Basilica Block Party caught up in fight over marriage amendment

Basilica Block Party caught up in fight over marriage amendment

The Basilica of St. Mary has hosted annual Block Parties since 1995.
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The Basilica of St. Mary has hosted annual Block Parties since 1995.

The campaign surrounding the so-called marriage amendment is going to touch all facets of Minnesota life in the coming months.

The latest example: An organized effort on Facebook is urging people to boycott the Basilica Block Party, an annual Minneapolis summertime musical bash and church fundraiser. The event, held since 1995, is scheduled for July 8 and 9.

The proposed boycott, which quickly has drawn 1,700 supporters, is meant to protest the Catholic Church’s support of a constitutional amendment that would restrict marriage to a man and a woman.

Others, though, including those at the Basilica, say the effort is off-base. No funds from the event, which annually draws in the neighborhood of 20,000 people, go to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which has been front and center in support of the amendment.

The Basilica’s issued a statement reacting to the threatened boycott: “As long-standing members of the community, we appreciate those who respectfully and peacefully share their point of view. We want the community to know that all proceeds from the Basilica Block Party benefit two areas: funding ongoing renovation efforts of the Basilica and supporting the St. Vincent de Paul outreach program that provides food and other services to those in need.”

Boycott origins
The Facebook page urging the boycott was put up by Jason Wermager, a Minneapolis photographer who was moved by a blog written by Nicole Burg, who has a gay brother and lesbian sister. She had watched with growing anger as Republicans pushed the marriage amendment, which will be on the ballot in November, 2012.

“As the bill was passing, I vowed to myself that I would start a blog and do some small thing each day until this is defeated,” Burg told MinnPost.

Burg didn’t initially set out to suggest a boycott of the 16-year-old Block Party. It was an exchange of emails with the Basilica’s pastor that, she says, pushed her to that step.

In those emails, Pastor John Bauer both defended the Church’s teaching on the restriction of marriage and “loving” all people.

Burg was not impressed, especially when Bauer used language from Catholic policy to describe gays and lesbians. The word he used was “condition,” as in homosexuality is “a condition.”

“My intention was to not go after the Church,” said Burg. “I wanted to keep my blog positive, not negative. I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to go to anti-war rallies. I want to go to peace rallies. But when I got that response that included the word ‘condition’ I was really upset.”

She wrote her blog, calling for the boycott.

That alone wouldn’t have attracted many people, Burg said. But then Wermager saw it and created a Facebook page.

“This was created to take a stand and let organizations, businesses and other groups know that it is NOT OK to support those that do not support equality and want to change the MN State Constitution to ban gay marriage,” Wermager wrote on the page. “To make a real change, we need to start taking action now. Do not wait until you vote in 2012.

“The Minnesota Catholic Church has made it their number 1 priority to define marriage in the State Constitution between one man and one woman, in turn, banning gay marriage.

“The Catholic Church has already spent millions of dollars in the production of Anti-Gay DVDs and lobbying the State Legislature to add this hateful amendment to the Minnesota Constitution.

“Please do not attend the Basilica Block Party this year. Please do not contribute any money to a Catholic Church fundraiser while they are spending millions of dollars to write discrimination into the MN constitution.”

Facebook feedback mixed
Feedback on the Facebook page has been mixed, with some suggesting, “Right cause, wrong target.”

One commenter said that the Basilica staff has been “reaching out” to those in the GLBT community, suggesting that at least some involved at the Basilica would like to see the church’s position changed.

“They are your ally,” the commenter wrote, “your one diplomat in your perceived enemy’s lair. Why would you attack the diplomat.”

Another commenter noted that the Block Party is an excellent opportunity to “talk to your neighbors and colleagues who may attend to educate them about the Discrimination Amendment.”

Burg said she appreciates the various positions being brought up on the Facebook page.

But she remains convinced that even though funds from the Block Party don’t go to the Archdiocese, this is a good place for individuals to make a statement.

“If the Archdiocese wasn’t spending all that money on DVDs (in support of the amendment), it could use the money to renovate the Basilica,” she said.

In fact, Burg is taking a step beyond a Block Party boycott. She has begun to contact corporate sponsors of the event, asking them to drop support.

“My intention all along is to show that one person can make a difference,” said Burg. “All people can do small acts.”

Obviously, the Church is not attempting to step into the background on an issue that will be raging across Minnesota with growing intensity.

In the most recent issue of the Catholic Spirit, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt wrote in his column in support of the amendment.

“Regrettably,” he wrote, “the media and some secular commentators have chosen to mischaracterize this measure as anti-gay, mean-spirited and prejudicial. This is not the case or the intent behind the initiative. … The Minnesota Catholic Conference, made up of the seven Catholic bishops from the state, support this amendment not for prejudicial or political reasons, but rather for reasons that are theological, biological and pastoral.”

Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the archdiocese, said the archbishop’s article has not created a great outpouring of reaction at archdiocesan offices. One woman, he said, believes the Church should take a stronger stand in opposition to homosexuality in general; another woman left a message praising the archbishop’s “loving,” tone, and the editor of the newsletter for the Archdiocese of San Francisco asked to reprint the piece.

This was a far cry from the firestorm that Nienstedt created last fall when, on his orders, the archdiocese sent DVDs opposing gay marriage to the homes of 400,000 Minnesota Catholics in an effort to affect Minnesota elections.

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Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/14/2011 - 11:21 am.

    If the Catholic church want’s to remind Catholics that it doesn’t recognize gay marriage, that’s one thing. But when they reach out and try to make their religious doctrine the law of the land, that’s quite another. This isn’t about what goes on the church, when the church steps into the political arena and lobbies for scriptural based discrimination they enter the political arena. They can’t have it both ways, they can’t seek to control my life, and expect me to fight for my rights on their terms, and come talk to them about it.

    A boycott is the only rational response to this religious behavior. This is an institution that trying to create and codify discrimination and render thousands of people as second class citizens. They don’t get to decide how citizens respond to that efforts.

  2. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 06/14/2011 - 11:27 am.

    This marriage amendment campaign is going to be obscenely expensive. As a mother with a beloved gay son, I will not spend my money at a place where it could end up supporting this shameful amendment. The Archbishop has clearly stated the position of the church on this amendment. He has already spent thousands to sway church members. He has sent out his bishops to speak in favor of it at the hearings. I hope corporate sponsors of this event decide it would be better if they didn’t support the Basilica while the church is funding this anti-gay amendment battle. I think the corporate sponsors should tell the Archbishop to use the church’s money to restore their Basilica instead of destroying the lives our God’s beloved gay children.

  3. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 06/14/2011 - 12:48 pm.

    This sounds like the opening scene of “Tar-gay” The sequel. With a year and a half before the election we will increasingly find that anything with a “six steps removed from actor Kevin Bacon” that does not support gay marriage will be the “Target” of these online boycotts.

  4. Submitted by Zach Miller on 06/14/2011 - 12:52 pm.

    I have a hard time understanding why people are so eager to believe when the Catholic Church says things like “none of the proceeds will benefit the Archdiocese.” The Catholic Church has been lying through their teeth the past 2000 years. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me for thousands of years… definitely shame on me.

  5. Submitted by Tim Walker on 06/14/2011 - 12:57 pm.

    “… the archdiocese sent DVDs opposing gay marriage to the homes of 400,000 Minnesota Catholics in an effort to affect Minnesota elections.”

    So, any day now, the IRS is going to revoke the tax-exempt status of this church, right?

    I mean, the 501(c)(3) rules are pretty clear about political activity: “The organization will not, as a substantial part of its activities, attempt to influence legislation …”

  6. Submitted by Bill Sharbono on 06/14/2011 - 01:25 pm.

    It’s the misguided thought that the Church will step in and pay for upkeep and renovations of our building. The organizers of the FB page seem to think that by boycotting the Block Party and cutting off the Basilica’s funds for renovation and outreach that the larger Church/Archdiocese will have to step up and direct funds to that instead of to their support of the Marriage Amendment. The misguided souls don’t seem to understand the Archdiocese/Church has no such responsibility. It is the individual parish that must come up with these funds. They are sending ZERO message to the larger Church by encouraging individuals to not attend. They are only hurting this one individual parish.

  7. Submitted by Wilbur Ince on 06/14/2011 - 01:30 pm.

    “We want the community to know that all proceeds from the Basilica Block Party benefit two areas: funding ongoing renovation efforts of the Basilica and supporting the St. Vincent de Paul outreach program that provides food and other services to those in need.”

    Isn’t that direct support for the Archdiocese? Who owns the Basilica? Who runs the outreach program?

    These comments are shady and deceptive. If you are going to support banning same sex marriage, have some guts and stand up for it. You deserve some bad press and boycotts.

  8. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 06/14/2011 - 01:42 pm.

    Randi (above) explains what only a parent of gay or lesbian can. My daughter is a lesbian. I think like most parents I am willing to endure much more than I am willing to have my child endure, especially for organized religious bigotry in the name of misconstrued righteousness. As far as I am concerned, the Catholic Church has declared war on her. Nienstedt’s words are as hollow as a cheap PR campaign, which is essentially what it is. And that coming from a church that in the last decade the only useful thing it has done is increase aware of pedophilia by setting a bad example. I will not only be boycotting the Catholic Church but anyone else who donates to pass this hateful amendment if I have to grow my vegetables in my backyard.

  9. Submitted by Erica Mauter on 06/14/2011 - 01:45 pm.

    “Burg didn’t initially set out to suggest a boycott of the 16-year-old Block Party. It was an exchange of emails with the Basilica’s pastor that, she says, pushed her to that step.”

    I think that’s an important part of the story. If the Basilica doesn’t genuinely support the LGBT community and the block party supports the Basilica, it almost doesn’t matter how exactly the funds are compartmentalized.

  10. Submitted by David Greene on 06/14/2011 - 02:03 pm.

    I don’t care what the intent is, the legislation IS anti-gay, mean-spirited and prejudicial.

    I’m a life-long Catholic and will continue to be so. In spite of all the human error that is sewn through the Church’s history, the core beliefs are still correct. This anti-gay stuff is NOT a core belief, nor is 95% of what the Church says.

    The books of Chronicles and Kings do a very good job explaining that God’s good works can indeed happen through corrupt human institutions. That’s because the hierarchy is not the Church, the people are.

  11. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 06/14/2011 - 02:53 pm.

    Bill (#6) I am confident that the proponents of this are well aware that the church isn’t going to divert money from its hateful agenda to pay for upkeep of the Basillica. Rather, I expect they are just making the point that the church could be spending its money in much better ways that on anti-gay propaganda.

    If you actually read what they had to say you would know that the boycott came about after discussions with the pastor of this very parish. Given Pastor Bauer’s dishonest and bigoted comments, hurting that the Basillica may be exactly the message they want to send.

  12. Submitted by Jeff Wilfahrt on 06/14/2011 - 03:51 pm.

    Let’s talk about the Catholic Church here for a second or two. They expect the congregation to tithe (implied in that term is 10%). Yet the share from the Basilica for the needy is 5%. Doesn’t sound give as you get fair to me. And if the numbers reported on TV last night are near correct, then there is ~$10k a year going to the charity… that isn’t a whole lot of money these days, cheap cars start in the mid teens.
    So if 95% is going to restoration, that suggests to me that the weekly Sunday collections are still feeding the Archdiocese, I for one would like to see those numbers before letting the Bishop off the hook on this issue.
    I know of a personal story when Nienstedt first arrived in New Ulm that suggests the man is autocratic, to wit having dismissed a board member of many years because he wrote a letter of protest to the Bishop for having made a long standing woman cry openly in a meeting. This is not a good man this Nienstedt, no image of the Christ is he.
    I stand by it and can produce names.

    Jeff Wilfahrt, Rosemount, MN

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/14/2011 - 03:56 pm.

    //The misguided souls don’t seem to understand the Archdiocese/Church has no such responsibility. It is the individual parish that must come up with these funds

    Dude, I don’t care how they pay for the building, that parish is not my problem. Freedom and equality are my problem, and if you want to pay for your building with MY money you best not be trying to oppress people or codify intolerance. If it’s a question of your building collapsing vs. thousands of people being systematically denied civil rights, all I can say is: “get a hard hat”.

  14. Submitted by James Blum on 06/14/2011 - 04:49 pm.

    Why does anyone care about restoring the Basilica anyway? Any building built for Catholic worship is a building built on hatred, lies, discrimination and shameful secrets. Tear that building down! There are plenty of other organizations you can contribute to that help the needy – we don’t need the Catholic church for that. One commenter says a boycott will not harm the diocese but only the parish – fine. Let’s get rid of the parish and reduce the diocese by one parish. Then let’s get rid of my former parish, St. Joan of Arc. They all have to go. People will protest that St. Joan of Arc is (or was) a liberal parish. No matter – they are a subset of a corrupt organization that has killed, lied, harmed children, protected pedophiles and subjected women, gays and other to lifetimes of cruelty and undeserved shame. The Catholic church should be eliminated, now and for ever, amen.

  15. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 06/14/2011 - 10:10 pm.

    I signed on to the boycott but feel a little silly because I have never gone to that party anyway and wasn’t planning on attending this year. I’m guessing that many of the people who clicked to boycott wouldn’t have gone anyway. I don’t think this facebook campaign is an effective strategy. It does show how people are upset though, and that we have not forgotten that the Basilica parish fired its artist-in-residence over the DVD debacle. My wish: Keep religion out of our capitol and out of our constitution, PLEASE. Equal rights and responsibilities for all. That includes singles, who should not be the losers at the end of this whole thing.

  16. Submitted by David Greene on 06/14/2011 - 11:48 pm.

    @Tim,

    The key phrase being, “as a substantial part of its activities.”

    Given your extremely narrow definition, almost no nonprofit would exist because they all try to influence legislation at some point. And they should. Churches should have the same access to and participation in politics that any nonprofit organization has.

  17. Submitted by Michael O'Connor on 06/15/2011 - 12:31 am.

    Marriage within the context of one man and one woman is one of the most primordial teachings of Christianity. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Also, “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,  and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?’ ” But this is not to deny that not all fit into these two sex roles: “But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

  18. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 06/15/2011 - 11:59 am.

    Michael, I would have assumed that the “primordial teachings” of Christianity would come from Jesus Christ himself – and his message was one of love. A lot of Christians realize that and have no problem whatsoever reconciling their beliefs with support for marriage between loving same-sex couples. The “Christian” thing to do would be to vote against this hateful amendment.

  19. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 06/15/2011 - 01:39 pm.

    Mr. O’Connor

    So what exactly don’t you and the Catholic Church understand about separation of church and state? Citing Bible passages about a constitutional amendment just proves to me that the Church is incapable of understanding a fundamental aspect of our country.

    If the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t want to marry gays – fine. Why should they try to tell the rest of us how to live?

  20. Submitted by deborah thornton on 06/16/2011 - 07:06 am.

    The Catholic Church has its principles. Don’t expect them to change their stance for the sake of man’s ideas. That is why they are called the “Church.” Go and enjoy the music.

  21. Submitted by Gary DeVaan on 06/16/2011 - 11:10 am.

    Perhaps the Clergy at the Basilica should committ the funds from the block party to the defeat of the discrimination amandment. I know that would piss off thier boss and be a big risk for them but it’s what should be done.

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/18/2011 - 08:43 am.

    The only church policy Catholics may want to consider changing is the attempt to make their religious beliefs the law of the land. You can believe what want, that’s actually your right. You an do what to do IN YOUR CHURCH, that’s also your right. The problem arises when you walk out of your church, carry your scripture down to the Capital, and try to make law. Don’t do that and expect to be immune from criticism and reaction. This is how free speech works, you say what you say, and then it’s someone elses turn. Boycotts are just someone else speaking.

    It’s funny how many apparent Catholics are criticizing the boycott instead of the church leadership that caused the boycott, and I think it tells you something about the nature of the church. Whatever.

    Meanwhile, over 10,000 people have now signed onto the Facebook boycott.

  23. Submitted by Joe Carlin on 06/19/2011 - 02:52 am.

    “Give unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, and give unto God what is God’s.”

    Even Christ believed in the separation of church and state. If only modern Christians did as well.

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