We were simply commiserating over children when she blurted it out. “You know my children were conceived by in vitro fertilization don’t you?”I was stunned into silence. What could I say?
I was caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, I knew Church teaching and I felt the obligation to set things straight. On the other hand, we were in a public place and I did not feel that this was the place for a showdown. I began a little tap-dance. What’s a body to do?
All too often these days Christians are put on the cultural defensive. People will make assertions and then look at you like you have two heads if you dare to disagree. Oh, they may not mean to do it, but they do do it all the same. We are living in a truly postmodern culture.
The more militant side of my brain wanted to go on the attack. But you just can’t say, “That’s stupid, that’s not Catholic, and you’re going to Hell.” That’s neither charitable nor helpful.
On the other hand, if you just roll over and agree with them then you run the risk of giving scandal and failing to admonish the sinner. And more importantly, what’s the best way to love my neighbor?
I knew that if I were a priest, I would be obligated to clarify church teaching. But I’m not a priest and therefore the obligation isn’t absolute. We need to pick and choose our battles sometimes based on the situation, based on our relationship with the other person, and the likelihood that what we say will do more good than harm.
She went on to say, “Then a priest during his homily proceeded to tell us that our children were sinful — and they were old enough to understand! I was so angry, I was ready to leave the Church for good right then. “
I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure that the priest didn’t, in fact, say that her children were sinful because they were conceived by IVF. Actions are sinful or not sinful, but people never are: children doubly so. But it goes to show you that people can misconstrue what you say especially when it comes to sensitive topics.
Sometimes we dream of that big showdown where someone will challenge our faith in Jesus and we make that glorious stand. But the reality is far more mundane.The attacks come in the form of a thousand cuts, and our defense comes as a series of prudential judgments.
How are we to decide? The first piece of advice I would give it to get informed about your faith especially as it relates to bioethics. Impassioned rhetoric is no substitute for a few solid facts behind you. A first-rate resource is Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk’s monthly column, Making Sense of Bioethics, and the National Catholic Bioethics Center. Fr. Tad is a great writer and he makes does a great job of clarifying these complex subjects.
Make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Jesus. You may have heard this catchphrase and it is not a bad piece of advice. In order for a person to really listen to you, you need to be in a relationship with that person. A perfect stranger’s opinion is not going to carry as much weight as a friend’s. We care what our friends think.
Your relationship maybe one of authority, a mentor, older person to younger person, familial, friend, or some other arrangement. The point is, you need to have a right to speak to that person as you do. Once you have that relationship then you can share with that person about Jesus and the beauty of Church teaching. Prior to that, you will not be heard. And isn’t a person’s salvation what we care about?
Experience is a good teacher. I’m no psychologist, but there are a few things that just makes sense: guidelines to follow. Most people will respond more positively to “I” statements then to “you” statements. I have found that if I am simply sharing my experience, then people are more receptive to what I’m saying rather than if I just spout off about what is right and what is wrong.This is what I did, this is what I felt, this is why I thought it was right. It’s hard to argue with how a person experienced something.
People just don’t like to be told what to do, or that they are wrong. I know I don’t, and I’m frequently wrong. It can be hard to resist the urge to be right. One of my favorite punchlines comes from an XKCD comic: “Someone is wrong on the Internet.”
What advice would you give?