Tips for Thanksgiving Conversations about Marriage

Tips for converssations about marriageHow to Witness the Truth
About Marriage
Without Conflict

by William B. May

SAN FRANCSICO, November 24, 2014 -- When the extended family gets together for Thanksgiving, conversations can get interesting these days when controversial subjects like marriage or homosexuality come up. With emotions running high, it is very difficult to have rational discussions with people having divergent opinions, and certainly not discussions that will change anyone’s mind. However, evangelization is not about winning arguments, it is about planting seeds of truth and trusting in the Holy Spirit.

People who are using our booklet, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right and its video companion in faith sharing groups are learning that it is possible to witness the truth about marriage without provoking conflict.

The controversy is rooted in a misunderstanding about what marriage is. We all have theories about the roots of the confusion, e.g. contraception, the sexual revolution, no fault divorce, etc. How we got there is not as important as describing marriage in a way that people can understand in today’s culture.

We know that explaining marriage based on religious arguments, the difference between conjugal and non-conjugal acts, procreation,  and outcomes for children is difficult at best, and is seldom effective. In addition, these conversations  often lead to further misunderstandings and unpleasant accusations of being unenlightened or having bias against people who have adopted gay lifestyles.

It is best to keep the description of marriage simple and the conversation brief. Recognizing the most important audience are the people who are overhearing the conversation, so keep the children in mind because they are often looking for how to answer the same questions. So describe marriage from their perspective. It is a way of reintroducing marriage from the beginning that reveals its truth and beauty as an integral part of God’s plan for creation.

Marriage is a choice by a man and woman to make themselves irreplaceable to each other; an act that prepares them to receive their children. The child is irreplaceable to both parents, and both parents are irreplaceable to the child. Not every married man and woman have children, but every child has a mother and father. Children know reality better than anyone. Either their moms or dads are united in marriage or someone is missing. That is a fact that can only be recognized and not changed.

We therefore know that when the reality of marriage is recognized in law, a civil institution that unites children with their moms and dads is enshrined. When marriage is redefined, that institution is eliminated. The question becomes, do we need a civil institution that specifically unites kids with their moms and dads? Yes or no? And, if no, why not? This is the fundamental question and don’t get sidetracked.

The response that men and women can still get married if marriage is redefined is unacceptable. Young people aren’t getting married today – it is a crisis that is touching almost every family. There are too many children deprived of married mothers and fathers, too many fatherless children, and too many children living in poverty as a result. It is not only important for marriage to be recognized in the law, but solve the problem, the unique value of men and women marrying before having children must be promoted, even in public schools. We know that redefining marriage makes promoting the unique value of men and women marrying before having children discriminatory against those who by their nature cannot procreate.

It is best to end the conversation by agreeing to disagree, but there are people around the dinner table, particularly the children, who will have heard the truth and be able to confirm it in their own minds.

Two articles on our website will provide a little more background on this: “Reframing the Marriage Issue Reveals the Reality of Marriage,” and “Tips for Dialogue about Marriage with Family and Friends.” They will help keep you from falling into traps the lead to conflict. If the conversation is focused on the reality of marriage, conversations related to homosexuality and related behavior should not even come up.

Discussing Homosexuality is a Delicate Matter

But what about sexual ethics? Remember, sexual attractions are not sinful, only disordered acts (which the Church defines as acts that by their nature are closed to life). With all of the focus on homosexuality, people are often surprised when they consider that disordered acts are not exclusive to same-sex couples. However there is little discussion about disorded acts between men and women inside or outside marriage.

When homosexuality comes up, how often do we start talking about sin. "We are all sinners but God loves everyone just the same." This sounds a little disingenuous. It is harder to overlook the sin, when people take on an identity associated with their sexual behavior. Think about how people would respond if a man took on an identity of a womanizer (unbridled promiscuity with women). That distract many from seeing the image of God in the person and recognizing God's infinite love for that person even in his sin. Taking on an identity associate with a sexual behavior is like wearing a sign that says, “Kick me, I'm a sinner.” The rest of us do a pretty good job of hiding our sins whenever possible.

The Church provides the following guidance: “Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, … challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well.” That was not from Pope Francis, but the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict) in audience with Pope St. John Paul II in 1986. He went on to say,

“the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a "heterosexual" or a "homosexual" and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”[1]

I have stopped using the words “homosexual”, “gay” or “lesbian” as an identifier that implies certain behaviors or personal sin. Instead, I find it more accurate and therefore beneficial to me and the other person to simply refer to them “a person who has adopted a gay or lesbian identity.” They are not that identity. It is a way of protesting and it helps me remember that they are persons loved by God first and, in reality, that is all that matters.

Considering all of this, it is perhaps easer to understand Pope Francis' famous quote, "Who am I to judge." In reality, we really don't know who Christ will judge, do we? I find St. Francis de Sales advice from Introduction to the Devout Life particularly helpful. He suggests following Christ's example on the Cross,

"Again, our Crucified Saviour, while He could not wholly ignore the sin of those who Crucified Him, yet made what excuse He might for them, pleading their ignorance. And so when we cannot find any excuse for sin, let us at least claim what compassion we may for it, and impute it to the least damaging motives we can find, as ignorance or infirmity.

"Are we never, then, to judge our neighbour? you ask. Never, my child."[2]

Discussions about personal behavior or sin falls more in the category of fraternal correction, which must be handled with great discernment and charity lest we risk alienating the person and undermining their receptivity to Christ’s saving love.


[1] Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, . Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, 1986.

[2] St Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, "Hasty Judgments," Part III, Chapter 28

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