Photo: Love and Fidelity
Ten years ago a group of students at Princeton University formed the Anscombe Society, named after Elizabeth Anscombe, the Cambridge philosopher known for her vigorous defences of chastity, marriage and the family. The students wanted to challenge the one-sided conversation on matters of love and sexuality on the campus and the hook-up culture increasingly taken for granted.
Today the Princeton group is part of a Love and Fidelity Network embracing more than 30 US university campuses. Last weekend members and supporters met at Princeton for their annual conference – “Sexuality, Integrity and the University” — with a high-powered group of speakers, including Princeton Professor of Jurisprudence Robert P George and George Mason University Professor of Law Helen Alvare. MercatorNet asked Caitlin La Ruffa (pictured below), a Princeton graduate and the Network’s director, how it went.
* * * * *
You have had other conferences — what was special about this one?
Seeing so many people come together – joyfully and with enthusiasm – just a few months after the redefinition of marriage here in the U.S. was truly inspiring. I think there are so many young men and woman sick of the lies and ready to take action to revive a flourishing marriage culture – and they came out in force last weekend! There was a very real sense – more so than in other years – that this is the time for us to roll up our sleeves and do something to revive marriage.
The line-up this year was especially powerful with Helen Alvare sharing some very creative ideas about how to create a flourishing marriage culture in our current environment, Brad Wilcox outlining how a lack of marriage and marriage culture really hurts the least of these – children from impoverished backgrounds, and Dawn Hawkins and William Struthers giving a shared presentation on the harms of pornography and what this generation can do to fight back.
Our moderator, R.J. Snell, who runs the Agora Institute at Eastern University, shared several very funny personal anecdotes about his courtship and marriage with his wife Amy that kept the crowd in especially good humor and tied each session together seamlessly – and provided extra inspiration for those looking forward to marriage in the future.
Who came? Were you satisfied with the numbers?
We were blown away by a record-breaking crowd of over 300! It was a tight squeeze in many of the conference venues with such a great crowd – and fortunately everyone was very patient with each other. The vast majority of attendees were students from colleges all over the United States (as close as Princeton and as far as Florida and California) and even Mexico and the Philippines. There was also a sizable contingent of ministry leaders, campus chaplains, a few parents, and young professionals as well. On top of that, nearly 300 more were able to tune into the conference live-stream. It was our first time broadcasting the conference via the web and we hope to be able to provide that opportunity again in the future.
What impressed the students most – the information presented or the conviction of the speakers?
I think both. The speakers were highly impressive in the command of the material they spoke about, the passion and conviction they brought to it – and I’ll add a third dimension – their human touch. Almost all the speakers added personal anecdotes about their own marriages that gave students a clearer example of what they were speaking about.
Tell us about your history in this movement.
I was in college at Princeton at the time of the founding of the first Anscombe Society, and thought what they were doing was probably a pretty good thing, but I didn’t really understand the need for it. I bought into plenty of the lies of the hook up culture. Didn’t most people in the hook up culture like it? Who was it really hurting, anyway? Didn’t they grow out of it and figure out how to date and establish healthy relationships that would become healthy marriages?
Well, it didn’t take much time after graduation to discover that wasn’t true – and that the me-first or career-first mentality of most graduates (both men and women) devalued marriage, children, and family life – demoting them the status of a mere accessory or lifestyle choice rather than the central arena of human flourishing. I had a day job at a consulting firm, but on the side I started writing about these topics and jumped at the chance to join the Love and Fidelity Network when they approached me about it.
Do you see real growth in it? How many universities have groups?
Yes! Our first conference had fewer than 200 participants and we started on only two campuses. Now the conference brings upwards of 300, and we have the privilege of serving students on thirty-four campuses. Brown University now has an officially recognized group, “Unhooked”, as of today. And that’s not counting all the times we heard “I want to start something like this on my campus” during last weekend’s conference.
What are the major challenges of spreading the fidelity/sexual integrity message on campuses?
The ideology of the sexual revolution is so ingrained at every level of university life – from the social environment, to the classroom, to the administration, to even the mental health professionals – it feels a bit like being up against Goliath. Add to that a campus culture that’s increasingly hostile to free speech and you’ve got quite a challenge on your hands. However, universities at their best are supposed to be places where ideas compete with one another on their merits. Thus we encourage the courageous young men and women we work with to hold their universities to that high standard and continue to allow for this kind of rich debate and discourse.
Can we count on a new generation of cultural and intellectual leaders in the field of marriage and family coming through the network?
Yes! Already we’ve seen LFN alumni go on to work on these issues in the academy, the public policy sector, and at other grassroots non-profits. Some have started initiatives in their home churches or have stayed on to advise the current group of students. Plenty continue to study and write about issues surrounding marriage and family. Most importantly, however, they are leading by example as they begin to marry and welcome children into the world. The young age at which they are joyfully marrying and starting families is likely their most radical counter-cultural witness yet.
Caitlin La Ruffa joined the Love and Fidelity Network in 2012 and currently serves as Director. She lives in New York with her husband and baby son.
Note: Videos of the conference presentations will be available at the Love and Fidelity website in a week or so.