Gloria Purvis, a presenter on EWTN’s Morning Glory radio show who also appears regularly on EWTN, was keynote speaker at God’s Gift event. (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Although most Catholics know church teachings differ from current American cultural norms — gender fluidity and the normalization of pornography, unbridled sexuality and dependence on artificial contraception — they may not always know why.

Saturday, Sept. 30, was a day devoted to answering that question.

The Diocese of Superior hosted its God’s Gift: To Love Every Body conference at UW-Superior’s Yellowjacket Union in Superior. Designed to showcase the beauty and dignity of life, the event was second in a series — the first took place five years ago — to be organized by the Respect Life Office, which is directed by chancellor Deb Lieberg.

The event included presentations from two speakers, vendors, exhibits, lunch, a 4 p.m. Mass with Bishop James P. Powers at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, and opportunities for confession.

“Today, we do have a very special day planned for us,” Bishop Powers told approximately 150 attendees in a brief morning address. He opened the conference with a prayer, then turned over the microphone to Dan Blank, diocesan director of Administrative Services, who emceed the event.

“It’s been a project that has been evolving,” Blank said of the God’s Gift series. He introduced keynote speaker Gloria Purvis, a presenter on EWTN’s Morning Glory radio show who also appears regularly on EWTN, chairs the Black Catholics United for Life organization and speaks to groups around the country.

‘Strictly against God’s plan’

After leading off with a prayer to St. Michael, Purvis began by acknowledging the misrepresentation of love in secular culture, how it “goes strictly against God’s plan for the human person.”

She quoted Catholic theologian Dr. Scott Hahn: “Sex isn’t just good. Campbell’s Soup is good. Sex isn’t just great. Frosted flakes are great. Sex is holy.”

Abusing holy things is sacrilege, Purvis continued, and a lot of what our culture is inviting us to engage in regarding sex is sacrilegious — completely opposite of God’s plan.

“I think when we understand God’s desire, his plan for us, and how to love within the sacrament of marriage, with a reverence for sex and, of course, embracing the natural outcome, which is a child, I think it helps us to have a different view than what the world is giving to us,” she said.

Scripture says God created male and female — seems so basic, she observed, and yet, our culture, “besides saying, ‘This is my body, I’ll do what I want with it,’ in terms of abortion, they now say, ‘This is not my body. I’ll do whatever I want to it. I’m gonna make myself into a woman, even if I’m a man.’”

Using female pronouns to refer to men bothers Purvis, because “it is just a lie.”

“It just takes the words that are supposed to reveal truth and detaches it from it,” she added. She sees society falling into blind obedience to the lie.

Purvis doesn’t have a problem with people who have gender dysphoria — she feels sorry for them, she said — “but that does not change reality. God made them male and female, and we cannot and should not, as believers in truth … obey secular culture about what is objectively a lie. Bruce Jenner may be called Caitlin, but he is a man.”

“Some people say … ‘Let’s be polite,’” she added. “You should be more concerned about offending Jesus than the culture.”

Purvis’ brand of authentic Catholic feminism includes respect for her body, modesty, an unwillingness to cede women’s spaces — bathrooms, dressing rooms and more — to men, and a dislike for the way a contraceptive mindset has made the pattern for a woman’s success based on a man’s — the idea that women need contraceptives, sterilization and abortions to succeed, that something is wrong if pregnancy results from sex.

The language in the HHS mandate (requiring workplaces to provide free contraceptives) says as much, in Purvis’ view.
“What that says to me as a woman is, we are trying to press into the American psyche this notion that women as God made us, we’re deficient,” she said. “We know we are made equal in dignity to men … and I reject the notion that I am not able to have my own agency and success because I can bear children.”

Speaking about men, Purvis said the culture encourages them to be lotharios — defilers of women rather than defenders. She used the example of the late Hugh Heffner, a pornographer and funder of abortion, whose influence on the culture was couched as “liberating” women when he was really objectifying them.

“I think our culture encourages this sort of perpetual immature adolescence for men, and it’s a turnoff, because it’s not how God made you or what He made you for,” she said. “I encourage our men to take their rightful place in defending women.”

‘Five years of why’

Theology of the Body is Nic Davidson’s passion. A convert from the Assemblies of God, Davidson and his wife attended a Catholic Mass in Duluth during a period of searching — they also checked out the Messianic Jews and the Greek Orthodox — and encountered Fr. Mike Schmitz, a young, dynamic priest.

For the next five months, the couple met Fr. Schmitz every week from 10 p.m. to midnight to pummel him with questions from their “stump the priest” list.

“We’d lob the best thing we had at him, and he’d knock it out of the park,” Davidson said.

In 2008, they became Catholic, and 51 days later, he received a letter from the Diocese of Duluth about getting trained in Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II’s five years of teachings on the meaning of life and human sexuality.

Davidson attended the training — the caveat was that he’d have to make himself available as a teacher and speaker whenever he was needed — and what he learned during the classes entirely changed how he viewed the world.

Theology of the Body was the first major teaching of St. John Paul II’s papacy. In it, he expounds on Pope Paul XI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae which, among other things, confirms the church’s position on artificial contraception.
“Theology of the Body is the why,” Davidson said. “It’s five straight years of why …. Theology of the Body is not just informative. It’s transformative.”

Then married six-and-a-half years, the Davidsons had their struggles, some of them related to residual childhood issues. “It saved my marriage for sure,” he said.

Theology of the Body begins with mankind’s need for love, Davidson teaches. “We are made so every breath of our life incorporates love. When we lack love, we can’t live. That’s why a child who does not feel loved does not have a good estimation of themselves.”

Traditionally, sex has either been approached via two extremes — repression or release, Davidson said. “John Paul II said don’t just repress, and don’t just release. Just redeem.”

“We were not made to be just spiritual people, because we are not just spiritual,” he added. “We are body and spirit. That’s the core, source and summit of our faith. The flesh.”

If God, via the Trinity, is an eternal exchange of love, love necessitates plurality, Davidson continued, “and he has destined us to participate in that exchange.”

Adam needed someone to love; man cannot find himself until he gives of himself. This, he said, is “fundamental to knowing our life’s meaning and purpose.”

According to the Hebrew names God originally gave man and woman when he spoke them into existence — meaning “remembrance” and “to receive,” respectively — males and females both have their roles, John Paul II taught.

The culture has gone from gender-confused to gender fluid, now “gender schmender,” as Davidson describes it — but whether or not a man fits standard male stereotypes, “a male has the capability in your DNA to make God present in this world,” Davidson said. “It is the man who loves, and the woman who is loved.”

Theology of the Body is a massive body of work, so Davidson had to cut to the pertinent points in his two addresses. After lunch, he talked about marriage and family as “the school of love … you learn how to give of yourself in the gritty day-to-day through family.”

On intimacy, he added, “God made that moment to be this pristine moment of self-giving.”

And, on pornography: “The problem with pornography is it’s not that it shows too much, it’s that it shows too little.” Pornography stops at the skin, he said, and doesn’t reveal the complexities of the human person.

Davidson has “huge abandonment issues” from his upbringing, and “the only thing that has healed that is trusting in Christ.”

If Jesus could resurrect Lazarus, he added, “What can he do in your life?”

Although the church’s teachings on human sexuality may be misconstrued as a litany of rules, it’s really our perspective that is skewed, he concluded.

“Our alignment is so off,” he said. “The guardrails aren’t the problem. It’s that we want to drive off the road.”