Response To A Lakeview Bully

Yesterday at church I learned of an incident that happened earlier in the week that is nothing less than bullying. An individual placed handmade fliers making false accusations about Broadway United Methodist Church. In the flier, the bully suggests that people should let Alderman Tom Tunney know how they feel about what Broadway is doing in the community. This is what I wrote this morning:

Dear Alderman Tunney,

I am writing to offer a voice of support for the important work that Broadway United Methodist Church and other community organizations are doing to help homeless youth in Lakeview. I understand that this has become a point of controversy because people are misplacing blame for the recent spate of violence in the neighborhood on the presence of the youth who have nowhere to go. Individuals are responsible for this, so it is not right to blame an entire population of people.

Organizations like Center on Halsted, Night Ministry, and the Youth Lounge at Broadway United Methodist Church are critical to serving these youth who are struggling to survive. They are members of our community, and we have a responsibility to help them. Shutting down the social services that benefit them is not going to solve the problem of violence in our neighborhood. Indeed, I believe it might just contribute to the problem.

It would be a grave mistake for the leaders in the neighborhood to stop supporting these organizations. I hope that you don’t give in to the pressure of a vocal few who are filled with anger, fear, and hatred, and are simply looking for a scapegoat to place some blame for the ills in our community. The problem is larger than this, and requires solutions that are longer term and address its root.

Recently, an individual placed hand-made fliers on windshields in the Lakeview neighborhood that contained false accusations about Broadway United Methodist Church supporting drugs, prostitution, and violence in the neighborhood. Individual acts like this add fuel to the already burning fire of fear and hatred that is misdirected at the innocent people that Broadway UMC, The Center on Halsted, and the Night Ministry are trying to help. I hope that as a community we can have respectful public dialog. Acts like this do not facilitate that. I realize that people on all sides of this fight have contributed to the unhealthy dynamic. I hope that leaders like you will not respond to disrespectful rhetoric like this, but rather will lead the community in respectful civil discourse.

Don’t be distracted by hate and vitriol. And please don’t succumb to the pressure of those who seek to shut out the most vulnerable members of our community.


Sarah Conner-Smith – Uptown resident, member of Broadway United Methodist Church

My Stewardship Testimony

Recently, I shared the following story with my church, which illustrates all of the reasons why I make financial contributions.

When I was a child, my family attended a Lutheran church, one of the largest and wealthiest in the Twin Cities. It was a big, beautiful building downtown, with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, absolutely breathtaking. A beautiful building located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area, where there sizable Native American population.

My grandfather had been a founding member of the church, and my parents were upstanding members of the community. They were involved in the Christian education program for adults and kids, and we had many friends in the congregation. I learned the meaning of spiritual community there. I was getting ready to begin Confirmation classes, and the church began to go down a road that forced my family to make a difficult choice. It is illustrated by this story:

One beautiful spring day, we were having a pot luck in the parking lot. There were lots of people and lots of food. Some folks from the neighborhood lined up with the rest of us, grabbed some plates, and got ready to get some food. They were hungry.

I remember being surprised and ashamed to see someone with authority tell them that the food wasn’t for them, that they were not members of the community and therefore were not welcome. The message that sent to me as a child and member of the community was that those people were not like us. They didn’t look like us, they were in need, of a different economic status, and we didn’t want them there to make us feel uncomfortable.

My mom took me aside later that day and was very clear with me: What that church member did was wrong, and that was not what Jesus would have done. Those people are members of the surrounding community, and should have been welcomed by us and offered food.

Shortly after that time, my parents made the difficult decision to leave the church. They made sure to let me know that the church was no longer representing their theological views, and they wanted to raise me with different values. They could no longer support or be a part of a community that was teaching exclusivity, not welcoming.

Growing into adulthood, I have struggled with claiming my place in the Christian church. I have hung out with Quakers, Buddhists, and all kinds of Christians, and I still hang out with Yogis and Yoginis. Finding a church home that feels like a good fit has been difficult. The important thing to me is that my parents instilled in me the values that Jesus taught, those of generosity, sharing, community, love, forgiveness, justice, and healing.

When I found Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago, I knew I had found my church home here. At BUMC, all are welcome. This is a community that walks the walk of social justice, generosity, and love.

So a few Sundays ago, I offered up this story as testimony, telling the story of why I financially support Broadway. I give because the transgender and gay homeless youth in the Lakeview need our Youth Lounge program. I give because the Lakeview Pantry needs our donations of food. I give because the community needs the Wednesday Night Live adult education classes. I give because Broadway offers much needed support to members of our community who suffer from depression and mental illness. I give because Broadway is unwavering it its support of LGBT civil rights.

I give because I need Broadway, too. This church walks the walk of my theology.

I encourage other members of Broadway to share their stories about why they give, in whatever ways they give: Time, Talent, or Treasure.

#Gratitude and the Silver Lining

In Light of the Midterm #Election

After last Tuesday’s brutal election results, it has been slowly sinking in what this means for progressives like me and our movements for civil rights, social and environmental justice, and feeding hungry people. The results of that day do not bode well for us.

I take solace in the persistence of all that we do every day in my community of friends and family. Everyone I know is in their own small way determined to make the world better for everyone. So we get up in the morning, make our coffee, and get down to the hard work of living. Simply taking care of ourselves and each other in some cases is a radical act.

We are determined to build communities that thrive, families that raise healthy children, provide homes for wayward animals, get married and commit to loving each other, volunteer at our local libraries and food pantries, build our spiritual communities, plant gardens, support local businesses. All in all we are simply taking responsibility for the way we live every day to make life a little sweeter for ourselves and our loved ones, leave a lighter footprint while enjoying the blessings of this life.

My Dad sent out an email to the family on Wednesday morning, encouraging all of us to think of everything positive in our lives in the midst of this unfortunate outcome. We have a lot to be thankful for, so let’s remember that and share our good news with each other.

Yes, Tuesday was a bad day, but as a result of that outcome, nothing is going to change for me in terms of the way I live my life. Our opponents may throw obstacles in our path, but that is not going to stop us from building our vision of a more just and kinder society. The outcome of the election might make things a little harder in terms of the social climate and the very real limits and disadvantages that the radical right would like to impose on me and my family.

I know I am privileged and blessed, and to the extent that I am able I will use that privilege and blessing to make my life and the life of my community better. For all of that I am grateful.


Paradox: August 23, 2010

How do we respect the points of view of ourselves and others with whom we disagree as our boundaries bump against each other, and yet be open to challenges with our differences?

The only way we are going to have constructive public discourse is if  each of us is willing to listen to each other with compassion and openness, while maintaining our own integrity and self respect.

To Boycott or Not?

@Target’s Support of Anti-Gay MN Candidate Disappoints

A shiny new Target has opened in my Uptown Chicago neighborhood. I have been looking forward to this anchor business here, having high hopes for convenient access to affordable household goods that we need and like. Also, this neighborhood is struggling economically, and while I have a penchant for supporting mom-and-pop stores (or in some cases around here, mom-and-mom and pop-and-pop), I have hopes that Target will bring new foot traffic and customers to the family-owned shops and restaurants that I love and want to see thrive around here, not to mention the fact that the new store will be an injection of jobs for the neighborhood and environs.

Within days after the store opened the news broke about Target supporting the campaign of Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, notoriously anti-gay and associated with a local band that has openly condoned the killing of gays and lesbians.

Target has done the right thing by its gay and lesbian employees over the years, having received the highest employer rating from the Human Rights Commission. But by comparison, supporting Tom Emmer’s campaign hurts LGBT people more than all of Target’s pro-gay corporate policies.

Many straight people don’t fully understand the impact on our lives of the lack of protections and the lack of access to resources that LGBT folks endure, not to mention the run-of-the-mill bigotry and prejudice that many of us experience every day. Yes, there are some things that are simple inconveniences, like the fact that we have to file new documentation for our partnerships each time we move to a new state or change jobs.

But the discrimination that we face can also be catastrophic and downright heart-breaking, like Janice Langbehn, who, with her children, was prevented from visiting her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond in a Florida hospital. Pond ended up dying alone. And this happened even after Pond and Langbehn had done everything in their power to prevent exactly this type of situation from happening.

Even when we do everything right in terms of filing our paper work and declaring power of attorney, LGBT families still face the very real possibility that any institution or bigoted employee can decide that they want to disregard our relationships to each other, can fire us from our jobs, and can intimidate and harass us for being who we are.

The reality is that politicians like Tom Emmer pose a real threat to the well-being of LGBT people and our families.

Committed same-sex partnership is not less-than, it is not a separate, distinct institution from committed opposite-sex partnership.

We are family.

Gregg Steinhafel, CEO of Target, issued a response that was a litany of how Target has supported its LGBT employees and the Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival. For all that they have done, I am truly grateful. But this gift to Emmer’s campaign pretty much negates all of that. Emmer’s policies, if he is elected, would most assuredly have a far greater negative impact on the LGBT citizens in Minnesota than any of the good Target has offered its LGBT employees.

When are corporate executives going to recognize that supporting anti-gay policies in any way is not good corporate citizenship? It hurts employees and customers, it is offensive, and it is equivalent to supporting segregation laws. There is no excuse for supporting a candidate who advocates for discrimination against any class of people.

When they do recognize it, they will be ashamed of ever having supported politicians like Tom Emmer. Hopefully Steinhafel will have the presence of mind to see that Target should put its money where its mouth is and give a greater or equal amount of money in support of an LGBT civil rights organization or candidate who supports our community and interests.

Meanwhile, do I shop at Target, or not?

I’m torn because I have liked shopping at Target over the years, and this neighborhood really needs this business. I have believed for a long time that its opening here would improve the quality of life in Uptown. However, I feel hard-pressed to patronize a company that supports a candidate who is actively advocating discrimination against me and my family. I know that it probably isn’t likely to have much effect, but on principle alone I find it hard to stomach giving them my money.