Rainbow button? No communion for you!

Best to wear black in the communion line, or at least keep your color pallette neutral. Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Twin Cities denied about 25 students of St. John's University in Collegeville and the nearby St. Benedict's College communion at a Mass at St. John's Abbey for wearing rainbow buttons. The students were protesting Nienstedt's DVD campaign promoting the church's teaching on marriage (specifically same-sex marriage), according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Archdiocesan spokesman Dennis McGrath on the action: "For years you cannot receive communion if you wear the rainbow sash, because it's a political statement, a sign of protest. Going to the communion rail is the most sacred part of our faith, the eucharist. We don't allow anybody to make political statements or any kind of protest."

First off, who goes to a communion rail anymore. There isn't one at St. John's. But I digress. People, especially clergy, politicize the liturgy all the time in sermons and petitiions. And as a "protest," this one was pretty mild: No yelling, sign-waving, chanting. Just participation in the liturgy while whering a rainbow button.

I think one of the :"protesters" had a good point: "We were making a statement during the eucharist, and many have disagreed with that. But when we have no other way of dialoguing with our church, no other way of telling him how we feel, how else to do it than in liturgy?" asked St. Benedict student Elizabeth Gleich–though I'm sure the archbishop would not entertain any disagreement on the matter.

I propose a thought experiment: Suppose the archbishop gave these baptized people what belongs to them by reason of their baptism (communion), even if they were wearing a button. Suppose further that they received it happily and went back to their seats. Suppose the bishop even invited them to chat after Mass. Would anyone believe that the archbishop had changed his mind? I doubt it. In fact I doubt there would even be a news story about it to link to, at least not one that makes the archbishop look petty, as he most certainly does in this portrayal. He may have even appeared generous, open, loving, even though he worred that these members of his flock had it wrong. Whatever happened to a pastoral response?

But unless the law has changed–and it hasn't–there is no justification for withholding communion from a member of the body of Christ unless that person is a notorious public sinner whose communion would somehow cause grave scandal in the church. I hardly think a little rainbow button rises to such a threshhold, and it seems unlikely that anyone would be scandalized that college students–who still care enough to show up at church–disagree with their elders on a sexual matter. Like that's never happened before.

About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.