The church is right to speak out

  • Article by: JASON ADKINS
  • Updated: October 22, 2012 - 7:21 PM

It is unfair to attack the bishops and clergy for doing what they do -- that is, to guide.

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Many religious communities have been advocating for or against the Minnesota Marriage Protection Amendment. However, the Catholic Church and her bishops appear to have been singled out for inaccurate and unjust criticism. It is necessary to set the record straight about what the church is and is not doing in the marriage-amendment debate.

The bishops have simply been educating Catholics and the public about the important ways in which the civil institution of marriage, founded on the union of one man and one woman, serves the well-being of all of society.

The Catholic Church has a long history of advocating for laws that she believes serve human dignity and the common good. She has long advocated for programs that create a social safety net protecting workers and the poor. She believes all people need access to affordable health care and quality education. She states unequivocally that every society has a responsibility to ensure that all people have both safe and adequate housing. She works for the well-being of undocumented workers, for pregnant women with no one to support them, and for proper care of those in the sunset of life.

Although advocacy for these policies is certainly rooted in Scripture and our faith tradition, and we are unafraid to say so, they are not specifically Catholic or Christian policies. They are based on human truths rooted in right reason, justice, and a complete vision of the human person -- all of which transcend any religion, culture or government. Indeed, many of these policies are supported by the great religious traditions and also by people outside of them.

Just as faith and reason compel us to work for the dignity of all persons, the church is also compelled to advocate for the preservation of the civil institution of marriage, which is based on the complementarity of the sexes and ordered primarily toward the creation and care of children.

The long experience of diverse cultures and civilizations across history and geography; plain reason and common sense, and now abundant social-science data -- published, for example, by journals such as Child Trends and Social Science Research, and discussed in studies from the Social Trends Institute and the National Marriage Project, among others -- confirm the important role the institution of marriage plays for the well-being of children and society.

Many people, including some churches, think we should redefine the God-given definition of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples -- a change that would effectively transform marriage into something else altogether: a system of love licenses. They have successfully persuaded courts, legislatures and others across our nation to do so, and are also trying to redefine marriage in Minnesota.

The Catholic Church and many others, however, believe that all Minnesotans have a right to be a part of this discussion, not just a small group of legislators or a smaller group of judges who will create a new definition for all of us, as early as next year, if the amendment does not pass.

When the marriage amendment was placed on the ballot, the church began her work to educate Catholics about what marriage is, why it is important and how it serves the common good. We have discussed the authentic nature of human rights and freedoms, and the importance of loving and respecting our brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction.

She embarked on this education campaign so that Catholics could appropriately form their consciences about why it was important to vote "yes" to pass the marriage amendment.

The church does not seek to coerce the consciences of the faithful or anyone else. Voters, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, will not be accompanied into the voting booth by a Catholic priest on Nov. 6.

When Catholics profess their faith, they are acknowledging a belief that the church is a shepherd and teacher to guide us into truth, and that the church's reasoning plays a special role in the task of forming one's conscience. The bishops and clergy cannot abandon this responsibility, so to attack them simply for doing their job is illogical and unfair. Nor is it unreasonable for bishops to ask that clergy and lay employees support them in this task -- to teach and uphold basic truths.

This leads to a second critical point. Though some think it is illegitimate for Catholic bishops to tell other Catholics what to think about the marriage amendment, most do not have a problem with the church instructing its own people. What troubles them, however, is that the church is financially supporting a campaign to pass the marriage amendment, which, many believe, is the church somehow imposing its view on the rest of society.

This view rests on a number of mistaken ideas.

First, the church is simply using its resources to help make its views about the civil institution of marriage, held in common by diverse Minnesotans, known to a broader audience. Ultimately, the voters will have to determine whether they agree or disagree. But that's Democracy 101: people working to convince others that their viewpoint is the correct one.

No one is claiming that it is somehow illegitimate for churches or nonprofits supporting the "vote no" campaign to do the same thing, which they decidedly are doing through their own church events and fundraisers.

A critic might concede that is a fair point. But the critic's second, ensuing complaint is that the view of marriage as founded on the union of one man and one woman that the church and others are promoting is a specifically religious view of marriage, and enacting it would be imposing sectarian religious ideas on the rest of society.

This argument is absurd on its face. The idea that marriage is founded on the sexual union of a man and a woman is a truth that predates any society, religion or government. It is embraced by religious and nonreligious nations and governments alike. Defining marriage between a man and a woman is amply supported by countless nonreligious arguments, as courts in this country and the European Union have properly concluded (quite recently, in fact).

One is free to disagree -- that is why we are debating the issue, and people will have an opportunity to vote. But the arguments that the Catholic Church is acting improperly or that it is working to impose sectarian claims on the public are baseless. The church is not interested in controlling the state, running a theocracy, forcing people to eat fish on Friday or even advocating for marriage to be considered a sacrament in civil law.

To claim otherwise, despite plain evidence, looks a lot like an attempt by persons and organizations who lack confidence in their arguments to silence a community.

Throughout the marriage-amendment debate, the Catholic Church has affirmed the right of all communities to make their voices heard on this important public matter. Whether others agree or disagree with the Catholic point of view (and everyone will have that opportunity), Catholic citizens deserve the same respect we afford our opponents, not character assassinations masquerading as arguments.

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Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference. To read more commentaries about the marriage amendment, go here.

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