Even among the virulently anti-gay American bishops, Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt stands out. More than perhaps any other prelate in the country (with possible competition from New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan), Nienstedt has turned the fight against marriage equality into an all-out crusade. He's inserted a prayer for marriage discrimination into the Catholic Mass; turned that church's holiest sacrament into a weapon against LGBT people; ordered his priests to organize grassroots political committees in their parishes -- at parish expense -- for the express purpose of drumming up support for Minnesota's proposed constitutional marriage discrimination amendment; and essentially told those same priests that if they opposed the Minnesota Catholic Church's war on LGBT people, couples, and families, they had darn well better keep their traps shut about it. (And incidentally, Nienstedt's spiritual bullying was recently endorsed by none other than the Pope himself.)
With so many malicious anti-gay attacks to his credit, one could be readily forgiven for overlooking another one that I mentioned only briefly in a previous post: "Nienstedt also spoke about sending teams consisting of 'a priest and a married couple' into Catholic schools to discuss marriage discrimination with schoolchildren." That's right: Nienstedt planned to send teams of adults into Catholic schools to teach children that, if the Minnesota Catholic Church has its way in November, only some of them will be worthy of marriage when they grow up.
Awful, no? Well now, thanks to Jon Tevlin of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, we know that these mandatory marriage discrimination lectures are indeed taking place at Catholic schools across the archdiocese. But in at least some of those schools, students are very unhappy about being forcibly subjected to such a decidedly un-Christian message. Tevlin interviewed Matt Bliss, a senior at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, about what happened at his school's assembly:
"The first three-quarters of the presentation were really good," said Bliss. "They talked about what is marriage and how marriage helps us as a society. Then it started going downhill when they started talking about single parents and adopted kids. They didn't directly say it, but they implied that kids who are adopted or live with single parents are less than kids with two parents of the opposite sex. They implied that a 'normal' family is the best family."
"When they finally got to gay marriage, [students] were really upset," said Bliss. "You could look around the room and feel the anger. My friend who is a lesbian started crying, and people were crying in the bathroom."
I don't know about you, but reading stories like this makes my blood boil. But check out what happened next:
Bliss was one of several students who stood up to argue with the representatives from the archdiocese. One girl held up a sign that said, "I love my moms."
Mike O'Keefe, a spokesman for the school, said that other students were mad that some of the students spoke out and thought that some of them were "rude" to the visitors from the archdiocese.
"We weren't being rude," countered Lydia Hannah, another student who spoke out. "But people were upset, and we weren't just going to sit there."
The students had ample reason to be angry. According to Hannah, she and her fellow DeLaSalle students were suspicious when they found out that only current seniors would be required to sit through the marriage lecture. She said, "We put two and two together -- all of us will be able to vote next fall [on the constitutional amendment that limits marriage to same-sex couples]." These suspicions were confirmed when the presenters directly addressed the proposed amendment, albeit briefly due to the angry reaction it elicited from the students.
The priest-couple team didn't stop there, though. Bliss told Tevlin that when someone in the audience stated that two men, for example, were perfectly capable of enjoying a loving, committed, stable relationship, the diocesan couple onstage equated that loving same-sex relationship with bestiality. Hannah was shocked by these comments, and she was equally shocked to hear one of the presenters characterize adopted children as "sociologically unstable." Hannah herself is adopted.
Bliss eventually decided he'd had enough:
At one point, Bliss raised his hand and, "as politely as I could," began to argue with the presenters. He used his knowledge of history to refute many of their points, and explained that various cultures have accepted and embraced homosexuality going back hundreds of years.
"I think they were surprised by the history I gave them and surprised that I was so calm," said Bliss. "I don't think they expected the response they got from the students."
Since the diocesan priest and DeLaSalle administration officials abruptly ended the assembly after it became clear that the students weren't exactly drinking the punch, Bliss' assessment appears to be accurate. Angry students were allowed to stay afterward and continue the discussion with archdiocesan officials, which resulted in a more civil atmosphere, at least temporarily. However, Tevlin wrote that "the more questions the presenters tried to answer, the worse it got."
And it didn't end well. Said Bliss, "It was a really awful ending. It was anger, anger, anger, and then we were done and they left. This is really a bad idea."
Predictably -- as you probably deduced from the above comment by school spokesman Mike O'Keefe -- the school appears to be relatively unconcerned about the lesbian student reduced to tears after being told her sexual orientation renders her unfit to love in a meaningful way, the traumatized teens crying in the restroom after hearing their LGBT friends slandered and humiliated, the adopted children accused of having mental problems, the boy calmly refuting anti-gay lies with historical facts, or the girl bravely standing up for her moms even as she's forced to hear them belittled in a public forum. No, the school thinks they were being a nuisance, being rude.
I beg to differ. Far from being rude, these kids are standing up for justice and equality. They are speaking truth to power, even when that means challenging the teachings of the very church that many of them presumably have spent their whole lives in. I wouldn't call that rudeness. I'd call it courage.