How DARE We Pray for Marriage? Really?

Written by Jason Adkins, Executive Director and General Counsel

Responding to all of the attacks on the Catholic Church for having the temerity to counter the cultural and political onslaught against marriage is a bit like playing whack-a-mole.  Most are not worth a response, and they tend to be irrational, name-calling diatribes.

Sometimes, though, one will pop up that is illustrative of common fallacies and is worth a response.  For example, we have Bernard Schlager, Ph.D.’s attack on Archbishop Nienstedt that appeared on the Huffington Post’s Gay Voices page. Given that I am not a Gay Voice, I will have to publish my response here. Though, I’m not sure the Gay Voice section of HuffPo would consider posting anything from Catholics with same-sex attraction who support the preservation of traditional marriage, either (such as Eve Tushnet, Melinda Selmys, blogger “Steve Gershom” or our own “Catholic in the Pew” blogger Peggy).

Let’s take a tour of the column.  My comments in [[bold.]]

How About a Prayer for All Marriages (And All Committed Relationships Rooted in Love)? [[Even in the title, something smells fishy. We know that one thing the Catholic Church has no shortage of right now is our variety of prayers – for single people, sisters, priests, people with same-sex attraction, the list is infinite and we are encouraged to pray them all! The prayer in question just happens to be about marriage.]]

Last month Roman Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt (of the Saint Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese) issued a call for all Catholics in his diocese to offer a prayer during Mass to prevent gay marriage from ever becoming legal in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. [[Is that really what he did?  You can see the prayer below. Instead, it looks as though he asked Catholics to pray for a renewed culture of marriage, to live our own marital vows well, and the courage to proclaim the truth of what marriage is and should continue to be. The subject of gay “marriage” is not even mentioned in the prayer.]]

Designed as part of a larger strategy of the Minnesota Catholic Conference to write a ban on same-sex marriage into the state’s constitution [[The marriage protection amendment is always portrayed as a “ban” on gay marriage, but the amendment itself says nothing about GLBTs or gay marriage.  It simply puts the current definition of marriage into the state constitution, thus preventing judges and politicians from redefining it, as they are actively trying to do in Minnesota and elsewhere.]], the insertion of this prayer into the liturgical worship of his church reveals how strongly Nienstedt believes that all stops should be pulled out in this ecclesiastical attempt to prevent the granting of the civil right of marriage to gays and lesbians. [[Those who oppose the amendment and want to redefine marriage always assert that people have a civil right to marry a person of the same sex, but practically never attempt to explain why. Civil marriage is not based on love.  It is focused on supporting mothers and fathers in the task of raising children.  Thus, the “right” to a marriage license comes when a (male-female) couple embraces the responsibility to care for any children that are born from their union.  Rights are rooted in responsibilities — the ability to do what we ought, not what we want. The civil institution of marriage is a reality that binds a man and a woman and any children born from their union. That is what marriage is. That is what marriage does.  It is society supporting the important task of raising children.  Acknowledging this reality, there is therefore no “right” to a license for a same-sex couple when it is physically impossible for them to naturally produce children together. The government sanctioning of this union through licensing communicates that kids don’t need a mom and dad.]]

But let’s be clear about what Nienstedt and the other Minnesota Catholic bishops are doing as they try to derail any momentum for marriage equality in their state and, in the process, change the Minnesota constitution. [[He makes it sound like amending the constitution is necessarily a bad thing. But read Article One, Section One of the Minnesota Constitution, which states that it is instituted for the benefit of the people and that government can be modified whenever required by the public good.  Preserving the institution of marriage seems to fit the requirement, doesn’t it?]] While the creation of a prayer for recitation during Mass may seem to represent a seemingly harmless attempt by religious leaders to influence the voting practices of their followers, these bishops have also taken the unusual step of mailing 400,000 copies of an anti-marriage-equality DVD to Catholics throughout the state in fall 2010 and, more ominously, they have called upon Minnesota priests to set up committees designed to convince voters to pass a marriage amendment in November 2012. [[How dare those bishops establish programming to educate parishioners and equip them to discharge their responsibility as citizens to participate in public conversations about matters of importance! It’s like saying “how dare they” to the myriad other social justice topics Catholics form committees for—feeding the poor, serving the sick, combating poverty, seeking fair immigration reform, abolishing of the death penalty and engaging in pro-life activities. Call them what you want, but the bishops’ actions are not “unusual.”]]

The bishops’ activities, in fact, are nothing other than a brazen – and unwise [[And just why is that, exactly?]] – attempt by religious leaders of one denomination to impose their views on everyone (regardless of religious affiliation, if any) throughout an entire state. [[OK, stop already.  Who is imposing anything on anyone?  It’s not as though Catholics or their bishops have bayonets forcing people into ballot booths and making them vote for the amendment. The Church’s political involvement is to contribute to the conversation and promote the common good, which for us is preserving an institution that join mothers and fathers together for the sake of the most vulnerable among us – children.  Voters are free to accept or reject that counsel, which by the way is based on both faith and reason. If people actually disagree in conscience with the Church’s instruction, they should oppose the amendment.  But let’s avoid the silly sloganeering about imposing religion on the public.]] It is one thing to prohibit marriage equality for Catholics in terms of the Catholic sacrament of marriage; it is quite another thing for a bishop (or two or three) to work to restrict the rights of all lesbian and gay Minnesotans — non-Catholics and Catholics alike — who may seek civil marriage.  [[Again, the presumption in Schlager’s “argument” is that there is an authentic right to marry a person of the same sex, which there is not. Further, there is a misconception that civil marriage is essentially a love license given to people who love each other. If marriage is a love license or just for a committed relationship for the benefit of adults, marriage becomes unnecessary for children and family. Yet, social trends continuously show that children deprived of married mothers and fathers don’t fare as well economically or emotionally as children with a married mother and father. So really, we could say this is a rights issue; it’s about the rights of children.]]

It is important to point out, of course, that there are many, many churchgoing American Catholics who believe in marriage equality, as has been demonstrated by recent surveys that show significant support for gay marriage among Catholics in the US.  [[Actually, among regular, “churchgoing” Catholics, support for gay marriage is very low.  To that end, U.S. Catholics are only about six percent of the global Catholic population and if we polled Catholics worldwide, the support would be extremely low.]]

While Nienstedt has every right to write a prayer of exclusion [[It does not exclude anyone. And if you really want to play that card, you would also need to say it “excludes” priests, religious sisters, lay Catholics living chastely, the list goes on.]]  and insert it into the Mass (however unwise that may be liturgically, theologically, and politically), [[Why is it unwise  for Catholics to pray for what they believe and what the Church teaches about marriage, which is rooted in scripture and supported through human reason? Again, is this some kind of veiled threat? Is Schlager suggesting Catholics and their bishops violate their conscience by not speaking?]]

I’d like to suggest that the many Catholics (and other Christians) who disagree with his views offer instead an inclusive prayer similar to the one that I have written below.  [[The idea that the truly loving thing to do is to support gay marriage may be the most sadly deceiving fallacy of the whole marriage debate. For Christians, the loving thing to do has always been to call all people with compassion, like Jesus did, to a better way of life that promotes human flourishing for the whole community and themselves. That’s the spirit of Christian solidarity. Christ continuously demonstrates through word and action in the Gospels that love means willing the authentic good of another, not simply affirming their choices.]] 

Nienstedt’s prayer is reprinted below; mine can be found below his. (This will be the first – and probably last — time that the good bishop and I appear on the same page regarding the same issue. [[I guess it was the second to the last?]])

A Prayer for Marriage
By Archbishop Nienstedt

Heavenly Father,

Through the powerful intercession of the Holy Family, grant to this local Church the many graces we need to foster, strengthen, and support faith-filled, holy marriages and holy families.

May the vocation of married life, a true calling to share in your own divine and creative life, be recognized by all believers as a source of blessing and joy, and a revelation of your own divine goodness.

Grant to us all the gift of courage to proclaim and defend your plan for marriage, which is the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong, exclusive relationship of loving trust, compassion, and generosity, open to the conception of children.

We make our prayer through Jesus Christ, who is Lord forever and ever.


A Prayer for All Marriages
(And All Committed Relationships Rooted in Love)

By Bernard Schlager

O God, Mother and Father of Us All,

We thank you for the model and witness of the Holy Family, one of many unconventional families revealed to us in your Holy Word. Like your son, Jesus of Nazareth, who blessed a variety of human relationships rooted in love, may we have the wisdom and grace to foster, strengthen, and support all loving relationships and all families.

May your command to love one another as you have loved us, O God, cause us to pay heed to the movement of your Holy Spirit, who calls us in the here and now to embrace the rainbow of loving human relationships that reflect your love for all of humanity in its wonderful diversity.

May we speak out courageously when others try to pass laws that exclude, diminish, or demonize other persons and their families because of who they are and whom they love. May we take to heart what we know to be true: that where love and charity prevail, you are to be found.

We ask this, as always, through your Many Holy Names.


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