D Gregory Smith

A Shot Across The Bow...

Filed By D Gregory Smith | June 02, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: integrity, letters written in pencil, sensus fidelium, theological terrorism, theology

Today I received in the mail (at my home address no less) an unsigned, unmarked theological terrorism note.

When I collected the mail, I looked through it all as usual, tossing the "immediately recyclable" pieces into the bin, and taking the personal correspondence, a catalog I like, and a bank statement to my desk. I had a birthday card from Calgary (Thanks, Nicole!) and this strange white envelope addressed to "Fr. Greg Smith". I was puzzled. I looked more closely at the envelope. My name and address beautifully written (in pencil) across the front of the envelope. No return address. Postmark: Omaha, Nebraska. The back flap was taped for extra security.

Now, when I receive anything marked "Fr." or "Rev.", I usually toss it straight into the bin. Experience has shown me that those are either a solicitation or an assumption about my political preference. For some reason, I didn't do that today.

I grabbed the letter opener and slit the envelope open. Inside were four photocopied pages and a smaller slip of paper. I opened the pages. At the top was the heading "J.M.J." Uh-oh. Every Catholic school child (at least of my generation and before) knows what that is. Although the protection and intercession of Jesus, Mary and Joseph may be very useful during an exam or for a term paper, it doesn't bode well in correspondence.

I was right.

The pages were a photocopied story by a woman whose life and marriage("like a fairy tale") was founded in the Gospel and about her friend, a Lesbian, who was a "miserable" person and "really messed up" because she wanted to be with another woman. It went on to describe how the natural law was ordained by God and how same-sex attraction was going against "His will" and could only result in disaster and eternal tragedy....

Oh, God. And there was more. The pages had handwriting at the end, the same beautiful handwriting in pencil from the envelope.

"Like many great men before you, you have been given the opportunity to be a fine teacher of truth, if you use it for that. Your experiences were not intended to be a tool for the destruction of souls, but to lead them into truth and light because of it."

And the little slip of paper had definitions of love from the Biblical Greek, and its correlation with the truth. Summary: "What is true simply remains true all the time and for everyone", despite the different experiences of persons, and the Church is the only authority capable of that determination.

I threw it away. I thought "I don't need to bring this patronizing, arrogant energy into my house."

It was too late, I already had. I was fuming. So I went to the recycling bin, fished it out and read it again.

The letter was arrogant, it was naive, patronizing and theologically unsophisticated. It was judgment and intolerance disguised as concern. And I couldn't allow the coward who wrote it to have the last word. And maybe I could change that nasty energy. It worked before. So here goes.....

Dear Anonymous,

I received your letter today and am puzzled by the tone. You imply that I do not know who I am, that I am misleading others, deceiving myself and on the way to becoming (if I haven't already) a threat to society, christianity and general morality.

You did not sign your name, tell me anything about yourself or in any way invite me to dialog. That tells me you're afraid. I want to invite you to step outside your fear of me, and be open to my experience. I am gay. I have known that for a very long time.I have spent a significant amount of time in self-reflection and prayer. I am also a licensed theologian, so please don't insult my intelligence by quoting scripture, defining Greek or quoting popes and theologians out of context.

I would invite you to study the role of the "conscience" in the church as well as the "sensus fidelium"- both are important and fundamental concepts, conveniently forgotten by those who simply want to obey the rules and blindly do whatever they are told to avoid the threatening punishment of hell by a God who only cares about the rules. I happen to believe, as did Augustine, Catherine of Siena, Theresa of Avila and a host of other saints and authorities, that God is loving and generous and kind, and is interested in my personal experience and my desire to live authentically. This I believe I am doing. I pray every day, I live a reflected life, and I am not ashamed.

I understand your fear. It is the fear of difference. It is the fear of change. It is the fear of discomfort. It is the fear of being wrong. It's the fear that your whole moral structure could be founded on something unstable. I understand your fear, and I recognize that you are speaking to me from that fear, not from a place of love or understanding. This position of fear is held by most people who refuse to listen to the experience of other persons, favoring instead principles, dogmas or laws. If you think carefully, you might remember that Jesus taught against that kind of blind obedience. You speak from fear and I understand that. But I also know that fear wants to perpetuate itself, so I must refuse to buy what you're selling. My integrity demands it.

In closing, I will say this: You said that you will pray for me. I will also pray for you. Every day. And maybe one day you can sign your name so we can actually talk.

Sincerely,

D Gregory Smith, MA, STL


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JonathonEdwards | June 2, 2010 3:25 PM

I once had a congregant tell me I had defiled the eucharist - for insisting that my youth group sign on the altar a covenant not to do drugs at church. Another time I had a woman write a hateful letter to my bishop because I had dared to invoke MLK Jr. in a sermon supporting same sex unions.

I have also gotten notes from the other side, gay people accusing me of being an Uncle Tom because I'm Christian, etc.

I put all those notes and letters in a red file folder and taken them out now and then to both get a good chuckle and to remind myself how much work there is to be done.

Thanks for sharing this story.

Anytime.
Thanks for sharing your story- it's so strange to think that some Christians have to feel superior in order to feel worthy.
Ick.

FR Greg Smith,

My brother, Jesus, does not condemn any loving relationship. While it is true that Moses gave the Israelites many laws on health (including those against unprotected anal sex) Scriptural references have been twisted by creed into a condemnation of loving relationships between people of the same biological sex. Modern medicine seems to agree on the health aspects so that should not upset anyone. It is also true that Scripture admonishes us all to not judge others and to be focused on our own deficiencies. And as Jesus once pointed out the blind who follow blind leaders shall surely fall off a cliff.

People like your anonymous letter sender are most certainly in danger of hearing those terrible words.."I never knew you". I join you in praying for their spiritual enlightenment.

The letter was only 4 pages? The writer really didn't have much to say. I have received some that are dozen pages of ramblings.

Thirty years ago I was an MCC minister in Ft. Worth I received a letter from "a friend" when I opened it a small rock fell out. The writer explained it had been obtained during a recent trip to the Holy Land and it was a piece of brimstone that had fallen on Sodom and Gomorrah along with an explanation that this is where we got the word sodomy from.

I too have treasured these letters and also get them out once in a while for a good laugh.

I'm working on getting to the laughing part- you give me hope!

OK, that's actually hilarious. I bet the Israeli who sold that person a 100% Authentic Piece of Sodom Brimstone got a good laugh out of it too.

Well, maybe it's worth a try, but in my experience a sane person cannot have meaningful discourse wtih a psychotic person. The right-with christian types are psychotic. Drugs might help a bit but psychotherapy won't.

The sentence in your letter I liked the most is this: "It's the fear that your whole moral structure could be founded on something unstable."

I think this is one of the major issues that religious homophobes have. If the Bible isn't literally true, then those people have wasted their entire lives in pursuit of something that is as relevant as the Gilgamesh epic.

I spent many years studying the Bible as a religious Jew. When I was child, I thought as a child, and needed it to be true in order to create some stability for myself in a chaotic world. When I became a woman, I put away childish things. Many people never do.

A. J. Lopp | June 3, 2010 9:34 AM

And as learned queer students of ancient legends, I'd encourage not to cite Gilgamesh without also mentioning his passionate and insatiable red-haired male lover, Enkido.

Right on, Jillian. Literal truth isn't as powerful me as a good, honest myth (in the classical sense), and so many people just don't get it...

In the ironies of keyword-based targeted advertising, the ad right about the "recently filed" box on this page is for George Fox Evangelical Seminary in OR, where the Soulforce ride had stopped off to pay a witness call.