How do you help kids deal with hot-button Church teachings—especially when those teachings aren’t popular with their peers?
Birth control. Abortion. Same-sex marriage. Immigration. Climate change. Religious freedom.
Most Catholics are used to dealing with Church teachings that buck mainstream values on hot-button social issues. In fact, most Catholics are personally challenged by Church teaching on one or more of these issues. But what about your kids? How do you help kids deal with hot-button Church teachings—especially when those teachings aren’t popular with their peers?
Here are five tools that you can give your kids to help them negotiate these difficult issues.
Whatever the hot-button issue du jour may be, it’s sure to grab headlines and trend on social media. But even if other people are losing it, counsel your kids to keep their cool by putting the latest controversy in perspective. You can model this yourself by calmly acknowledging the issue—and the fact that the Church’s position isn’t popular—without making a big deal out of it.
How can we keep perspective on these issues?
First, remember that if you’re following Jesus, expect pushback from the mainstream culture (and sometimes from your fellow Christians). Jesus said that his followers should expect to be persecuted (Matthew 10:33, Luke 21:12, John 15:20), and that’s the way it’s been for twenty centuries. From St. Ambrose defying the emperor to Blessed Oscar Romero being assassinated at the altar, the Church has been ostracized and persecuted in every era and on every continent.
The Church has survived (and thrived) through all of that, and it will survive whatever else might get thrown at it. Why? Because the Church is vital to God’s plan of salvation, and that plan will not be thwarted.
Second, while the media may get worked up about one or two trendy issues right now, keep in mind that Christians—and Catholics in particular—have a longer, broader perspective. The Church isn’t a single-issue interest organization; in fact, a quick perusal of the much-neglected Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church reveals that the Church takes controversial positions on many, many issues, including unbridled free market capitalism, stem cell research, war, arms trafficking, capital punishment, abortion, labor rights, immigration, and more.
Third, keep in mind that Catholics believe in the hierarchy of truths. That is to say, some truths provide a foundation for other truths, and we ought to give priority to defending these fundamental truths. For example, chapter one of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is “God’s Plan of Love for Humanity.” Chapter three deals with the dignity and rights of the human person. Both of these truths are more fundamental than the details of economic policy (chapter seven). Keeping perspective means not losing sight of these fundamental truths or subordinating them in the heat of public debate over other issues.
Whatever the issue is, two things are virtually certain: first, the media will ignore, skew, or just plain mess up the Catholic position (see the excellent blog GetReligion.org for examples), and second, even most Catholics won’t have a good grasp on the Church’s teaching. The best antidote to that problem? Get informed . . . and then pass that information on to your kids.
Don’t rely on mainstream media sources for a reliable perspective on Church teaching. Instead, look to established Catholic news outlets, or even to official Church websites. The website news.va provides all the latest news from the Vatican. Catholic News Service covers Catholic issues in the United States in depth. And a variety of other Catholic media outlets—including websites, blogs, podcasts, television and radio networks, newspapers and magazines—also provide good coverage. Avoid blogs and other outlets that take an overly political or us vs. them approach; look for Catholic media that focus on explaining the Church’s position.
Better yet, be proactive—spend a few weeks going over the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church or another summary of Catholic social teaching with your kids.
However you do it, helping your kids be informed about Church teaching on social issues is one of the best ways to help them weather pushback from peers (or other adults, such as teachers). It also empowers them to be positive witnesses of God’s love.
Encourage courage! It can be incredibly difficult for kids to take the minority position at school or among peers, especially if that position is portrayed as ignorant, bigoted, or worse.
Give the kids examples of courage by telling them about times when you have taken the minority or unpopular position on an important issue. And read them the stories of the saints, especially the martyrs. The martyrs really had a broad perspective; to them, no political or social issue was more important than their union with God, which they trusted would endure even death.
Finally, give kids some language they can use with peers and teachers. “I’m just sharing my beliefs, because what I believe is an important part of who I am. I hope you can respect that” is one possibility; another is: “You’ve shared your beliefs; now can I share mine?”
Teach your kids that no matter what the issue is, the priority of every Christian ought to be to communicate God’s love. Doing so respects the hierarchy of truths discussed above, and it also imitates the ministry of Jesus.
If you regularly read and discuss the Gospels with your kids, be sure to point out how Jesus went about proclaiming the Good News. For one thing, his message emphasized the good, especially the love and mercy of God for all people, including those shunned and condemned by society. He brought about the conversion of sinners not by condemning them, but by establishing friendship with them and drawing them to God by attraction. Although he frequently ate and otherwise consorted with sinners (Matthew 9:11), we never see him giving them a dressing down or a lecture. He saved his scathing remarks for the learned religious authorities, who arguably needed to be confronted more directly. But even those “hypocrites” were not excluded from his friendship—he ate with them and talked with them, too.
This is not to say that Jesus avoided calling people to repentance and conversion. However, as with the adulterous Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4), he put God’s love and mercy first and foremost.
Kids should know that if they are brave enough to advocate for the Catholic position on an issue, they should always do so like Jesus did. No issue is more important than the Good News of God’s love and mercy.
While love and mercy ought to inspire the way Christians confront the culture, kids should know that love goes hand-in-hand with the truth. In fact, truth gives love its shape.
Love is also why the Church continues to tell hard truths. When people ignore God’s plan in favor of their own preferences or desires, they suffer. People can ignore the realities of environmental degradation, but in doing so, they end up living smaller lives than God wants for them, and cause problems that harm them (and others). Similarly, when people ignore God’s plan connecting human sexuality with reproduction, they miss out on a bigger and better love, and the way they live out their sexuality will probably end up hurting them.
Kids shouldn’t be afraid of speaking the truth as best they understand it, as long as they do so in a spirit of love and humility. After all, in today’s hyper-independent culture, no one else is afraid of speaking their “personal truth.” Catholics can do the same, knowing that the perspective they share is backed up by lots of careful thought by some of the greatest thinkers in the world, as well as the merciful guidance of the Holy Spirit.