Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #062. First published in the St. Cloud Times Sep. 25, 2012

Six weeks from today we voters will distill all the political rhetoric of 2012 into the marks we make on our ballots. I ask you to consider two constitutional issues as you ponder how to make that mark.


The marriage amendment has generated a tidal wave of ink, which has spilled over onto the pages of the Times. Three columns earlier this month are particularly misleading.

First, the Sept. 8 Your Turn “Voters should define a marriage” argues for constitutionally denying marriage to same-sex couples on the grounds that you shouldn’t modify a traditional institution “in favor of the sexual passions of adults.”

This argument reduces marriage to sex, and further limits sex to lust. If psychology and biology have taught us anything, it’s that love is a genuinely many-splendored thing, and sex is much more than orgasm. We who will vote “no” on the marriage amendment are saying “yes” to a far richer understanding of love and family.

Second, a fellow Times columnist (“Voters should do research on amendment proposals,” Sept. 9) wrote: “Regrettably, a defeat of the amendment will result in serious emotional stress for people I know in the gay and lesbian community. Nevertheless, I have chosen to vote for the amendment.”

Now, this whole amendment thing is certainly confusing. Note that statement is exactly backward — defeat of the amendment will surely be celebrated by most gays and lesbians. But understanding the intended point, that’s where I take issue.

The “serious emotional stress” that would result from passage is not limited to gays and lesbians. There are plenty of us in the “straight community” who would share that reaction because we believe expansion of rights, not restriction of them, is the American way. A defeat of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 would have caused “serious emotional stress” not only for blacks, but for whites who knew our nation would be made better for all of us by that inclusive legislation.

Third, the Sept. 6 Times Writers Group column “Faith should guide debate” states that true Christians (the columnist confidently claims to know the qualifications) have only one option: to vote for the amendment. By this reasoning, the column cavalierly excludes from Christian ranks five Minnesota synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and several other denominations as well, that are opposed to the amendment.

To pretend that there is only one authentic Christian position – indeed, to assume that anyone can “know God’s whole mindset about life and issues” – is to fly in the face of the Bible’s complexity, the history of theology and the experience of nearly everyone I know, including myself.

On this particular issue I take my cue from Jesus’ declaration (John 14:2) that “in God’s house there are many rooms” – not closets.

Voter ID

The other amendment, Voter ID, has produced blights on the landscape like the ludicrous billboard on I-94 with a finger pointing to the sky proclaiming Minnesota “No.1 in voter fraud.” Neil Newhouse, a pollster for Mitt Romney, asserted that “We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” The Voter ID campaign couldn’t have said it better.

The Sept. 9 columnist on the marriage amendment also argues for Voter ID on the grounds that “photo ID has become a social norm for every American concerning doctor visits, cashing a check or boarding an aircraft.”

But those activities are not constitutionally guaranteed rights; voting is.

If you think this question evades religious implications, think again. Both Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis oppose the amendment because it will place an unnecessary burden on many of the people they serve, including the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the homeless – “the least of these,” about whom Jesus said if you do it to them you’ve done it to him.

Think twice before disenfranchising Jesus.