Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Jim Smith on the "Tears of Love and Faith" of LGBTI People and Their Families

My friend Jim Smith (pictured at right) is a gifted and inspiring minister of the Gospel, of Jesus' good news of God's transforming love.

I remember well having the honor of witnessing this first-hand when I served with Jim on the board of CPCSM/Catholics for Marriage Equality MN in 2011-2012. At that time an effort was being made by reactionary elements within both society and the church to amend the Minnesota constitution to define civil marriage solely as the union of one man and one woman. In challenging such efforts, Jim came up with a truly creative and visionary idea: to gather and film over 300 Catholics singing David Lohman's powerful song "For the Children." Jim oversaw the making of this idea into a reality. He then went on to serve as the key organizer of C4ME'MN's August 15, 2012 event "I Do! Believe in the Freedom to Marry." This event saw over 300 people gather in Minneapolis' Loring Park to view the final cut of our music video.

Thanks to Jim and so many other Catholics dedicated to the radical inclusiveness of Jesus, the "marriage amendment" was defeated and, soon after, marriage equality achieved in Minnesota – two years before the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 ruling that legalized marriage for same-sex couples across the United States. (For The Wild Reed's overview of the role played by Minnesota Catholics in winning marriage equality in the civil sphere, click here.)

Jim, now associate director of DignityUSA, a founding member organization of the Equally Blessed coalition, recently penned an op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter blog, NCR Today.

It's a powerful piece, to be sure. I especially appreciate Jim's description of the fourteen families from Equally Blessed who will be among the thousands of Catholics joining Pope Francis at next month's World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. These families, notes Jim, will include "parents of transgender or gay children who have been challenged over thousands of days and nights to love those kids unconditionally, who know viscerally what it means, in the words of the prophet Micah, 'to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly' in their parental roles; gay couples with children who live by the promise to raise those children 'according to the love of Christ'; transgender, intersex and gay persons themselves who are coming through a fire of marginalized existence into the freedom of God's beloved, finally knowing their 'sin' is not who they are and whom they love, but what chases us all – greed, fear, hate, hubris."

Following is Jim's August 25 NCR Today commentary in its entirety.


We Invite Our Bishops
to Include LGBT Catholics
Wholeheartedly in the
World Meeting of Families

By Jim Smith

National Catholic Reporter
August 25, 2015

There is an encounter in the Christian scriptures that has the power to take one's breath away.

Jesus is invited to the home of a religious leader. A woman, an outcast and sinner, shows up too. Safe to say, she is not invited. In the scene, one of the most poignant in the Gospels, the woman positions herself close to Jesus, washes his feet with her tears (her tears!) and dries them with her hair. It is as if all the moments of this outcast's life, her sufferings and joys and sins and successes, are collected and reconciled in those tears and given to Jesus in the form of love.

But the host is repulsed by this encounter. Jesus, by authority of his own pure love, invites him to honor her dignity and faith (Luke 7:36-50). We're not told if the leader is changed by the encounter. Over 2,000 years later, we're still not sure.

In just a few weeks, throngs of Catholics will enter the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. These people will bring the same tears of love and faith brought to Jesus so many years ago. Fourteen families from our Equally Blessed coalition will be among them: parents of transgender or gay children who have been challenged over thousands of days and nights to love those kids unconditionally, who know viscerally what it means, in the words of the prophet Micah, "to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly" in their parental roles; gay couples with children who live by the promise to raise those children "according to the love of Christ"; transgender, intersex and gay persons themselves who are coming through a fire of marginalized existence into the freedom of God's beloved, finally knowing their "sin" is not who they are and whom they love, but what chases us all – greed, fear, hate, hubris.

These Catholics have much to bring to the table of the World Meeting of Families. We are not the enemy of the many bishops, including Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Pope Francis, who will also attend.

In fact, we are allies in the mission of the church to strengthen familial bonds, to unify the Body of Christ in her beautiful diversity, to bring Good News to the poor, to welcome the stranger and to bring hope to the brokenhearted. Our own hearts have been broken, sometimes by our own church, so we bring real experience to what Pope Francis has famously called "the field hospital" of the church.

We invite our bishops and our good pope to include us wholeheartedly in the "big tent" gathering of Catholic families in September. But if they don't, we will still be in the room. Like that woman in the Gospel, we will be there with our tears of redemption and love to mingle with many other Catholics. No question about that.

The real question is, will there be voices in the background gasping and whispering? We hope not. We hope for outstretched arms from fellow sinners and saints, for we are all of us in our great diversity, one body.

Jim Smith is the associate director of DignityUSA and a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition.

Above: Standing at right with (from left) Jim Smith and Fr. John Brandes – Dignity/Twin Cities Mass, Sunday, August 9, 2015. John Brandes is an inspiring figure for both Jim and I. In fact, he is the inspiration for the character of "Father Brandon" in my semi-autobiographical Wild Reed series The Journal of James Curtis.

On the evening of May 27, 2011 members and friends of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN gathered at my home to watch the "rough cut" of our first video project, simply titled Catholics for Marriage Equality. Pictured above (from left): Jim, Lisa, and Grace and Janet.

Right: Jim with yet another inspiring figure: MN State Senator Scott DibbleDecember 2011.

Above: Jim Smith, March 25, 2012. Jim, then C4ME-MN Parish Inreach Coordinator, is shown addressing those gathered for Week 5 of C4ME-MN's series of Lenten prayer vigils at the chancery of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese.

At the time, here's what was written about this series of vigils at Sensus Fidelium, the blogsite of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN: "The primary purpose of the vigils is to gather Catholics and other people of good will to pray for Archbishop Nienstedt. Specifically, we pray that he may choose to redirect his energies and the financial resources of the Archdiocese away from the divisive ‘marriage amendment’ and toward actions that reflect Jesus' Gospel call to care for the poor and marginalized. The vigil also provides an opportunity for Catholics to pray that the archbishop and all the bishops of Minnesota may be open to the love and beauty embodied in same-sex relationships and families. Many who gather also pray that the bishops may be open to the experiences and insights of the majority of U.S. Catholics who support civil marriage rights for same-sex couples."

In June of 2012, Jim was featured in a CNN Belief Blog article entitled "Can 'True Catholics' Support Same-Sex Marriage." In discussing the division that the proposed "marriage amendment" was causing in Minnesota, Jim noted: "I'd much rather this wasn't happening. But it does provide some real opportunities because it challenges us to talk to each other, Catholics talking to other Catholics."

Above: Jim welcomes the 300+ attendees of the August 15, 2012 "I Do! Believe in the Freedom to Marry" event in Minneapolis' Loring Park. The C4ME-MN music video of "For All the Children" was premiered at this event.

Above: After the November 2012 defeat of the proposed Minnesota "marriage amendment," Jim and I were invited to Washington, DC to be part of a gathering of pro-marriage equality Christian and Jewish faith leaders from Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, Minnesota and Washington. This meeting took place on December 3-4, 2012 at the Washington, DC headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign. Here we acknowledged and celebrated the then recent advances in marriage equality in our respective states – advances in which people of faith and religious organizations played key roles. As Sharon Groves, Director of HRC's Religion and Faith Program, reminded us, "The faith work in all the states was the 'win work' in all the states."

We also shared what worked best in our respective campaigns, and strategized and planned for further nationwide advances in the journey toward full equality for LGBT individuals, couples and families. It was a very inspiring event, and Jim and I were honored to be part of it.

Of course, included among these 'people of faith' who played a critically important role in the advances in marriage equality in 2012 were many Catholics! In the photo above Jim and I are standing with Catholic marriage equality leaders from Maine, Maryland and Washington. Pictured next to me from left: Anne Underwood, Co-Founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality – Maine; Ryan Sattler, primary Catholic lay organizer for the Maryland Marriage Equality Campaign; Joseph Palacios, Co-Founder of Catholics for Equality; Cynthia Beliveau of Catholics for Marriage Equality – Maine; Jim; Barbara Guzzo, co-founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality – Washington; Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder of New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, President of DignityUSA; Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry; and Chris Pumpelly, Communications and Development Director of Catholics United.

For more images and commentary on this gathering, click here.

Above: An informal celebration of the achieving of marriage equality in Minnesota with (from left) Lisa and Brent Vanderlinden, Jim, Paula Ruddy, and Mary Kay OrmanMay 14, 2013.

Above: Standing with Jim and five of our fellow CPCSM/Catholics for Marriage Equality MN board members at DignityUSA's National Convention in Minneapolis on the evening of July 4, 2013. From left: Lisa Vanderlinden, Cheryl Maloney, Kathleen Olsen, Brent Vanderlinden, Mary Beckfeld, me and Jim. Two board members, Mary Kay Orman and Bob DeNardo, were unable to join us that night.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
LGBT Catholics to Pope Francis: Let Us "Work Together Towards Creating a Church Where All Families Know That We Are Truly Loved and Welcomed"
Celebrating the Presence of God Within All Families
"The Church is Better Because of the Presence of LGBT People"
Quote of the Day – August 19, 2015

Related Off-site Links:
Catholic LGBT Equality Groups Getting Shut Out of Pope's World Families Meeting in Philadelphia – Michelle Boorstein (The Washington Post, August 19, 2015).
LGBT Catholics Say World Meeting of Families is Missing an Opportunity – Julia Terruso (The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 19, 2015).
LGBT Group Rejected by Philadelphia Archdiocese Won't Back Down – Antonia Blumberg (The Huffington Post, August 19, 2015).
Philly Archbishop Evicts LGBT Events Scheduled for World Meeting of Families; New Ways Ministry and Equally Blessed Respond – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, August 18, 2015).
New Location and New Opinions on LGBT Catholic Events in Philadelphia – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, August 26, 2015).
Let’s Have a World Meeting of ALL Families – Ray Dever (Bondings 2.0, August 28, 2015).

1 comment:

Toni Marusich Behling said...

Hi, Michael! I'm a friend of Jim Smith. I have been meaning to send you a note of gratitude for your Wild Reed article highlighting so many of Jim's actions on behalf of those marginalized by society and church. We've been with Jim and know of his many accomplishments. Sure was nice to read a recap of the last several years all in one place! Thanks for the smile and walk down memory lane. Well done, Michael!