For NC Family’s Raleigh Dinner on May 10, 2022, we welcomed renowned author and president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, as our keynote speaker. Dr. Anderson spoke on what he called “the four most important civilizational truths that shouldn’t be contested, but are.”
On this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters, we’re sharing Part 2 of Dr. Anderson’s address. To watch the complete address, visit the 2022 Raleigh Dinner video page on our website.
The third highly contested truth is “not only are we created male and female, but male and female are created for each other in marriage,” says Dr. Anderson. “This hasn’t changed just because the Supreme Court got another case wrong. […] They got Obergefell wrong. That doesn’t actually change the truth about marriage, nor does it change the importance of marriage.”
Marriage has always been both a natural institution and a supernatural institution; marriage plays both a civic and a sacred function. Because of this, “even though temporarily we’ve experienced a setback with Obergefell,” says Dr. Anderson, “that doesn’t mean that we should stop advocating either for the truth about what marriage is, or simultaneously just trying to promote family and marriage.”
The fourth and final truth is that “all of us are created for God. It’s the corollary of being made in the image and likeness of God […] This means it’s at our own folly to try to think that we can organize our public life as if God doesn’t exist.”
Dr. Anderson argues that this truth comes into play with the role of religion in the public square, and the importance of religious liberty. “What we’ve tried to do now for two generations is to conduct our public life as if God doesn’t exist,” he continues, “as if religion and morality have nothing to saw about law and justice, and look where it’s got us.”
As believers, “the duties we have to God are the most important duties that we have, period. […] We need someone bringing that faith perspective to bear in our laws. We need a moral foundation to our laws.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Part 2 of Dr. Ryan T. Anderson’s address on the four most controversial truths in our culture today.
DR. RYAN T. ANDERSON:
The third truth: not only are we created male and female, but male and female are created for each other in marriage. This hasn’t changed just because the Supreme Court got another case wrong. They got Windsor wrong. They got Obergefell wrong. That doesn’t actually change the truth about marriage, nor does it change the importance of marriage. The reason that any of us who are active in the so-called “gay marriage debate” were involved at all is because we cared about the larger marriage debate, right? And the emphasis wasn’t on the gay part; it was on the marriage part. Marriage is about uniting men and women as husbands and wives, to then be mothers and fathers to the children that that union creates. It’s based not on an ecclesial law, but on a natural law, and what I mean by that is that we don’t want the government in the baptism business. But we do have the state in the marriage business because marriage is both a natural institution and a supernatural institution. Marriage plays both a civic function in producing the next generation of citizens and then raising the next generation of citizens to adulthood, and it plays a sacred function. Jesus elevates marriage. We can have Protestant-Catholic debates about sacramental theology or covenantal theology, but he takes a natural institution that’s there at creation and he elevates it into the supernatural domain.
So, marriage needs to do dual service. When marriages fail to form in the first place, when marriages fall apart prematurely, that’s where you get the social scientists that just give you reams of evidence about the poor outcomes; poor outcomes for the adults—men who never get married, or particularly women after divorce. It’s not good for adults. In those situations, children who are conceived either outside of marriage or children where their parents separate without good reason, this is where you see lower rates of graduation, higher rates of poverty, lower rates of employment, higher rates of incarceration, et cetera, et cetera. Marriage is like the original Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. It’s the best way of producing that next generation.
The legal redefinition of marriage doesn’t do anything to advance marriage. It only makes it harder to say something that I heard Pope Francis say about seven years ago. I was in the room where he said this, “A child has a right to a mother and a father.” Today, how many either of our religious leaders, our civic leaders, or just kind of ordinary Americans are willing to assert that, that a child deserves—in Pope Francis’s language—that a “child has a right to a mother and a father”? All of which is to say that ”
All right. The last truth that I want to mention. So, we’re made in the image in likeness of God; we’re created male and female; and male and female are created for each other in marriage. The fourth truth: all of us are created for God. It’s the corollary of being made in the image and likeness of God. We’re all made for God. He’s made us for himself. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in him” in Augustine’s famous phrase from the Confessions. This means that it’s at our own folly to try to think that we can organize our public life as if God doesn’t exist.
So, two things that I want to hit at here. One is going to be the role of religion in the public square, and then the second, the importance and the centrality of religious liberty. The first thing to say, the role of religion in the public square? None of the founders thought that what they were doing was creating what Father Richard John Newhouse referred to as the “naked public square.” None of them thought the First Amendment to our Constitution, which protects the free exercise of religion and prohibits Congress from establishing religion, none of them thought that meant that they were separating religion from politics or morality from law. What they were doing is they were prohibiting the federal government from establishing a church and that was it. It was an institutional separation; the institution of the Church and the institution of the State were two different institutions. But of course, religious believers need to be active in the public square. Religious believers need to be advocating for justice, advocating for the least among us. The founders knew that actually this experiment in democratic self-government wouldn’t be possible unless the people themselves were self-governed and unless they were based upon a sound understanding of morality and religion—that our Constitution was made only, our constitution was intended only for a moral and religious people. It was unsuitable to any other.
Yet, what we’ve tried to do now for two generations is to conduct our public life as if God doesn’t exist, as if religion and morality have nothing to say about law and justice, and look where it’s got us. So, I think one thing that’s going be important is for religious believers to be able to speak into these debates and to do it in a way that’s not confrontational, off-putting, derogatory—to do it in a winsome, charitable, but forceful and persuasive way. We need someone bringing that faith perspective to bear in our laws. We need a moral foundation to our laws.
Second thing to say: we cannot allow the government to coerce people when it comes to their conscientious beliefs. We can’t allow the government to force Roman Catholic nuns to pay for abortion causing contraceptives. We can’t allow the government to force evangelical bakers to bake cakes celebrating same sex weddings. We can’t allow the government to force two Catholic hospitals into performing sex reassignment procedures. We can’t allow the government to force Christian adoption agencies into placing children with two moms or two dads, rather than both a mother and a father. All of the examples I just gave you? All of those are kind of real-life cases that we need to be engaged in.
One reason why is because the duties that we have to God are the most important duties that we have, period. This is something that both George Washington and James Madison, if you read some of their writings on religious liberty, they fully understood that because we have certain duties to the creator, that then creates rights amongst men, and the right to religious liberty, the right to the free exercise of religion, not just the freedom of worship. One of the most annoying things during the Obama presidency was when Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept redefining free exercise religion as freedom of worship. Because what that implies is that, “Oh, sure, the Little Sisters of the Poor—they’re free to do what they want to do when they’re in their chapel. They can go to mass, they can pray the Rosary, like whatever, but as soon as they step outside of the four walls of their chapel and they start taking care of the elderly, the sick, the dying, then they have to play by the government’s rules.”
What the founders intended with the free exercise of religion was something not just one hour Sunday morning, maybe an hour Wednesday night for a Bible study, a men’s group. No. 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you should be free to live according to your deepest convictions about God, provided they’re peaceful; provided they don’t harm other people; provided they don’t undermine justice or the common good.
But the Little Sisters of the Poor, the adoption agencies, the baker, the florist, the photographer, the medical doctors—they weren’t harming anyone. All they wanted to do was to be free to do good to people in need. If you think about everything I’ve said tonight, in terms of the abortion debate, in terms of the marriage debate, in terms of the gender identity debate—it’s going to be vitally important that faith-based institutions maintain the freedom to exercise in accordance with the truth of those issues. It’ll be vitally important that Christian adoption agencies can keep the doors open to assist children in need, to assist young women who want to place a child with a faith-based agency. Imagine what your experience is like at the DMV. Every couple of years, you have to go to renew your driver’s license, and then imagine what it would be working with the government, DMV version of an adoption agency. There might be a reason why the faith-based agencies do a better job at this because adopting a child isn’t just a perfunctory paperwork issue. It’s something that touches all aspects of the human person. There’s an economic component, but there’s also a deep, emotional, spiritual component. Faith-based agencies can minister to the entire person, to the entire family. They can minister both to the mother placing the child for adoption and the family seeking to adopt that child. We want them to maintain the freedom to do so. We need them to be able to do so.
We need faith-based hospitals to practice good medicine for people with gender dysphoria. We need there to be places where families can turn to. Right now, this is something that we need a generation of Christian medical school students to go and specialize in—in good medicine for people with gender dysphoria. There’s a very small list of physicians who practice medicine correctly, and it’s a confidential list because they’re afraid of being targeted and losing their jobs because they don’t know what their religious liberty rights will look like.
We need to protect religious liberty on these rights, whether it’s for the adoption agencies, whether it’s for the medical professionals, and I think even most important, for the schools. Why do so many families sacrifice to pay tuition to send their kids to a church school rather than going to the government-run school for free? Because so many jurisdictions, you can’t trust the public schools. I live in one of those jurisdictions, unfortunately. My wife and I have the luxury, we’re going to homeschool our kids. Many families don’t have that luxury. We live less than a mile away from a trailer park and right across the street from that trailer park is the public school, the Lucketts Elementary School. Those families are trapped in that school. That’s their only option. So, simultaneously, we’re going to have to work for school reform to give them better options, and work for religious liberties so that the people who want to opt out in the meantime have the freedom to do so. Parental rights, all of these things need to go together because we’re going to need to protect the freedom for people who momentarily might be in the minority. Momentarily on some of these issues, we might be in the minority. We need the freedom to continue living out the truth, bearing witness to the truth, evangelizing, converting, winning hearts and minds so that more people come to believe the truth, come to know the truth, because ultimately the truth is a person.
So, let me wrap up there. I’ll just say I now run—which is something I never thought I would have to say—I now run a think tank. Which means I have to deal with all sorts of administrative and financial issues, but my main vocation, historically, was I was a scholar. I like reading, I like writing. My kind of bread and butter is spending eight hours a day alone in a room with books, and I enjoy that. As important as that is, and here I’ll quote someone who’s even better at that than I am, probably one of the greatest intellectuals of all of our lifetimes, because he’s still, thank God, living. And that’s Pope Emeritus Benedict. And before he became Pope Benedict, he was a Cardinal Ratzinger. He was one of the leading European intellectuals, and he debated all the leading secularist philosophers and all the anti-God theologians, et cetera, et cetera in Europe. One of his quotes that’s always kind of stuck with me is where he said, “It’s not the arguments of the philosophers and the theologians that win converts. It’s the beauty of the artists and the holiness of the Saints.”
What he meant by that is as important as it is that people like John and me make good arguments, it’s even more important that all of us live out the truth with beauty and holiness. That our best witness long term, intergenerationally, our best witness to our own families, to our neighbors, to our coworkers isn’t going to be the email that we send them, the tweet that we send them, might not even be the book that you give them. It’s going to be your own life, the beauty of your life, the family life that you build, and the holiness that’s evident in your life. And on that, no matter what happens later this month or next month at the Supreme Court—no matter what happens in the law or the culture—all of us cooperating with God’s grace have it within our power to be those witnesses. Beautiful, holy witnesses to the truth. Thank you.
– END PART TWO –