HOW TO DEFEND THE FAITH WITHOUT RAISING YOUR VOICE by Austen Ivereigh and Kathryn Jean Lopez (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015). 192pp. Reviewed by PAT McCARTHY.

It’s a situation we’ve probably all faced. At work, at a party or in a pub, someone raises a complaint against the Catholic Church. As the only Catholic in the group, we are expected to justify the Church’s position.

How should we respond? How to avoid being defensive? How to take the heat out of the situation and engage in a conversation rather than an argument?

It is for situations like this that How to Defend the Faith has been written. It is an outcome of an innovative approach to media relations taken by a group of lay Catholics in Britain, called Catholic Voices, in advance of the 2010 visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

Operating independently of the bishops, but with their blessing, these trained spokespeople helped change the coverage of the papal visit as well as the public perception of the Church in the British media.

Catholic Voices groups now operate in 16 countries, including Australia.

The Catholic Voices method offers a new approach to apologetics by “reframing” the question. This means stepping outside the frame imposed by our secular culture that stops a Catholic viewpoint from being listened to, and speaking to the moral intention behind that secular frame.

It’s a disarming technique often used by Pope Francis.

The authors recommend looking for the positive moral value on which the critic is consciously or unconsciously relying. For example, “Why doesn’t the Church allow gay marriage?” affirms the value of equality.

“Rather than be put on the defensive by the charge against the Church, we look for the positive moral value behind it. And we try to begin our response by agreeing with that value, rather than seeking to defend ourselves from the unjust attack.

“Not only does this make it possible to communicate, to be heard, and to have a proper dialogue. It also avoids falling into the trap of attacking our own Christian values.”

The authors say this came home to them in 2010 when they were analysing the issue of using condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS and “we realised that the Church’s critics were unconsciously appealing to Jesus, while defensive Catholics were unwittingly being cast into the role of Pharisee”.

The assumption of the discussion was that condoms were key to reducing the spread of the virus, and the Church was putting its rules ahead of protecting innocent lives.

Rather than try to defend the Church’s position on contraception — hardly relevant, anyway, since this was not an issue about openness to life in marriage — Catholic Voices showed that the best means of protecting life was by promoting behaviour change through abstinence and fidelity programmes, which the Church was promoting.

Besides the condoms issue, the authors cover religion and politics; religious freedom; the “pelvic issues” of the Church’s teaching on sexuality, homosexuality and contraception; marriage; abortion, embryo research and in vitro fertilisation; population; clerical sex abuse; women in the Church; the male priesthood; euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The authors recommend 10 “principles of civil communication”. These include “Shed light, not heat”, “People don’t remember what you said as much as how to made them feel”, “Show, don’t tell”, “It’s about witnessing, not winning” and “It’s not about you”.

This little book has much to empower and encourage the ordinary Catholic to take part in discussions about Catholic teaching. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, archbishop of Boston, was so impressed that he gave a copy to all his priests.

It is not new, this edition being published in 2015, but its message is timeless. How to Defend the Faith is available from several online booksellers at various prices. An earlier version, Catholic Voices: Putting the case for the Church in the era of 24-hour news, by Austen Ivereigh and Kathleen Griffin (2011), is available from Pleroma Christian Supplies for $20.

Pat McCarthy was founding editor of NZ Catholic.

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