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Ryan Anderson: Church teaching an ‘untapped resource’ for responding to culture wars

By Matt Hadro for CNA

(Image: Josh Applegate/

Washington D.C., Feb 3, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The teachings of the Church are an “untapped resource” for Catholics to respond to problems such as abortion and gender ideology, one prominent Catholic scholar says.

Ryan Anderson (Credit: EPPC)

“More or less the entire tradition is an untapped resource at this point,” said Ryan Anderson, the new president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), in an interview with CNA on Tuesday.

“America is a divided nation with lots of institutional decay. Bold witnesses to the truth and faithful living out of the truth is how we best lead the way,” he said

In an interview with CNA, Anderson—a prominent speaker and author on marriage, sexuality, religious freedom, and natural law—offered advice for Catholics on discussing issues such as abortion and gender ideology, and pointed to saints who could serve as models for this evangelization.

The interviewed followed Anderson’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, where he argued that appeals to religious freedom are insufficient for success in the “culture wars.

Religious Americans increasingly find themselves fighting coercive government mandates that violate their consciences, he noted, such as taxpayer-funded abortion or having to accept gender ideology. In these cases, many Americans appeal to their religious freedom as a defense—but they should also be seeking to bring others to their side, he said.

“We’ll have the best shot at winning fights over abortion restrictions or child sex-change procedures when conservatives are willing to assert that their beliefs are true, not merely protected in law,” Anderson said.

The “culture wars” are not merely religious, Anderson told CNA in an interview.

The Supreme Court last summer ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that civil rights protections extend to sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result, social conflicts could arise that are not just religious but deal with basic questions of human nature

For instance, biological men identifying as transgender women could cite the court’s ruling to use women’s bathrooms, locker rooms, or homeless shelters despite the concerns of other women using those facilities, Anderson said. They could participate in women’s sports against the wishes of their female competitors. They could demand that a doctor help them transition, even if the doctor thinks the procedure is harmful

These scenarios do “raise religious liberty concerns,” Anderson said, “but first and foremost they get the human person wrong—for everyone.

As a response, Catholics must witness to the truth of the human person, he said, “proposing a more excellent way, in season and out,” than what the culture claims is true.

“This will entail basic evangelization and catechesis on theology, while also drawing from the best of biology, psychology, sociology, and philosophy” among other disciplines, he said, “to show that there is no tension between faith and reason.”

Catholics should use the “untapped resource” of Church tradition, he added, notably the writings of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and modern popes beginning with Pope Leo XIII.

The social teaching of modern popes “provides endless resources on a holistic view of the human person, the family, the Church, and the proper role of the state,” Anderson said.

When asked what saints could serve as inspirations for Catholics to engage with the broader culture, Anderson responded that Pope St. John Paul II’s “clarion call to ‘be not afraid’” can galvanize Catholics, and the “philosophical foundations” of St. Thomas Aquinas “will prove essential.”

St. Phillip Neri, he added, “was known for his joy, his humor, his love of music and fellowship, and for his endless hours hearing confessions, explaining the faith, and reaching out to the those on the margins of society. This sort of joyful witness will serve us well.”

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  1. A little history about my understanding of Church teaching. I’m an old guy went to Catholic School K-12. While I was a Catholic all my life, but my knowledge of Church teaching was unfortunately not great. However, I will say with the Grace of God Knew enough not to leave the faith, when controversy erupted. It wasn’t until I retired did I read the New Testament, which now have reread multiple times. Have read numerous Catholic books covering saints, church history and Catholic Teaching. Currently I consider myself on the learning treadmill, lot to learn.

    My guess is that a lot of Catholics are in my situation. So how do we learn. In my case suggest Catholics need to instill in themselves a desire to learn. Churches need to offer online or in class training, I know many have. Beyond that I find Catholic Radio in my case it is Relevant Radio (RR) to be credible source of info. RR has many great shows, sometime I drive in the car just to listen. The other is Catholic World Report. While I may not have time to read all the articles, I find the range of articles from history, saints, theological to be excellent. Also the many commentors provide knowledgeable input. Also appreciate ability to comment, just to add my 2cents worth.

    So in the end Church should start in the pulpit, but each of us need to tap into all the sources: books, courses on Church Teaching and websites like CWR.

    • Grand Rapids Mike: I hope you can take advantage of Sacred Heart parish in Grand Rapids. They have established amazing parish family nights for learning and teaching the faith, ways to learn from visiting national speakers like Anthony Esolen, and classical school programs. If we weren’t currently stuck in another state, we’d have moved there a while ago. Be glad you have such people around!

  2. Ryan Anderson summarizes well that “the social teaching of modern popes ‘provides endless resources on a holistic view of the human person, the family, the Church, and the proper role of the state.’”

    But as for the “holistic view,” how do we re-establish moral virtue as meriting more points than, say, “the science” in a culture sold out to the industrial-educational complex? In summary, the Church’s social principles (Catholic Social Teaching) are rooted in not only our easily-dismissed Catholic luminaries in history, but firstly in the inborn/aborted MORAL VIRTUES—justice and prudential judgment, temperance and courage. Today, isn’t it courage, finally, even more than any intellectual exercise, that enables us:

    To see each concrete human PERSON as more than a nameless thingamajig;
    To see that the FAMILY is not an arbitrary legal fiction of the State, or an exploitable market segment of “the economy”;
    To see that we have RIGHTS because we first have RESPONSIBILITIES (Newman);
    To see that while SOLIDARITY means specific human relationships are real, they are also “non-exclusionary” (John Paul II);
    To see that SUBSIDIARITY means the State is neither the origin nor the sum total of human community (Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno);
    To see that the contributing human WORKER is not to be objectified as only a commodity/skill-set summarily expendable to “creative destruction” pink slips;
    To see that the POOR of all kinds—including two generations of the spiritually misled (!)–are not excess baggage subject to overt or indirect triage (“traditionalists”!);
    And that DIVINE CREATION is an enchanted wonder—whether external and revealed to us by Galileo’s cosmic telescope, or internal and revealed by the neighborhood ultrasound—Regardless of whether the Aztec-princess Nancy Pelosi or her hood-ornament Biden “choose” to fantasize and trivialize otherwise (“Fantastica fornicatio”: to prostitute one’s mind to one’s fantasies, so said St. Augustine).

    How does one elicit the moral virtues in a culture which in barely a decade has been so fully corrupted by the elites of Tomorrowland—those not-so-new (yesteryear’s Manichaeans!) and unmasked “carriers” of the anti-person and anti-family invasive species called gender theory?

    • Always good that Gnostics peruse CWR, if even to through out a few insults. Who knows maybe God is calling you to wake up.

  3. Grand Rapids Mike – May I recommend also The Catholic Thing – daily article, very solid, intelligent but still accessible to a non-specialist.

  4. What books do you recommend that tap the resource of Church tradition, specifically with respect to the issues of abortion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity?

  5. Thank God too that the power of the treasury of the wisdom revealed to The Church is still being unearthed .. it has been not that long ago that Bl.Mother appeared as The Immaculate Conception ; we have the revelations of Bl.Emmerich that supports same as well as the ones such as to S.G Luisa ,as in the book – Virgin Mary in The Kingdom of the Divine Will , mentioning the power and love poured forth from The Trinity from the moment of the same event into her life . This country dedicated to The I.C , hence too may be the warfare in the related areas in purity and holiness .

    Today 2/4 – two saints whose lives were to help bring the goodness and power in the Divine Will , into places where in reigned the self will and related carnal holds – St.Joseph of Leonessa among the Muslims ( had never heard of him before 🙂 and St.Johon Brito among the Hindu natives in S.India ; Octave of today would be 2/11 , Feast Day of our Lady of Lourdes .

    St.Paul interestingly in the letter to the Ephesians – ‘ we are members of His Body . For THIS reason , a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh . This is a profound mystery . ‘
    It is likely that St.Paul would have met Bl.Mother in Ephesus and was aware of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception as well , yet , God likely had willed that that part of the Church history be hidden till the right time that was not too long ago .
    The aspect of man leaving the father and mother , seeing himself in the light of his origin in God , more so than in the natural descent or of the will of man , the oneness in the flesh too to have its truth in same ,to thus give marriage the holiness as originating in His Will , carnality to serve same , not to be its degrading and abusive master .
    The Church in efforts to help all who need to grow in the power of The Cross and in holiness such as through the meditations of the ’24 Hours of Passion ‘ –

    May the masks and all remind us to wear the love in the Wounds of our Lord ,such as through the above means , to be thus set free what the Holy Father tell us are the demonic seeds of self pity , with the related efforts to be fed what belongs only in pig pens .
    Blessings !

  6. Ryan gets part of the equation right – the need to reach out beyond those willing to accept traditional church teachings as a rationale for public policy. What he misses is that advancing alternative thoughts on gender and sexuality to those not so willing to bow to tradition or church teaching authority requires peer-reviewed medical studies backing up traditional morality. The church is competent in making moral judgments, but not medical judgments. What is “natural,” “ordered,” “disordered,” etc., from a medical or scientific standpoint requires medical and scientific data collected, reviewed and reported according to medical and scientific standards. Unless or until that gap is filled, the support base for moving backwards on gender and sexual orientation will continue to shrink.

  7. A very important point. If we fight these issues merely on the basis of appeals to freedom of religion, we have already conceded 99% of the ground to the antiscience Culture of Death. Allowing them to see us as merely asking for concessions for some weird religious belief. We must fight these issues on the basis of the obvious scientific secular truth, that there are only two sexes and that they are unchangeable, that the purpose of the reproductive system is reproduction and urges to misuse the reproductive organs are disordered, that the life of a unique organism begins at his conception etc.

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