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The power of language and the witness of words

It is a curious time to be a Catholic Christian. (Is it ever not, though? I think maybe we all fall prey to a little good old fashioned chronological snobbery, whether or not we care to admit it.)

On the one hand, I live in America and for the most part, shuttered adoption agencies and defunct bakeries and cancelled after-school Bible clubs aside, the persecution that Christians face here is still on the lightish side. And many would shrug off the aforementioned incidences not as persecution at all, but as the rightful assertion of a collective morality over defiant and wrong-headed individual dissenters.

On the other hand, it is gravely concerning how very much the pace of things has accelerated, for society to embrace, wholesale, things that a decade and a half ago would have registered clearly on our collective consciences as “wrong.” There are now plenty of Christians who wouldn’t bat an eye at a 12-week abortion, embryonic stem cell research performed “for a good cause” to fight the horrors of ALS, of helping an elderly parent or terminal cancer patient end his or her life with a prescription written by the hand of their own physician.

In Colorado this last piece is coming to the ballot this November, under the tidy euphemism “physician-assisted suicide,” but more popularly nicknamed “death with dignity.” So as you exit your favorite natural grocery store you might be intercepted by a cheerful, clipboard-wielding volunteer in a neon green t-shirt earnestly inquiring into your concern that sick and elderly people have “dignified end of life choices.” Which is a whole lot harder to answer “no thanks” to than, say, “should Coloradans vote to let people who want to die kill themselves with a prescription written by a doctor?”

Language carries the day. As it always has. And it becomes essential for those of us who believe in a God Who is the Author of life to reclaim these conversations on a linguistic level.

It seems a small thing, a popular word or commonly-accepted term here, a turn of phrase there. Look how much traction gay “marriage” has gotten in a few short years.

When the phrase first came into existence, Christians and other people who recognized the impossibility of two same-sex individuals, however sincere their love, contracting what we all commonly understood to be marriage, had no problem throwing quotes around the term, because it was an imprecise and incorrect application of a recognized reality. But repeated loudly and often enough, we’ve now all but lost that point.

There’s no longer any room in the national conversation to point out “actually, marriage is a covenant contracted between two consenting opposite-sex adults, for the purpose of creating and raising a family and contributing to the development and continuation of civilization.”

I guarantee if you bust out that last sentence at the neighborhood block party, you’d either get a drink tossed in your face or find yourself with a semi-circle of bewildered acquaintances backing away from you in a hurry.

Because we’ve conceded that point on a linguist level and on a legal level. And now we must hide behind our “personal beliefs” or “chosen religious faith” when making the point, which, in a secular society governed almost exclusively by the court of public opinion, is a weak position to operate from indeed.

By forcing religious belief and morality into a corner, meant now to be tucked handily into one’s pocket and not revealed in polite company, the secular Left have employed a chillingly effective strategy, with hardly any real persecution necessary. We zip our own lips instead, avoiding tough topics with friends and coworkers, afraid of causing a scene, afraid of professional fallout, not looking to start a fight.

Guess what? That isn’t going to work much longer.

Every inch that Christians give over as a forgone conclusion: that children don’t deserve to be protected by their parents, that religious belief is a private matter that must be exorcised from the public square, that the government dictates morality to the people, and not vice versa…every one of these small skirmishes that we offer up in embarrassed silence, not wanting to muddy the waters, brings us closer and closer to a civilization in which we have no voice.

Because we stopped using our words.

Because we stopped having conversations at the only level that truly matters: personal, one-on-one, and rooted in trust and authentic relationship.

How on earth can we expect our gay neighbor to ever understand our position, however rooted in love and respect, if she does not hear it from our lips, but relies instead on Rachel Maddow’s punditry to inform her how we – Me! Her friend next door! – really see “them.”

How can our children defend their position on abortion to a school bus full of teammates if they’ve never participated in compassionate and nuanced conversations around the dinner table about human dignity and real feminism and authentic healthcare? 

How can we expect our leaders to legislate based on objective morality rather than creating morality based on subjective legislation if all of our voices fall silent, all at once, afraid to break the peace, afraid to ruffle feathers, afraid to look foolish.

It is time to look foolish.

It is past time.

It is time to answer truthfully to the question “do you plan to have more children?” Or “have you thought about scheduling a vasectomy” with His truth, not the truth of the day. It is time to explain to a curious coworker that no, you couldn’t vote for a woman who holds up abortion as a fundamental human right, no matter how compelling the circumstances might seem. To defend your position on the intrinsic evil of torture around the campfire at a guy’s fishing weekend. To explain to a friend with an aging parent that some things are worse than suffering, and that some choices are always wrong.

It is time to struggle with hard topics and harder choices out loud, in a way that is authentic and vulnerable and worthwhile, so that someone else who is searching for the truth might see a glimpse of it reflected in your life, however much you might be screwing it up and failing. 

Because that is what it means to be a Christian. It means to wrestle with God, accommodating ourselves to His reality, humbly admitting that we don’t understand, that we aren’t doing it perfectly,  and that we’ll get back up again and try – with His grace – to do better next time.

But it does not mean falling silent while evil is perpetrated all around us. It doesn’t mean (guilty here!) sliding into a comfortable, surface-level relationship devoid of authenticity with your neighbors so that nothing unpleasant ever comes up to muddy the waters.

We must use our voices while we still have them, because our words have power, power given to us by the One in whose image and likeness we are created.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Christians, it is time to speak up.

“The days of socially acceptable Christianity are over, the days of comfortable Catholicism are past…It is no longer easy to be a faithful Christian, a good Catholic, an authentic witness to the truths of the Gospel. A price is demanded and must be paid.”

– Professor Robert P. George, Princeton

love hate



  • Christina Hoots

    Wow!!! I always love your writing, but this one is out of the park amazing.

    God Bless you for your writing!!!

  • Alison

    I struggle with keeping silent or engaging with friends and co-workers all the time!! Honestly, I don’t know how to explain the Church’s rationale on “hot topics” to them. They know I’m Catholic and assume they know my stance, yet I cannot articulate the reasons behind them. Where can I begin, seriously?

  • jeanette

    You said:

    There’s no longer any room in the national conversation to point out “actually, marriage is a covenant contracted between two consenting opposite-sex adults, for the purpose of creating and raising a family and contributing to the development and continuation of civilization.”

    Jenny, I don’t think a “national conversation” ever took place at all. Our nation doesn’t know how to have conversations like that. They say nasty things about those who oppose their way of thinking, also known as “ad hominem” attacks (look on any comment section of any online news story to verify that). We get “politically corrected” to death by the news media, so that we do not have the opportunity to view 2 sides of the question. And, in the end, just sit down and shut up because “WE” (whomever that is) have already decided what our nation’s position is on any given issue.

    Yes, something is very wrong in the conversation (or lack thereof). Muteness is a problem for certain. Cowardice or inability aside, is it really possible to converse with people? One big technique used by those who are afraid that you CAN argue your position successfully is to block the conversation altogether. People are unwilling to engage in genuine conversation lest it lead to the truth, and the truth is something other than their position on the matter. It takes real diplomacy to engage someone who holds an opposing view, so that they will listen to what you have to say. It takes listening to what they have to say, too.

  • Salha

    Yikes! Big Typo! I meant *shouldn’t*

    In my opinion the truth is that religious beliefs *shouldn’t* run the lives of those who do not observe those beliefs.

    Well that’s a clear indication that it’s time to get off line.

  • MND

    In my opinion, being Christian means leading by example through love, forgiveness, and example. It does not mean forcing our beliefs on others through legislation and judgements. Christians who try to impose their beliefs on the rest of the world are guilty of driving non-believers further from the church. It leads them here, “If that’s’ what it means to be Chrisitian, I want no part of it.”

    Is abortion for me? No, but then I have never been put in a situation that required me to make that choice. How dare I tell someone who is in that position what their rights are? Who am I to say? I don’t believe any woman goes through that flippantly and I have to assume that God is with them, if for no other reason, than because I asked Him to be.

    Gay marriage…two people who love each other and want to raise a family together and want the same rights as anyone else in our country. How dare they? My cousin is in a same-sex relationship. They are raising two adopted children together in a loving, stable home. It is not the place of a Christian to define their marriage or their lives. It is our place to pray for their success in raising the children and to be glad for their happiness. If the Lord has issue with their relationship, it is between Him and them. As for me, I must love and forgive and pray.

    How many times has Jesus made the distinction that we are not bound by man-made laws? Just because abortion and gay marriage are permitted by man-made law doesn’t mean we have to do it. It does mean that people who will engage in activities that could put them in harms way, either because of prejudice or because of physical risk, now have more legal rights which keeps them safer.

    Pray with an open mind and reserve judgements for improving your personal relationship with God.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      How dare you tell someone that abortion is wrong? I’m sorry, you kinda lost me there… “thou shalt not kill.” Jesus was definitely down with the 10 commandments.

      • MND

        Yeah, but was he “down with” judging others and controlling their lives? Um, no. There are plenty of people in the world who are not from an Abrahamic faith so imposing the 10 commandments on them does not give them freedom of religion. Yep, we have to mix mans law with religious law. but here is the thing…mans law doesn’t mean you have to do it and, really, it’s all about your personal relationship with God…not what you think of your neighbors personal relationship with Him. I think Jesus is more supportive of treating people with dignity and living a holy life that leads people to him. Judging people for their choices does not lead them to Christianity; it drives them away.

        I think Pope Francis sums it up best, “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” the pontiff said, speaking in Italian. “You can’t marginalize these people.” Go ahead and insert whatever topic of judgement you like in lieu of “gay person”, because it’s the same message every time…”not our place to judge”.

        • MND

          Also, don’t take my word for it. Go to your praying place and ask Him directly. Remember you were promised a savior not a book. So, at the end of the day it isn’t the book you should rely on, but God Himself.

          • Jenny Uebbing

            “On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?” Pope Francis told Tornielli. “I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.”

            “I am glad that we are talking about ‘homosexual people’ because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity. And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love. I prefer that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together. You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it.”


            we are all in need of mercy, forgiveness, and ongoing conversion. And Jesus is hope and healing for us all, and He never, never leaves us in our sin, but rescues us every time we fall, over and over again.

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