We write to you as a small group of faithful Catholics. This letter, however, represents the voices of thousands of families who were as disheartened as we were by the DVD Preserving Marriage in Minnesota.
After watching the DVD, we felt called to find a way to bring together other Catholics who were alarmed by this initiative. We created the website ReturnTheDVD.org, inviting people to send the DVDs to us with the understanding that we would return them to you. Thousands did. Many also sent letters, notes, and cards along with the DVDs, expressing thoughts and concerns around this campaign. Several similar themes ran through these messages. The following three are some of the most common.
First, the message in the DVD conflicts with core Christian values of love, compassion, tolerance, and respect. Jesus’ essential teaching is “love one another.” As part of our Catholic social teachings, the United States Conference of Bishops states, “The measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.”
When religious leaders state publicly, as in the DVD, that the state of Minnesota should not recognize same-sex marriages, this constitutes an attack on human dignity. This denies individuals the legal equality both our state and federal constitutions guarantee. By the standards of Catholic social teachings, this message constitutes a social injustice.
Second, this DVD threatens the well-being of gay and lesbian people, particularly vulnerable young people. It hurts them and all who are connected to them. You claim the DVD does not carry an anti-gay message. That is not how it feels to gay people and those who care about them. The manner in which the DVD targets this group of God’s children contributes to dehumanizing and depersonalizing them. It subtly endorses bullying and blatantly endorses bigotry.
Today’s media has well publicized the struggles many gay and lesbian young people face. As a result of public humiliation, many become fearful, depressed, and self-doubting. Tragically, some have even felt driven to suicide by the intolerance of society at large, including that of the Church hierarchy. The Church should be reaching out to these kids and letting them know that they are no different from anyone else in the eyes of God. They are made in the image of God, and the people of God should embrace them just as they are and help them achieve the purpose God has for them.
Third, the cost and timing of this DVD disturbs us. Distributing 400,000 DVDs on the single subject of same-sex marriage shortly before a political election reflects misguided priorities, and strays from the essential teachings of Christ. We ask, “Where, instead, are the DVDs on the bigger issues of loving and caring for your neighbor? Where is the DVD explaining the negative impact current U.S. economic policies have on the poor, not just here, but around the world?” We would like to add that even if you did choose to produce a DVD on these issues, we would be opposed to releasing it shortly before an election where it would so obviously be politically motivated.
Imagine the positive effect the money spent on these DVDs could have had on homelessness and poverty in our communities, especially in this economy. We understand this money was donated. The Church, however, should never accept and agree to use donated money to disseminate partisan political messages, especially ones that hurt and divide the Church. The fact that the donor insists on remaining anonymous shows that the political nature of the donation would be exposed if the church was transparent about the source of the money.
In an outpouring of inclusion and love, and honestly much anger, more than three thousand Catholic households returned their DVDs to us. These Catholics feel the Church hierarchy’s priorities are misguided and that the DVD mailing was an extreme measure targeting a group of people who deserve the same love, compassion, and acceptance that Christ shows each of us. Many asked us to pass along their DVDs to the artist Lucinda Naylor, to be included in her DVD to ART project. Thousands of other Catholics had already destroyed or thrown away their DVD before they knew of our efforts. The rest, we are returning to you.
Further, our Return the DVD group, and hundreds of other concerned individuals, donated over $10,000 to fight poverty and homelessness. This reflects our commitment to being a Church that attends to the needs of the less fortunate and doesn’t waste resources seeking to deny anyone’s civil rights.
Archbishop Nienstadt, we pray that you will take to heart the concerns of the thousands of Catholics who believe the Church hierarchy’s current actions, as reflected in the DVD, are inconsistent with what Jesus teaches us about how we should treat others.