When a notorious conman threatened legal action in response to my posts about his scams, a Bay Area attorney I’d never met aside from Facebook graciously offered to defend me and to vet my upcoming book, Delusions of Grandeur.
I would soon learn the attorney, Joseph Paul Smith, is also the Old Catholic Bishop of Northern California, and has a long, interesting history of wearing many different hats.
Smith put himself through law school and seminary as a paramedic and fire fighter. When asked about the dual tracks, he says they weren’t that different. “I swear seminary, law school and junior high all feel like the same thing. Law school even has lockers,” he laughs.
“I was always interested in church, law and science, particularly medicine. Now I’m an attorney for a company that operates health clinics,” Smith begins, before explaining the difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the generally more progressive Old Catholic Church. “The Old Catholics split from Rome in 1870 over the issues of papal infallibility, which means the Pope speaks for God and never speaks in error, and universal jurisdiction, which means the Pope is the bishop of everywhere, with other bishops just standing in his place. They also split over the issue of being able to elect their own bishop without papal approval, as they had for hundreds of years.”
Unlike the Roman Catholics, the Old Catholic Church allows its priests to marry or have same sex partners.
Because of his familial makeup, Smith was raised in three starkly different religions: Mormonism, Assembly of God and Old Catholicism, which he says was by far the kinder, gentler of the three.
“In my late teens and early twenties it was really difficult to sort out, especially the issue of sexuality and spirituality. They all seemed really conflicted,” Smith says about the conflicting claims, and how the Mormons and Assemblies vilified homosexuality with a great deal of fervor.
“I realized a lot of these claims of the Mormons and fundamentalists weren’t substantiated. I knew [LGBT people] didn’t change.” While Smith doesn’t care for the Assembly of God Church, he’s most put off by Mormonism. “It’s like every heresy the church has vanquished over the years has been rolled into one religion.”
On the topic of homosexuality and Christianity, Smith says, “I think Jesus is much more concerned about what’s in your heart than who’s in your bed.”
A mutual friend in Denver suggested Smith add me on Facebook a few years ago, and he became interested in my efforts to raise awareness about a notorious, prolific conman preying on those in the LGBT community. Since I tend to find the humor in everything, my alerts came in the form of comical updates about the conman’s latest shenanigans.
“I suspect many people who’ve been swindled by this man have received no justice,” Smith laments. “I think it’s important to stand up to people who victimize others, and I think you’ve done that, and in such a funny way.”
There have been moments when I’ve wondered if I’m too socially promiscuous. I throw a broad net and allow so many into my life, which sometimes leads to disaster. But then I reflect on all the fascinating people I’m friends with because of that openness. Friends like Joseph Paul Smith, who is not only driven and accomplished, but also warm, generous and down to earth.
I hate to think of what my life would be like if I was closed to new people. Sure, more than a few turn out to be bad apples, but even they can make for a good story. V
Written by Chris Andoe