Six weeks before this past Tuesday’s midterm election, Archbishop John Niendstedt of St. Paul, Minn. sent out nearly 400,000 DVDs to his parishioners stating his belief that marriage is a union ordained by God to be between one man and one woman. In the wake of this six minute DVD, the archbishop’s flock has responded, in many cases, with a high level of anger and hurt.
Two efforts (one by artist Lucinda Naylor and the other by an organization called “Return the DVD”) have worked to either destroy or return the DVD. In addition to this, more than 100 DVDs have already been mailed back to the archdiocese. The archbishop not only voiced his theological view that marriage is a sacred commitment between one man and one woman, but also his very political view that the best remedy for this “dangerous risk” was for the people of Minnesota to vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
Numerous arguments can be raised against the archbishop’s conduct. There is, of course, the legal issue of a tax-exempt religious institution making a political statement. This argument is given even further credence because the DVD came out so close to Minnesota’s gubernatorial election, where the issue of same-sex marriage was a very serious one for the candidates.
To me, however, this is not the most serious issue regarding the archbishop’s actions. Far more serious here is the dichotomy between the unabashed bigotry of the archbishop’s DVD and his position as a moral and religious leader.
Same-sex marriage is certainly a decisive issue in current American politics. In recent years, a strong movement has been building to overturn the bans in nearly every state. Furthermore, all politicians must face this issue at some point in their careers and their answers to it have very serious ramifications with their electorate.
What I have never been able to understand, however, is why this is so. In a country which prides itself on personal freedoms, equal rights and the right to pursue our happiness, why is it some people find it their prerogative to fight against the happiness of their countrymen? This is all the more serious, however, when the advocate for outright discrimination is a person who should be regarded as a leader for morals and brotherly love.
The archbishop’s actions were not just entirely inappropriate for his position, but more importantly, horrifyingly offensive. His unhindered abuse of power is shocking for me as someone who regards his position as a socially sacred one. To voice a theological belief as a priest is one thing, but to voice a downright discriminatory political view is quite a different one.
As an archbishop, Niendstedt has been given the responsibility of guarding his followers’ moral and spiritual well-being. They place their spiritual health in his hands, and when this man throws this respect back in their faces, it is enough to make anyone angry.