Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rediscovering What Has Been Written on Our Hearts from the Very Beginning

A recent remark by Archbishop Nienstedt could be interpreted
as encouraging us to rediscover the sacred call to seek, discern
and lovingly respond to all expressions and experiences
of God's transforming love – including those within
the lives and relationships of gay people.

It's been two weeks since Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed multiple copies of the bill passed May 13 by the Minnesota Senate that makes civil marriage for same-sex couples legal in Minnesota beginning August 1. The Governor's signature makes Minnesota the 12th U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Left: Governor Mark Dayton with Senator Scott Dibble, principle sponsor of the Senate version of the Minnesota marriage equality bill.

In describing the historic events of May 14, MinnPost journalist Beth Hawkins wrote:

. . . Despite blistering heat, the crowd blanketed the lawn and covered the broad expanse of stairs leading into the Capitol, where some of the senators who orchestrated Monday’s vote were still hard at work bringing the session to a close.

Flanked by dozens of state officials, LGBT activists, faith community leaders and other supporters, Dayton asked the crowd to thank the lawmakers for taking a risk.

“Thank you! Thank you!” the throng chanted in unison. And later, in what became the unofficial rallying cry of the week, “We’ve got your back, we’ve got your back.”

Even as the governor and lawmakers wrapped up their remarks, people continued to flow into the Capitol area waving American flags and rainbow banners.

Forty-five minutes after he picked up a pen, the governor sent the crowd on its way to a party planned for downtown St. Paul. “Go have fun,” he said. “Love is the law!”

Left: Sen. Scott Dibbe and his husband Richard Leyva – May 14 2013.

In 2011 Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, an initiative of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), created a series of five video vignettes on faith, marriage and family from the perspective of LGBT Catholics and supportive family members. Scott and Richard feature in this series. (To view their vignette, click here. For photos and commentary on the September 29, 2011 premiere of the series at Minneapolis' Riverview Theater, click here.)

Archbishop Nienstedt responds

As executive coordinator of CPCSM/Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, I was honored to be invited to join other faith community leaders in a special area at the foot of the Capitol steps for the May 14 marriage equality bill signing. (Hence the photos that accompany this post!)

There were representatives from many faith traditions present – though, as usual, I was representing the one Christian faith tradition that officially worked against the marriage equality victory that we were celebrating. Indeed, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church continues to work against marriage equality at the national level. Here in Minnesota, the MN Catholic Conference has expressed "disappointment" in the movement toward equality, while Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, one of the most vocal opponents of marriage equality, declared that May 14 was "a dark, sad day for Catholics in the state of Minnesota as well as for all faith-filled people who believe in traditional marriage."

"If marriage was only ever about love between consenting adults and their desires," wrote Nienstedt, "it would have been changed centuries ago."

Well, actually, marriage has "been changed" – both centuries ago and more recently. Just within the past 100 years, the abolishing of the ban on inter-racial marriages here in the U.S. served to "redefine" marriage. Looking further back, author Ken O'Neill is able to remind us that: "The fact that you can't sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we've already redefined marriage."

Unmindful of such changes and developments, Archbishop Nienstedt insists that:

Marriage reflects truths about the human person that no human being, advocacy group or popular trend can mute or change, no matter how much one wishes reality to be shaped according to one’s own making. The traditional understanding of something is often considered as such because tradition reflects unchanging truth.

I find this statement troubling as it appears Archbishop Nienstedt is appealing to claims of "unchanging truth" so as to avoid not only the duty of reading the 'signs of the times' but also the possibility of encountering God in people and relationships that he's uncomfortable with.

I appreciate fellow Catholic blogger Terence Weldon's thoughts on the clinging by many within the church hierarchy to notions of "unchanging truth." Writes Terence:

The institutional Catholic Church often boasts proudly of its “constant and unchanging tradition” in its teaching, insisting not only that it does not change, but that, being God’s revealed truth, it simply cannot change. This is errant nonsense – any examination of Church history soon reveals examples of the very many ways that teaching has changed over the centuries, and continues to adapt in the present day. This is particularly frustrating for lesbian and gay Catholics, for whom the abundant internal contradictions and inconsistencies in the doctrine are only too obvious – and who are far too aware of the deep hurt, anguish and suffering that are caused by a dangerous and destructive disordered doctrine, For them, it is obvious that even in terms of its own logic, the doctrine simply must change . . .

I should also note that my friend Peg Helminski does an excellent job at refuting "unchanging truth" claims concerning so-called traditional marriage. In her 2009 article, "Redefining Marriage?," for instance, she writes that:

In the beginning, marriage was a relationship between two men. A man exchanged goods or services with a girl’s father to procure a virgin bride – a bride who likely became one of several wives. This way, he could assure himself that any children he supported held valid claim to his property. Yes, marriage began as a business transaction to assure male property rights. Often, marriage provided other benefits; increasing the family labor force, acquiring a trade agreement or securing a political alliance.

Marriage provided the basic economic unit of society. In choosing a bride, a man considered whatever skills a woman possessed that could contribute to his business. “Queen” or “tinker’s wife” were job descriptions, not relationships rooted in affection.

Although only required of bishops, the nascent Christian Church defined the ideal marriage as lifelong monogamy. This was, however, the ideal, not the reality.

Whereas fidelity was usually expected of a woman, and insured by various cultures through the use of chastity belts, veiling and foot binding, it was long excused if men expressed their affections outside marriage. Men owed nothing to children produced in these amorous liaisons: no support while alive, no inheritance after death. Such children were “illegitimate” because they held no legitimate claim to their father’s property. Only legitimate children had a claim to property rights.

Even a sacramental, Christian marriage (not instituted until 1215), had a long way to evolve before it reached today’s loving paradigm. Women seldom held rights of mate-selection or even a right to reject a choice made by a father or matchmaker. Until the 20th century, wives had no option to leave men who subjected them or their children to cruelty. Marriage for women was about duty: primarily the duty to produce a male heir to a husband’s possessions.

A threat to patriarchy

It would seem that the Roman Catholic hierarchy's real issue with same-sex marriage is how it undermines patriarchy, which, of course, is the basis for the power and privilege enjoyed by the males who comprise this hierarchy. Explains Peg Helminski:

[I]f we define marriage in the terms to which it has already evolved; if we eliminate unfair restrictions of gender-defined roles, economic dependence and subservience of one spouse to the other; if we name freely-chosen, committed love between respected equals as the purpose of marriage, we open the possibility of marriage to same sex couples.

And, gay marriage poses a threat – not, as detractors claim, to marriage as it is currently lived in Western culture, but to the repressive structures of patriarchy upon which marriage was founded.

You see, Western marriage is still transforming itself. We have not yet realized spousal equality. We remain locked in behavioral patterns formed in an age of male privilege. It is well documented, for example, that even in two career households; women still perform the overwhelming majority of childcare and routine household chores.

If society sanctions life-long, loving commitments between persons of the same sex, we will face daily examples of equality in marriage. We will see a living model for marriage that those in relationships stunted by ill-fitting, stereotypical expectations will learn from – and emulate. For, there simply is no clearer vision of a marriage of equals than the freely chosen, mutual love of two members of the same sex.

. . . The priesthood represents itself as the image of Christ on earth. In this metaphor, the faithful, united as one, are the bride of Christ. Historically, this image served to teach men the level of loyalty expected of them. The Church hierarchy demanded nothing less of men than the absolute fidelity and unquestioning subordination they, in turn, expected of their wives. Men accepted the absolute authority of the priesthood because they commanded similar power at home.

Yet, it is the absolute power of that unquestioned authority that allowed widespread abuse within the Church. If the laity should see how well a marriage of true equals can work; they might clearly understand just how dysfunctional their Church has become. They might recall to consciousness a time in our collective past wherein the vox populi (the voice of the people – the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, alive and moving in the hearts of the faithful) was a driving force, directing the formation of doctrine and Tradition – as well as Papal pronouncements.

With such a guiding model of equality in marriage, we might reclaim our dignity as children of God and, like a newly empowered, long battered wife, collectively say to the hierarchy, “We won’t accept your abuse for ourselves or our children any more! If you wish to remain one with us, you will respect the voice of the Bride of Christ as co-equal with your own.” The last vestiges of ecclesial patriarchy would crumble. . . .

How then might we understand and define marriage if not as the patriarchally-rooted "union between a man and a woman"? Here's what Peg suggests:

Marriage should be defined as a freely chosen, exclusive partnership of respected, adult equals; a joyous union of two minds and hearts, souls and bodies; a strong physical, spiritual and emotional bond; a commitment to deepest intimacy and profound mutual caring that provides an harmonious environment for the personal growth of both individuals and a foundation upon which to nurture others the couple enfolds in their celebration of love.

Although children remain one of the greatest blessings of marriage, we should defend childless marriages as valid marriages none-the-less, for it is the strength and union of committed love infusing life with vibrancy and outreaching purpose that reflects a spiritual truth about the life-giving nature of God, not the mere animal-function of producing offspring. Defined this way, marriage remains an icon of the sacrificial Love of Christ for His people and an enduring bond of stability; enhancing the entire community that affirms the couple’s commitment.

"What God has written on our hearts . . ."

Ever the valiant optimist, I believe that Archbishop Nienstedt is capable of recognizing and embracing such a beautiful and inclusive understanding of marriage. I glean support for this hope by the following which Archbishop wrote in the preface to the special Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis edition of Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion and Purpose.

Wherever you are on your faith journey, know that the community of faith is on that journey with you and that in the Church you will always have a place at the table . . . God's ocean of love and mercy give us all we need to rediscover what He has written on our hearts from the very beginning.

These words of Archbishop Nienstedt speak of journey and discovery, of openness to and trust in God's ongoing revelation in human life. It seems to me that Peg Helminski's articulation of the meaning and purpose of marriage is beautifully aligned to God's presence and transforming love witnessed in gay people's lives, relationships and families. I believe that what is "written on our hearts from the very beginning" is God's call to seek, discern and lovingly respond to all expressions and experiences of God's transforming love. Accordingly, I think we should give thanks and praise for the evolution in human awareness and understanding that has helped bring us to the point where we can and do witness such love in the lives and relationships of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. And, of course, we should also give thanks and praise to the courageous gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who, in living lives of integrity and love, have served as midwives for such evolution.

My hope and prayer is that Archbishop Nienstedt and all the members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy will one day soon join their many fellow Catholics in expressing such thanks and praise.


Following are more of my photos from the May 14 signing
of the Minnesota marriage equality bill.

Above: Before a crowd of more than 7,000 people, Governor Mark Dayton signs into law the bill that makes civil marriage for same-sex couples legal in Minnesota beginning August 1.

With Gov. Dayton are the bill's two chief sponsors, Rep. Karen Clark, with her partner Jacquelyn Zita, and Sen. Scott Dibble, with his husband Richard Leyva.

“By your political courage you join that pantheon of exceptional leaders who did something extraordinary,” Gov. Dayton told the crowd. “You changed the course of history for our state and our nation. . . . [This] progress has often been difficult, controversial and initially divisive. However, it has always been the next step ahead to fulfilling this country’s promise to every American.”

Above (from left): MN House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, Speaker of the MN House of Representatives Paul Thissen, Gov. Mark Dayton, Richard Leyva, Rep. Karen Clark, and Jacquelyn Zita.

Above: Sen. Scott Dibble acknowledges and thanks those gathered at the State Capitol for the May 14 marriage equality bill signing.

Above and right: One of the most inspiring speakers was Paul Melchert, a Twin Cities-based pediatric physician, who was present at the May 14 bill signing with his partner James Zimmerman and the couple's twin boys Emmett and Gabriel.

"This is all about the children and it is all about us as families," said Melchert as he thanked the crowd. "This is a beautiful victory for everyone. This is a victory of justice and equality in which everybody wins. We are all winners, there are no losers."

Over the past two years, as Minnesotans debated (and ultimately defeated) the anti-marriage equality 'marriage amendment' and moved toward legalized same-sex marriage, opponents would often argue that same-sex marriage would hurt children and families. The Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, however, issued a statement in October 2012 that said bans on gay marriage would do more harm than good for children with same-sex parents.

Standing with Paul and James in the picture above is Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families.

Related Off-site Links:
Minnesota Legalizes Gay Marriage; Gov. Dayton Signs Bill Into Law – Megan Boldt and Christopher Snowbeck (St. Paul Pioneer Press via Denver Post, May 15, 2013).
The Catholics, Other Faith Groups Behind Minnesota Marriage Victory – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, May 9, 2013).
The Top 10 Arguments Against Gay Marriage: All Receive Failing Grades! – Murray Lipp (The Huffington Post, May 28, 2013.

Richard Carlbom to Lead National Same-Sex Marriage Effort – Baird Helgeson (Star Tribune, July 9, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Acknowledging, Celebrating, and Learning from Marriage Equality's 'Triumphs of Faith'
"It'll Be Legal August 1st"
At the Minnesota State Capitol, Two Big Steps Forward for Marriage Equality
Drawing the Circle Wide
Two of the Most Inspiring Speeches from Today's Historic MN House Hearing and Vote on Marriage Equality
Karen Clark's Revolutionary Act: "Daring to Believe That People Can Change Their Hearts and Minds"
Photo of the Day – May 13, 2013
Marriage Equality Comes to Minnesota
Photo of the Day – May 14, 2013
Tongues and Souls on Fire
Marriage: "Part of What is Best in Human Nature"
God Weighs In on the Gay Marriage Debate
Lisa Cressman's Concise, Reasonable Answers to Marriage Equality Questions
Steve Chapman: "Time is On the Side of Gay Marriage"
Stephanie Coontz on the Changing Face of "Traditional Marriage"
John Corvino on the "Always and Everywhere" Argument Against Marriage Equality
Patrick Ryan on the "Defense of Traditional Marriage" Argument
Nathanial Frank on the "Natural Law" Argument
Quote of the Day – January 21, 2013
Quote of the Day – November 19, 2012

Images: Michael J. Bayly.


McAuley Hentges said...

A brilliant and moving essay, Michael!

You remind the archbishop of St. Paul and all of us that marriage has a history, and like Catholic doctrine is constantly developing and transforming. Such development and transformation is evidence of the presence of the Spirit in the community. It is to be celebrated, not feared.

Your discussion of "what has been written on our hearts from the very beginning" rescues the natural law tradition of moral philosophy from the fossilized Aristotelianism and patriarchal ideology to which the Catholic right has reduced it.

James said...

Let's face it: You don't get ahead in the Church hierarchy by having any sense of introspection or moral courage. Far from being experts on morality, they are developmentally challenged in that quality.

Katy Anders said...

Fantastic, beautiful, informative, and... Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks you for sharing this. It was wonderful.