The following commentary was published in last Tuesday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press.
As you’ll see, it’s the simple yet incredibly powerful testimony of Mary Jean Smith, the mother of a lesbian.
It’s the type of testimony that gives me hope. Why? Because in its bold and unapologetic expression of steadfast love, wisdom, and openness to the presence of God in all aspects of human life, it has the potential to change hearts and minds.
And without doubt, such testimonies are changing both the world and the Christian Church – primarily by helping liberate both from centuries of ignorance and, in the case of the Church, spiritual blindness* and hubris. For such liberation I give thanks and praise to God.
In short, Mary Jean Smith’s words are life-giving. They are words of liberation and truth. And I am honored to share them via The Wild Reed.
It’s Not a Mortal Sin to Work for Justice
By Mary Jean Smith
St. Paul Pioneer Press
January 29, 2008
By Mary Jean Smith
St. Paul Pioneer Press
January 29, 2008
My husband and I have been married 49 years. We are the parents of five grown daughters, one of whom is a lesbian. I speak with passion concerning our experience, which is marked by intense sadness because of the alienation my daughter and others like her continue to suffer, especially at the hands of the [Roman] Catholic Church.
Our daughter is in a long-term loving relationship. She and her partner have pledged their fidelity to one another in a commitment ceremony. They are the parents of a son, a fine young man of heterosexual “inclination” who is a full-time college student. Our daughter is a college graduate employed as a counselor; her partner is a registered nurse. Together, they also care for three mentally challenged adults in their home.
From the time our daughter was about 15 until she was a young adult, she was suicidal. She was struggling with the painful emotions of being “different,” thinking she was mentally ill, and terrified. She was hospitalized on at least three occasions, during which time we, too, were very much afraid. Adolescents often fear the consequences of “coming out” to family and friends because of the built-in ridicule, hatred and discrimination.
Our daughter says that even when she was 7 or 8 years old, she had the feelings of being different from her sisters and other girls her age. Sexual orientation is not chosen. It is primarily determined by genetics and hormones. When God created humankind in God’s own image and likeness, God saw that it was good.
It was not until our daughter could come to terms with who she was and that God created her this way that she was able to accept herself.
We find it strange that any reference to persons of homosexual orientation is always reduced to sexual acts. They are sexual beings like the rest of us, but as with their heterosexual counterparts, spend very little time in actual genital activity. Have you asked a married couple lately how often they engage in sexual intercourse? Gay and lesbian people are productive members of society. They work at meaningful vocations eight or more hours a day, spend time eating and sleeping, shopping, doing chores, watching TV, reading, studying and doing a myriad of other activities. And yes, they raise children - sometimes adopted, hard-to-place children with special needs. Once in awhile, they make love.
Regardless of what the “experts” say, there are no “former” homosexuals. Many gay and lesbian persons marry in an attempt to live as society expects; however, many of these marriages end in disaster. They cannot live a lie. Our lesbian daughter cannot change her sexual orientation any more than our four heterosexual daughters can change theirs.
Because of and through our daughter, we have met many other gay and lesbian people, wonderful human beings. We all know many gay and lesbian people, although we may not realize it. They are our doctors, nurses, teachers, chefs, artists, musicians and, yes, even nuns and priests. The gay priests we have been privileged to meet are among some of the holiest and most talented. (Please do not confuse homosexuality with pedophilia. They are not the same. And most pedophiles are heterosexual.)
Our daughter and other same-sex couples we know mirror our own ideal of marital love. She and her partner are loving parents and are supportive to other members of their families. We feel blessed to have her as our daughter. Although it was a difficult and painful time while she was finding out who she was, and there were times when we asked God to “take this cup away,” we now thank God for sending her to us. Her life is truly a gift, and we will continue to support her and the gay community as well as try to change society's attitude toward them.
I don’t recall Jesus saying anything about homosexuality, although it’s been with us since antiquity. He said nothing about sex, either, but he did have a lot to say about love and removing the plank from one’s own eye before talking about the speck in another’s.
As part of my own education, I did extensive research on homosexuality. I suggest those who have a problem with the issue do the same in an effort to further understand and rid the mind of flawed ideas as well as hurtful, vindictive judgments. The archbishop and others are wrong on this issue. I am not guilty of mortal sin. It is not a sin to love my daughter and work for justice on her behalf.
Mary Jean Smith lives in Chetek, Wisconsin.
* Here’s how “modern-day mystic,” Chuck Lofy, explains “spiritual blindness” within the Roman Catholic Church:
[The problem with the Roman Catholic Church is that] power is in the hands of celibates. As a result, human experience of God within the full range of human sexuality has not been recognized or valued. What’s valued is a system of logic. So for the pope it is logical that when you think of the penis and the vagina, the point of sexuality is to procreate within the framework of heterosexual marriage. It’s a logical, intellectually-based paradigm. But it doesn’t align with human experience in the real world.
The place where the church impinges itself on the conscience of the Catholic is almost invariably in the area of sexuality – whether that’s masturbation, divorce, birth control, homosexuality, premarital sex, or married priests. These realities don’t fit into the limited logical paradigm of someone like the current pope. Yet at the same time there are all kinds of inconsistencies within this particular paradigm; for example, allowing sex when one or both partners are past the age of procreation. Or the fact that priests in the Greek Orthodox Church, which is aligned with Rome, can and do, in fact, marry. Gary Wills in his book Papal Sin, accurately identifies such inconsistencies as examples of “intellectual dishonesty.”
The institutional church is a power structure that in some areas of life in intellectually dishonest or spiritually blind – something that Jesus consistently warned against. For me, one of the most important things Jesus said was when he said to the religious leaders of his time, “If you knew you were blind, you would have no sin. It’s because you say, ‘We see’, that your sin remains”.
Image: “Full Bloom” by Linda Moskalyk.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Voices of Parental Authority and Love
The Bishop’s “Guidelines”: A Parent’s Response
Vermont Mother Tells It Like It Is
Grandma Knows Best
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
The Triumph of Love – An Easter Reflection
300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics
Interesting Times Ahead
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”