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.
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 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.
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. 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.
The bishops' activities, in fact, are nothing other than a brazen -- and unwise -- attempt by religious leaders of one denomination to impose their views on everyone (regardless of religious affiliation, if any) throughout an entire state. 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.
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.
While Nienstedt has every right to write a prayer of exclusion and insert it into the Mass (however unwise that may be liturgically, theologically, and politically), 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.
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.)
A Prayer for Marriage
By Archbishop Nienstedt
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.