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On marriage amendment, Catholic Church leaders would be well served by words of the Gospel and history

Attending Catholic Mass in Minnesota can be challenging these days. The messages from the pulpit, not long ago steeped in themes of love and compassion derived from the Gospel, have more frequently turned into diatribes against gay marriage and the need to protect the “traditional” family. This should come as no surprise given stories that have appeared in the local media, though it’s no less disconcerting.

With the vote on a constitutional amendment that would define marriage in Minnesota as only between a man and a woman one year away, Catholic leaders are stepping up their efforts to garner support for the amendment. Two recent reports confirmed this. One story about Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt’s active push to get the amendment passed and how he has encouraged parish pastors to appoint ad hoc committees to spread his gospel. The other, an op-ed piece by Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, lamely attempted to explain why Catholic leaders are and will be speaking in favor of the amendment and against gay marriage.

As my mind pondered the words of the Gospels and homilies during two recent Sunday Masses — one in St. Paul, the other in Texas — I couldn’t help but put the messages into a modern-day context with some historical perspective.

Love, compassion and social justice
On a recent Saturday evening, I had the chance to attend St. Mary’s Church in Fredericksburg, Texas. Following up on the message of the Gospel, the priest’s homily stressed the need to display love and compassion in our daily lives. A fitting message, I thought, to take place in Texas Hill Country just miles from the LBJ Ranch. After all, many of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs were rooted in a sense of love, compassion and equality, though his inspiration might not have necessarily been derived from the Gospel.

Missing from the message Archbishop Nienstedt and others are preaching is the simple yet poignant commandment from the Gospel that day: Love your neighbor as yourself. The archbishop’s stance on marriage would suggest a caveat to that commandment: It’s OK to love your neighbor as yourself just as long as your neighbor isn’t gay and wants to get married.

Civil rights vs. discrimination
The fact that Adkins attempts to draw a correlation between the church’s current vocal stance against same-sex marriage and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s crusade for civil rights would be laughable if it weren’t so ludicrous, an argument ripe with hypocrisy. King worked for civil rights; the church’s stance on this issue opposes them. By attempting to impose its teachings on millions of non-Catholics in the state of Minnesota by actively supporting the amendment, people like Adkins and Archbishop Nienstedt display an element of self-righteousness that dictates discrimination, not the support of civil rights.

“It’s all of us,” President Johnson told Congress, “who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.” His words applied to civil and voting rights for blacks in America in the 1960s. Those same words could easily apply to the rights of gays and lesbians today.

Vision and leadership
The debate over same-sex unions and the constitutional amendment actually offers Archbishop Nienstedt and other Catholic Church leaders an opportunity to show real leadership and vision. It’s unreasonable, at least at this point in time, to expect the Catholic Church to openly support and recognize gay marriages within the church. But it’s not beyond expectation for church leaders to display the same judicious traits Jesus showed in a recent Sunday Gospel when confronted about how to handle paying taxes to Caesar. Give to Caesar what belongs to him, and give to God what is rightly His. It’s a prescient argument for the separation of church and state.

Instead of defining what types of marriage the state should recognize, support for initiatives to get the state out of the marriage business completely would be much more productive. Change the law so the state of Minnesota issues only civil-union licenses regardless of sex. Reserve the right of churches and religions to choose whom they will marry based on their own teachings.

Back to LBJ for a moment. David Grubin’s excellent documentary about President Johnson includes a poignant story about an Oval Office meeting between LBJ and Alabama Governor George Wallace, during which the president used his best persuasive powers to get the governor to come out in support of voting rights for all Americans. At one point, Johnson asked Wallace what he wanted on his tombstone: “George Wallace: He built” or “George Wallace: He hated.” Shortly thereafter, Wallace publicly asked the president to mobilize the National Guard in Alabama to protect people marching in support of voting rights.

A choice on where to focus their efforts
There are so many other social issues that need attention — unemployment, poverty and hunger. Archbishop Nienstedt and other church leaders have a choice where to focus their political efforts and whether the manifestation of those efforts is building through love and compassion or destroying through hate and discrimination.

We’d all do well to keep in mind these words uttered by a priest in his homily a few weeks ago at a church in St. Paul: “What we focus on is what we become.”

Rob Hahn is a St. Paul business owner; he ran for governor in the Independence Party primary in 2010.

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Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/08/2011 - 09:38 am.

    I often wonder what people like Mr. Hahn hope to get from their continued membership in the Catholic Church.

    Assuming that he was born into it, and is now an adult, he would have had at least 20 years of instruction.

    Considering that even the meaning behind the sacrament of marriage, one of the most fundamental aspects of Catholic faith, remains so utterly unknown to him after so long an affiliation, it occurs to the thoughtful reader that it may be time to find a church that is more accomodating to his needs and desires.

    At some point, one would hope that one would recognise the fruitlessness of attending Mass with an insincere heart.

    For surely, if nothing else, Mr. Hahn has learned that the Catholic Church will never, ever bend on these core issues of morality…

    Matthew 16:18

  2. Submitted by Ray Marshall on 11/08/2011 - 10:17 am.

    Rob Hahn, like so many, only reads the parts of the Holy Bible with which he agrees. He might want to take a look at James 5:1-6 for other thoughts on life on our lives on this earth:

    “1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. 4 Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.[a] 5 You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as[b] in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.”

  3. Submitted by Paul Davis on 11/08/2011 - 11:07 am.

    Perhaps the commenters so far just can’t understand that there is a difference between holy matrimony and religious marriage and the civil marriage license that you get at City Hall. It’s really such a simple concept that it is hard to understand how they can’t appreciate the difference. Your religious belief about holy matrimony shouldn’t be forced on others using the rule of law. It is disrespectful to use the laws of our state to deprive your neighbors of the same rights and benefits that you keep for yourself. It is offensive to use the laws of our state to deprive them of EQUAL CIVIL RIGHTS.

  4. Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/08/2011 - 12:16 pm.


    In discussions regarding the marriage amendment, I wouldn’t typically invoke a bible reference, but since you have referenced the gospels, I feel free to do the same.

    In the gospel of John, Chapter 8, we find Jesus confronted by a crowd that want to stone a woman caught in adultery. He lovingly defuses the situation, and the crowd departs, leaving him alone with the woman. Jesus’ parting words to the woman, “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

    Jesus loves the sinner, he does not love her sin.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/08/2011 - 12:38 pm.

    “It is disrespectful to use the laws of our state to deprive your neighbors of the same rights and benefits that you keep for yourself.”

    The state has always had laws determining who could get married to whom, regardless of religious doctrine. This isn’t new.

    Proper age of consent, no incestuous pairings, no polygamy, male-female only, have always been the law of the land without regard to any specific local religion. They’re called “cultural norms” and they define a civilized society.

  6. Submitted by Bridget Zappa on 11/08/2011 - 12:44 pm.

    Thomas – How do you know what kind of Catholic Rob is or is not? That’s quite bold of you to judge in that way. But then this issue is about being judgemental isn’t it – not about the real issue of the equality of people.

    What Catholic – seriously – doesn’t know the Church’s teaching on marriage? That doesn’t mean we all need to agree with it. Are we not allowed to think independently – even as practicing Catholics? Where else can constructive dialogue about the issue happen if not from those who care about the Church?

    Since so many of you are willing to quote the bible, why don’t we think about Jesus – who befriended and had meals with the likes of tax collectors and prostitutes. And need I remind all of us of the two Greatest Commandments? Love God and Love Your Neighbor. Simple.

    I ask you – do you love your neighbors?

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/08/2011 - 01:13 pm.

    Bridget, any faithful Catholic will tell you that while there are certainly topics where it is permissable, to discuss the chatechism or traditions, our faith’s dogma is not up for debate.

    We are all recipients of God’s gift of free will; you can do whatever you want. But you can’t change wrong into right.

    As Steve pointed out, Christ did indeed make Himself especially available to sinners, and he forgave any sin that was confessed and repented.

    Many secular humanists, and unfortunately some Catholic apostates believe that constituted a free pass to continue the path of sin; it didn’t then, and it doesn’t now.

    You ask if I love my neighbors.

    The truth is that there are some I that I loath…that’s a sin for which I’ll have to pay some day.

    I admit to that sin, and I admit I don’t try very hard to repent for it…but I don’t make excuses or attempt to persuade you or anyone else that it’s not wrong, or worse still, that it’s right.

    That’s the difference between us.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/08/2011 - 01:23 pm.

    Paul, as regards marriage we all enjoy exactly EQUAL CIVIL RIGHTS today.

    What you advocate are a completely new set of rights; rights, BTW that depend upon the suspension of science, human biology and the history of our civilization…to say nothing of basic morality.

    Thanks, but no thanks.

  9. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 11/08/2011 - 01:26 pm.

    Can I skip this part, Ray?:

    “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.”

    Exodus 21:7-11

    How about this one?

    “If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.”

    Deuteronomy 22:28-29

    Maybe sex slavery and rape are a bit too heavy. How about no Cotton/Poly blends!

    “You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together”

    Leviticus 19:19

    You could go on all day with the ridiculous things found in the bible which even so-called devout Christians ignore. What you can’t ignore is that the overriding message of Jesus Christ was one of love and tolerance. To argue that denying civil rights is a Christian message is a real perversion of Christ’s teachings.

  10. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 11/08/2011 - 02:43 pm.

    “Proper age of consent, no incestuous pairings, no polygamy, male-female only, have always been the law of the land without regard to any specific local religion. They’re called “cultural norms” and they define a civilized society.”

    Speaking of the sanctity of cultural norms, Swift, it is within the span of my lifetime that the cultural norm was to deny marriage between blacks and whites. Back then it was your fundamentalist, conservative forefathers who were so adamently opposed to black/white marriage.

    Also various states have differing definitions of what constitutes incestuous or age of consent

    Also your precious Bible allowed for polygamy in the old testament. Final question since you are so biblically wise: if Adam and Eve were the first humans, how did they propogate without incest? Who did their offspring breed with?

    Slavery was a cultural norm at one time so I don’t see the equation between cultural norm and moral.

  11. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/08/2011 - 06:20 pm.

    Bill, you’re addressing opinions made by others, not me. Still, I’ll answer this one:

    “Back then it was your fundamentalist, conservative forefathers who were so adamantly opposed to black/white marriage”

    Actually, it was Democrats that *always* fought anti-miscegenation laws.

    “In 1871, Representative Andrew King (Democrat of Missouri) was the first politician in Congress to propose a constitutional amendment to make interracial marriage illegal nationwide.”

    “In December 1912 and January 1913, Representative Seaborn Roddenbery (Democrat of Georgia) again introduced a proposal in the United States House of Representatives to insert a prohibition of miscegenation into the US Constitution”

    “In 1928, Senator Coleman Blease (Democrat of South Carolina) proposed an amendment that went beyond the previous ones, requiring that Congress set a punishment for interracial couples attempting to get married and for people officiating an interracial marriage. This amendment was also never enacted”

    In 1913, the thoroughly leftist Commonwealth of Massachusetts enacted a measure (not repealed until 2008[22]) that prevented couples who could not marry in their home state from marrying in Massachusetts.

    The Democrat party has always been the tip of the racist spear in this country Bill. The Democrat welfare state has succeeded in destroying black American families beyond the wildest dreams of the most virulent Kluxer.

    Repent, Bill.

  12. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/08/2011 - 10:05 pm.

    You are free to be offended by gay people marrying but it takes more than personal offense to withhold rights from fellow citizens.

  13. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 11/08/2011 - 10:18 pm.

    Swiftee, you are free to use morality or any other subjective arguments in support of your position on gay marriage, but you can’t argue science. It is your position that flies in the face of human biology and requires the suspension of science.

  14. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/09/2011 - 09:25 am.

    “…but you can’t argue science,” Mr. Swift (see #13). Science has now proven that genetic differences are the determiners of sexual orientation. Laws and punishments can’t change genes and we should at last learn to just accept them, let people be who they are and enjoy the same civil rights as everyone else.

    The archbishop is much closer to the views of right-wing religious fundamentalists than to ordinary Catholics. I would say that he, and some other archbishops (Denver, St. Louis) are among the group described as wishing to reverse Vatican II by a Vatican II-type monsignor nearing retirement in a National Catholic Reporter op-ed.

    At the Cathedral last week, the cantor and people actually sang several parts of the Mass in Latin. If that isn’t a desire to return to the 1950s, I don’t know what else it might be.

  15. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/09/2011 - 09:38 am.

    “but you can’t argue science”

    Right, Dan. So when a same sex “couple” conceives, get back to me, m’kay?

  16. Submitted by Tom Miller on 11/09/2011 - 12:03 pm.

    The main point in the article is being missed or ignored by many of the commentators: Leave marriage to religious institutions and civil unions to government.

    The state’s interest in the relationship between a couple is a business partnership that promotes a stable society; the state’s interest is not procreation as a religious mystery.

    If we separate the unknowable mystery of God’s creation and intent from our God-given ability to create stable civil societies (all humans are equal and justice for all), we are all much better off. Religious institutions can use their teachings to minister the flock; these institutions abdicate this moral authority by directly interfering in civil government. Government of, by and for all the people can establish its rules using citizens’ religious beliefs as part of the deliberations in creating laws. In this way, both religious and governmental institutions maintain their independence of each other, while more peacefully interacting with each other, and everyone benefits.

  17. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/12/2011 - 06:42 pm.

    If Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants join forces to ban same-sex marriage, ought Jews and Muslims join forces to ban the sale and consumption of pork?

    “My religion forbids it” is a poor reason for enacting a civil law. So is, “I think it’s icky” or “I find the prospect really attractive and I’m ashamed of that impulse.”

    If you don’t want to marry a person of the same sex, don’t do it. But to say that couples that have been together for twenty or thirty years and are accepted by each other’s families and friends can’t make their relationship legally binding is an injustice.

    “It’s always been like this” is a poor argument for retaining a societal practice or attitude. Opponents of property rights for married women said that in the 19th century. Opponents of free choice of religion said that in the 16th century. Proponents of slavery pointed to literally thousands of years of history and neutral references to slavery in the Bible.

    We grew out of the notions that a woman’s husband had an absolute right to use any property she brought into the marriage, that everyone must follow the same religion as their ruler, or that one human can buy and sell another.

    It’s time to do some more growing.

  18. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 11/23/2011 - 10:21 am.

    Question for Mr. Hintz: Did you quote from Torah, or a Christian Bible? What are your qualifications to comment on Halakha?

    Miss Sandness: the two parent male-female marriage is at the very foundation of civilized society. Your failure – and the failure of your co-ideologues – to recognize this does not abrogate this very important fact.

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