A few weeks ago I gave a presentation on same-sex marriage at a university in the Midwest. My goal was to provide the audience with the non-religious reasons behind the Church’s efforts to keep marriage from being redefined in order to accommodate same-sex couples. Throughout the presentation I took great pains to be charitable. I also exhorted Catholics to not let their opposition to same-sex marriage turn into mean-spirited attitudes towards people who identify as having same-sex attractions.
Unfortunately, about halfway through my presentation two female students decided to protest my case for marriage by passionately embracing and kissing in front of the audience. I’m not sure why they were doing this because in my talk I made it clear that same-sex marriage and the morality of homosexual behavior were two separate issues. In fact, I included in my presentation quotes from people with same-sex attractions who also oppose redefining marriage.
As a university employee approached them and asked the students to leave I invited them to stay and dialogue with me about my presentation during the Q+A session afterwards. They refused saying that I was “twisting the truth." When I asked them to give one example of said twisting they refused. Their goal was to simply disrupt what I was saying and not engage me in rational argument.
Pray for Those Who Persecute You
This incident made me think about how God can use anything, even protesters who are diametrically opposed to what the Church teaches, to accomplish his will. Consider the picture above of Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard being doused by protesters while taking part in a panel discussion at a university in Brussels. According to one news outlet:
Four women, representing the pro-abortion and homosexual group FEMEN, took to the stage at ULB University in Brussels where the archbishop was participating in a debate on blasphemy laws. The women disrobed to reveal black-painted slogans on their bare chests and backs, such as "my body my rules. "Waving signs that read "stop homophobia," the women doused the archbishop with water from bottles formed in the image of the Virgin Mary.
In the minutes before the women could be forced off stage, Archbishop Leonard sat drenched with water, eyes closed in prayer. The archbishop then kissed the image of the Virgin Mary on one of the water bottles that was used in the attack.
"He was very calm and maintained a position of prayer. I have to believe he was praying for us," one of the attackers said to reporters.
What I find amazing is that if these protesters had not disrupted the event where the archbishop was speaking, then it would have probably gone unnoticed by the rest of the world. Ironically, their act of protest did not hurt the Catholic Church or portray it as the “evil villain” these protesters think the Church is. Instead, the protesters made themselves look like a bunch of bullies and the world was able to see the holiness of someone who has sought to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
The Difference We Can Make
While I faced a much milder disruption at my own talk on same-sex marriage, those two women provided an opportunity for everyone in attendance to see a Catholic handle critics with graciousness. I did not chastise these women or verbaly berate them. Instead, I invited them to have a dialogue with me and present their toughest objections in front of everyone. Afterwards, many people, including critics who disagreed with me on same-sex marriage, said they were impressed not just with my arguments but with “how I handled myself.”
The fact that I wasn’t defensive but graciously encouraged criticism impressed many people and it made them curious to learn more about the Church’s position on this issue. I’ll leave you with an email from a young woman that helped me see that when we present the truth in love God can use our actions to build up his kingdom in ways we may never see.
Tonight I was granted the honor of listening to you speak on my home campus! I also had the nerve-wracking chance to invite along a non-Catholic friend, who has (or maybe I should say "had") a very decided opinion about same-sex marriage. After you concluded your talk, I summoned the courage to ask my friend for their thoughts on your speech. My friend's response showed the impact of being deeply impressed with your charisma and with how you handled yourself and presented your material!
This led to a conversation that lasted nearly three hours on topics generally surrounding why Catholics believe what we do. When we finally called it a night, I knew that my friend's beliefs about same-sex marriage had changed and that they had even started looking at Catholicism in a better light!
Granted, I have been trying to talk to my friend for months (years, if you count since the beginning of our friendship) and have never been able to spark an interest. As with many college students my age, my friend usually brushed off all attempts or changed the subject. After tonight, however, your God-inspired words left my friend's heart open to the truth! My friend even hinted about wanting to know more about our faith!
Thanks be to God's grace and all praise to the One who inspired your profession!! I cannot thank either Him or you enough.
an Amazed College Student