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…..
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.
D Gregory Smith, MA, STL