Hospitality Is the Best of Humanity

Nearly all of the world’s faith traditions call their faithful to protect and offer hospitality to immigrants. Judeo Christian scriptures urge adherents time and again to welcome the stranger and offer special care for widows and orphans. We are called to welcome our immigrant sisters and brothers with compassion, and to keep families together, regardless of faith or place of birth.

Yet, in communities across our nation, including in Montana, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security routinely employs Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who subvert protocols and training, and terrorize citizenry with arbitrary practices which threaten to destroy the trust that local leaders have built with their communities and should have with local police. As a result, immigrant families and those connected to them may not ask for help or report crimes, fearing the repercussions if local law enforcement would turn them in to immigration officials.

Many methods promoted by the Department of Homeland Security tear apart families, rend the fabric of our communities, and threaten policies that would harm our local economies. Many such policies and actions are also opposed by a majority of U.S. citizens. The Montana Interfaith Network questions budgets which further fund suffering and hate. With the Rev. Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community, of Washington, D.C., we see budgets as moral documents. From private households to municipal, state and federal levels, the way we designate our common resources indicates where our priorities lie, as families, cities and as a nation. Will we designate our common resources and tax dollars for efforts that promote fear, threaten public safety and destroy families? As interfaith leaders, our traditions call instead for us to treat each other with dignity, compassion and peace.

For these reasons, the Montana Interfaith Network urges our national representatives to oppose any expansion of funding to the Department of Homeland Security. Our federal budget should reflect the values of compassion and peace, lift up families and support thriving communities. As Montanans, we do not want our common resources spent on suffering, hate, and division. We are our brother and sisters’ keeper. We belong to each other. No matter where someone came from or how they arrived in the United States, their life is of value and they deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion.

We ask for an end to budget policies that would further current Department of Homeland Security efforts that incite fear and division, and we urge our federal lawmakers to deny further funding of Immigration and Customs Enforcement practices that do more harm than good. Let’s instead designate those common resources, our tax dollars, towards the things that makes us thrive like education, bridges and disaster response, care for our veterans and seniors, and maintaining this beautiful landscape that all of us call home.

In Solidarity,

Montana Interfaith Network

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.

#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

A Poem for Daniel Berrigan, SJ

The love of justice and mercy
are inseparable.
The God of Justice and the God of Mercy
are one and the same.

And so,
put on your coat and shoes
to meet
the many kinds of people
that God is in love with-
and know
they may not know it yet.

Be kind and gentle
with the radical and jarring news
of a love beyond imagining.

Because this people may not be able
to see or hear or feel
because of their pain,
be gentle-
yet firm-
with the shocking
good news
of this active and radical love.

~D Gregory Smith

Debunking the Trans* Bathroom Myth

NonDiscrim-Banner

 

Today, GLAAD released a media guide for journalists covering stories related to LGBT nondiscrimination, in collaboration with a coalition of state and national LGBT advocacy organizations. Debunking the “Bathroom Bill” Myth – Accurate Reporting on LGBT Nondiscrimination: A Guide for Journalists comes after the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in late 2015, as well as bills in both Georgia and South Dakota which threaten to harm transgender people. The guide will be useful for media outlets following the 85 nondiscrimination and anti-LGBT bills that are on the horizon across the country.

“Anti-LGBT activists are viciously putting a target on our children’s backs by using fearmongering and misinformation in a desperate attempt to legalize discrimination,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President & CEO. “Accurate reporting is crucial to provide voters with the realities of these bills. This guide will help media tell the real story of transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances.”

“It’s imperative that the media fairly and accurately report on the discrimination faced by transgender people and the importance of laws which provide protections for them in housing, employment, and public spaces. Alarmist attempts to frighten voters into rejecting fair treatment for trans people must be challenged by journalists well armed with the facts,” said Nick Adams, Director of Programs for Transgender Media at GLAAD.

Nondiscrimination ordinances were recently in the national spotlight surrounding the late 2015 repeal of HERO, which outlawed discrimination against many communities, including the transgender community. In the successful campaign to repeal the ordinance, opponents used misinformation and exploited outdated stereotypes and fears about transgender people, falsely suggesting that the law would put women and children at risk. Making matters worse, many local news outlets repeated these messages, often without questioning the validity of the claims, thereby providing free airtime and a veneer of legitimacy to claims that were easily proved false.

Debunking the “Bathroom Bills” Myth – Accurate Reporting on LGBT Nondiscrimination: A Guide for Journalists provides background on these ordinances, highlights the importance of fair and accurate reporting, points out the fallacies of so-called “Bathroom Bills,” and details the impact of media-amplified myths and misinformation during the HERO campaign. Other helpful resources include best practices for media coverage in addition to terms, definitions, and pitfalls to avoid. The guide was developed in collaboration with Equality California, Freedom for All Americans, the Gill Foundation, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), and the Transgender Law Center (TLC).