Two stories out of Minnesota this week, where the struggle over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is in full heat, beg the proverbial question: What Would Jesus Do?
In the first case, it was revealed this week that Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul had earlier this year sent a letter to the mother of a gay son in which he stated his position that marriage be defined as only between a man and a woman.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports the story as saying that Nienstedt’s warning was in response to the mother’s support of her gay son:
“To a mother who pleaded for acceptance for her gay child, he wrote: ‘I urge you to reconsider the position that you expressed. … Your eternal salvation may well depend upon a conversation of heart on this topic.’ “
In all fairness, without a text of her original letter, it is difficult to say what it was Nienstedt was responding to. Regardless of what she said, however, it makes one wonder if this is how Jesus would have responded to the woman.
Nienstedt makes it clear that he believes he is following Jesus’ example:
“Indeed some might find this a hard saying but many of Jesus’ teachings were likewise received as such.”
The second story is about a St. Paul priest, Fr. Michael Tegeder, who has been an outspoken defender of marriage equality, even in the face of reprimands from Nienstedt. In a Star Tribune column by Jon Tevlin, Tegeder described being ostracized at a seminar on marriage because of his known view on marriage equality:
“Like other priests, Tegeder had been invited to the [marriage seminar] event. Unlike other priests, he was given a warning: Sit where we tell you to. Don’t ask questions. Don’t disturb.
“The Catholic Conference ended the warning letter with the words ‘Best wishes,’ to which Tegeder responded: ‘You obviously do not mean to send me your best wishes. In fact, you want me to go quietly away with your demeaning E-mail.’
“Tegeder was not allowed to sit in the main part of the hall, but was relegated to a ‘detention pen’ where he could be seen but not heard.”
Tegeder describes how his experiences shaped his current position:
“Tegeder began to talk about how his views on homosexuality had evolved, but when he got to a story about seeing two ‘sweet, sweet’ men being taunted, and how he’d heard about ‘fag bashing’ when he was a teen, he began to cry.
“Then Tegeder’s voice sharpened. ‘If you can’t stand up for what you believe, you are not a minister, you are not a priest,’ he said. ‘I don’t do it in the pulpit, but I continue to speak out, continue to have a conscience.’ “
Reading both stories side-by-side, one can’t help but think “What Would Jesus Do?” The Jesus that Nienstedt’s letter describes is a man of law and authority who is quick to pass judgement. Tegeder’s example, however, reminds me more of the Jesus that I’ve heard of in the gospels: a man whose experiences have shaped his compassion, who stood up for his beliefs in spite of persecution, and who was marginalized because he was thought to radical by the religious institution.
Which Jesus do you believe in and follow?
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry