When it comes to curing the ills of society’s misconceptions and attacks on traditional marriage, Jennifer Roback Morse has the antidote: the Ruth Institute.
Begun less than two years ago by Morse, from its base in San Marcos, Calif., the Ruth Institute provides a dose of what real marriage is. Morse, the institute’s president, says a main mission of the institute, a project of the National Organization for Marriage, is to promote lifelong married love, especially to college students, by creating an intellectual and social atmosphere favorable to marriage.
Putting it another way, she says: “Our goal is for young people to see marriage as a cool life choice.” The institute equips them with this knowledge via everything from talks and lectures in schools, parishes and other venues, to online articles, podcasts and weekend conferences.
It works wonders. Just ask college student Celine Talbot. When Proposition 8 was the hot-button issue in California, she and her sister Augusta attended a Ruth Institute conference. Celine thought she already knew most of the natural and theological arguments for marriage.
“But when I was introduced to the Ruth Institute,” she says, “I was introduced to so many more aspects — on the legal and social sides, too.”
With all the expert social, legal and theological information, the sisters co-founded a marriage club at Pasadena City College called Marriage Open to Life and Love to promote and teach traditional marriage to their peers.
Same for Michael and Alison Contreras, doctoral students at Rice University who were married in 2008 and are certified natural family planning teachers for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas.
“Ruth Institute provides our young generation with information,” says Alison, “and gives an alternative to what is going on.”
“I came to Rice and was fed an entirely different thinking than what I learned at home,” she adds. “A lot of people don’t see marriage as having an effect on society.” But with Ruth Institute, she’s sharing the positive effects on campus and in NFP classes with Michael.
Getting the Message Across
While the Ruth Institute is also meant for — and appeals to — older age levels, Morse knows the college level well, having taught on the university level for 15 years, including at Yale. “I have a heart for that age group,” she says.
Morse was convinced many young people want to get married and stay married but didn’t have a clue how. “There is a demand for lifelong married love,” she says. But at the same time, these young adults weren’t getting any accurate information about what marriage truly is and how to go about building one.
“If the Catholics in the U.S. would take Humanae Vitae (The Regulation of Birth) and Church teachings seriously, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in,” she believes. At the same time, “there are a lot of people who want to do the right thing and agree with the Church but don’t know what to say and how to express themselves.” That’s where the Ruth Institute comes in.
Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Oakland, Calif., Diocese, says the institute’s strengths are “educating people about what a marriage is, specifically with regard to the legal issues, having them see the ramifications of changing the definition of marriage, and seeing how important marriage is for society.”
Morse sees marriage as a great unifying issue upon which orthodox believers of every faith basically agree: “I wanted it to be an interfaith organization because it’s too good a message to just keep to ourselves.”
“If you take the insight behind Humanae Vitae and bring it in terms any faith tradition can understand, now you’re in business,” she continues. “Catholics come to say, ‘Now I see our way is the best way. If you do what the Church is saying, you’re going to have a good life.’”
“The best thing about being Catholic is you don’t have to make this up yourself,” she adds. “The Church has been thinking about this for centuries. Same-sex ‘marriage’ and artificial reproduction: We’ve already thought it through. It allows you to go into a lot of areas fearlessly.”
Indeed, the name she purposely chose reflects that. Everybody loves the biblical Ruth — Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Mormons. Her story really stands for love and fidelity. Feedback is already affirming these other faiths can understand the institute’s Catholic-natural law approach.
Getting young people to see lifelong marriage as a cool life choice and fostering collaboration between men and women instead of society’s insistence on competition is a countercultural message a lot of young people find appealing, finds Morse.
Michael Contreras sees a huge strength in the institute “targeting college students, the future leaders. They’re informing beliefs and training the thinkers,” he says. Spiritually and academically, it reaffirmed a lot of things he and his wife had discussed and gave them new ways to reach out to other students.
Now he and Alison are doing what the Ruth Institute wants people to do — bring the teachings about traditional lifelong marriage to others on and off campus.
“I write blogs about what I’ve learned,” shares Alison. Michael also shares ideas for it. She’s working on forming a club at Rice, doing a series on dating and marriage through a nondenominational group on campus, and getting a Ruth Institute speaker to come to Rice.
Emphasizes Michael, “It’s not just about returning to the traditional roles of marriage; it’s about doing it and knowing why it works, why it’s what God wants us to do.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.