Thursday, December 8, 2011

"Your Heart Will Be Deeply Moved by What You Hear"

In an open letter published in today's Star Tribune, Retired Lutheran Bishop Herbert W. Chilstrom tells the Roman Catholic Bishops of Minnesota that they are making a "significant mistake" in backing the so-called marriage protection amendment. He also challenges them to take the time to meet with and listen to gay and lesbian persons.

"Hear as they tell you what it means to be a child of God and a faithful member of your church, persons who happen to be gay or lesbian through no choice of their own," Chilstrom writes. "I can promise you, based on my experience, that your heart will be deeply moved by what you hear."

Bishop Chilstrom's letter is reprinted in its entirety below.


To My Brothers – The Catholic Bishops of Minnesota:

In 1976 I was elected a Lutheran bishop in Minnesota – one of seven such Lutheran leaders in the state. Over the next years one of the highlights of my time in office was the annual noon-to-noon retreat with our eight Catholic counterparts in the state.

The bond that developed between us was deep and respectful. We shared our differences; we celebrated our likenesses. My friendship with Archbishop John Roach and Bishop Raymond Lucker, in particular, is a blessing I will treasure as long as I live.

May I share a word with all of you who now lead the Roman Catholic community of faith in Minnesota?

First, I would go to the wall to defend your right to work for the adoption of the so-called marriage protection amendment. Having said that, I must tell you that I believe you are making a significant mistake.

Over my 35 years as an active and retired bishop I have come to know hundreds of gay and lesbian persons. I have yet to meet even one who is opposed to the marriage of one man and one woman. After all, they are the daughters and sons of such unions.

What they cannot understand is why church leaders would oppose their fundamental desire and right to be in partnership with someone they love and respect who happens to be of the same gender and sexual orientation. They don't understand why they should not enjoy all the rights and privileges their straight counterparts take for granted.

More than a half century ago Father Francis Gilligan spoke out for equality for African American citizens of Minnesota. Though many argued on the basis of the Bible that these neighbors were inferior to others, Gilligan fought tirelessly for justice for these brothers and sisters.

In our generation homosexual persons are subject to the same discrimination. Their detractors often use the Bible and tradition as weapons of choice.

Is it not time for religious leaders, walking in the footsteps of Father Gilligan, to do the same for another minority, neighbors who are as responsible as our African American sisters and brothers?

I also suggest that you ask yourselves an important question: If the amendment is passed, will it make one particle of difference in our common culture in Minnesota? I don't think so.

Responsible lesbian and gay persons will continue to seek companionship with those they love. This law will only work to drive many of them deeper into closets of anonymity.

Instead, why not welcome them into our communities of faith where they can work side by side with us as equal partners?

Let me put out a challenge to each of you brothers. Invite 15 gay and lesbian persons from your respective areas, one at a time, to spend two hours with you.

Thirty hours are a pittance compared to the time you are investing to promote adoption of the marriage amendment. Use the time, not for confession, but to listen to them describe what it is like to live in our culture in Minnesota.

Hear as they tell you what it means to be a child of God and a faithful member of your church, persons who happen to be gay or lesbian through no choice of their own. I can promise you, based on my experience, that your heart will be deeply moved by what you hear.

When you have finished your time with these sisters and brothers in Christ, spend a quiet hour reflecting on a single question: "As I understand the heart of my Savior Jesus, how would he treat these sons and daughters of my church?"

Herbert W. Chilstrom is former presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Related Off-site Links:
Mary Bednarowski on the Power of Our StoriesThe Wild Reed (April 19, 2007).
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, November 23, 2011).
In the Struggle for Marriage Equality, MN Catholics are Making a Difference by Changing Hearts and Minds – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, May 26, 2011).
The Minneapolis (and Online) Premiere of Catholics for Marriage Equality – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, October 17, 2011).


  1. Does some from a religion that changes its belief system ever time they meet really have a platform upon which to stand?

    The thousands of Lutherans who have left the trendy ELCA would say "no."

  2. What about the many more thousands of Catholics who have left because of the Catholic hierarchy's refusal to be open to the Spirit of renewal and reform?

    Plus, the Lutheran Church is hardly constantly changing its "belief system." It remains a recognizable Christian tradition that provides meaning and hope to many. What it has changed is its understanding of and response to certain human realities, such as gender and sexuality -- something that the Catholic people have and are doing, and which the Roman Catholic hierarchy could learn from.

  3. My deep thanks to Bishop Chilstrom for his witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope the Catholic bishops humbly take note of this pastoral approach to the question. They are currently standing on the moral certainty that non-procreative sex is either abhorrent to God or bad for society. Given those two premises, they must take a stand. But are the two premises sound? If the Minnesota Catholic bishops open their minds to the arguments against these two premises, I think they will have no problem being pastoral. If they are following orders in taking their stand, they are in the moment that comes to courageous people to speak up to the authority they are following.

  4. Roman Catholicism has multiple reasons for "marriage protection" support and involvement in other sexual issues. They want people to feel uncomfortable with their own sexuality and look to them for guidance and approval. It is one tool they use to control how people understand themselves so that they can be controlled in their thoughts and manipulated in their societal actions. Their insistence on the evils of GLBT existence plays a special cloaking and protection role. The RC priesthood is a safe haven for closeted gay men, anywhere from 10 to 70 percent based on multiple inconclusive studies of sexual orientation and activity in the priesthood.

  5. Marriage includes children and is a social institution.
    It isn't just about how adults feel with one another in a glorified
    private institution.

    Inclusiveness involves everyone in the union according
    to natural law. Love is for everyone! Face it, our culture will not
    withstand if it's based on gay marriages.

  6. No one is suggesting we base society on gay marriages.

    Natural law actually supports the reality of LGBT persons and their relationships.

    Yes, marriage includes children (both biological and adopted. Many gay couples are raising children).

    Yes, marriage is a social institution and gay people are part of the social fabric of our society.

    And, yes, a big part of marriage is about how adults feel about one another. And some adults happen to be LGBT.

    With all this in mind, Anonymous, why exactly are you opposed to granting civil marriage rights to same-sex couples?

  7. What a lovely letter! Our Archbishop and Bishop probably treasured you, too. Ray, I don't think I could ever treasure you. Am I ever glad we're not married!