Today’s Hartford Courant has a front
page article and photo about the Family Institute of
Connecticut’s new youth wing! The online version can be viewed here and comments can be read and posted here. Article and photo reprinted below
with the permission of The Courant.
Religious Conservatives Form Their Own Group
By DANIELA ALTIMARI
July 7, 2008
LEAH THOMAS is executive
director of iFIC, the youth wing of the Family Institute of
Connecticut. She is standing in front of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in
where she attends Mass daily. It was here that she met the institute’s
executive director, Peter Wolfgang. (CLOE POISSON / HARTFORD
COURANT / July 3, 2008)
The topic of the high school
discussion was homosexuality, and almost everyone in the class
expressed the view that "it’s OK to be gay."
Jennifer Landry believed
otherwise. "The act is horrible," she said, "but the people are in need
of sincere love."
She immediately felt the harsh
sting of reprobation from her classmates. "They all verbally attacked
me," recalled Landry, now 23 and living in Southington. "That was the moment
when I realized there was a problem."
That problem, in Landry’s view,
is the everything-goes ethos embraced by most of her generation. These
days, though, she no longer feels so alone: She found kinship with
like-minded young people through the Family Institute of Connecticut’s
nascent youth wing.
Like its parent organization,
the youth group — known as iFIC, an obvious play for the iPod
generation — rejects abortion and same-sex marriage and supports
home-schooling and sexual abstinence outside of marriage. Its members,
largely Catholics or evangelical Christians, view public policy through
the prism of their faith.
"We’re not ashamed of what we
believe in," said Michael Ruminsky, a 23-year-old from Hartford who
will leave for seminary in August to begin his journey toward
ordination as a Catholic priest.
It just so happens that what
they believe in is sharply at odds with the views of most of their
According to a national CBS News
poll released last month, 40 percent of respondents between 18 and 29
believe gays and lesbians ought to be permitted to marry; another 28
percent back the idea of civil unions. In a reliably blue state such as
Connecticut, where civil unions have been the law since 2005 and the
state Supreme Court is reviewing a case that would legalize gay
marriage, that support likely runs far deeper.
Even among the religious right,
there’s been a shift, according to some political observers.
Traditional concerns about same-sex marriage, abortion and stem cell
research are losing ground with some evangelical leaders to worries
about global warming and the treatment of military detainees. "The
Moral Majority side of the religious right is kind of struggling," said
David Roozen, director of the Hartford Seminary Institute for Religion
Research. "The moderate middle has become very skeptical about it."
Besides, Roozen added, "people
have gas to worry about so somehow homosexuality … is less of a
It’s enough to make a young
religious conservative feel like an outcast, perennially out-of-step
with the tenor of the times. "Being part of this organization is a
countercultural activity," Ruminsky observed.
But they also believe there is a
wide if hidden swath of Connecticut
youths who share their unease about the moral direction of the state
and the nation. "There’s a silent majority out there," said Leah
Thomas, the group’s 23-year-old executive director. "They think maybe
theirs is the only voice."
Thomas, a graduate of Trinity College
who now works in the Catholic campus ministry at the University of Hartford, has a soft voice and a
gentle demeanor. "I’m an introvert," she said.
But she speaks loudly when she
feels the need. She was part of a pro-life student group at Trinity
that published an alternative brochure for women facing an unplanned
pregnancy. The brochures put out by the liberal women’s center on
campus made no mention of adoption or post-abortion counseling
services, both of which she viewed as grave omissions.
The youth group, which now has
more than 50 members, was launched at the beginning of the year, thanks
largely to a chance meeting between Thomas and Family Institute
Executive Director Peter Wolfgang. Both are regular attendees at the
early morning Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford. They
got to chatting one day and a movement was born.
Since its formation, the group’s
accomplishments have been mainly organizational, selecting officers,
drafting a mission statement and creating a pamphlet. Next up:
Producing a video and building a website.
The youth wing has already
succeeded in building alliances with church youth groups, homeschoolers
and college ministries. Members plan to staff a booth at JesusFest on
Saturday at Union Congregational Church in Rockville.
To win the hearts and minds of
the public, however, the group will have to do what all successful
movements do: Win allies beyond its own tight circle of true believers.
Wolfgang envisions the day iFIC chapters will be as commonplace in Connecticut
high schools as gay-straight alliances are today. "Right now, they’re
years ahead of us," he said of well-established politically progressive
Swaying public opinion and
building a generation of conservative leaders is the long-term goal.
"It’s about the future of the pro-family, pro-life cause in Connecticut,"
Wolfgang said, "and where this cause will be not just tomorrow but for
the next 20 to 50 years."
Contact Daniela Altimari at
Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant
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