Monday, October 15, 2012

Into the Fray

Last May, just hours after the Minnesota House of Representatives voted 70-62 to place the 'marriage amendment' on the November 2012 ballot, I changed my Facebook profile picture to the above image of Prince Valiant.

Artist Hal Foster's drawing shows the Prince of Thule donning armor and preparing to do battle against a "mighty adversary." That's just what it felt like I needed to do last May (left) – prepare and engage in battle. And it's how it can especially feel now, less than a month before the November 6 elections.

Yet as a follower of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, I've come to question if it is appropriate or helpful to think about my involvement in the 'marriage amendment' issue as a “battle” or “fight.” How else, though, can we envision it? Thankfully, my work as executive coordinator with the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) has greatly helped me think carefully about and respond meaningfully to this important question.

You see, well before the 'marriage amendment' came along, CPCSM had been facilitating educational events focused on the broader issue of marriage equality. In September 2011 these activities culminated in the launching of our Catholics for Marriage Equality MN (C4ME-MN) initiative. The primary purpose of C4ME-MN is not so much to defeat the marriage amendment as it is to educate Catholics about what marriage equality means (i.e. the granting of civil marriage rights, benefits and responsibilities to same-sex couples); why marriage is important to LGBT people; and why Catholics can, in good conscience, support marriage equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

In terms of the actual ‘marriage amendment,’ we seek to educate and facilitate discussion on the range of Catholic thinking on this issue. We feel that acknowledgement of this range is an important and necessary component of the discussion, and one that is sadly missing from the Catholic hierarchy’s treatment of the issue. Members of the hierarchy insist that Catholics can only vote ‘yes.’ In distributing information and facilitating discussion on the amendment we emphasize (i) the experiences and insights of a wide spectrum of Catholics – gay and straight, clergy and lay; (ii) the church’s social justice and human rights teachings; and (iii) the role of the sensus fidelium and the teaching of the primacy of conscience. We endeavor to help Catholics be as informed as possible about these aspects of their tradition as they prepare to vote on the amendment. We also highlight that Catholics can, in good conscience, choose to vote ‘no,’ and that this decision is supported by those aspects of the Catholic faith noted above.

Honest dialogue

CPCSM’s addressing of issues relating to marriage equality began in 2005 when increased discussion on 'gay marriage' was taking place in society and even in some circles within the church. In October 2010 we sponsored an educational forum featuring Catholic theologian Daniel Maguire, who spoke on the topic “Why You Can Be Catholic and Support Gay Marriage.”

CPCSM’s Catholics for Marriage Equality MN initiative was formally launched on September 29, 2011 with the premiere at the Riverview Theater of Catholics for Marriage Equality, our self-produced series of short “video vignettes” featuring local LGBT Catholics and their loved ones “sharing stories of faith, family and marriage.” The actual ‘marriage amendment’ is rarely mentioned in the film, and there is no “vote no” message conveyed either in the film or its accompanying discussion guide. Rather, the primary aim of our video series is to facilitate honest discussion, involving both listening and sharing.

Such honest dialogue is the hallmark of CPCSM's ministry. Indeed, the group traces its origins to the May 9, 1980 meeting between the six Catholics who would soon form CPCSM and the then-Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, John Roach. At this meeting, the "CPCSM Six," as they would come to be known, shared with the bishop their journeys of faith as LGBT Catholics. And the bishop listened and responded in a number of positive ways. For instance, he agreed to let his various department heads meet with the founding board of CPCSM in order to help educate the staff members of their respective departments about the pastoral needs and concerns of the local LGBT Catholic community. Every department head that was approached was receptive, and the conversations and education that resulted eventually led to CPCSM's groundbreaking Needs Assessment Study.

Thirty-two years later, CPCSM continues to believe that conversations with family members, friends, fellow parishioners, co-workers, and, yes, our clerical leadership, remain key in opening hearts and minds to the reality of LGBT lives – including the meaning and importance of marriage in these lives. After all, in our society it is only the word ‘marriage’ that conveys the joy, connection, and deep commitment that is made between two people who love one another. So when conversing with others on the potentially contentious issue of the 'marriage amendment,' we encourage folks to explain how their support for marriage equality is informed by their Catholic faith. Many Catholics readily acknowledge that they value compassion, justice, family, truth-telling and love. Many also say that they have witnessed these qualities and values in the lives and relationships of LGBT people. As one Catholic puts it: “I see the face of God in the love of same-sex couples.”

A balanced approach

Minnesotans United for All Families, the official campaign to defeat the 'marriage amendment,' is very much focused on having supporters share personal stories about "why marriage matters;" on having people "speak from the heart." The following statement from a letter-to-the-editor of the Star Tribune exemplifies a "from the heart"-type of statement: “I’m not a member of the clergy and I’m not a theologian, but I know [the Archbishop is] wrong because I know what’s in my heart; and what is in my heart is love.” Now, to be sure, there is nothing wrong with these types of responses as, without doubt, they can reflect important truths. Yet intellectually-based perspectives can also reflect truth. Catholicism has a long and rich intellectual tradition, one that can be utilized when discussing a range of issues related to marriage equality. (For an excellent example, see local theologian William C. Hunt's article "Homosexual Relationships: Another Look.") I think it's also important to remember that not everyone is moved by a “because my heart tells me” argument. Some are actually turned off by overly emotional responses, and, rightly or wrongly, dismiss them as irrational.

Accordingly, along with responding from the heart to the Catholic hierarchy's active support of the 'marriage amendment,' C4ME-MN believes that Catholics can and should respectfully critique and challenge this support on its own terms, i.e., intellectually and theologically. For some examples of this, see C4ME-MN's "Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality."

A shared journey

My work with C4ME-MN, with its emphasis on dialogue and education, has helped me develop a alternative to the "battle" metaphor when thinking and talking about my engagement in the ongoing struggle for marriage equality. I’ve come to find that it is more helpful (and more aligned with Jesus' way of peacemaking) to let go of the battle metaphor and embrace instead metaphors of invitation and journey.

How are such metaphors expressed in a practical way? Well, through my conversations with others I endeavor to invite them to examine and discuss our stances and to respectfully consider each other's perspectives and insights. I envision us on a shared journey of discovery, trusting that God’s spirit of wisdom and compassion will lead us into the fullness of truth.

In working with others to plan and implement C4ME-MN programs, I do my best to make sure that such programs and events convey this same focus on honest sharing and dialogue; this same spirit of journey and trust. I've even found an image of my hero Prince Valiant that, to my mind at least, reflects such ideas and aspirations!

Above: Prince Valiant engages his traveling companion,
the Teutonic knight Gunther, on the best way to journey to Jerusalem.
(Art: John Cullen Murphy, 1980).

Of course, it can still all feel like a battle at times, especially when one is confronted by folks who are simply unwillingly to dialogue and/or allow others to question. Also, when those around you and the media get caught up in the "battle" metaphor, it's pretty much impossible not to be drawn "into the fray." Yet when this happens I hold onto and seek to embody my alternative understanding and image of the situation.

Many opportunities

Over the past few months I've been fortunate to have had many opportunities to indeed embody this alternative understanding; to personify, in other words, a way of approaching and engaging others that is not adversarial but rather respectful, invitational, and dialogic. Such opportunities have occurred at various events that I've been part of and/or helped organize. What follows are descriptions and images of some of the events at which I've had the honor to speak as executive coordinator of CPCSM/C4ME-MN. Of course, others also spoke at many of these events and, in so doing, shared their experiences and insights. What's interesting, and you'll clearly see this in the quotes below, is how I've not been the only one to have grappled with the 'battle' metaphor and ditched it in favor of a more respectful and thoughtful approach. 

On Sunday, September 16, for instance, I traveled north to Duluth for an event organized by area Catholics. One of those present at this event was Dan Glisczinski (right). Speaking to a local news reporter, Dan said he respectfully disagreed with the stance of the Minnesota Catholic bishops on the 'marriage amendment.'

"If we have the good fortune of going to heaven someday, and that's something that we pray we get to do, we'll stand before our God," he said. "We'll make mistakes in our lives. But if we make mistakes on issues like voting no, we're making mistakes on the side of love, on the side of care and on the side of Jesus’ example of investment in others' human dignity."

On September 20, I traveled south to Rochester and gave a presentation at what was billed by organizers as "A Forum for Catholics on the Marriage Amendment." This event served as an open dialogue whereby recent statements from the Minnesota Catholic bishops, Catholic Social Teaching and the role of conscience were discussed.

Above: Colette Sweeney of Rochester was one of the key organizers of the September 20 forum. When being interviewed by a local reporter, Colette said, "If people can discuss [the 'marriage amendment'] then they are able to talk about their fears, talk about their concerns in an open way and . . . become better informed instead of being told there's only one way to think. Jesus was about love and we are talking about committed loving relationships and supporting them, and that makes our society better."

Left: With Rochester friends Joe and Bob.

Above and right: On September 24 I was the guest on Suzanne Linton's SCCTV program Our World Today.

During the course of the hour-long broadcast, four of the five 'vignettes' of C4ME-MN's Catholics for Marriage Equality video series were be shown and discussed.

On September 29, Michaelmas, C4ME-MN hosted an educational event that focused on why many Catholics are voting 'no' on both the 'marriage amendment' and the 'voter photo ID amendment.'

Above: Featured speakers at C4ME-MN's September 29 event included (from left) Eric Fought of Our Vote, Our Future; National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie L. Manson; and Jonathan Maurer-Jones of Minnesotans United for All Families.

Left: With fellow CPCSM board members Kathleen Olsen and Mary Kay Orman.

In welcoming attendees to our September 29 gathering, I sought to convey C4ME-MN's emphasis on dialogue and openness to journey. In concluding this Wild Reed post, I share part of my September 29 welcoming remarks.

I think it’s very appropriate that we gather this evening on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, “protector of the Catholic Church.” I like to think that when we facilitate honest discussion on the types of difficult questions and issues raised by both of the amendments, we get the chance to lift up, embody, and, yes, protect and defend the very best aspects of our Catholic community and faith.

And what are these aspects? Let’s start with our social justice tradition, rooted in the very life and message of Jesus; and don’t forget our tradition of the primacy of conscience; then there’s our ‘Here Comes Everyone’ or ‘Big Tent’ understanding of Catholicism, one that is unashamedly extravagant in its compassion and inclusiveness. And of course there’s our rich intellectual tradition – one that, taken seriously and applied to the discussions taking place in our church and society about sexuality and marriage, has so much to offer that is reasonable, compassionate and sane.

Now, you may know that in traditional Catholic thinking Michael is the patron saint of policemen and firefighters. But in esoteric Christian thought Michael is entrusted with all events pertaining to the Earth’s Light grid and visionary geography. He’s said to supervise its major upgrades, and works to bring forth ever-increasing light and consciousness.

It’s also said that he facilitates every step a human voluntarily makes towards what is called the Cosmic Consciousness or Christ Consciousness. He is the harbinger of the Holy Spirit moving through and among us on the physical plane.

I believe that the struggle for marriage equality, and the related recognition and acceptance of human sexuality in all its complexity, is all part of the wondrous and ongoing journey in consciousness that humanity is on.

Related Off-site Links:
Local Catholics Voice Their Opposition to Marriage Amendment – Zach Hammer (, September 16, 2012).
Duluth Catholics Speak Out Against MN Marriage Amendment – Jennifer Walch (Northlands News Center, September 16, 2012).
Marriage Amendment Battle Gaining More Attention – Danette Gunther (, September 20, 2012).

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