answers. Wait as long as necessary and don’t help. Let them think through it and become more responsible for what they think and the implications that emerge from it.

In this video from Catholic Answers, Trent Horn makes significant use of the Socratic method. In this case the topic happens to be atheism, but it gives a good idea illustration of how the method might work. Atheism is a complex topic. Defining marriage is far less complex since the field of the discussion is more focused.

Comments (21)

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  1. Nick says:

    In addition to the Socratic method, I would recommend becoming familiar with human rights. Some rights often overlooked include:
    – the right to be born
    – the right to give birth
    – the right to be raised by one’s own biological parents
    – the right to raise one’s own biological children
    – the right to religious education
    – the right to educate one’s child in religion
    – the right to alleviate suffering
    – the right to receive alleviation when suffering

    Oftentimes, these human, natural, fundamental, moral, or basic rights are disregarded because “if evil exists, than rights do not.” Ex: abortion against the rights to life and to be born, divorce against the rights to raise one’s children and be raised by one’s parents, and religious scandal against the right to religious education.

    Likewise, sometimes people make up human rights out of misunderstanding, such as:
    – the “right” to one’s body, a misunderstanding of the right to one’s limbs
    – the “right” to have a child, a misunderstanding of parents’ rights
    – the “right” to have sex with a child, a misunderstanding of both the right to have sex and the right to educate one’s child (since some child abusers believe child sex is sex education)
    – the “right” to do as one pleases, a misunderstanding of one’s duties, values, and conscience
    – the “right” to speak the truth harshly, a misunderstanding of charity, friendship, or solidarity
    – the “right” to commit detraction, a misunderstanding of the right to the truth and the right to respect

    Lastly, I recommend becoming familiar with “social justice warriors” or SJWs, who are mostly found on social media sites (such as Tumblr). Unlike Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and other social justice warriors, SJWs do not fight for social justice, but for their own sinful desires under the guise of social justice. They are not unlike “white knights,” who defend women in online comments (such as on YouTube) in the hopes of the women having sex with them. Social justice and social media and comments are good, so they cannot include such sinful desires as:
    – the legalization of harmful drugs, under the guise of legalizing beneficial drugs
    – the widespread acceptance of “trans” movements (transgendered, transhumanism, trans-abled, trans-raciality, etc.)
    * Such “trans” movements are rooted in lust and deceive: people wanting to have sex with transvestites, people wanting to become the opposite gender because they cannot get dates, and people wanting to play the victim (such as that woman who faked her race for money, then claimed to be trans-racial)
    – the censorship of non-SJW beliefs, under the guise of tolerance and benevolence
    * Such censorship includes:
    ** “white privilege” and “religious privilege”, which means Christians are not allowed to display religious images and white heterosexual men are intrinsically oppressive (oftentimes SJWs misrepresent historical scandals and abuse separation of church and state to get their way)
    ** censoring of anything “offensive”, from deleting comments that debunk pseudoscience to firing people over not supporting gay marriage
    ** forcing people to promote abortion, gay marriage, and pseudoscience and junk science (Gamergate is an example of gamers fighting back, while Atheism Plus is an example of SJWs misusing atheism for their own sinful desires)

    That said, I must caution against conspiracy theories about SJWs. They are not a part of goverment, or a shadowy or omnipotent organization, or are omnipresent. They are just ordinary people, typically young teens, who, as young teens do, want to make the world better but go about it the wrong way. Hence SJWs, as teens tend to do, typically promote such pseudoscience as “vegetarianism is more humane than eating meat,” “human beings are intersex,” and “religion is the cause of all violence in the world.” But if you know your science and your human rights, you can see through such misunderstandings.

    Lastly, on the SJWs’ re-difinition of “privilege,” never forget what the Church dogmatically teaches about privilege:
    – the Beatific Vision is a privilege that God gives to us
    – the Immaculate Conception is a privilege that God gave to Mary
    – parents have the privilege to evangelize their children

    More on privilege:
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/2/FY.HTM

    More on human rights:
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/index/qr.htm#Right(s)

  2. Matt says:

    With respect —
    If we use the term “traditional marriage” when we speak to others, then we should not complain when they start believing in things like “same-sex marriage.” We help perpetuate the error ourselves.

    If we use the term “traditional marriage,” then we have already lost the argument. To say that there is “traditional marriage” is necessarily to say that there is “nontraditional marriage.” And if there is such a thing as “nontraditional marriage,” then to limit it to opposite sex unions is logically nonsensical. Nontraditional marriage is by definition something different from “traditional marriage.”

    In actuality, there is no such thing as “traditional marriage.” Rather, there is marriage and then there is non-marriage. Period. “Marriage” is an opposite sex union. Anything else is non-marriage.

    It is not a question of tradition or history or what is best for children. It is a question of truth, it is a question of ontology, it is a question of the very nature of things. “Traditional marriage” does not contribute positively to the discussion, it adds to the confusion; it is the language of relativism.

    • Professor says:

      Well said. Orwell (and probably other propoganda ministers, media types and authors, etc.) defined terms like ‘newspeak’ to control words because they control ones ability to process and comprehend an issue or idea. Terminology is limiting and directing. Sub-groups have attempted to use this phenomena to define social perceptions (think affirmative action, where equality is defined as ratios and percentages, but to implement equality we use racial profiling that elevates blacks). It works.

  3. Matt says:

    A more fruitful mode of discussion is not to make marriage your starting point and then offer the definition of a male-female union. The better starting point is the male-female relationship and then discuss what that relationship is about.

    Whatever a same-sex relationship may be, it is necessarily, objectively and ontologically different from an opposite sex relationship. That much is undeniable. The sexual joining of male and female is unique, no other relationship is like it. Establish that undeniable objective truth, and the rest follows. It follows because the common name for that male-female sexual union is “marriage.” Whatever else an opposite sex relationship may be — however loving — it is not and can never be the same as the male-female sexual union. Hence, it can never be marriage.

    Already this is clear if you were to ask if a “same-sex marriage” is equal to opposite-sex marriage or if it is a second-class marriage?

    The answer is that “same-sex marriage” is, of course, second class. Opposite sex couples can have children by virtue of their union, same-sex couples cannot. Same-sex couples must necessarily go to some third party to obtain a child. Why is that? Is it a case of discrimination? Is it some social/legal injustice? Why not simply pass a law then decreeing that same-sex couples be able to have children solely within their union, just like opposite sex couples can? Of course, such a law would accomplish nothing, just like a law decreeing that men should be allowed to become pregnant and give birth would accomplish nothing.

    An opposite sex relationship is capable of marriage and a same-sex relationship is not capable of marriage simply because opposite sex unions are substantively, objectively and by nature different.

    To call the one “traditional marriage,” however, mischaracterizes and confuses things.

  4. Matt says:

    Of course, as a legal matter, the question is entirely moot. Whatever the God of Genesis may have said about it, whatever nature itself may have said about it, whatever objective reason may have said about it, the Supreme Court has decreed otherwise. So that is one hurdle you will have to get over before you ever get to the merits of the question.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Why do you say this? What does SCOTUS have to do with it?

    • John Stevens says:

      With respect, you don’t seem to understand what SCOTUS is. SCOTUS does not “rule” on such matters. It can only judge the case before it.

      SCOTUS cannot legislate, nor can it enforce its judgments. In our Federal system, all three branchs are co-equal and independent and exist in a system of checks and balances. This means that SCOTUS can decide a case, but Congress and the Executive branch can recognize the error of the decision, and refuse to accept it as a general rule, and even go so far as to modify the law to make the SCOTUS ruling moot.

      This action is not without precedent. President Lincoln ignored a bad SCOTUS ruling, for example.

    • Fourteen says:

      Even if the supreme court has decreed same sex marriage, it still flies in the face of nature. The court has created an eternal decapitation of society where people nod their heads in agreement with same sex advocates while their insides are saying no. Very much like the slave nodding yes to his imprisonment but knowing full well that he will break away one day. I respect the court, but I believe it is wrong on decreeing same sex marriage as they were on decreeing slavery for so long. Slavery was overturned because we ultimately came to see the dehumanizing affect it had on both the slave and the slave owner and like slavery, I believe same sex marriage will see the same end.

      Peace,

      Fourteen

  5. Msgr. Charles Pope says:

    Matt, I am not sure you understand the point I am making here. The point isn’t to go into a session like this in full apologetical mode, and battle about every term, and not cede any ground. The context is a family member and a conversation. In settings like this, I think the Socratic method is of value because it helps the “dissenting” member express their thinking, but also, thereby, examine their own premises. In such a conversation one can ask for clarifications about terms etc. It makes them do the work they usually demand of us and render an account for their view and the consequences that might come from it. However, the manner remains respectful, in the sense that they are given ample time to express their views and maybe actually think about them more deeply for the first time. The role of a parent or family member would be more to ask pointed questions that ask them to think through the matter more. Further, one need not “win” in the conversation by obtaining a change of view. It is enough to plant seeds of doubt or introduce a tension that gets them to think about what they are asserting, rather than merely what they are refuting or rejecting. Too many proponents of the cultural revolution get credit for merely rejecting. This processes asks them why they reject and asks them to take more ownership of their ideas and look to their own thinking and motives.

    • t cross says:

      What you are saying is that it is better to be on the offence rather than the defence. You keep the question-ball in your hands. That way you keep the window open for conversation rather than shutting the window and stopping all possible fresh air from entering. This has been very helpful. I need to pray,study and be ready to retain the ball. Thank you.

      God’s blessings be with you.

  6. X Contra says:

    Socratic method is good, Msgr. So is patience. But boy howdy, they are hard to execute.

    I used to picket at abortion mills, and we organized Friday praying the rosary at one of them. We encountered a lot friendly responses but also a lot of hostility. But we always tried to picket or pray in pairs, and it was helpful. Many times one of us would engage a hostile bystander confronting us, and the other would take a few steps back and pray. What I found was that simply listening carefully and patiently, as you have mentioned, was often the most fruitful way to proceed. Patience won out. Many of those hostile individuals would be talking and conversing in their right mind after ten minutes or so, and then you can work with him.

    SO… bravo for your advice: Socratic method with patience!

  7. William says:

    While I understand the position put forth here, let me add another. Sometimes it is best to just cut your ties with these people and eliminate them from your life, even if they are family. Some issues are fundamental, and pretend marriage and homosexuality are two of them. I have done just what I have said and do not miss the people. I miss who they used to be, but not the evil people they are now.

    • t cross says:

      Evil is a strong word. They are misguided people, created by God for heaven, in need of prayer and conversion.

    • Paul says:

      William said: “Sometimes it is best to just cut your ties with these people and eliminate them from your life, even if they are family”.

      So William, instead of concentrating on being a loving family member your just tossing them out of your life because…??? What a fine Christian you are!

  8. Anne says:

    How do I define marriage? It is a loving union between two consenting adults. The gender(s) of those adults are immaterial.

    Could marriage involve more than two people? Sure, if you can find a way to make it not be exploitative or oppressive to any of the parties involved. (Polygamy, for example, traditionally is oppressive to women, because it often assumes that women are to be treated as property. Polygamy also is one of the accepted types of marriage in the Bible, so that should be all right with Christians contracting God-sanctioned bible-based marriage, yes?)

    Must the parties to the marriage be unrelated? Yes, because marriage between close relatives can introduce genetic abnormalities in the offspring. But even in the Christian West, marriage between people as close as first cousins has been considered acceptable until fairly recently (like early-20th-century recently). Marriage between parents and children or aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews are not acceptable because of the power differential created by those adult/child relationships, which means that consent might not actually be possible on the part of the younger party. There’s also the genetic question there, especially with a parent/child pairing.

    Must love be the only reason? Well, it certainly helps if you at least like the person you’re going to marry, and a loving marriage is the best kind. But that doesn’t need to be the sole reason. The idea of marrying for love is also an extremely recent concept in the Christian West. Until within the last 200 years or so, the idea of the love match was the often the exception, not the rule, since many marriages were arranged by the bride and groom’s parents or other elders.

    Any other questions?

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Yes, I am still wondering how you define marriage? You say it is a loving union between two consenting adults but then in subsequent remarks say that these criteria really aren’t required for there to be a marriage. As far as I can tell, your definition of marriage could include any conceivable combination of people in any number, of any sex, and for any reason. So again, can I ask, How do you define marriage?

      • RF says:

        Marriage is a contract between consenting adults which states that they will be partners for life.

        • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

          It seems your definition thus allows any number of people to marry, in any combination of sexes, for no determined purpose other than being partners (which term can apply to business partners, or to friendships etc). So how is your definition different from someone entering a commune, or some similar organization where people live a common life?

          Interestingly you DO stipulate they should stay in this (these) relationship(s) for life. This seems the only definitive parameter for you. Is that right, and if so why? Why do you say it should be permanent. I know why I say it should be, but why do you see that as significant?

    • Gary Lockhart says:

      “Must the parties to the marriage be unrelated? Yes, because marriage between close relatives can introduce genetic abnormalities in the offspring.”

      You’ve unknowingly defined marriage as being between a man and a woman since procreation is not possible between two individuals of the same sex, thus rendering the remainder of your relativism moot.

  9. Jason Clark says:

    A great little book called “Getting the Marriage Conversation Right” is also very helpful. It compares the competing definitions of marriage and helps to keep the discussion on track.

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