EWTN series
From left: Damon Owens, Donna Purvis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers have teamed up to create “Authentically Free At Last” for EWTN. Photo courtesy of EWTN

Three orthodox black Catholics have teamed up to produce a new 13-episode series “Authentically Free at Last,” currently airing on EWTN. The series was the brainchild of Gloria Purvis, a Washington, D.C., pro-life activist who converted to the Catholic faith at age 12, and features Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers and NFP (natural family planning) and theology of the body advocate Damon Owens. The series explores the Catholic understanding of freedom and conscience, and offers a Catholic perspective on controversial issues such as premarital sex, artificial contraception, homosexuality, euthanasia and women in the Church. 

“I’ve never had so much fun in filming a series,” said Deacon Burke-Sivers. “The three of us had a great chemistry.” 

Purvis told Our Sunday Visitor she conceived the idea of the series after years of reading stories in the media that, to her, turned the Catholic understanding of freedom and love on its head. She gave the example of an Oprah episode she had watched, “The Pregnant Man.”  

“What’s wrong with people? A man can’t be pregnant. We’re out of touch with reality. We want to call a dog a bird,” she said. 

She had met Deacon Burke-Sivers at a conference, who shared similar concerns. 

Authentic freedom

When religious people put their beliefs into practice — Deacon Burke-Sivers gave the example of a wedding services company that refuses to serve same-sex couples — they can be subject to lawsuits and civil penalties, he noted. 

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Authentic freedom, a topic addressed in the first episode, enables us to be “the person God has called us to be,” said Deacon Burke-Sivers. 

The second episode addresses freedom and the formation of conscience. Our conscience can easily be misguided, hence must be informed by the teaching of the Church, said Deacon Burke-Sivers. 

Another episode delves into the topic of “living together” and addresses the opinion that living together before marriage is good preparation for marriage. The belief being: Why wouldn’t you test drive a car before buying it? 

“‘Trial marriage’ cheapens marriage and decreases the respect our society should have for sex and marriage,” countered Purvis. She believes that marriage is more than just a physical and emotional attachment, but also “an act of the will, in which you commit yourself to another person for life and dedicate yourself to the good of the children God may send you.” 

“[Living together] is one of the worst things a couple can do before they get married,” said Deacon Burke-Sivers. As a deacon, he prepares couples for marriage at his home parish of Immaculate Heart Church in Portland, Ore. He likes to recommend the secular study “Should We Live Together?” by The National Marriage Project. Findings include data that reveal cohabitation does not lead to stronger marriage, couples who cohabitate and then marry have higher rates of breaking up, and cohabitation has harmful effects on children. 

Another episode discusses contraception, which has resurfaced in public debate after the recent Health and Human Services mandate that Catholic institutions other than churches must provide contraceptives to employees.  

Deacon Burke-Sivers said, “[With contraception] we treat the other person as an object. God said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ God’s love and life are integrated into the fabric of our being; he never intended the two to be separated.” 

He recalled preaching on the topic in his parish on one occasion, and an angry man told him afterward that he should not have brought up the topic. Church teaching was outdated, and many Catholics use contraception. 

The deacon asked him about his married life, and the man admitted that it was troubled, and that his wife didn’t want to have sex with him. The man had turned to pornography for gratification.  

The deacon said back to him, “So you’ve become Satan’s whore and made pleasure your god.” 

Deacon Burke-Sivers explained how, through use of contraceptives, the man had turned his wife into an object of gratification. If avoiding pregnancy was his goal and he had legitimate reasons for this, the Church allows natural family planning.  

“On only a few days a month a woman can get pregnant,” Deacon Burke-Sivers said, “NFP helps you determine when those windows are, and you can choose not to act. Contraception and NFP are two different ways of avoiding pregnancy, but NFP is the only way the Church tells us is morally acceptable.” 

Foundation of family

Purvis believes that those who promote contraception are promoting the idea that women are defective.  

“They think that because we can bear children, it’s an impediment to our success in the working world,” she said. “They have the wrong ideas about what it means to be a woman and to succeed.” 

Purvis once worked as a manager in the corporate world and wondered if there was a tacit belief that for a woman to be successful, she must be childless. Rather than being a “war against women,” she said, many in society are conducting a “war against women’s biology.” 

Same-sex marriage is another topic of discussion. For Deacon Burke-Sivers, acceptance of same-sex marriage involves a misunderstanding of what marriage is, as defined by God.  

“At its core, marriage is a family-centric institution. A man unites with a woman for life and they provide for their children,” he said. “It’s the foundation of family life, and of society itself.” 

Same-sex marriage, conversely, is “adult-centric,” a public recognition of a relationship which cannot produce children. 

Purvis agreed, “Children have a right to a father and mother in marriage. To redefine marriage is to rob children of parents. It defies logic.” 

Purvis noted that expressing Catholic belief on such moral topics can lead to reprisals.  

“[Should I decide to pursue a corporate job] because of my public statements, I may never work again,” she said. “But that’s OK. It’s all God’s money anyway, and he will give my family what we need to survive financially.” 

Purvis hopes that after viewing “Authentically Free at Last,” those at odds with Catholic teaching will take time to reflect and reconsider their opinions.  

“Maybe they’ll think, ‘I hadn’t thought of it that way,’” she said, “or, ‘maybe those Catholics aren’t just a bunch of hateful people.’” 

Some feathers may be ruffled by the trio’s blunt talk, added Deacon Burke-Sivers, but he hopes it will lead to positive discussions about key issues of our age.  

“We want to explore what the Church teaches and why,” he said. “It’s up to the Holy Spirit to form people’s minds and hearts.” 

Jim Graves writes from California. “Authentically Free At Last” airs at 6 p.m. Eastern time Mondays on EWTN.