Sermon Matthew 15.10-28

“It is not what goes into a person’s mouth that defiles them, but the thing that comes out that defiles.”

We have had a week of confrontation, violence and even murder. We have had displays of ignorance, hate, anger and fear.

We have seen people stand up to hate- even at the risk of their well-being.

“It is the thing that comes out that defiles.”

And what is this defilement?

It is in believing that I am better than anyone else- and then saying that.

Defilement is this: hateful thoughts that become words that become actions that defile this world.

It starts with thoughts that become words, words that are not loving.

It is in saying that other human beings are inferior to me.

It is in saying that certain human beings have no right to live.

It is in speaking hate.

And what is hate?

Hate is a fundamental denial of the reality that every human being on this planet is made in the image and likeness of God. It is a refusal to believe in the fundamental goodness and value of every human being.

This is against what we believe. To quote the Book of Common Prayer’s ritual for Baptism- which most of us have participated in once or twice during the past few months:

“Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin repent and return to the Lord?

I will with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people; and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will with God’s help.”

This is what we believe.

If you don’t believe that, this is not the place for you.

We must be totally clear. In the words of pastor Jay Abramson:

“Racism is an extremely dangerous sin, invisible to the one suffering under it. Jesus condemned it when He commanded, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” No one who holds racist beliefs can call themselves a Christian. The group in Charlottesville held these views against all but Anglo-Americans. Those views have led them, in the past and now in our present, to despicable acts of violence.

How should we respond to these events?

You and I are not able to recognize the disease of racism in ourselves. We need to find another Christian to pray with us and honestly help us identify any racist tendencies so that, through the Holy Spirit, we can follow the instructions of 2 Corinthians 10:5 and “take every thought captive,” and then daily live out Jesus’ command of love. If you are Anglo, I suggest you find a believer of another ethnicity for this purpose.

We live in dangerous times. Racism has destroyed whole cultures and it will destroy ours unless it is fully and finally dealt with. Followers of Christ should be at the forefront of this healing process. May we all enter into a season of concentrated prayer to that end.”

Former Presiding Bishop Edmond Lee Browning wrote in 1997:

“Sunday at 11 O’clock is the most segregated hour in the American week. The history of every religious denomination in our country is shot through with the scars of racism- fresh scars and older ones. Racial bigotry frequently cloaks itself in religious language.

We all recoil from its extremes, like the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Nation, but we must acknowledge the link between even the politest prejudice and violence. It is a short step from holding a group in contempt to considering that group less than human. If it is true that the longest journey begins with a single step, it is true for ill as well as good, and small hatreds are the first steps toward great ones.

The custodians of a society’s religious and moral traditions are precisely the ones who constitute the greatest danger; we are the ones people look to for guidance. If we begin to lead those who seek God down a path leading to hatred, or stand quietly by while others lead them there, they may well follow. And the judgment against us in heaven will be more severe. Our God of love can only be served with love. If we- of all people- succumb to the virus of bigotry and hate that afflicts so much of the world, our state is a grievous one indeed.”

So, what do we do?

We love.

We love until it’s the hardest thing that we’ve ever done in our lives. We love until it hurts; we love even if we bleed, we love until our strength is gone- we may have to love until we lose our very lives.

Just as Jesus did.

We must choose the power of love over the love of power- just as Jesus did.

And most importantly, we don’t stand silent in the face of injustice, oppression or abuse.

We stand up. We speak out. We do it, because as Christians we MUST- even if we are crucified because of it.

Because we are created in love; we are created by love; we are created for love; we are created TO love.

Let us pray.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people and kindle in them the fire of your love. Speak the Word and we shall be created, and together we’ll renew this pained and confused world.”

Amen.

The MT Office Of Public Instruction Erases LGBTQ Protections

According to my sources, all LGBTQ language has been scrubbed from the Montana Every Student Succeeds Act- meaning they only want non-LGBTQ students to succeed.

This is blatant discrimination at its finest- the OPI has decided “let’s hit our most vulnerable students with a complete denial of reality”. This cannot stand. I urge you to express your displeasure at this move by writing the OPI  here: ESSAinput@mt.gov .

This is institutional bullying- and we cannot let this stand.

Update from Kim Leighton, Pride Foundation, Montana staff:

Approximately 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as #LGBTQ with the number one reason being family rejection. Parents or legal guardians often kick their children out of the home once they come out, simply for who they are and who they love; or the home becomes so untenable they are forced to leave. This is both heartbreaking and alarming as approximately 7% of the total youth population identifies as LGBTQ.

After nearly a year of working with allies at OPI to get inclusive language specific to the disproportionate impact of youth homelessness on LGBTQ youth, we’ve learned that the draft of the Montana State ESSA Plan has removed all LGBTQ language. The erasure of queer youth from an entire policy is unacceptable. Pride Foundation is working with service providers, partner agencies, organizations and national partners to address this. We will keep fighting to make sure queer youth experiencing homelessness are heard, seen and valued across these policies.

The public comment period is open until August 11th. You can submit comment at the following link: ESSAinput@mt.gov .

 

Clergy to Daines: Healthcare is vital

Signatures:
1) Montana Interfaith Network
Direct Contact: Executive Director Rev D Gregory Smith, STL, MA
montanainterfaithnetwork@gmail.com
406-442-5506

2) Bishop Karen P. Oliveto
The United Methodist Church
ExecAssist@MountainSkyUMC.org
303.733.0083

3) Rev. Dr. Marc Ian Stewart
Conference Minister
MT-NWy Conference United Church of Christ
marc@mnwcucc.org
406.657.0822

As leaders within our faith communities, we hold a deep respect for human life and recognize the inherent dignity of each person, regardless of his or her economic status. At our churches, we especially preach about upholding the dignity of all people: the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly, the hungry, the immigrant, and so on.

Because our faith calls us to care for others, we find the Senate GOP health care plan, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, reprehensible. Health care is a life or death matter. This unjust plan is destined to cause many members of our delegations undue hardship and suffering.

Senators who support this bill will be voting to take away health insurance from the elderly, the disabled, and children. Medical bills often drive families, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, into hunger and poverty. These families we speak of are our friends and neighbors whom we see each Sunday to gather in prayer and reflection.

Even with a longer timeline to phase out funding, the GOP health care plan would dismantle Montana’s Medicaid program. We know this program serves as a lifeline for many across the state. Currently Medicaid provides coverage for one in every three children in Montana. Medicaid also offers critical health services for people of all ages with disabilities to stay in their homes and live with dignity.

Where will these families go when they no longer have coverage and access to care? Where can our friends and neighbors turn when rural clinics are shuttered and small-town health programs are eliminated?

As people of faith, we believe health is a community value. Cold, virus, plague, disability, and death are not something we experience as individuals but are something we experience and react to through our schools, work places, health care networks, ecosystems, and faith communities. Our holy texts often describe ‘healing’ as a return to community, and this leads me to believe that caring for others in their time of need stands as the cornerstone of a strong community. In our congregations, we help our neighbors. We do the very best we can to help each other during hard times and serve our communities. While prayer, pastoral care, and loving friends are critical for holistic health, they cannot replace quality, life-saving, life-sustaining medical care.

On the topic of the health care debate, Senator Daines has said, “Government should serve the people it’s meant to serve.” Unfortunately, the Senate GOP attempt at a health care plan prioritizes excessive accumulation of wealth for the most powerful at the expense of ordinary people’s lives, health, and wellbeing.

This is not the faithful way forward. Our faith challenges us to heal the sick and care for the most vulnerable in our society. This Republican bill does the opposite. We urge our Senators to vote NO on the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Instead of making our health care system less accessible to those who need coverage most, Congress should strive to improve the system so that all Americans have the health care coverage they need. Lives are at stake.

Without love…

I love Donald Trump- much like a parent who loves their child who is hell-bent on the family’s destruction.

I do not agree, condone or approve- but I love.

To do anything else violates my most basic values. To do anything else violates my most dearly held beliefs. To do anything else ignores the message of Jesus.

And don’t get me wrong- I will oppose the anti-Christian policies of this administration with everything I have.

But I will love.

A Prayer

Loving God,
You have shown us that love is the way to eternal life.
Body slamming is not loving.
Lying is not loving.
Obfuscation is not loving.
Blaming the victim is not loving.
These are the refuge of the power-hungry, power grabbing, power-loving Antichrist.
Give us strength to continue to love, to work for justice and to advocate on the behalf of the poor and oppressed.
It’s what Jesus did.
Help us be more like him.
Help us not to believe in our own self-importance over the welfare of our brothers and sisters- because that’s sinful.
Amen.

#stopHB609

Because this issue is not going away, I thought I’d put my testimony against HB609 on the internet so that people could see it, read it and think about it:

March 23, 2017
HB609

 

My name is Greg Smith. I am a fourth generation Montanan, born in Butte and raised in the Ruby Valley. I am a licensed Mental Health counselor specializing in LGBTQ issues, and I’ve been a priest for almost 26 years.

I wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences as a pastor and as a psychologist.

I’m one of those Christians that believe causing pain and suffering to anyone is sinful. Jesus was very clear on the matter “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke10.27) Some of my clergy colleagues may disagree, but I think that this bill is not about loving others as ourselves, but about creating barriers of shame, fear and isolation. I know that this bill would create a great deal of pain and suffering for transgender individuals and their families in the State of Montana. Not only that, I believe It defies science, it defies experience, and it defies reality.

The reality is that transgender people exist. In fact, they live here in Montana. I need to say this out loud: they are not going away. Just because some of us don’t like this reality-or don’t understand it- doesn’t make it any less real. In fact, I believe the definition of mental health involves seeing and acknowledging reality. To deny reality is to live in mental illness- and transgender persons are real. To deny the reality of transgender persons is to live in mental illness. It is a fundamental denial of reality.

I am proud to work with and for transgender persons- these children of God are not being intransigent- they are expressing their truth. I believe you have the power to help make people’s lives better- and passing this bill will not make anyone’s life better. There have been no reported assaults in locker rooms or restrooms by transgender persons. In fact, the hypersexualizing of this issue causes a lot of misunderstanding and needless fear.

Please see this not as a safety issue- because it isn’t, but as a civil rights issue- which it is. This is not about “choosing” gender- we are born knowing our gender, it’s in our heads, not necessarily in our bodies. I have worked with hundreds of transgender persons in my career and I would like to help you understand that this is not about “switching” genders. It’s about being faithful to the person your brain tells you that you are. And many do so with a great deal of physical pain and discomfort- and with a great deal of emotional pain and social stigma.

This bill seems to be nothing more than an attempt to harm transgender persons as well as their families and friends- I can’t find anything in here about loving our neighbor- it’s all about fearing your neighbor. As a Christian minister, I cannot support it.

Thank you for your kind attention, I am happily available to answer any questions you may have.

Rev D Gregory Smith, STL, MA, LCPC, LMHC

Why Gay Rights are not Special Rights

First off: the fact that I have to write this out is problematic for me- this falls under the category of “General Sense of Decency” for me, but here goes.

I was born a gay male, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. I don’t like cauliflower or the color orange. I am interested in psychology, spirituality, social justice and equal rights for all human beings. I like chocolate- but not really bitter dark chocolate. Why?

It’s a mystery.

There are many mysteries about our humanity, but sexuality isn’t one of them. Science is on my side: I was born attracted to other men. I know that because I certainly wouldn’t have chosen this difficult life for myself. I can’t help what piques my curiosity or interest. It just happens.

There’s an excitement that happens when we see an attractive person- that’s how we know they’re attractive. I can honestly say that I have never felt that for a woman. I tried. but I realized that going against nature is a waste of time.

My church respects me. My Federal Government (for now) respects me. My State can’t be bothered to get to know me.

Or else it wouldn’t have so callously dismissed HB417.

A bill that would add a few words to take away the significant pain that LGBTQA Montanans are feeling (and if you love an LGBTQ person, you’re the “A”).  As a psychotherapist, I am privy daily to stories of LGBTQ persons feeling disrespected, feeling afraid of an uncertain future. It breaks my heart. And as a Christian, I have to wonder why our culture is so willing to promote and add to the pain of another human being?

Monsters are the only things that do that- and I need to believe the people of Montana are not monsters.

This is an easy fix- adding a few words.
A few words will be a step toward decreasing pain in the lives of thousands of Montanans. And it’s there, believe me.

Being gay is who I am- it is not a choice (who would choose to be so discriminated against?). And being who I am should be good enough to add me and my brothers and sisters to the Montana Human Rights Act.

If a landlord refused to rent to me because I am an Episcopal priest, they would be in legal trouble. Ditto if I was refused service because of my race, national origin, beliefs or disability. But as a gay man, I have little recourse.

Back in graduate psychology, I learned that a hallmark of bullying is exclusion. By definition, this exclusion of LGBTQIA persons from The Montana Human Rights Act is bullying with legislation.

It must stop.