Every Orthodox person who loves someone of the same sex risks hearing the following:
“I can no longer offer you the Eucharist. While I cannot tell you to leave this parish, I would prefer you no longer attend.”
Few words are more painful to hear.
We can argue endlessly over proof-texts from scripture or the tradition, wielding verses and canons and quotations like scalpels cutting out a cancer, or swords lopping off limbs. How many of us, though, stop to wonder what it is like to be a partnered lesbian woman or gay man in an Orthodox parish?
Do you invite your partner to the choir family potluck? Do you express your grief at the death of your mother-in-law? Do you share the hysterical antics of your step-son? Do you cover your car with “My daughter is an honor student …” stickers? As you struggle in your relationship, as do all married people, do you go to friends at church for comfort and advice? Do you approach the wise men and women in your church to ask them how they sustained their marriages?
Everything that seems a given for Orthodox safely married to someone of the opposite sex is fraught with anxiety for the coupled gay Orthodox.
Imagine this conversation:
“Father, I would like to have my girls baptized in the church, will you do so?”
“Are you married?
“If it were legal here, I would be. We have been together for over two decades.”
“But you are unmarried?”
“Yes, Father, unmarried.”
“Well, I will baptize your girls only on the condition that you leave your current relationship, confess your sins, and commit to a life of celibacy.”
“You would like me to leave my partner of over twenty years? Their mother?”
“Yes. Others choose to remain celibate.”
“On your recommendation?”
“Of course. I recently told another woman who struggles as you do that she too needs to remain celibate or she will burn in hell.”
After admirably collecting her wits:
“If I find a priest who is willing to baptize my daughters, will you welcome them into this parish?”
“Of course. But you will never find such a priest.”
Since not all priests are unsympathetic to partnered lesbians and gay men, and even more priests would never withhold baptism based on the “sins” of the parents, your children are baptized. But this is still your local parish priest. So now, you attend Sunday school with your daughters so you can be there if and when homosexuality, same-sex marriage, or the parenting of children by same-sex couples should arise. You want to be present in case your children are attacked because their parents are two women; you want to be able to explain to them that not everyone can see how much you love and enjoy one another.
One of the greatest tragedies of our current theological predicament is the way it robs lesbians and gay men of the freedom of repentance. We seem to think that it is pastoral and caring to describe homosexuality as a sickness from which one can be healed, equating it with an addiction (usually alcoholism) against which the afflicted must faithfully struggle against for the rest of their lives through “voluntary” celibacy. We glibly target homosexual acts as if same-sex love is just a problem of misdirected genitals.
A theology that simultaneously characterizes homosexuality as a disorder and a disease encourages the following confessional situations:
A gay man who broached his homosexuality was calmly reassured that the priest would do his best to keep him from the company of little boys, as if gayness and child molestation go hand in hand.
Or how about this recommendation for a cure:
“You just need a really good fuck with a woman, then you will be fine.”
How can your confession be genuine when the recommendation given to you is to leave your partner and dissolve your family, suggestions that would be abhorrent in any circumstance other than abuse?
It is easy to identify these situations simply as confessions gone wrong, as blaming children for the sins of their parents. Perhaps these priests are just terribly confused. Surely there are kinder, gentler priests.
But the problem is not with the method of delivery, it is with the message: this relationship that is for you a source of faith, hope and love is in reality “the result of humanity’s rebellion against God, and so against its own nature and well-being.”
No kindness in the world can undo this message, and it takes every ounce of your being to fight its pernicious effects.
It is almost impossible to silence the clamor of the Orthodox blogosphere or the tirade of a priest:
It does not matter that your relationship is monogamous; you are blamed for promiscuity.
It does not matter that you do not care for hard-core pornography; you are blamed for its increase.
It does not matter that it would never occur to you to have sex with a goat, a relative, or a child; your relationship grants permission for bestiality, incest or pedophilia.
Your straight brothers and sisters may or may not be questioned about their sexual continence; it is assumed that you have none. The culture of promiscuity and hookups that straights can resist is presumed irresistible to you. Worse, YOU are at fault for the rise of promiscuity and sexually degrading relationships. Homosexuality is as much a cause as it is a sign or symptom.
While there may be something humorous in witnessing the discomfiture of a priest as you agree with him that promiscuity is a problem, that you too dislike the rise of degraded sexual relationships, there is nothing funny in the truth that these topics are being broached by him because you stated your attraction to people of your same sex, or confirmed that you are indeed living with your partner and really would rather be married to them since you too are uncomfortable with your extra-marital status. Your relationship is by its very existence a capitulation to a whole host of perversions and a guarantee of your eternal damnation.
It simply isn’t possible to have an edifying conversation about how your relationship can continue to be a place of joy and delight in one another and God if every time you must wade through the detritus of someone else’s misperceptions of you and “your people.”
No one ever asks, how is this relationship a blessing to you, to your family, to your neighbors, and to your relationship with God?
You cannot express delight that you have come to love and trust another person enough to share your life with them, to invite them not simply into your bed (despite the rhetoric otherwise), but to wash dishes together, trip over one another’s shoes, move the sweater that is always left on your favorite chair, to share a meal with each night. This is the companion with whom you share your life, you argue with, are challenged by. He or she is someone with whom you grow into the likeness God, the one with whom you practice theosis (it is a practice friends, an ongoing process, not a state).
The Orthodox liturgy is permeated with the language of sin and repentance, a constant call to turn away, to “hit the mark” and become more fully a human person made in the image and likeness of God. This stream of call and response which shapes you into a person of prayer and of love becomes a torrent which you suddenly find yourself swimming against. After being invited out of a community through the denial of the eucharist and in some cases the suggestion (or insistence) that you leave entirely, the liturgy becomes an agony and your attempts to better love your neighbor are lost in the constant, breathless defense of your own life which is such a joy to you and a horror to others. You stand, praying, no longer asking for healing, but desperately insisting that you are not sick.
You are so busy fighting against the current to stay alive, to remember that your relationship is a source of life and joy, that you hardly have the energy to recall the ways you really have failed to be human. You are so busy gasping for breath that you cannot enter into the necessary process of acknowledgement, repentance and change which is the heart of the Christian life.
If you mention the fight you had the other day, and how it was really because you were tired and irritable, not because your loved one yet again failed to turn off the lights, will the response spring out of an awareness that all relationships suffer from trivial selfishness, or is this seen as merely a manifestation of the selfishness upon which your entire relationship is supposedly built? Will every struggle you have with your relationship be turned into a struggle over your relationship?
It is horrible to realize that you cannot repent because you are afraid that admitting to one sin is a concession to something you cannot with any integrity concede: that your life of joyful partnership is actually a sickness, an addiction, a perversion. To desperately realize that you no longer feel like you have the room (or even permission) to learn to be a Christian with your sisters and brothers through shared liturgical practices because you are too consumed with wondering if you are even worthy to stand in their presence, much less eat at the same table as them.
How ironic that the denial of the eucharist, meant to inspire repentance, results in the inability to repent.
Some will interpret this anguish as typical of someone who refuses to acknowledge their sinful relationship. Certainly many men and women have followed the counsel of their priest, and struggled to remain celibate. Some succeed, others fail. There is an irony though, that those who agree to see themselves as sick and in need of healing are welcome no matter how often they fail to remain sexually continent, but those who choose to engage in a faithful and life-long relationship have capitulated to their disease. In the tangled web of our theology, promiscuity is better than commitment because the possibility remains for the only option open to a lesbian or gay man: life-long celibacy. The promiscuous person can still repent, the partnered (or worse, married!) person has by their commitment shown they are unwilling to consider the possibility.
The person who asks these questions, who will not forsake their partner or disrupt the only stable household their children have known, is ostracized, silenced, and exiled. The one who will not visit the emotional and spiritual equivalent of divorce on themselves, their beloved or their children is rejected.
My point here is not to engage in a debate over the clobber texts, or argue about canons and their applicability or interpretation. It is also not to claim that same-sex relationships were ever blessed in our liturgical history. Substantive historical work is almost entirely absent within Orthodox theology. Interesting work has been done by Mark Jordan, Eugene Rogers, Bernadette Brooten, Martti Nissinen, and John Boswell (note: “interesting” does not mean agreeable).
Rather, my point is threefold. First, we need to seriously consider the possibility that our efforts at theological kindness are pernicious, destructive of the very thing that we want to encourage: repentance. By calling diseased, evil, disordered and destructive something that is experienced as a source of faith, hope and joy, we create a dissonance that is sometimes impossible to unhear. We call what is good, evil. In doing so, we deafen someone to those parts of their lives (we all have them) that truly are destructive and from which we are invited to turn away.
Second, we need to be aware that the our current theological position creates a fragility for lesbians and gay men who simply never know how they will be received. The stories above are real–some many years old and perhaps the consequence of youthful priests, some very recent. Even those men and women who have found welcoming communities live with the reality that their beloved priest will not live forever. Faithful and “out” gay and lesbian longtime members of churches have been denied communion upon the arrival of a new priest dedicated to eradicating the scourge of “casual” Christianity. A new priest might refuse to recognize that the commitment of a gay person to a community whose theology at best mis-characterizes them and at worst actively seeks to destroy their most cherished relationships is anything but casual. Orthodoxy is full of wise same-sex oriented individuals who have spent decades loving God, their partners and the Orthodox Church, often to their great suffering. The reality is that for these women and men their life in community is often dependent on the whim of a priest and the willingness of their friends to defend them when necessary. Even priests who are sympathetic may be too frightened (of their jobs, their colleagues, or rumor and spite) to openly commune known lesbians and gay men (this conundrum is worth a blog post of its own, though perhaps better written by a priest in this position).
Finally, the Orthodox community must allow lesbians and gay men to make the same appeals to relational experience that undergird Orthodox theologies of marriage:
“In Christian marriage, it is not selfish ‘pleasure’ or search for ‘fun’ which is the main driving force: it is rather a quest for mutual sacrifice, for readiness to take the partner’s cross as one’s own, to share one’s whole life with one’s partner. The ultimate goal of marriage is the same as that of every other sacrament, deification of the human nature and union with Christ. This becomes possible only when marriage itself is transfigured and deified.”
The belief that marriage is, like all relationships, a vehicle for transformation into the likeness of God comes from the experience of men and women who have seen themselves become more virtuous, more neighborly, more joyful, more hopeful, more loving through their marriage. Orthodox theologians have attended to the practice of marriage, examined its fruits, and found it fertile ground for becoming more like God.
Homosexuality is not at all like alcoholism or diabetes, favorite comparisons among those Orthodox who are trying to be gentle. Diabetes can, untreated, kill you. Literally. Alcoholism given full reign kills your relationships (metaphorically), then kills you (literally). A life shared in love with another person is exactly that, a life. It does not kill, and it may very well be the vehicle for growth into God that is most potent, most transforming, most salvific.
What would really happen if the the Orthodox church, its people, its clergy, its theologians, were to likewise look at those same-sex relationships which most closely pattern themselves after marriage and use them as a measure for considering same-sex marriage? How is discovering that God is present and active among these men and women a detriment to anyone or anything?
At best, we may be astonished at the creative movement of the Spirit which blows where it wills, and humbled yet again as we realize we do not own or direct its works. At the very least, perhaps we can allow lesbians and gay men to repent along side us, to recognize their true struggles rather than bear our perceptions of their struggles, and to celebrate together the God who gives “us these awesome and life-creating Mysteries for the good and sanctification of our souls and bodies.”
Any comments that refer to body parts, suggest that anyone should leave their current ecclesiastical home, or make demeaning suggestions directed towards any person or group will no longer be approved. You may say you disagree, you may point to thoughtful and gracious analysis, but you may not insult, demean or dismiss.
Of course, I will define precisely what constitutes such things so you will have to live with my highly biased preferences.
Thank you Maria for a wonderfully encouraging and powerful post.
Although you appear to be Orthodox, I would like to encourage you to forward your post, or perhaps something based on it, and definitely the true pastoral experiences you relate, to the Catholic Church which is currently seeking the input of the faithful for next years Emergency Synod on the Family. You can do this online in the various places where the questionnaires for the Synod have been posted.
I would also like to encourage as many others who have similar experiences to give their input to the Synod. Yours are voices the Church needs to hear and to hear clearly.
I think it is important to be clear that committed and loving relationships include much more than sex, and that even sexual relationships in marriage frequently involve some component which the Church does not approve of (eg contraception). What I mean is that, same sex relationships are, objectively speaking, in pretty much the same category as married relationships and therefore ought to accorded respect and valued. These decisions are for the couples themselves to make, as conscience is primary in moral theology.
Thank you also for encouraging those of us who are in ministry, to continue to offer words and actions of support and encouragement, to baptise all those who seek baptism, and to invite all into the banquet of life and love, their partners and family included.
There is a helpful contribution to this from Pope Francis, that priests must excercise their ministry in humility and mercy:
Thank you for both of your comments. I will certainly consider submitting this since while the Catholic Church has a “larger tent” for LGBTQ faithful, the theological issues are similar to those of the Orthodox Church.
My concern with Pope Francis’s rhetoric in general is that it is rhetoric, not a challenge to doctrine or theology. While I think there is a great deal to be said for kindness, compassion and mercy, it does not replace a willingness to reconsider the underlying theology which creates such a spectrum of “mercy”. Some priests really do consider exclusion from the Eucharist a form of mercy. Obviously I disagree, but for some, they really are acting according to what they think is in the best interest of their “charges.”
Thank you for offering words of encouragement to all who seek life in the church. Blessings to your continued work!
Thank you Maria. The consultation for the Synod on the Family is an opportunity to express the need for doctrinal and theological development on these issues. I hope that all those who have such contributions to make will make the most of this opportunity to do so.
Change will never happen unless people keep on asking for it and get organised enough to effectively demand it.
I do not know whether Pope Francis will be able to make the doctrinal changes which seem necessary. Terence Weldon at http://queeringthechurch.com/ thinks that Pope Francis is preparing the ground for such changes. I suspect the result will very much depend on the response of the faithful.
There is certainly great scope for an improvement simply along the lines of mercy. There is also a great scope for a more precise understanding of current doctrine. eg what if we treated gay Christians just as we treat those who contracept or masturbate ie apply the sexual teaching equally to all without bigotry or prejudice or discrimination ?. What if we considered Catholic sexual teaching as a lofty ideal which most of us struggle to attain and adopted the approach of the ancient didache that if one can’t do everything taught then one should do what one can ? What if we humbly frankly admitted that we do not have doctrinal or dogmatic certainly on sexual matters and that the scriptural passages are open to a variety of interpretations ? What is we really accepted that we are ALL sinners in need of divine mercy and changed our attitudes to others accordingly ? What if we really practiced the right of conscience which we teach and accorded the due respect to the consciences of others ?
All that is possible without changing one dot or title of Catholic sexual teaching. And I suspect it would be a whole lot more amenable to those fearful of change in matters sexual.
I think you are stirring another blog post, but my short comment: I want to find a way to talk about same-sex relationships that does not equate them with “sins” towards which we are already permissive. In other words, I want to talk about it as separate from sin entirely. Of course, I also want to have that conversation about contraception and forms of masturbation that are not obviously connected to hard-core pornography. But that is yet another post that I will likely never write. 🙂
Yes, I agree that focusing on the good of the relationship is primary !
I was very encouraged recently when my own Catholic Bishop made a public statement on same sex marriage in which he explicitly acknowledged the good of same sex relationships :
Is this what you are getting at ?
I believe one can extend your argument by examining state same sex marriage ceremonies which do not promise anything the church might consider “sin” but merely promise a love and commitment which seems to me fully consistent with Church teaching and indeed is a tremendous moral and social good.
I’m just trying to point out that concern over the “sins” is not really consistent with Catholic teaching, because heterosexually married Catholics are equally enmeshed in them.
One of the greatest tragedies of our current theological predicament is the way it robs lesbians and gay men of the freedom of repentance.
This is exactly what I found upon my first contact with the church. Fortunately, I had already been a member of A.A. for over 20 years by that point, and so was well acquainted with “the freedom of repentance.” Not everybody is so lucky, though – and even I have come close to leaving the church many times, finding that the atmosphere is often not at all conducive to my spiritual well-being.
A.A. declared early on, BTW, that “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.” That’s A.A.’s “Tradition 3,” and if you read the anecdote that begins “On the A.A. calendar it was Year Two,” starting on page 141, you’ll notice that A.A. dealt with this issue – and declared it a non-issue – around the year 1937.
You have to wonder why the church can’t seem to make the same simple move. It’s not desperate enough, is my guess….
Wow, Maria! I’m not sure what else to say. This may very well be the most well thought out, and dare I say profound, articulation of the problems with Christianity’s current views on homosexuality I’ve ever read. I’m not even sure I have anything to add to your piece. You’ve said the most important things in such a way that I hope challenges our people (and I speak as a fellow Orthodox Christian) to realize what it is they are saying and implying when they compare our homosexual brethren to people suffering from a disease. It’s disgusting and fortunately you’ve articulated all of its problems in a spirit of love and compassion that doesn’t at all skimp on honesty. Bravo for your courage and your well thought out article!
Thank you Chuck. And Blessed Feast! I can’t resist noting that we celebrate the entrance of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies…. Surely other women can join her.
Thank you for this, Maria. It’s among the best pieces I’ve read on the subject, and I’m hoping it can travel far and wide (I’ll help), as it will be helpful in providing words for dialogue for those who aren’t as good with words as you. It articulates the particular ascesis required of gay Christians who aim to bear witness in a church that tends to reject them. Among the several things that struck me about it as useful is that it comes from the sort of person the anti-gay folks in our church think doesn’t exist, thus, not letting them get away with that. What I mean is that, among those who take a “compassionate” approach to homosexuality (leaving aside the pure hate people like Frs Trenham, Jacobse, et al.), there’s this tendency to identify us as either pathetic OR degraded. I come up against this all the time. You see it in the treacly attitude of “Khouria” Matthewes-Greene and others: we’re slaves to out-of-control promiscuity OR we’re weak, pathetic, and pitiable, and we can be regarded compassionately because of that. A characteristic of this kind of “compassionate” approach is an adamant refusal to see the existence of gay people who don’t fit either of those “other” categories. Your piece demonstrates that there are some of us who are honestly trying to work out our salvation before God and each other–and that simple bearing of witness is actually the biggest challenge to these folks. I think one response they take is that people like you (or me) are simply extremely perverted in the mental gymnastics we do in order not to see our own depravity. But that attitude isn’t easy to taken in the face of confrontation with someone like you, through a piece like this. And if there are more such bearing-of-witness, they will certainly have an effect.
Dave, this is high praise from you. Thank you. Your steadfast insistence that the conversation MUST be had has been on my mind for the last year. I hope you will write more as well.
This is the first thing that I read online, on Wednesday morning. It has stayed steadfastly in my heart since then. Thank you for such a heartfelt and for such a powerfully written testament.
I am Catholic, but as has already been discussed, there are parallels. I am not an LGBT person, but I am someone who struggles mightily with Church teaching on the subject of human sexuality at large, and with marriage equality specifically. As an employee of the church, I am bound to the teaching, which I understand, but struggle I do, in the name of justice as I understand justice in Christ.
After a long absence from church, I returned in 1990, and here I am today. There were many teachings which I outright dismissed and disregarded back then, but slowly over time, I came into relationship with the Church, which caused me to examine such things very differently. That – and I began to study theology.
It is however, frequent reception of Eucharist, and not infrequent confession, which I believe have most opened my heart and reconciled me in many ways. This is not some binary if this/then that equation, but rather the power of reconciling relationship as understood through the Eucharist. Because I am not an LGBT person, a married LGBT person, I am not left out of the circle. Yet, I am left out if others are left out.
And I have long believed that this reconciling power, which you express more eloquently than I ever could, should not be the bartering chip of who is invited to the table and who is not. Again, sacraments are not polarized, once again, the binary, but rather the dynamism of the Spirit is alive and grace is unleashed in myriad ways.
And it is in this way that the Body finds integrity and wholeness in all the members of said Body. At least as I understand things.
Well, I’ve made more of a long ramble here, than I do for most posts, but I am so deeply entwined in this issue, it causes me much consternation. Thank you for what you have written here today, so powerfully, beautifully, and wisely.
Now to go ponder the constant conflation of sexual acts and human sexuality, which does not seem pro-life or pro-family if it rejects families of integrity and wholeness, no matter who the two parents are.
Thank you Fran.
Every point you make could also be made by polygamists in favor of The Church honoring polygamy. I’m sorry it causes pain and conflict in your life – I really am- but it is unquestionably what the Church has always taught that it is sin. Whether it is biological, nature or nurture is irrelevant. Sin may be all these things. Where hetero Orthodox can fall short is treating it different from other sins. I am the “chief of sinners”, so walk to repentance with you, but refuse to change 2000 years of teaching and call sin (mine or others) holy.
Dr, I am sure you are sorry. But every point made here could not be made of polygamy. In our world, polygamy is primarily polygyny. As such, it is not a relationship of shared partnership and mutual respect between persons. Rather, it depends on a kind of patriarchy that is demeaning to both men and women. So, while even the worst of relationships can provide some measure of happiness to a person, they are ultimately destructive to the kind of relationships that most further our humanity. I believe that polygamy (and polygyny), which has long biblical credentials, is not the kind of relationship that encourages the full dignity of both women and men. These are fighting words for some, but here, you and I agree. We also agree that nature or nurture is irrelevant. Where we disagree is on “sin” and whether relationships which bear the fruit of the Spirit in such abundance are sinful, even if 2000 years of teaching (which hasn’t really addressed committed same-sex relationships at all) says so.
Also, you are welcome to reply. If you do so, please use your full name. I will not post further completely anonymous responses unless I believe the response to put the person in an unsafe situation and so requires the protection of anonymity.
The fact that the church has “always” taught that something is a sin is not sufficient reason for it to continue categorizing that act as sin. Also the church has reversed course many times… For over 2,000 the catholic Church considered slavery permissible and women unequal to men. The church has also changed its mind about the purpose of sex in marriage.
The polygamy accusation is so full of troubling implications that it surprises me when it’s used. The main reason being that those who use it, like the anonymous person above, have polygamy in their blood, in their ancestry, as all of us Christians do. It’s not irrelevant that the patriarchs were all polygamous, including those we look to as saints and examples. Thus, outrage about polygamy doesn’t seem appropriate. I believe polygamy is misguided and non-saving, for the reasons Maria mentions above. That the patriarchs weren’t “there yet” in understanding that doesn’t diminish the things we admire them for. But it makes sense to oppose polygamy now, with what we’ve since come to understand about it, even though our spiritual ancestors practiced it. The reexamination of homosexuality in light of modern understandings about it makes sense in the same way, in the sense that we continue to grow in our understanding in many areas before God, including sexuality. That we’ve grown out of polygamy inclines me to be open toward the examination of sexuality rather than to be closed to it.
Me Me Me…what I want & what I need…that’s all that’s important! Right?
And while I firmly believe this is nothing but straw man tactics on the part of Miss McDowell, I must ask why you care to be part of a Church that doesn’t want to concede to your desires instead of you conceding to it (The Church)? Why do you want to trust in a Church, that when it tells you what it believes….you want to say “Hold Up, what about ME? What I Want!
I had a hard time following after this malarky:
“You just need a really good fuck with a woman, then you will be fine.”
– Baloney!!!!! Never happened!!!! You’re full of it!
Alas, that is a direct quote confirmed by three separate individuals. It did indeed happen.
As for why I want to be in the church, it is because I love it. There is more to the church than this particular issue, it is just that this issue is quite painful for many, straight and same-sex oriented. As for trusting the church, well, it is certainly difficult to trust the church. But trust and love are not the same thing.
You love the Church only if it sucumbs to you, and not you to it! Perhaps the Episcopalian Church might be to your liking. It’s very roots are in the quagmire of this very thing!!!
Dear Craig Tuttle,
I am approving your comment since I think it is important that people are aware of this type of response. Orthodox who express opinions not in line with particular traditionalist interpretations are frequently “invited” to leave Orthodoxy. Your unwillingness to engage in thoughtful conversation terrifies priests who might want to respond more compassionately, and so encourages silence, or even disregard. This leads to the kind of treatment discussed in my post.
You might want to educate yourself about a practice called corrective rape in which men rape lesbians in order to punish them for being lesbians and in order to make them straight. You might find maria’s testimony less incredible if you were more educated.
Here is what I don’t understand about particular “traditionalist” interpretations – the holy tradition of the church isn’t just a longing to look at things through an old fashioned lens – it is looking at things through the lens of the Holy Spirit, which is timeless and eternal – it is the work of the Holy Spirit that results in the holy tradition. So how can we be so dismissive of traditional interpretations?
It seems to me that in order to bend the Church’s theology (which is no minor thing), everyone else would have to bend their view of what the Church is and how reliable or unreliable holy tradition is – you view this simply as a fundamentally different way of viewing gay relationships, but it is actually a fundamentally different way of viewing the church itself, and holy tradition, thus the work of the Holy Spirit.
I think that feelings of not being worthy to sit/stand with other straight Christians are straight from the Devil. I think gay Christians need community even more strongly. But communion – yes, that is for those Orthodox who are sincerely struggling to live by the church’s teachings, no matter how often you fall. The church is merciful. The key thing *is* in the attitude of agreement with the Church’s teachings and continually striving for it – that permits one to fully repent and commune, be in communion with the church. If one is fundamentally in disagreement with the Church, one is not inwardly in communion with the church, then how can one commune? They church is merciful – but it is not going to lie to you. As for the eucharist’s healing properties – repentance is also a healing sacrament! And it is specifically the one that is prescribed before communion.
To me, this post is not so much making clear what the Church is asking of gay couples, but rather what gay couples are asking of themselves in order to live in disagreement with the church. In addition, it is being made clear what you are asking of the church in order for gay couples to be able to commune and to have gay relationships normalized throughout the church, including Sunday school. Because you already believe that such a lifestyle is spiritually the same as being straight, it doesn’t seem like much to ask – but for everyone else, it is a very tall order, surely you must see that. People have literally sacrificed everything and even bled and died for this Church, to preserve it and its teachings – not necessarily because they lovingly embraced all the teachings as matching their own preferences, but because they believed in their truth nonetheless. People *have* actually lost or left their families – we know this not only from the lives of the early saints, but even in modern times. Christ asks that we love Him more than anyone else, even our family. On the one hand, you have described here the sacrifices you feel gay couples should not have to make – on the other, I think you will be faced with the sacrifices that the Church is more than ready to make – giving up popularity in modern times for the sake of continuing to preserve holy tradition and even suffering persecution for it. And there are also, no doubt, the gay Orthodox Christians who have faithfully struggled because they believed in the Church.
RebelSprite: People have died for their faith in Christ, they have suffered for their beliefs. But Christ is not identical to tradition or even the Church. One of the greatest dangers of current Orthodox rhetoric is eliding tradition and church with God, as if they are simply one and the same.
I do believe in the Holy Spirit, and the importance of things ‘handed down.’ I also believe that the Spirit is constantly moving and challenging, and that our inclination to rest secure in laws and rules is sometimes undercut by a Spirit who reminds us that in the end what matters is faith, hope and love. I do not object to traditional arguments in principal since I utilize the tradition quite extensively. Rather, I object to reasoning which equates what we have done in the past with the Spirit or Christ. There is a difference between our reception of the Spirit’s work, our understanding and articulation of it, and that work itself. Our understanding is partial, is changing, is subject to our own limitations. Tradition, according to Lossky, is the life of the Spirit in the Church. But life is not static, it grows and matures, it gains new insight and understanding.
Considering changes in ecclesial practice is no small thing. However, I think there are good theological arguments for doing so, ones which assess actions and relationships according to whether they bear fruit or not. I do not ask the church to consider these things lightly or casually, but because I do not believe that homosexuality is a sickness but like any sexuality, a potential area for theosis. Further, I also do not believe the church should be a source of suffering when it can do otherwise. Thus, I think it is worth having a conversation which may indeed be uncomfortable for many, but one I hope ultimately ends up blessing not only individuals but the community in general as its vision of the Spirit’s work expands and deepens.
As I am sure you already know, I would have to agree to disagree with pretty much everything you’ve stated, no point in saying more on that. Thank you for taking the time to explain, though. But it does lead me to wonder, what would it take to signify that the Church was reconsidering this issue, and would would you do if the Church then decided to to continue in its current teachings, beliefs, and practices? Would you be able to accept it? Also, what is your opinion towards any gay Christians who agree with the church? I just saw a recent interview that was amazing, conducted by Father Josiah Trenham: http://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/11/21/talking-with-father-josiah-trenham/
You may have already seen this, but I just watched 2 talks (rather long) about both the “A and B” sides of this whole issue. The speakers are respectful to each other and do understand each other. They dispel many myths about being gay, and they clear up some misunderstandings that can get in the way of dialogue. If you, or anyone else, wants to chec
I am sorry that you are not engaging with the larger comments I have made regarding tradition. I think this is an important aspect of how we understand Orthodoxy that gets neglected. Ironically, my view on tradition is actually quite traditional, even if my conclusions are not.
Reconsidering the issue could involve forums, extensive private conversations with those willing and able, serious theological reflection on anthropology and gender by church groups, theologians, and clergy. It would take time, and happen with respect, and without hasty action. It might even allow the communing of gays and lesbians in committed relationships based on the recommendation of their confessors whose judgements would not be analyzed by strangers. As for if the church decided to continue its current practice, I would want to know why, to understand its reasons. Perhaps I would be converted. Perhaps I would be like the iconoclasts, refusing to stand down. Or perhaps the iconodules, also refusing to stand down. I don’t know.
As for my opinion regarding gay Christians who accept the current teachings and practice, I hope the best for them. I do not believe that everyone needs to be coupled, and the choice to remain celibate is a good one for many reasons (not just monastic tonsure). I hope that they are being true to who God is calling them to be.
As for watching Fr Trenham, that may take more emotional fortitude than I have. I have seen his videos in the past, including sermons, and his words are vicious. It is possible to disagree with my arguments in a civil manner. However, I have found his theology around gender to be highly questionable, even by very traditional standards. He is not someone I prefer to interact with.
Sorry, my comment was cut off before I added the other link – if you or anyone else is interested, here are the two talks about “transforming the conversation”: http://spiritualfriendship.org/video/
I have never thought Father Josiah was vicious, though he does have a very formal style of speaking. I watched the video more for the person being interviewed, Dr. Wesley Hill, it was fascinating.
As for not engaging with your thoughts – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to give that impression – I did read them, I just in no way recognized what I have learned about Holy Tradition in what you have said – I engaged meaning I read it, but I just don’t believe it. It’s not at all what I believe about Holy Tradition – of course it isn’t Christ, I do believe it is the work of the Holy Spirit though, and is timeless – not meant to be changed and modified. This issue could be brought up at an Ecumenical council for prayerful reconsideration – but the other process you have described, that sounds more like a method of change that would occur in non-Orthodox churches – hence the reason that they are continually evolving.
I do have one last question that I am curious about: If the Episcopal Church, which perhaps has gone through this type of process, and which has reached the conclusions that you believe are true to the Holy Spirit – and it’s not just the ends that matter here, but also the means – if what you are recommending as the true way exists in a different church but not the Orthodox one, why wouldn’t you consider the other church to be holier and truer? Particularly as they are liturgical, do have the sacraments, and (in your opinion?) also are abiding by the Holy Spirit? I think I have heard some may even adopt an Eastern Rite service. Why should a person looking to convert choose the Orthodox Church over another liturgical (or non-liturgical) church that is more open to change, views tradition as you do, and especially, views gay relationships and sexuality as you do?
It is simply historical fact that Orthodox teaching and theology has changed over time, usually expressed as a greater clarification and understanding of God’s revelation as historical necessity demanded greater precision. Icons took 800 years to become non-controversial.
I am not quite sure what to do with the language of “the” true way. Orthodox claim to know where the Church exists, we do not (or rather, we should not but do far too often) claim to know where it does not exist. Also, Florovsky is clear that the true Church is not necessarily the perfect Church. At vespers, we pray to the Spirit who is “everywhere and in all things.” We do not know the bounds of God’s work. When I have no other options I seek recourse in other churches for worship. While I do not prefer other churches over Orthodoxy, I do not think they are necessarily less that Orthodoxy. That is simply not how I think about God’s work in the world. God works in the most unexpected places and I love to see God’s diverse love for the world. I am Orthodox because it is the church I was raised in. I did not convert and so cannot speak to why others might want to convert. I can only repeat myself, I love the Orthodox Church which is more than this issue alone.
Maybe I won’t stay. I certainly get disinvited regularly from my church, most often by people who have joined later in their lives (I am not reading your question as a dis-invitation, though it is rather close). Orthodox parishes and people can be toxic at times. It is frankly a bit shocking to me the freedom with which Orthodox who claim to believe that Orthodoxy is the one true way cast out their brothers and sisters of this particular set (sex, gender, sexuality, feminism) of issue. I can’t decide if they really believe that God is elsewhere as well and so are really wishing a more pleasant experience for me, or if it is some veiled way of casting me into the outer darkness. Either way, it is in appropriate.
Maria, I think if the people are being nasty to you, then maybe it is a disinvitation – but consider this, if they aren’t being nasty – I would really doubt it is a disinvitation. For those who have converted themselves, they themselves have turned away from (maybe even fled!) a situation that they disagreed with in a different church or religion – so they know that feeling. My guess would be that they are genuinely confused about why you would choose to stay – in their own situation, if they had felt something was seriously wrong with the church teachings and practices, they would not have landed here, they would have gone somewhere else. Likewise, if they had started out in the Orthodox church and didn’t agree with teachings and practices, they would have gone somewhere else. I myself was wondering along these lines myself, though I didn’t want to seem like I was “disinviting” – it is just a genuine question that would come up from a convert perspective, since we’ve been in that situation before, and have chosen to move – and usually have met many other people on different spiritual journeys in the process. Staying in the religion we thought was wrong or going about things incorrectly was not an option for us any longer. Also, usually the reason we joined the Orthodox church was because we believed in Holy Tradition, and while yes, more and more was uncovered over time, something as fundamental and basic as gender and marriage, many are going to feel that if this teaching was made quite clear in both the Old and New Testaments and the writings of early church fathers, they simply won’t be convinced that this particular teaching is something that the church had gotten wrong all along. I understand you disagree, but I’m just explaining why you may be getting that reaction more from converts. Take care, and thank you for your replies.
RebelSprite, I see your point about how such a suggestion seems quite natural to the convert given their own spiritual journey and decision-making process.
As a life-long Orthodox however, it has never really been an option, a category, or even a way of thinking to simply go to another church. I am not saying this is a good thing, it simply is how almost every cradle-Orthodox I know thinks and feels. We did not grow up in a ecclesial culture of denominations; such an idea often feels strange, foreign, unfamiliar (not necessarily wrong – though some Orthodox certainly think so). Many Orthodox simply become distant, or find a niche, or bury their head in the sand in order to avoid the things they don’t like. And believe me, there is something everyone of us does not like. But leaving is just not our culture. When the conflict becomes unlivable, we do leave. Most I know grieve it deeply.
So, it seems “unnatural” to many of us that going somewhere else is so casually suggested. Perhaps this is simply a cultural clash. But it becomes offensive when that suggestion comes from someone who is also making claims about what Orthodoxy is, what tradition is, that come only from what they have been taught and which clash with what some life-long Orthodox have lived. Many converts make some definitive claims that are simply false. They seem to reflect a rather brilliant sale job about “unchanging tradition” that appeals to the need for an “original” Church, a sales spiel that has been particularly successful in North America. Unfortunately, Orthodox has been changing for its entire history. If someone joined Orthodoxy because they needed unchanging tradition, people like me are particularly shocking as I seem to challenge some of the very reasons for their conversion.
I do not say this because I think you are being offensive, you clearly are not. I have and do (when I must) worship elsewhere. I ALWAYS miss Orthodoxy, and I am simply not ready to give up on it.
Icons did not take 800 years to become non-controversial. There are two distinct periods of iconoclasm in Orthodox Church history: 730-787 and 814-842. Describing that as taking 800 years for icons to become non-controversial would be like saying that it took nearly 1900 years for ethnophyletism to become non-controversial just because there was a conciliar decree against it in 1872. While there were a few data points before those decrees that might have been considered controversy, largely, those things are non-issues in most of Church history.
A particular decisive decree arising at a certain point in the Church’s history does not mean that its subject is controversial in all the years before it. It means that the Church had to respond to a problem that had arisen. In most cases, the problem is usually not that old. Icons are certainly representative of this.
Fr. Andrew, perhaps my use of the word “controversial” was too strong. What is clear however, is that the use and understanding of icons fluctuated greatly, and was brought to a head by the valid concerns of iconoclasts who were seeking to preserve a particular understanding of God, worship, and created matter. Icons were under discussion for years before the controversy reached a head.
My point is not that visions of our ecclesial history which emphasize its constant unity of thought and practice are simply NOT true. Our articulation of major theological doctrines was often the result of a long-time and gradual diversification that led to open conflict which created a felt need to be resolved by church leaders (or the emperor who was trying to preserve the peace of an empire). “Tradition” is neither uniform nor static.
Yes, I certainly understood that to be your aim in making the comments that you did. It is required for the position of moral revision which you are taking. However, you did not back up the assertion of non-continuity with evidence. I am also a student of Church history, and its shape looks quite different to me.
At the very least, one has to assume that one knows better than pretty much all of our Orthodox Fathers in the faith, who assumed the continuity. “Following the holy Fathers” is their own phrase, and it is borne out of the earliest understandings of what it meant to guard the deposit of faith, and that guardianship was not one of revision and evolution. The idea that the Church has always believed certain things is not something made up recently.
Some things do indeed legitimately change over time, e.g., liturgical customs and disciplines, theological language, etc., but some things do not, e.g., dogma and morality. It is important to remember that these things should not all be lumped together. Holy Tradition is indeed unchanging, though its iterations have changed in non-essential ways over the years. Its content remains the same, however.
That controversies arose at various points does not mean that the Church did not know what it believed before the controversy was settled, or that the history prior to the controversy was one of endless diversity. Indeed, those involved in such controversies almost universally claimed to be simply holding to what had always been believed. Some were wrong, of course, but hardly anyone throughout Church history ever believed in a hermeneutic of ecclesiological and dogmatic evolution — which is the hermeneutic you are essentially proposing — that the Church and her faith can actually change.
So, even if that hermeneutic is correct (and having studied the matter for many years, I do not believe it is), one at least has to assert that those who hold to it know better than pretty much all Orthodox saints who have ever lived, none of whom ever once suggest that they are holding to anything other than what the Church has always believed. One also must believe that the Holy Spirit did not, in fact, guide the Apostles into all the truth, despite what Jesus Christ Himself promised.
And then one must ask why those who would press for revision and evolution of dogma and morality are more trustworthy than all of them.
Also, just to comment on the iconoclasm question again:
You asserted that “the use and understanding of icons fluctuated greatly.” Really? On what do you base that assertion? That there were less than 100 years of iconoclasm in the 8th and 9th centuries doesn’t seem to be much basis for that broad of a claim, especially in support of the historical hermeneutic of dogmatic and moral evolution in the Church.
If you’re interested in a detailed examination of the few scraps of various data points on iconoclasm prior to those periods in the 8th and 9th centuries, I very much recommend Gabe Martini’s excellent series of posts on the matter:
And of course there is also the excellent Icon FAQ by Fr. John Whiteford:
What I see when I read the Trinitarian theology of the 4th century as opposed to the less extensive reflections of the first century, or when I compare the arguments between the first and second waves of iconoclasm, is a shared belief in Trinity or Icons, but both a refining and development of the implications of that belief. If and when I post on how tradition changes, we can pick up this debate. It is an important issue to address, but not here.
In this post, I am not asking people about the nature of tradition or even positing that same-sex relationships were once blessed (like Boswell). Rather, I am asking, can same-sex relationships as we know them now, as they are practiced by faithful Christians who strive to fulfill all the parameters of how we (Orthodox Christians) view marriage, be seen as a blessing and a pathway to theosis, much as heterosexual marriage is viewed within our theology? If the answer to this is “yes,” even if only in some same-sex relationships, then I think we must ask how we can universally condemn something that God seems to engage with in particular cases.
If you prefer to not ask such questions, that is fine.
I was replying to assertions you made in your comments which are the necessary context for the questions you mention. If, in fact, the Church has no unchanging tradition, then of course dogmatic and moral revision/evolution are fine. (I am left wondering why anyone would bother with church, though. And certainly the steadily dwindling membership of the mainline churches that have taken this approach bears this out.)
Regarding the Trinity, the language certainly changes a bit in the first few centuries, but the beliefs are the same. It is not as though Sabellianism or Arianism were really just fine until that all got ironed out. And what is eventually enshrined in conciliar decrees does not revise what came before but is a pastoral response to heresy. That is, such decrees are not evolutionary or progressive in nature but occasional and ad hoc — specific responses to particular problems.
If the content of the author’s comments is off-limits for reply, however, then of course I will respect the rules of this site. My eye was caught particularly by the claim about the predominance of iconoclasm in the first eight centuries of Church history, which — forgive me — was just untrue on its face. But if you don’t wish to talk about that or its related hermeneutic, I can understand, though in my own defense, you did bring it up! 🙂
Fr. Andrew, I did not say that iconclasm was predominant. I said that the use of icons was controversial, which I later clarified to mean “the use and understanding of icons fluctuated greatly”. This is factually true and the understanding and theology that emerged after iconclasm was quite different that the few mentions of their use before the 5th-6th century. We have little evidence of their earlier use, possibly because many were destroyed by the iconoclasts leaving us with little to go on. Understanding and practice was fluctuating, and we have NO evidence that Theodore the Studite’s articulation was understood as such even a century before, much less two or three. I recommend the work of Robin Cormack and Bissera Pentcheva. I read Bigham, referred to in the articles you linked, and did not find his historical assertions to fit with the more convincing arguments of other authors and theologians.
As for the Trinity, Ireneaus’ subordination of the Spirit would NEVER have passed muster in later. The clarification of the shared work of the Spirit grew out of conflicts which explicitly subordinated the Spirit. Perhaps he would have readily agreed if pressed given that his concerns were not to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity. It is clear that his functional understanding however is not the doctrine later agreed upon. This is what I mean by change, growth, greater understanding.
I bother with a Church whose tradition changes because the Church is a community through which I am able to better come to love God and neighbor (well, at least in theory). I do not require the Church to remain unchanging to have faith. Rather, I trust that God’s love and faithfulness to us is unchanging. As a result, I am not terribly afraid that other things change, or my understanding of them changes, or our understanding of them changes as long as these changes allow greater faith, hope and joy.
Why should faith, hope and joy be unchanging, if everything else can change? What makes them untouchable dogma, and how do we know that?
I don’t believe I said faith, hope and love are unchanging or untouchable, I believe I said that of God’s faithfulness and love. So I am not quite sure the question you are asking here.
To clarify: Why do you trust what God has revealed about faith, hope and love through the Scriptures and in the Church, but you do not trust what He has revealed about His moral purposes? How do you decide to take the one and not the other?
Because I believe that same-sex relationships are capable of achieving God’s moral purposes, specifically, theosis as the practice of virtue (see the articles in the Special issue of Studies in Christian Ethics, Modes of Godly Being: Reflections on the Virtues From the Christian East. I simply do not see the opposition that you see. This is due, I suspect, to very different interpretive methods for both Scripture and Tradition.
I’m simply following what the Church has taught. There’s no particular method to it. “That same-sex relationships are capable of achieving God’s moral purposes” is something new, though. Why should it be believed? Why is that a trump card?
Or, to put it more plainly, since it’s really clear that the Church has always considered homosexual activity a sin, why is it suddenly no longer a sin? (Fr. John has ably addressed why making it about “committed relationships” is essentially a red herring. If it really was just about adultery or promiscuity, then it wouldn’t have been specifically mentioned in various lists of sins.)
What I was getting at is that you seem to want some of the inheritance of the Church but not other parts. Is there any point where someone should be encouraged to humble himself and accept the Church’s teaching? On what basis does one decide that something that has been taught for 2000 years is simply no longer true? And why, then, should anything else be kept? Shouldn’t it all be suspect? How do we even know what God’s moral purposes are if we can just change them?
Theosis is a good bit more than the practice of virtue, BTW. Virtue is really just a way not to gum up the works. Virtue is necessary to purify us from our sins, but it doesn’t deify us in itself. Suffice it to say, though, that trying to redefine sin as virtue isn’t going to help (cf. Isaiah 5:20).
Actually, I think that all sins are about failed relationship to self, other or God. Given that same-sex intercourse was only ever evaluated in the context of adultery or promiscuity, I think that “committed relationships” is a significant factor in assessing same-sex sex, just as the lack of committed relationship was a factor in assessing it in Leviticus, Romans and Corinthians. This is a difference of scriptural hermeneutics. Scripture says very little (nothing that I can think of offhand) about particular genital acts outside of the context of relationships. However, this is subject of another blog post, probably by another blogger.
As for Theosis and virtue, I again recommend the referenced volume. The connection between them in patristic authors is quite consistent. However, virtue is certainly not the only way to speak of theosis, it just permeates our tradition.
In reading another “discussion” about this blog post, I notice that responses to this incredibly poignant post usually break down on the issue of homosexuality, per se. If one really believes that it is a sickness (or changeable), then, of course, one should look for a “cure” and/or live in the mode of repentance. However, if one believes that it is inborn (and unchangeable) then, I think, a good case can be made that it should be blessed. (Despite the protestations to the contrary, the church has not dealt with this issue for 2000 years. It is only within the last 100 years that there has even been an understanding of a homosexual person. Excluding recent history, most pronouncements are in the context of man-boy sex.) But, I wonder, if we could move the discussion into the realm of the “pastoral” but discussing how we could and should be ministering to gays in committed relationships. Is cutting them off from communion the appropriate response (and/or the only “weapon” we have to “make them repent…”)? I am thinking of other situations for which “ex-communication” is the prescribed remedy. For instance, if one marries a non-Christian (or even if they get married in another Christian or civil ceremony), they are (technically) considered to have “ex-communicated” themselves. However, this prescription is very unevenly applied. (Other things are often taken into consideration such as the cultural mileux, etc.) Even if it is applied, after a certain period of time (usually a year), the Orthodox party is usually given dispensation/economy and allowed to re-commune if they so desire, etc. (They are not counseled to divorce, etc.) So, even if the priest/church does not agree with their life choice (and they remain in this “state”), the church has a remedy for re-integrating them into the community and moves on, continuing to minister to all the other aspects of their lives. One wonders, if we could speak of committed homosexual relationships within this context (rather than just ranting about homosexuality, per se.) Like all analogies, this is not perfect, but I think it might be a different way to approach the topic than is currently a part of our discourse.
Yes. In much that I have read so far, the conversation once again reduces an entire relationship to same-sex intercourse and giving in to passions. My point about the life-giving qualities of all the other parts of the relationship (and my silence on intercourse itself as good/bad) is lost. Ah well.
That would be because if you remove the sexual aspect of a same sex relationship, then you simply have a good friendship, to which no one objects.
Maria, what parish do you attend, who is you bishop. and does either your parish priest or your bishop think it is acceptable to commune practicing homosexuals?
If the Scriptures, the canons, and the Tradition of the Church could all be in error on this issue, why would you think the Orthodox Church might have anything uniquely true to offer?
As for polygamy, polygamy was never seen in Scripture as a good thing. It was tolerated in the Old Testament, but even before the time of Christ there is scant evidence that the Jews continued to practice it. But polygamy has the advantage of not being contrary to nature… in that it does not involve unnatural sex. Homosexual sex does not reproduce, and it involves abusing the human body in ways that are not only contrary to their natural purpose, but positively damaging and unhealthy.
Fr John, I will not discuss my relationships with any particular clergy member, nor will I present the opinions of any clergyman that has not given me permission to do so, written a public article, or whose death keeps them safe from being smeared across the internet by self-appointed watchdogs who do not respect the pastoral decisions of their colleagues. I am perfectly aware that there are suggestions to forward this post to a bishop or priest who has some authority over me. I did not ask anyone’s permission to write this except to ensure that I was not violating the privacy of the participants in the stories I told. If I think silence is wrong, I will not be silent regardless of what a bishop or priests orders me to do.
Your arguments regarding polygamy are based in silence since the scripture says nothing at all about it, negative or positive. It just IS. As for it not being contrary to nature, do you think that monogamy is against our nature? Isn’t it the Orthodox position that faithful marriage between two people (not three +) is uniquely expressive of God’s relationship with us as a spouse? Or is polygamy just another option that is in accord with our natures (despite its evident denigration of women since, as I mention in a comment above, when we speak of polygamy we really mean polygyny).
I am not quite sure what homosexual sex you are acquainted with, but I am unfamiliar with the abusing kind. I now it exists, just as I know that heterosexual sex can be abusing. I can only assume you speak from either your own experience or the experience of those close to you and that saddens me. Abusive sex is indeed damaging and unhealthy. I am saddened that anyone you know has had this experience.
As for reproduction and sex, this is an old debate on which the Orthodox Church, unlike the Catholic Church, has remained fairly agnostic. You can of course find quotes to support many positions, and I have read your own arguments on this topic. Did you read the article to which I link on this topic, by Metr. Hilarion Alfyev? He hardly agrees with me about homosexuality, but we do share common ground regarding marriage (and marital sex) as more than procreative.
Most important is your query about the Church. The Church is far more than this issue, it is far more than its treatment of women (an issue I have written on far more extensively than this topic. Ironic, it has never received this attention!), it is far more than the liturgical fundamentalism that Schmemann decried, or its complicity in totalitarian regimes, the list could go on. What the Church offers at its best is Jesus, the spring of living water at whose fountain I am delighted to drink. I grieve when the Church pollutes that water, as it and its members (including myself) have done throughout its history. And I love the Church, not when it simply agrees with me (since it surely does not right now), but always. Loving the Church is not the same as agreeing with it, liking it, or even being able to live with it every day.
If any clergy are taking a position that is consistent with the tradition of the Church, then they shouldn’t need to operate in the shadows… they should have the courage to come out and let the world know what they believe. if they are hiding, they show that their position is contrary to that Tradition,
What I said about polygamy is not based on silence, it based on the words of Christ and the Tradition of the Church. Christ said, “In the beginning it was not so” and spoke of how at creation, the the intention was for one man and one woman to become one flesh. Polygamy is in fact never present in Scripture as a good thing.. in every case, we see that it was problematic.
You don’t have to be a traditionally minded Christian to know that the penis was not designed with anal sex in mind, nor was the anus designed for it. Serious problems arise from that practice. The same is true of oral sex, which brings with it the serious risk of throat and mouth cancer… just to cite to examples. And by the way, Scripture says that it is contrary to nature (Romans 1:26).
Of course monogamy is not contrary to nature, because heterosexual sex is not contrary to nature. It may be contrary to the fallen nature of men, but it is in accordance with nature and is the way it was in the beginning according to Christ.
How do you love the Church when you will not be corrected by it? And if you will not listen to the Church, how did Christ say that you should be treated until you repent? Like a heathen (Matthew 18:17). So you don’t get to pick and choose what aspects of the teachings of the Church you will be obedient to.
I will let clergy speak for themselves if they choose. Courage is complicated when your family’s livelihood is at stake, relationships with friends and family, and a job that allows you to love and serve is a unique and important manner. I too wish sympathetic clergy would have the courage to speak, but not because I think they stand in contradiction to tradition. I think the pastoral wisdom some can offer might be a rich contribution to the discussion. Alas, they are often afraid of the impact that people like you will have, who take a sort of scorched-earth, or perhaps, eat-your-sheep, approach. Calling someone a heathen is hardly an invitation to discerning pastoral care.
And yes, we do see that polygamy was problematic, which is why the elevation of “biblical marriage” is so very ironic.
What brings sexual pleasure, in a straight or hetero relationship, is up to the partners and the respect, love and vulnerability they share with one another. I will leave penises and anuses to you. I admit that I am not acquainted with very many penises. However, your comment about oral sex and throat/mouth cancer is just flat out incorrect unless the member inserted has an STD. In which case, it is as likely to infect the vagina (or anus) as the mouth and throat.
As for loving the church and being corrected by it, I simply do not equate the church with God. To do so is ‘ecclesiolatry’, something both Schmemann and Florovsky were deeply concerned about. I love the church and allow it to correct me in many places. I do know sympathetic clergy who do not share your theology, so your response to me is not the sum total of the Church’s response to me. I see the Spirit of God working without prejudice in the lives of coupled same-sex persons. You see abuse. Perhaps those that speak to you about their struggles are self-selecting and so yo are only ever aware of destructive or anguished relationships. The gay men and lesbian women whose lives are locations of faith, hope and joy simply may not want to engage with your theology. Heterosexuals who witness these life-giving relationships also may not want to engage with you. I wish they would, I wish you would listen.
But you will treat us like heathen. Ok.
Thank you for writing this. It is overdue and much needed !
I’m only gradually returning to practice my Orthodox Faith after an absence (or it could be said, irregular practice ) of nearly 5 years because of feeling like I didn’t “fit ” as a gay man in a mainstream Orthodox parish
Thanks to God, 3 good friends from my parish stuck by me and gently encouraged me during this “exile ” and helped me get to the point now where I can take the first few steps back to Vigil and Liturgy and other Services
Your article will do much good and encourage people to “come back ” and a Big Glory to God for that !
You are welcome Brian. I wish you a safe and gentle parish in which can come to participate more fully in God.
Maria, if what these clergy believed were consistent with the Orthodox Tradition, they should have nothing to fear about letting the rest of the Church know. Only in gnosticism do you find a select group of people keeping secrets, and passing on their hidden knowledge in the shadows.
Polygamy in the Old Testament still consisted of marriages between one man and one woman — a man did not marry groups of women, but individual women. The problem was the man marrying more than one woman. We still have polygamy today, in a more limitted sense. We have men who have been married to more than one woman… just not at the same time. And while the Church allows that under some circumstances, it also makes clear that it is less than the ideal — which is why such men are inelligible for ordination. The fathers say that God gradually raised the moral and spiritual understanding of the people during the course of the Old Testament, and of course in the teachings of Christ, we find the highest expression of the moral and spiritual life that we are called to live. So while the Old Testament focused more on basic and outward sins, such as adultery… Christ raised the bar, and spoke of adultery in the heart. Given that, what the chances that a sin that was called an abomination, and was cited as one of the reasons for God’s judgment on the heathen who did not even know the Law of Moses, would be seen by Christ as perfectly acceptable? Zero.
As far as what you say about heterosexual couples, that may be true according to secular law. It is not true according to the Tradition of the Church. St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, for example, says that a man who has anal sex with his wife is worse than a homosexual. And while it may be true that the risks of oral sex are mostly related to things like the HPV virus, the fact is, homosexuals are not known for partnering for life, and so their infection rates are very high. Homosexuals also have very high rate of alchoholism, drug abuse, and suicide… even in countries in which homosexual relationships are not controversial. And anal sex has very serious problems, regardless of the absence of STDs. And as a matter of fact, St. Paul says homosexual sex (male and female) is contrary to nature, and this is found in sacred Scripture… and so is not just his opinion, which you can take or leave.
You say you don’t equate the Church with God… but Christ did not say that if you fail to listen to God, you should be treated like a heathen. He said if you refuse to listen to the Church, you should be treated like a heathen. The Church is not just a human institution, like the Kiwanis club — the Church is the Body of Christ, Christ is its Head, and the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, you may try to kid yourself that you can ignore thousands of years of divine revelation and still be an Orthodox Christian in good standing, but you cannot.
And while you say that I am not the voice of the Church, the problem here is that 1) I am not just giving you my opinion, but presenting what the Church has always taught on the matter, and this is easily demonstrable; and 2) You are hiding where you go to Church, and hiding which clergy you answer to, because you don’t want the rest of the Church to address you case specifically.
Fr. John, did you actually read my post? Because you are not addressing much of what I actually said, and are enacting the very thing I pointed out as so problematic. I am not talking about homosexuals who are sexually active but not partnered. I am talking about those who are faithfully partnered. I am not talking about anal sex. As a matter of fact, I am talking about people who have been treated very poorly by those who are called to love them. Even if communion is denied, not a single one of the examples I gave is remotely pastoral, caring, or expresses any real knowledge of same-sex commitment.
I am not hiding where I go to church or my clergy friendships and support. I am protecting them from you as you have already attacked enough people in your crusade to purge Orthodoxy of STDs and anal sex (which you mention ad naseum every time you address this topic). As I said, clergy can speak for themselves.
You have done your priestly duty, treated me as a heathen, and censured my post. Those who share your position should be satisfied that you have spoken the truth and that I remain unrepentant, that is, unwilling to revise my hopes without a substantive engagement.
The lack of charity being shown by Orthodox on this blog is quite disturbing to me and does not demonstrate how it is that we are known for our love to our Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters. Enough. No further responses from you will be approved on this blog. I am sure you can continue the conversation elsewhere.
Statistically, homosexuals are very unlikely to partner for life. Homosexual men are notoriously promiscuous, even when in a long term relationship. Lesbians are less likely to be promiscuous during a relationship, but they are far less likely to have long lasting relationships… even in comparison to homosexual men. However, even if you have the rare homosexual couple that never has sex with anyone else, and is partnered for life, they are still engaging in what St. Paul says is contrary to nature. And in fact. St. Paul says that God’s judgment in this life on such people, who refuse to repent, is simply to give them up to the life they have chosen, and allow the consequences of doing that which is contrary to nature to take its course.
In 1st Corinthians, St. Paul addresses the case of a man who living with his step mother. He did not object on the basis of their relationship not being fully committed, he objected because it was an inherently sinful relationship — although at least such a relationship was not contrary to nature, and could produce children. Nevertheless, St. Paul told the Church of Corinth to excommunicate him until he repented. If he took such a stand against a relationship that was sinful only because of the degree of kinship by marriage, what are the chances that homosexual relationships would be acceptable, even if they were long term and committed relationships?
Also, Maria, do you think St. Paul was uncharitable when he told the Corinthians to excommunicate the man living with his step-mother? Love does not mean never telling someone what they don’t want to hear. In fact, love rejoices in the truth, and a person that loves you will tell you what you don’t want to hear because they love you, not because they don’t.
Since you ask a question that leads to an important distinction and did so without calling me a heathen (thank you)…
My hope in this post is to help Orthodox (and other Christians) begin to ask the question WHY is something a sin, or, more importantly, if something gives life, can we bless it? Therefore, I am not willing to talk about homosexuality as compared to sins.
I cannot speak to what Paul might have said were he a part of this conversation, as he is not here. What I can do is ask, why might Paul have a problem with a man in a committed relationship with his stepmother, what is it about degrees of relationship created by marriage that makes this problematic for Paul?
However, these important questions are distinct from questions about what Paul or other scriptural authors think about committed same-sex relationships (about which they have very little to say).
Maria, what makes you think that the level of commitment makes a difference when a relationship is inherently sinful? St. John the Baptist did not criticize Herod because he was not sufficiently committed to his brother Phillip’s wife… he criticized him because it was not lawful for him to have her in the first place.
I do not think that commitment is the only criteria, but it certainly addresses your repetition of homosexual promiscuity and lack of commitment. Again, the quest is, what makes a particular relationships “inherently sinful”? You seem to look to the law for this definition. I want to know if something does or does not promote human flourishing. As Katie says (though I suspect she and I will quibble elsewhere on “natural law” and its virtues, it is not a framework Orthodox ethicists and theologians use, despite your frequent references to it), what is natural is what leads to our flourishing. You think that homosexual relationship inherently fail this test. I think that they do not. In the end, for you this will come down not to commitment issues but the how you define the use of human genitals. I simply do not share a theology that sounds more like Catholic Moral Theology pre-20th century that anything I read in the theologians of Orthodoxy.
Maria, St. John Chrysostom is one of the Three Great Hierarchs, and was not a protestant convert, nor a graduate of a pre-20th Century Roman Catholic institution, and if you read his homilies on Romans 1, it is clear that he believed any homosexual sex was inherently sinful. It is also clear that the Ecumenical Councils affirmed canons that homosexual sex is inherently sinful. If the Scriptures, Ecumenical Councils, and Fathers of the Church are to be dismissed by you, on what basis would you be convinced of any teaching of the Church, aside from your personal likes and dislikes?
Fr. John, it is not clear to me that homosexual sex itself is inherently sinful, whether from scripture, council or canon. What is clear is that same-sex relationships were never viewed apart from infidelity, promiscuity, unequal and inappropriate power-relations between persons. I think that all of these are problematic because they break relationships.
My argument is that it is not “acts” that are the problem, but acts which violate relationships as a source for and context in which theosis occurs. I think this is something I need to make more clear and will do so in later posts as it is a framework for Orthodox ethics that fits well with our emphasis on a relational ontology of Trinity and persons, and one which might make someone like Metr. John Zizioulas less opposed to “ethics” as a discipline. Your persistence has helped me pinpoint a need for further thought. Thank you.
When the law of Moses says a man shall not lie with a woman as with a man, the application is to any sex act between men — it makes no distinction between the nature of such relationship. And this law is where the word “Arsenokoitai” comes from.
The source of the term is actually vigorously debated. I will let the scripture scholars address this, if they choose.
Vigorously debated by whom?
Scripture scholars. As I said, they can post if they choose, or simply provide links to posts or references to books and articles. I think I was clear in my post that I am not going to engage in the use of scripture verses or canons to declare that the questions I am raising about particular persons and the particular way in which theosis is manifesting itself in their lives. This is not because I think scripture is unimportant, but because we rush to certain texts and verses without taking time to consider God’s presence and work in unexpected places.
Can you name one reputable Biblical Scholar that disputes the meaning of “arsenokoitai”? Can you point to one reputable translation of the Bible into English that does not translate it as being in reference to male homosexuals?
I will be generating a list of such “reputable” scholars, though I suspect that the mere fact they dispute your scriptural interpretation will render them without said reputation.
I have long been a fan of Luke Timothy Johnson, here is an excellent short piece: https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/homosexuality-church-1
In the meantime, I found this article helpful, by Michael Berrigan Clark. http://www.orthodoxlistening.com/archives/267.
I will look forward to seeing your list of reputable scholars, and we shall see if they arguably qualify. You forget to point me to a reputable translation of the Bible that translates “arsenokoitai” as referring to something other than homosexual men. The New Revised Standard Version is hardly the work of rabid fundamentalists, and it translates it as “sodomites”. The NET (also, not very conservative), translates it as “practicing homosexuals”.
I did not forget. The scriptural work is relatively recent. There are virtually no recent translations available based on newer studies. So, if translations are the sole criteria, you win!
The New Revised Standard version was done in 1989… that is too far in the foggy mists of ancient history for you? The Contemporary English Version was done in 1995. The English Standard Version was done in 2001. The New English Translation was done between 1996 and 2006… too far back? And what monumental studies, by which prominent scholars do you have in mind?
Yes, it is “too far in the foggy mists of ancient history” for me and for translations that are quite slow at such things. However, I believe the Oxford NRSV 3rd edition attempts to address these issues in footnotes. Again, translation choices are not a primary measure.
What does the the Oxford NRSV 3rd edition say in its footnotes? Major translations are done by reputable scholars, that’ why do matter if you are talking about how reputable scholars translate certain words or texts.
You are welcome to pull one off the shelf yourself. I do not have it at hand, it was a reminder from a friend.
John, I’m not sure how you mean to use theword “natural” but in the thomistic tradition, which informs western ethical conceptions of nature, actions are “natural”simply if they promote human fflourishing and contribute to the common good.
So to claim that all gay sex is unnatural you would have to prove that all gay sex impedes human flourishing and harms the common good. Which you have not done.
John, Aquinas does use nature in two other ways but I don’t think you’ll like their implications.
One he says that what we would call gay sex is unnatural because non human animals don’t have gay sex. But we know today that many speciesincluding other lrimprimates have “gay sex”. So here aquinas’ conception of the natural actually argues in favor of gay sex being moral.
Two, Aquinas also believed that the sperm was a tiny person deposited in the soil of the woman’s womb. Using his teleological method, he reduced the purpose of sex to the purported function of the sperm which he believed to be a tiny person. Clearly, under this understanding the only intended destination of the sperm would be the womb.
But we have since discovered the ovum and dna. The sperm is not like an acorn with only one possible destination. So that sense of the natural no longer holds any relevanc
And how are we to treat tax collectors and heathens? Love your neighbor as yourself? Eat with the tax collectors, as Jesus did?
As for oral sex, I speak as a midwife here. I have had specific training on sexually transmitted infections. There is no disease that is caused by healthy genitals entering a healthy mouth. The problem arises when there is infection present, and there it is the mucous membranes receiving those pathogens. Infection is just as likely to be spread through genital to genital contact as it is to be spread from genital to mouth contact. I will grant you that anal sex has inherent problems associated with it, but those who engage in it, whether gay couples or straight couples, can choose their own risks and prevent disease with barrier methods.
So, really your argument here seems to be centered upon gay people who are promiscuous. Are you also against heterosexual promiscuity? And how would your arguments be affected if we were talking about homosexual partners for life?
People who are heathens are certainly to be treated kindly, but they are not to be treated as Christian brothers and sisters that are on the inside of the Church and fellow communicants.
Those who claim to be Christian brothers and sisters, but who wish to spread error in the Church have to be treated as foreigners to the faith for the sake of the health of the Church. Of course if they repent, they should be welcomed back with open arms. However in this case, we have people who think the Church needs to repent of his Tradition… they are not interested in repenting themselves, and conforming themselves to that tradition in obedience.
Jesus ate with Zaccheus (Matthew 18 names this group) and never once refused a meal with Judas. His confidence in love and compassion is something to which I, as a Christian, hope to aspire.
Tax collectors were outside of the community. Judas’ sin was a secret known only to a few, including Christ. Christ did not expose him, but rather gave him every chance to repent. Also, Christ had no desire to prevent his crucifixion from happening.
But when someone who claims to be a brother, but is living in open sin, it is another matter. St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:11: “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” The reason being, if a person is living such a life openly, they not only show that they have no intention of repenting, but scandalize the faith and set a bad example. And so, as with the man living with his step mother, they are separated from the fellowship of the Church until they repent.
So if gay men and lesbians only reveal their loving relationships to a few, then they can continue receiving the Eucharist? Interesting. That used to be the case until the culture of public condemnation became much more popular. The unfortunate reality is that many priests deny communion on the possibility of such a secret being revealed.
I simply have no words to express the sadness I feel at your repeated willingness to deny the medicine of immortality to people you deem outside the community, such as “tax collectors” and Judas. I am grateful that God is more gracious than you seem to be.
Reblogged this on Canonically Irregular and commented:
Some thoughts on the struggles of people in same sex relationships in the Orthodox Church…
That would be because if you remove the sexual aspect of a same sex relationship, then you simply have a good friendship, to which no one objects.
To me, this is a really odd argument. What you’re saying here is that everything – everything – about a same-sex partnership is OK, except for the sex itself. But if that’s true, then somehow the act of “having sex” turns the entire relationship into something completely evil and degraded in the course of a few minutes.
The question, then, is: exactly how does this happen? What’s the mechanism? How does a few minutes of intimate touching somehow overturn the complete normality of something “to which no one objects”?
What a strange idea. And what, BTW, is the “bright line” here? Would it be “holding hands” that tips the thing into the realm of the utterly depraved? A peck on the cheek? A racy birthday card? How does one know that one has passed the point of no return and moved into “burning in hell” territory?
Actually, I don’t think such a relationship is just friendship. It’s much more than friendship – it’s committed, faithful, monogamous love – which is a great thing which ought to be welcomed and celebrated.
I very much like the “bright line” thought experiment. Surely a committed same sex couple who live together ought to naturally express their love by kissing, holding hands, cuddling etc.
Barbara: this is a good objection. Gestating thoughts from me: I consider it stonewalling to say that same-sex relationships minus genital acts are mere friendships that are therefore acceptably innocuous. This is because I think that, in general, arguments against same-sex acts really amount to arguments for the maintenance of gender norms. I.e. natural law arguments about peverted faculties are really arguments about perverted masculine potency, which is why female same-sex acts aren’t mentioned much, because women are for f****** and their choice to engage in same sex acts doesn’t make them unavailable for male gratification, as Katie mentioned. Whereas man must choose to exercise his potency, women’s potency is unaffected by same sex acts. I suspect that, when people use arguments against same-sex sexual acts, they are objecting to someone acting in such a way as to subvert gender norms. If you think of it this way, Fr John’s objection makes a lot of sense, especially if he had lesbians in mind. According to the gender norms contained in natural law arguments about genital usage, It is inconceivable that women could actually say no to male potency, so lesbian relationships are first ‘just friendship’ until she makes clear that she is really unavailable. Now THAT thought is really threatening, and any lesbian could tell you that many men simply deny that a woman is unavailable for all men. Most men, including Father John, react with incredulity rather than violence because they are not violent people. In the case of gay male relationships, I bet many people would still see the relationship threatening minus the same-sex acts, seeing it as a significant act of rebellion that is often punished with violence because men perceive it as betrayal. Gender norms are being enforced here by this stonewalling.
Amy, Orthodox Nuns say “no” to “male potency”, and no one objects to them all living in a community together. In fact, they are highly regarded. I have the relics of an Orthodox nun-martyr on my altar, and without them, I could not celebrate the liturgy.
And yet, they are also seen as the ultimate non-sexed persons. Orthodoxy has struggled with how to view the sexual potency of women. We do have a thread in our tradition that views them as almost-men, eradicating any attractiveness to men at all. Further, holiness is often seen as unattainable unless a woman is a virgin or rededicated virgin. This is not the same for men.
I don’t agree with all of what Amy says, though I think she is right on that gay men get a very different reception in our church than lesbians. But that is yet another post.
Nonsense. The Nun-Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth is one of the finest examples of womanhood that has ever walked the face of the earth:
I named my first daughter after her.
Citing the example of one woman does not preclude what I have said at all. I am glad you named your daughter after such an amazing woman! Regarding many other women, I recommend you read any of Sr. Nonna Harrison’s articles. They tell a broader story than just that of Elizabeth Fyodorovna.
The Virgin Mary is given some attention in our Tradition, and she never had a sexual relationship with a man… and we not only emphasize that point, but we constantly sing about her feminine attributes.
There are also countless examples of women martyrs who are spoken of as being beautiful women, and who were martyred precisely because they said “no to male potency”.
And my younger daughter is named for one of the better known examples of such women: http://oca.org/saints/lives/2013/11/24/103382-greatmartyr-catherine-of-alexandria
But we could go on and on with examples of women like this. So the idea that for Orthodox men it is inconceivable that a woman would “say no to male potency” is simple nonsense.
How does it happen that an uncle could be very close to his niece, but the moment sex enters the relationship it turns into something completely evil and degraded in the course of a few minutes?
Again, this comment seeks to compare homosexuality to an action which is sin on its own merit. Please either stay with the question of same-sex relationships and what makes them inherently evil (your position) or a possible vehicle for theosis (my position).
Maria, you are begging the question, because according to Scripture, homosexual acts are sins on their own merits too. And note, I didn’t say anything about the niece being under age. If an adult uncle and adult niece are in a committed “partnered” relationship, on what basis do *you* say it is inherently sinful?
Yes, I am begging that precise question: is scripture making such a claim and if it is, how do we understand this claim in light of the fruits of the Spirit made present in, through, and because of same-sex relationships. I am arguing that experience influences our scriptural interpretation. Theology is the fruit of our experience of God in conversation wit the experiences and words of God’s people throughout time.
While I am not sure where “under age” came into this conversation, again, I am not going to engage in a conversation on the sinful aspects of other relationships. I am asking about same-sex relationships, and only same-sex relationships.
Fr. John, I understand that you disagree. At this point, I think you have made your disagreement clear and have as yet refused to engage with the questions asked in this post, or been wiling to discuss the experience of same-sex couples who are blessed by their relationship. Perhaps you have never witnessed such relationships. I am sorry that is the case, but if it is, please disengage from the conversation as it is not one you have the knowledge or experience necessary for compassionate engagement.
Who determines “fruits of the Spirit made present in, through, and because of same-sex relationships”? It seems to me that this is an appeal to sentiment. How are we to know that those are authentically fruits of the Spirit, and how do we know that they are not in spite of the moral failings of those engaged in those relationships? Because they say so?
Ultimately, one has to decide a priori that sex outside of one-man-one-woman marriage is okay. Once one decides that, then of course one may say what one likes about “fruits of the Spirit.” But that one may even see something good coming from people who do such things is no surprise. Good things come from sinners all the time. We are all sinners. But good things coming from sinners does not mean that they are not sinning. It means that God is shining through in spite of their sin. This is the basic dynamic of any human virtue, no matter what the temptations and sins of a given person are.
As Fr. John has pointed out, however, the objective witness of both Scripture and the subsequent history of the Church is that homosexual activity is immoral. It doesn’t matter whether it feels good, feels right, makes sense, etc. — many sins grant those feelings to those who commit them. What matters is precisely that these things have been declared immoral by God Himself.
And they are not declared immoral because God is some kind of hater, but because they are contrary to how God has designed us and are therefore detrimental to our souls. Repentance is possible, though, so no one need ever be turned away. But those who persist in their sin and refuse to repent are refusing what God is offering.
Determining the fruits of the Spirit is, I think, one of the difficulties of discernment. This discernment must include the actual experience of those who are in same-sex relationships. Rather than dismiss their will to be faithful, as if they simply don’t care to see this sinful part of themselves, I think we need to pause, listen, and reflect. Jesus and Paul’s assertion that fruits are the measure rather than law, rules or canons, is not sentiment. It is an elevation of virtuous relationships over law (but which may also need law to help guide to virtue, I am not dismissing law outright here). Further, it keeps us for idolatrous confidence on rules and laws, many of which are of our own making, and places us always in dependence on the ongoing work of God in all of creation.
Discernment is an important aspect of Orthodox tradition. Do you think everyone has it? Does it have to conform to any set standards? If so, which ones? How do you choose? Can discernment be deceived or distorted? And what do you do when the longstanding tradition of the Church discerns one thing and you personally discern its opposite?
You haven’t really defined how it works as yet, so the impression one is left with is that discernment is essentially a code word for “It seems to me.” But part of the very definition of moral chaos is everyone doing what is right in his own eyes.
What if someone does have actual experience of those in same-sex relationships and yet comes to a different conclusion than you do? Do you think that’s possible?
I do not think everyone has discernment, and think it is best done as a part of a careful community process. Thus my post, asking that a safe space be made for discernment within the community I love. While I understand that you think I am simply advocating for what I want, this is simply a way of marginalizing my thoughts, asserting that you are the righteous voice of the Church while I am just a self-interested moral relativist (which is a ludicrous claim if you have read anything else I have written). What you have primarily done at this point is demonstrate that your version of the church is decidedly unsafe and that those who dare ask questions and disagree with you are heathens.
I am 100% sure that there are same-sex relationships that are destructive, just as I am sure that there heterosexual relationships that are destructive. I am saddened by this but do not see it as a reason to reject all sexual relationships. Universalizing one set of experiences in such a way that denies very different experiences of the same types of relationships is a failure to distinguish between what is actually making a relationship a blessing or a curse. I suspect that it is often NOT the genital activity in and of itself, but rather the way in which respect, dignity, love and compassion are expressed or not. Intercourse is simply one way in which these essential qualities of relationships is shared.
No one’s calling for censorship, calling your bishop, calling your Internet provider, etc., so it’s a bit disingenuous to suggest that your voice is being marginalized. How is your opposition to the teaching of the Church not also a “marginalization”? Certainly, the Church’s traditions are becoming more and more a minority position in this world. Isn’t it now true that the average American is just fine with same-sex sexuality? If anything, that voice is being heard loud and clear. It’s the voice of unchanging truth that is being drowned out these days.
As for whether there is a “safe space” to discuss these things, bearing witness to the truth doesn’t make anyone unsafe. Indeed, sin is what is unsafe.
No one’s shutting you down (this is your blog, isn’t it?), and your position really is the majority one in this culture, so it’s not really clear to me how having people disagree and bear witness to the Church’s teaching is somehow marginalizing or shutting you down.
I do not know whether you are advocating for what you want. (Maybe you don’t want this but feel that it is nevertheless right.) I do know, that what you are advocating is a departure from the Scriptures and the whole tradition of the Church.
As for me, I am not a “righteous voice.” I’m a sinner like anyone else. But it’s clear what the Church’s voice on this subject is. That’s not going to change. It has nothing to do with “my version.” There aren’t “versions” of the Church. There is only the Church, which is the Body and Bride of Christ.
For whatever it may be worth, I have dealt pastorally with people who have same-sex attraction and have acted on that attraction. They are serious people who are seriously struggling with their sin. And they are becoming holy while doing so, multiplying objectively in the fruits of the Spirit. Telling them that they just shouldn’t bother with that any more doesn’t do them any favors. You may regard those of us who deal pastorally with this struggle and point people toward holiness as being abusive in some way, but, since experience is apparently the ultimate appeal here, I will say that that is not my experience nor theirs.
And when you have two sets of experiences that do not point in the same moral direction, you have to have some objective way to judge between them. This is one of the reasons we have the reliable tradition of the Church, because what I think and feel aren’t that important to my salvation. What I must do is, even if I don’t like it.
Apparently, you did not read Fr. John’s posts very well as he is precisely asking for my parish, priest, and bishop. I also don’t believe I said I was being marginalized. What is happening is a refusal to address the actual questions I posited in my blog. What would you do if you had a couple of the same-sex whose relationship itself contributed to “multiplying objectively in the fruits of the Spirit”? How would you respond to them? Are you able and willing to see such a thing?
I also have not said that pastors who point same-sex persons toward holiness (defined, in your case I think, by celibacy) are abusive. I do not think that all same-sex inclined persons should be in relationships, any more than I think that heterosexuals should. Each person must discern, in concert with others, how they are to grow more into the likeness of God.
“Are you able and willing to see such a thing?”
I might likewise ask whether you are able and willing to see that the Church has actually always been right about this. To me, the argument you present here could apply exactly to any number of different situations. For example:
“What happens if a woman who has had an abortion shows how wonderful and beautiful and fulfilling her life has been since she had the abortion, and shows how clearly she never could have had that if she had not had the abortion, and also shows how she has been able to do so much good because she is unencumbered by that child? Are you able and willing to see such a thing?”
The fundamental question is still be dismissed: Is this right or wrong? The truth value of such a question is independent of how anyone feels about it, even if the feelings they have seem to them to be beautiful, positive, peaceful, fulfilling, etc.
As for what I would do if a same-sex pair came to my church and wanted to participate fully in church life, I would sit down and have a long talk with them.
Anyway, as for Fr. John’s questions about who your priest or bishop are, I did indeed read them, and it’s clear he wanted to know who was taking the stance that you claimed they were. He wasn’t trying to censor you. No fair context-switching.
Clearly, I am not yet convinced that it was, is and will be always wrong or that the Church has even entertained the conversation long enough to come to an opinion about this. Again, I do not believe that what is referred to in scripture or canon is the kind of relationship we are talking about today. My conviction that this conversation is important is not based on sentiment, but what I and others consider the presence of the fruits of the Spirit. This is the standard given to my by scripture and I cannot make these fruits go away or seem wrong just because you repeat that “the Church has always been right” about something I don’t think it has actually considered.
We are simply going to disagree on this I think. You are not going to convince me that the Church has always been right without engaging in honest conversations with same-sex persons that allow their experience of God’s work in their life to be recognized. Yet because you enter the conversation with the conviction that such a relationship is inherently wrong, such a conversation would be difficult for them to have. I am glad that at least you are willing to talk with them. I hope that you will be able to listen as well.
Presuppositions and principles are pretty important things, no? You enter such conversations, it seems, with the conviction that such relationships are inherently right. So who is right?
On the one hand, we have the universal witness of the Church — not only in history, but also in the present. It is not as if Church leaders are sitting around without idea that this discussion is occurring. And they are saying again and again that homosexual behavior will not be blessed by the Church, that it is fundamentally against God’s design. This is the open teaching of the Church. You can argue that perhaps the Church has never talked about all this before (though I think you are wrong), but it is very tough to argue that the Church isn’t talking about this now. And the message is loud and clear. Every time synods and gatherings of bishops have gotten together and solemnly spoken on this issue, they say the same thing.
On the other hand, we have the personal opinions of those whose anthropology, theology and ethics have their sources outside the Orthodox Church, and therefore come to the conclusion that they must stand in judgment of Orthodoxy rather than be obedient to the Church’s teaching.
Why should the latter and not the former be believed? Because they say so? That’s essentially what I’m getting here.
Fr. Andrew, I hardly expect this post to provide a conclusive argument for same sex relationships. What I am asking is whether the the experience of same-sex coulples indicates the presence of God in such relationships, if theosis is occuring in and through those relationships, and if so, how might that cause us to revisit scripture, the church fathers can canons which a set of questions that I see no evidence have ever been asked. I simply do not agree that synods and gatherings of bishops have gathered and solemnly spoken on these issues in a manner that takes into account the work of God in such relationships. If they had, arguments such as have been expressed on this page, arguments which obsess over genital activity, primarily male genital activity, would not be the primary tools of dispute. Such arguments do not reflect in any way the experience of many (not all) same-sex relationships. This is not to say that the bishops would reach my conclusions. But at the very least, a pastorally concerned episcopate would not present such demeaning and shallow arguments about men and women of God.
Further, since this post is not meant to be a complete argument, it does not delve into arguments regarding how we interpret scripture, how Orthodox anthropology might support such relationships, or what our theology and ethics in general might have to say in light of the questions asked in this post. So, your assertion that what is expressed here is merely “personal opinion” sourced from “outside the Orthodox Church” is simply that, an assertion. Theological, scriptural and ethical arguments must be made. As Orthodox theology has always done, these arguments must be made in conversation with the insights of science, philosophy, etc., and in light of the experience of the people of God.
My main problem with the response shared by you, Frs. Hans and John is that rather than engage with the questions asked you reject their very asking based on particular hermeneutics. Your method precludes any question-asking, you resist any kind of openness to considering something that does not fit within a particular model. And then, you invite us out of your circle. This is your choice, but it is not the choice of all Orthodox, or all Christians.
Ultimately, such proposals as I suggest will be accepted if and only if we, as a community over time, see that God is working within and through the relational context of same-sex love, intimacy and affection. That is the primary goal of any relationship, and action, any way of being: synergia with God. If this is not evident then the opinions in this post will be rejected.
At this point, I think neither you nor I are saying anything that has not be repeated over and over again on this page. Unless you post something significantly new to what has already been said, no further posts by you will be approved. You have made your point.
“Your method precludes any question-asking, you resist any kind of openness to considering something that does not fit within a particular model. And then, you invite us out of your circle.”
But none of that is actually true. None of us has said not to talk about this, not to ask questions, etc. And none of us has invited anyone out of any circles, either.
If anything, your refusal to engage with these more foundational questions could be characterized in the manner that you have characterized the clergy who have commented here. You preclude asking foundational questions, describing them as essentially irrelevant, not the point of this post, etc. You preclude the possibility that the Church’s voice is indeed one on these issues, essentially saying that anyone who does not see things your way is closed-minded, inexperienced, incapable of understanding, etc. And then you not only are inviting someone out of a circle but are actually the one shutting down conversation from respectful contributors.
Based on your comment, I do not expect you to publish this one, but at least I hope you will read it and consider that you are literally engaging in the behavior you’ve accused us of.
I have not said, and do not think, that foundational questions are irrelevant. As a matter of fact, the post to which you just replied states that I think further work needs to be done in these areas. Some of this work I will expand upon in subsequent posts, some I will leave to experts in the pertinent areas. I have even posted links to material, none of which has been responded to because it does not fit the the limited range of “respectable scholars”. Fr. Hans has made clear that he is not even interested in reading this material. Further, I have never once suggested that any of the priests engaging in this conversation are heathens, that they would be happier in some other ecclesial communion. So, I have not literally engaged in the behavior I addressed above.
What I repeatedly refuse to do is equate your voices with the Church, though I have acknowledged that your voices reflect strands that appear within the Church. More importantly, I have also not claimed that the Church says that same-sex relationships are acceptable. I have asked that the current theologians and pastors of the Church witness the ways in which gays and lesbians are treated, and have claimed that such treatment is the result of our current theology, and that perhaps we should revisit this theology and practice in light of the damage this theology is doing in the lives of real people.
You have made clear that based on your interpretation of scripture and tradition that you will engage in no such examination. Fine. That is your prerogative. If you do not want to be a part of this conversation as I have asked others to be a part of it, then please don’t. Simply because you do not think such a conversation should happen, and simply because you repeatedly speak as ‘the Church’ does not mean I agree.
BTW, just as an addendum, the questions asked by a few here (though not me), e.g., “Why not become an Episcopalian?” is really a fair one. It’s not an invitation to leave, but a genuine question. Or at least I read it that way.
To put it another way: If someone really is opposed to the Orthodox tradition, its history and its current leadership, even going so far as to oppose saints like John Chrysostom, what is it about Orthodoxy that would make one want to stay? Why try to change it?
It’s a good question.
I think your reading of Fr. Hans is overly generous. As is your reading of Craig “Tut” Tuttle’s remarks. I have stated, repeatedly, why I am not inclined to become an Episcopalian. That does not mean that at some point I won’t, but such a decision has larger meaning to me that this issue alone. Unlike you, I did not choose into Orthodoxy from another tradition. This is my home and I would like to stay in my home.
As to opposing some of the things said by an Orthodox saint, the belief that every saint says the same thing and every saint agrees with every other saints sayings is simply false. Even Chyrsostom’s comments change over time. I am aware that Chrysostom is the darling of those who elevate ‘traditional’ family structures and gender complimentarity to central Christian tenants. His sermons provide much fodder for such beliefs. But he is hardly uniform on this subject (though he does appear to be uniform in his condemnation of what he understands as “homosexuality” – no disagreement there). Please, read Karras and Harrison.
The gold standard for Christians in terms of how we ought to treat those whom we even consider serious sinners is that Jesus invited Judas to the last supper. And the others who at the last supper were arguing about who was going to be the leader (ie seeking power for themselves). And Peter who was about to deny 3 times that he even knew Jesus. Many patristic fathers (eg St Augustine) say that Jesus even gave Judas the Holy Eucharist.
The challenge for the Church is to treat others the way Jesus did and does. That’s often tough and will require us to confront narrow minded institutional legalism as Jesus did.
Maria, thank you for this thoughtful, courageous, and challenging piece. It will, as is to be expected, fall on many deaf ears as well as provoke aggression. However, it appears from some of the discussions I am observing online that there have also been thoughtful pondering. Whether we like it or not, it is upon people who consider themselves members of the Church to face the reality of our actions and the harm that we are collectively perpetrating upon our brothers and sisters. Those who cast stones are forgetting that the stipulation for the right to do so is their own complete sinlessness. It appears that institutionally we have succeeded in creating a system of “justifiable condemnation” much like the Pharisees of old. Shrouding it in piety and selective exegesis does not, however, make it any less pharisaic…
Thank you Inga. I am glad that it is provoking thought somewhere. I hope that though bears fruit in greater mercy and compassion for those who would like to be able to share their lives more honestly and fully with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Inga, I am opposed to stoning homosexuals or women caught in adultery. However, with Christ, I must say “Go and sin no more.” And I cannot say “Go ahead! It is a sin no more!” And if you wish to accuse someone of engaging in selective exegesis… please make an argument to that effect, with specific examples.
Selective exegesis consists of insisting, against all reason, historical evidence, as well as the spirit of patristic tradition, that a particular text in the Scripture describes ALL reality, at ALL times and societies. Although a lot of work remains to be done in the realm of history and cultural anthropology, we have enough information to be able to state that contemporary knowledge of human sexuality is quite different from the time and place of St. Paul, St. John Chrysostom, or the authors of the Old Testament. Regarding the Old Testament, the strictly sexual interpretation of the “sin of Sodom” does not, according to Talmudic scholarship, appear until the Hellenic period in Israel’s history. Neither Isaiah nor Ezekiel make this conjecture; the sin of Sodom until that period is understood as the sin of stone-heartedness and disdain for God. Especially in Ezekiel, in fact, the sexual imagery is all bound to Jerusalem, not to Sodom. This is only one, albeit the most obvious, example.
Inga, I don’t think you quite understand what exegesis entails. As for Sodom, I have not mentioned that text, though the Fathers do point out that the sin of homosexuality was significant… which the account in Genesis certainly suggests. But the primary texts regarding homosexuality are the texts in Leviticus18:22 and 20:13; and then Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. I have of course never suggested that any text describes “ALL reality”, but these text do cover all homosexuality in their condemnation of homosexual sex acts, and on that point the Fathers, and Canons are in clear agreement.
Now if, contrary to the teachings of the Church, you deny the inspiration of Scripture, and believe the Bible to be merely a human book expressing only the opinions of the authors, then you might be justified in dismissing it as you are. However, you would also need to dismiss the Orthodox Church, because the two go hand in hand. You don’t get to call yourself an Orthodox Christian and blow off the Scriptures at the same time.
Father John, I refuse to engage with the discussion of who “gets to call oneself an Orthodox Christian” since it is a mere name-calling. Inevitably, this labeling, as well as the exhortation to “get thee to the Episcopalians” originates with “culture war” converts from Protestant denominations (with a fairly insignificant percentage of others) who are quite fond of lecturing the Orthodox on “proper” Orthodoxy. It is mean and meaningless, and unworthy of engagement.
Your response regarding scriptural texts in question demonstrates a philosophical difference of perception which Maria refers to in her comment at the end of this discussion. Literal reading of the Scripture, although present in Orthodoxy, is nevertheless alien to it, alien to our entire patristic tradition. Moreover, to suggest that the texts you refer to “cover all homosexuality” is incorrect not only in how it relates to contemporary knowledge of human sexuality, but also to the times in which those texts were written, since they refer to very specific understanding of human sexual behavior: licentiousness of the heterosexuals who cross into same-sex acts.
However, since you are employing the “I have made my opinion, do not confuse me with facts” attitude in this matter, I do not think that this conversation has a constructive purpose. Have a good Thanksgiving.
Inga, you are quite mistaken. If you read St. John Chrysostom’s homilies, you find he normally sticks to the historical meaning of the text, and only occasionally speaks of allegorical interpretations. Typological interpretations are a bit more common. But his focus is mostly on the moral implications of the text. And he is considered one of the greatest Orthodox exegetes ever.
Chrysostom is indeed one of our most literal biblical exegetes. I am sure that is why you consider him one of the greatest exegetes ever. I think he is a fabulous preacher (for which he is named). I am less persuaded by his exegesis even though I often agree with it. For instance, his homilies on poverty – excellent preaching and conclusions…dubious exegesis. No, I am not going to further discuss this statement.
…and as a P.S., to those among us who seem to be particularly obsessed with technicalities: it seems to me that if we are allowing our soteriology to be bound to our genitals, we are completely and hopelessly lost.
But isn’t that what pro-homosexualist religion actually is? The absolutized privileging of sexuality in human identity that followed after Freud (“discredited” though he may be) does not permit some to see that life can indeed be holy, “fulfilling” (whatever that means), and fully authentic without having sex. And because someone feels attracted to persons of the same sex, then they must have sexual experiences with them in order to be a whole person. That’s the anthropology that undergirds this approach.
Or, you might say, soteriology is bound to the genitals.
Father Stephen, forgive me for being so blunt, but this argument is simply dishonest. No one questions the heterosexuals’ “right” (a word fully applicable in this context) to sexual intimacy with each other provided it is “lawful” within the understanding of the Church. Moreover, it is not made a condition of our anthropology. Outside of the bounds of the “natural law”, which is theologically alien to Orthodoxy and can even be deemed heretical since it bounds humanity to nature and essentially denies theothis, thereby questioning the very foundation of our faith. So why is this standard applied to homosexuals?
The same standard is applied to everyone. not just to people who feel a certain way. It is wrong for everyone to engage in sexual acts outside one-man-one-woman marriage.
The standards don’t change just because someone would like to have different standards while some people are okay with them.
In any event, my comment wasn’t dishonest at all. The argument being put forward here really is based on an anthropology in which sex is not only a “right” but an absolute necessity. This is why, of course, the folks who put this argument forward so often scoff at celibacy, virginity and monasticism, because there must be something wrong with people whose lives don’t include sex.
If having sexual relations is not actually at the heart of this anthropology, then why the appeal to sexual orientation as though it were a critical element of human nature? Even in your comment here, you make reference to “homosexuals” as though that were somehow an ontological category.
(BTW, “Stephen” is my middle name.)
When sex is collapsed into gender, same-sex desire becomes essentialized and Orthodox anthropology changes. The differences between the waste canal and birth canal become a matter of moral indifference.
But Orthodoxy anthropology incorporates biological distinctiveness. “God created man, male and female He created them” repudiates the rather flippant dismissal we are “allowing our soteriology to be bound to our genitals.” Assertions of this kind don’t incorporate the moral tradition and the anthropology it reveals. it argues from a different premise, with ideas more in common with the ideas of Mary Daly than the Orthodoxy that it presumes to instruct.
In truth, soteriology is tied to the body. Jesus was physically crucified. He arose bodily. A person’s moral orientation (not sexual orientation) and behavior are critical in appropriating the salvation Christ offers, and the struggle with chastity is a big part of that, especially for men.
Some will argue that the person struggling with same-sex desire has the same struggle, and indeed he does but it does not incorporate the collapse of sex into gender that the author of the piece above proposes. There is no room in Orthodox anthropology for ideas that a man is to sexually bond with another man as he is with a woman (or vice-versa). Sodomy and vaginal intercourse are radically different things even within the rhetorical constructions of family and commitment so popular here.
Same-sex friendships are a necessary part of human life and development. Men need men, women need women. Defining those relationships in sexual/genital terms however is a particular malady of the modern age. Complaining that soteriology is bound to the genitals as a way to minimize biological distinctiveness has instead the perverse effect of elevating genital thinking. It becomes the criteria by which one’s compassion for the neighbor is measured.
First, I would like to say clearly that all references to anal sex will be deleted. This seems to be a particular concern of Fr. John and Fr. Hans. In case you failed to notice, this is a blog by WOMEN in theology. Those of us in heterosexual relationships may or may not engage in this form of sexual activity. Those of us in same-sex relationships are quite obviously not having penises inserted anywhere. Those of us who are celibate are also not engaged in this activity. In short, the proportion of participants in this blog who might be accused of failing to understanding the difference between a waste canal and a birth canal is rather low. As a matter of fact, I suspect we are all acutely aware of the difference as we actually have birth canals. If you really would like to explore this activity in relation to homosexuality, I suggest you read Mark Jordan’s The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology.
I am confused about your argument that sex (by which I assume you mean intercourse), collapsed into gender (which you do not define) leads to an essentializing (not sure what you mean by that either) of same-sex desire.
I agree with you that biological distinctiveness is important. I am not a feminist who believes in the eradication of difference. Rather, I think that difference is crucial. I just don’t stop at a difference of two.
With Zizioulas, I believe that each person is utterly unique, and cannot be reduced to their biological sex. I also think that biological sex is not quite as binary as we have assumed. Gender, which I define as the way in which we express characteristics and qualities which are often associated with a particular biological sex, is subject to even more diversity than biological sex, and cannot be reduced to it. You can read about this in both of my articles currently posted here: https://independent.academia.edu/MariaMcDowell.
So, I see same-sex relationships not as a collapse into essentialism, but an affirmation that loving and committed relationships are not defined by gender and biological sex, and that “correct” or “natural” intercourse is not THE defining factor in such relationships (though it is important). I would love it if we stopped engaging in the exclusively “genital thinking” which seems to be the primary focus of yourself and Fr. Hands, and instead ask faithful same-sex couples how there relationship is “a vehicle for transformation into the likeness of God,” how they have “seen themselves become more virtuous, more neighborly, more joyful, more hopeful, more loving through their” relationships.
Theosis is THE goal of the Christian life. As Christians, we must encourage those places where it happens even if it is out of our own experience or comfort zone. Even if it challenges our interpretation of Scripture. If you cannot see theosis in the lives of gay men and women then perhaps you should be silent and let them speak for themselves without arguing “endlessly over proof-texts from scripture or the tradition, wielding verses and canons and quotations like scalpels cutting out a cancer, or swords lopping off limbs.”
“. . . but a man (or woman) hears, what he wants to hear… and disregards the rest.”
It seems to me the priests have made very effective and reasonable arguments in their posts here… but rather than countering their points with effective and reasonable counterpoints… the author and others have simply replied, “But that doesn’t FEEL right to me.”
Always good to have the interpretive bite Simon and Garfunkle. However, I don’t believe I have used the phrase “But that doesn’t FEEL right to me.” You may not like my arguments, but they are hardly simply about feeling (though I do not discount the importance of feeling and emotion as legitimate theological sources). Rather, I am continually pointing to the need to consider the fruits of the Spirit which result from same-sex relationships and how that (biblical, need I point this out again) criteria might shift our assumptions about homosexuality in general. I do not regard faith, hope, love, joy, compassion as simply feelings, but ways of virtuously being in relationship to self, neighbor and God that are constitutive of being deified persons.
I am still waiting for the articulation of “received anthropology” which takes into account the wealth of human knowledge and experience as is available today – not at the time of Aristotle or St. Gregory of Nyssa. “Male and female He created them” does not in any manner translate into the codification of “their” sexual attractions. Moreover, we are compelled to qualify this sentence, unless you posit that hermaphrodites and people with all manner of gender variations are not human. The great variety of gender as well as variety of sexual attraction is one the whole quite new to human knowledge. It is imperative upon the Church to take this knowledge into consideration in every manner in which it challenges our preconceived notions. To state “There is no room in Orthodox anthropology for ideas that a man is to sexually bond with another man as he is with a woman (or vice-versa).” is intellectually dishonest at the very least. And please do not confuse matters by bringing the humanity of Jesus into this argument. There has been all manner of heresy in the life of the Church, including those who maintained that since Jesus was male, only males are fully saved, save for the Theotokos, and she only by the special dispensation of Christ (I have just recently read a completely wacky discussion in Russian to that effect streaming from the subject of Mt. Athos and female exclusion).
II also find it quite disgusting (or, perhaps, symptomatic) that clergy takes such sick interest in various forms of human intimacy. It is a widespread disease of Christian pastoral care, but it should neither be condoned or made part of the theological discourse.
Sex refers to biological particularity (male/female), gender refers to the social constructs built around that particularity. When sex is collapsed into gender however, then the significance of the biological particularities disappear. Male and female particularities are perceived only as social constructs and thus become malleable (transgenderism), and the material grounding of the human person (the body) loses all moral significance.
This is why behaviors like sodomy enter the discussion and why the prohibitions against discussing it arise. If the body has moral significance, then the functions of the body are view differently; EDIT MADE::TEXT DELETED.
Further, it is not “same-sex relationships” that become essentialized, but same sex desire. If same-sex desire is essential to being, a fundamental constituent of self-identity, then what the moral tradition terms a passion is elevated to an anthropological category. The larger culture calls it “sexual orientation.”
None of your arguments are in accord with the received tradition of course and you don’t really wrestle with the tradition on its own terms.. You state above that you reject the biological binaries which makes you a post-modernist. This is couched in the language of benevolence that makes the implicit argument that the rejection of post-modern thought on sex and gender is tantamount rejection of the person who experience same-sex desire.
My question is: Instead of trying to Episcopalianize the Orthodox Church, why not just become an Episcopalian? Your ideas would require a wholesale revision of the moral tradition and, frankly, that is not going to happen. If it did the Church would cease being the Church. It will wither on the vine and eventually disappear, and deservedly so.
I will refer you, again, to my articles on https://independent.academia.edu/MariaMcDowell which argue, from tradition, that our theological anthropology is not as neatly binary as as you posit. Your use of “received tradition” belies that anthropology is not an are where Orthodox theology has reached a definitive consensus. Even scholars who do not agree with my conclusions here cede this point. Your biological functionalism flies directly in the face of the work of theologians such as Zizioulas, Behr, Ware, Behr-Sigel, Clement, Lossky, Harrison, Karras…. This does not mean they agree with me regarding same-sex relationships. But they also do not agree that biology is as determinative of function/action/gift as do you.
Your comments about desire and self-identity, passion and anthropology are interesting. Desire, rightly ordered, is indeed a part of what it is to be more fully human. I will think on this.
I have addressed the question of being Episcopalian. I do not need to do so again.
I am disappointed in Fr. Hans’ response and suggestion that if one questions what some believe to be the Orthodox teaching on a particular topic that they should just decamp and “just become an Episcopalian” and/or be accused of “trying to Episcopalianize the Orthodox Church” as if how we understand homosexuality is the only, or even the main, thing that divides these two bodies of Christianity. Those suggestions might make some “feel better” as then we don’t have to honestly engage in dialogue, but are hardly a pastoral response to the issue. There are many overlapping issues here that can (and perhaps, should) be discussed. (Note: I did not say that anyone will necessarily convince anyone else of their position, but I do believe if something is True, it will hold up to our questions.):
I’m sure there are other things to discuss, but the points above are a place to start. We are a church that takes its history and patristic inheritance seriously. But, as was drummed into us at seminary, we are to acquire the “mind of the fathers” not just quote them (often out of context.) In addition to being pastors, they were some of the most educated people of their day—well versed in philosophy, science, etc.—and used that education to elucidate and further understand the revelation of God given to them. I believe that our call is to do likewise. (Ok. Enough pontificating for one night… I hope we can continue to challenge each other, but in faith and love.)
“Biological functionalism?” Is this serious? Look, post-modern thinking on sex and gender dissolves biological particularity completely. Yet the moral tradition says homosexual activity is a sin. These two points cannot be reconciled unless the definition of what constitutes sin changes, that is, social constructs are created wherein same-sex genital behavior finds approval in one context but not the next. As I read it that is your mission. Moral virtues of the received tradition are to be recontextualized to affirm relationships that the same tradition disallows.
Ever notice how the moral tradition is to be affirmed when it is helpful to the mission and then dismissed as anachronistic when it is not?
It’s a far cry from saying Orthodox anthropology needs more development (a point I agree with actually) to arguing that the silence in areas implies acceptance of post-modernist thought on sex and gender, particularly homosexuality. The opinions of Ware, Lossky, and the others you cite make no real difference regarding this point — if they support your ideas to the degree you imply, which I doubt they really do. If, by chance, those authorities do indeed agree with your view on sex and gender, then they should be ignored.
These ideas you present are not new. I’ve read Mary Daly, Sallie McFague, the whole crew (long story). Feminism is Marxist class struggle applied to sex and gender and it invariably leads to the homosexualization of the church and culture. When that happens churches collapse. The Episcopalian Church is Exhibit A, the next in line will be the Lutheran Church (ELCA).
I glanced through your articles and it all gets so tiresome — women priests, the whole nine yards, When those ideas were first suggested they were new and in some ways interesting but it became clear that the Marxist praxis underlying the whole enterprise that saw everything in terms of power relationships did not really value history, tradition, and culture. Well, we’ve seen the fruit of that revolt against hierarchy (what do you call it kyriarchy or something like that?). It it is not good.
There is no reason why anyone should sit by and watch Orthodoxy become Episcopalianized. Brush off the moral approbations of the critics, read the Fathers, and then ponder the ideas of some of our modern traditionalists like Russel Kirk. Nothing like some moral sobriety and intellectual clarity to help nourish the soul.
“If, by chance, those authorities do indeed agree with your view on sex and gender, then they should be ignored.”
So, nothing can convince you. Then you have said your piece. Heaven forbid you continue to tire yourself out by reading someone who is (though she has not self-identified as such) a post-modernist, who is no different than Mary Daly and Sally McFague (both of whom I respect but actually differ from considerably), and who engages in Marxist praxis (seriously?).
I will indeed continue to read the Fathers, though I will not add Russel Kirk to the mix. I prefer Hannah Arendt, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Walzer, and even John Rawls if I am going to read political theory.
Rejecting biological binaries does not necessary make one a post modernist. The Jewish Talmud, written in antiquity over 1500 years ago, has extensive discussion of persons who do not fit into the binary categories of male and female. God has so constructed the world.
Hi. I’m an Orthodox Christian male and I want to open by saying that I appreciate your writing this. I do believe and believe that the Church teaches that same-sex sexual acts are wrong and sinful, and I presume that is because they are in some sense contrary to a sanctified life growing closer in likeness to Christ. However, I think that the issue of how to handle same-sex attraction is a serious one and your insights into how hurtful people can be to same-sex couples is eye-opening; while it seems right for a priest to deny the Eucharist to a parishioner who is sexually active (even if monogamous) with someone of the same gender, it is horrifying to me to hear of the priest then requesting they leave the parish, in a sense trying to kick them out of the Church.
I can see a man and man or a woman and woman loving each other romantically but abstaining from sexual acts, and that being their struggle. In the lives of the saints, we have heterosexual couples who decide to ‘live as brother and sister’ (and sometimes after having had children, so it is not always a case of one wanting to be a monk but forced into marriage, but sometimes of a sexually active couple deciding (or called) to abstain to further focus on closeness to Christ.) I admit I don’t understand why a devoted, monogamous, and sexually active homosexual couple would differ salvifically from a similar heterosexual couple–yet I take on confidence in Church Tradition and Scripture that such acts are sinful and should be avoided.
You wrote, “Orthodoxy is full of wise same-sex oriented individuals who have spent decades loving God, their partners and the Orthodox Church, often to their great suffering. The reality is that for these women and men their life in community is often dependent on the whim of a priest and the willingness of their friends to defend them when necessary.”
Can you cite some examples? Of course I am not asking you to ‘out’ anyone, but are there any respected scholars, theologians, ascetics, or others from the history of Church who had a non-celibate same-sex relationship? (Or, if I misunderstood your statement, please clarify. I do understand that “loving… their partners” does not necessarily mean engaging in sexual acts, but from the context I gathered that was what you meant.)
Dear John, thank you for your kind disagreement. I was referring to Orthodox living today. I have shared some of their stories. Others will have to share their own, or, if the would like, can share anonymously through me by contacting me directly. I do not speculate about relationships in the past since I simply do not think we can know.
I’m not sure how the Orthodox read scripture, but in the Catholic Church we read sacred scripture as the word of God mediated thru the limited theology and worldview of the human author. So our first question on St Paul on homosexuality is to ask to what extent his writings are conditioned by Jewish social attitudes of the time.
It is very significant that scripture records Jesus and God saying nothing at all about homosexual acts.
Leviticus is basically purity code laws about remaining distinct from surrounding cultures; those prohibitions have long since been abrogated.
In short, the older readIngs of these passages are no longer very convincing to modern exegetes reading in the Catholic understanding of scripture.
For the most part, Orthodox reading of scripture tends to be analogical and metaphorical rather than literal, though that depends on the particular theologian and text. The strictly literal read that is being recommended by Frs John, Hans and Andrew is not as common either historically or in the present, though it is not unknown. I believe each of these men comes from a formerly conservative Protestant background which shares their hermeneutical framework.
Maria, please cite one Orthodox Christian Father, or saint that ever interpreted the passages regarding homosexuality in way that did not take them in their literal sense. Also, taking passages in an allegorical, typological, anagogical, or tropological sense, does not exclude the literal sense, except in those instances in which a literal interpretation is clearly improper (for example, when you find an allegory in scripture, or a figurative expression).
By this are you eliminating all but the Fathers and saints from “respectable” scripture scholars? The more you narrow your definition, the more likely you are to ensure the success of your argument. It is the ongoing tradition of Orthodox theology to converse with and be shaped by contemporary theory, including science, philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc. So, by engaging in dialogue with contemporary insights, I am consistent with the practice of Orthodox theology.
I believe I did mention that literal interpretations ARE a part of Orthodox scriptural hermeneutics, but are not as common as the impression that three of you are giving in this discussion. Topics beyond homosexuality have been brought up, such as gender, exclusion from the eucharist, notions of what makes the eucharist a danger to recipients, etc. Not all of these are addressed in the literal manner reflected in this conversation. For further discussion of this point, you may either read my articles (as tedious as Fr. Hans finds them, so sorry for sleepers!) or wait for subsequent posts that may address them.
Maria, I don’t think you are really confused between our discussion of what reputable Biblical scholars say about the meaning of Arsenokoitai, and my response to your claim that the literal meaning of the text of Scripture is given secondary importance by the Orthodox Tradition. The fact is, you cannot cite a single example of a Father or Saint of the church who applied an allegorical interpretation to the passages we are discussing. The universal interpretation of these passages is and always has been that any homosexual sex is forbidden… that cannot be seriously disputed.
And so any scholar that does so is not serious, precluding your need to engage with them other than to remind them that they are not serious. Yes, I understand you.
Christ never said anything about incestuous relationships, so far as is recorded in the Gospels. So does that mean we can ignore what it says about them in Leviticus, or ignore what St. Paul said about the man living with his step mother in 1st Corinthians? No. The purpose of the Gospels were not to recapitulate the moral law… however Christ did affirm it, and in fact raised to a higher level. He no where relaxed it.
Well, except for food and circumcision… But I suppose you don’t consider that a part of the “moral law.”
The reality is that Christ did relax the purity code, we are now allowed to eat pork, shellfish etc which were prohibited in Leviticus. Much of Christ’s conflicts with the scribes, pharisees and Sadducees were over their narrow minded and oppressive interpretation of Torah.
To raise the moral code to a higher level sometimes means relaxing older prohibitions when there are solid theological reasons to do so (eg in the Catholic tradition, allowing interest on loans, allowing Natural Family Planning).
It seems to me that a moral choice is a sin if it is damaging to the human person. Incest with children certainly is damaging to the children. Allowing cousins to marry may not be. Consenting sexual relations between committed same sex couples does not seem to be and they can certainly be genuine expressions of mutual love (although I would have health and safety reservations about certain kinds of sexual relations).
The Dominican nun who taught me theology said that the sign of good theology is if it is life giving, does it liberate people and lead to a more loving life. It is clear that the oppression of homosexuals fostered by anti-homosexual theologies has done tremendous damage, even driving some of suicide. That is a clear sign that those theologies have gone seriously astray.
In St Paul’s day, male homosexual relations in the Greek and Roman society seem to have often been pedophilia or owners with slaves were there is a very definite power imbalance and a very great risk of exploitation. That is a completely different moral category to committed same sex couples today.
It was only in the 1820’s that science discovered that conception occurs between ovum and sperm The ancients were unaware of the female egg and thought that the sperm was literally a seed planted in the nutrient soil of the womb. Hence, the male sperm was considered a fully potential human person, just as Catholic theology considers a fertilised egg at conception but before implantation in the womb lining. Hence, “spilling seed” on the ground or in places outside the womb was considered akin to abortion.
Scientific understanding has to be factored into interpretation of scripture and moral theology.
In the Catholic tradition, we regard the Historical Critical Method as essential for determining what the human author of sacred scripture meant by what they wrote.
Maria, of course the kosher laws and circumcision were part of the Old Testament ceremonial law that the New Testament specifically states no longer applies. But even in the Old Testament, ceremonial laws were things that the Israelites were expected to adhere, but they were never expected of non-Israelites. God never pronounced judgment on the heathen because they violated the Old Testament ceremonial law, and ate shrimp; He did pronounce judgment on the heathen for violating the moral law of God that even they should have been aware of – which would include proscriptions against such things as the shedding of innocent blood, sexual immorality (specifically including homosexuality), abusing the poor and orphans, etc. (e.g., Leviticus 18:1-30 and Joel 3:19). And Leviticus 18 is where we find the ban on homosexual sex, and are specifically told that God did judge the heathen because they engaged in the sins discussed in that chapter.
Chris, you are playing games with words. Kosher laws were not moral laws. God never judged the heathen for eating shrimp. He did judge them for sexual immorality and shedding innocent blood.
Christ never lowered any moral standard of the Old Testament, but he did raise them, specifically when it comes to sexual sins. He did not mention homosexuality, but neither did he mention incest.
On what basis would you say that the man who was living with his step mother in 1 Corinthians was sinning? If his father was dead, and if he and his step mother had “partnered” and “loved each other”, on what grounds would you say it was a sin? Or would you say St. Paul was wrong on this one too?
Thanks for the link to Michael Berrigan Clark on Romans.
I certainly agree that the main point of this passage is summed up in Romans 2:1
Which seems very much inline with the point you have made in this post, and is so true of those of us who condemn homosexuals.
I take from the point made above about soteriology and genitals that we need to focus on the saving power of Christ, which is central to our faith, rather than get bogged down in judging the presumed sexual sins of others, at least some of which the Church is much less certain about than many assume, which is not central to Christian faith.
And I would add that the saving power of Christ may be working in places we least expect. As Christians, we are called to engage with God, to respond to God, to rest our faith in God.
Chris, you cannot cite a single Father of the Church who used Romans 2 to negate what St. Paul said in Romans 1. That kind of “exegesis” is not only not Orthodox, but pure sophistry, unconnected with any point St. Paul was trying to make. In 1st Corinthians 6, St. Paul makes it clear that practicing homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God, and criticizes the leaders of the Corinthian Church not having judged the man living with his step-mother.
From Fr. Hans Jacobse
Teva, the feminization of the Episcopalian Church led to its homosexualization. Its homosexualization led to its collapse. The same thing is happening to the Lutheran Church ELCA as we speak.
The arguments for the homosexualization of that once noble communion don’t differ much from yours.
There’s no need to import these ideas into Orthodoxy. Don’t drag the culture wars into the Church.
These are not “culture wars” and characterizing them as such merely serves your agenda to portray them as foreign to Orthodoxy. Yet these concerns are reflected by members of the Church, members despite your constant invitation otherwise.
You assertion that feminizing leads to homosexualization, which you consider a devastating phenomena, is profoundly insulting to the feminine, as if it too is a negative thing. I find this ironic given your insistence (in your articles) on maintaining gendered roles based biological sex. You are essentially saying that the feminine and female is more susceptible to sin. While this thread exists in the Christian tradition, it is NOT accepted as anything that could remotely be construed as the “received anthropology” of the Orthodox Church. You are importing Russell Kirk and his ilk into Orthodox theology and spreading it though pithy soundbites that utter lack any significant interaction with the church Fathers on male/female-masculine/feminine.
Again, I recommend that you educate yourself by reading Sr. Nonna Harrison, Fr. John Behr, even Paul Evdokimov (with whom I disagree but who clearly rejects anything even close to your interpretations), or, put yourself to sleep with my articles.
Further assertions of this kind will not be approved.
I am utterly and completely blown away by the idea that one Orthodox Christian would say to another, “Why don’t you just become an Episcopalian?” It’s bad enough from a layperson. Before I read the comments here, I would have considered it slander if someone had told me that a priest was saying such a thing. If you believe that the Orthodox Church is the Ark of Salvation, and that someone is in danger of falling overboard, would you pry their fingers from the rail and let them fall into the sea? For a layperson, that would be a horrifying act. For a priest, who will be held accountable by God for the salvation of those aboard, it is beyond my imagining.
I am too Charli. The speed with which disagreeable voices are invited to leave as a way of simply ending the conversation and preserving whatever notion of a pure community is held by the interlocutor is always shocking to me. Preserving the community of God by kicking people out seems quite opposite to the work of God which is constantly drawing in the most unexpected persons and groups. The righteousness of purity and confidence in having all the answers all the time is quite painful to experience.
Charli, when you have people who blow off the Scriptures, canons, fathers, and saints of the Church, they have already spiritually cut themselves off from the Church. Christ said in Matthew 18:17 that if someone “refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
Obviously, no one wants to see someone leave the Church, but if someone refuses to remain in the Church on the terms that the Church expects of its members, they are the ones making the choice to depart.
Any comments that refer to body parts, suggest that anyone should leave their current ecclesiastical home, or make demeaning suggestions directed towards any person or group will no longer be approved. You may say you disagree, you may point to thoughtful and gracious analysis, but you may not insult, demean or dismiss.
Of course, I will define precisely what constitutes such things so you will have to live with my highly biased preferences.
I would very much like to respond to the “defenders of Tradition” who are clamoring for cessation of all discussion with the words of the modern Father of the Church, Met. Anthony Bloom. In 2000, he gave an interview in which he addressed the very climate of fear that is suffocating our Church today. His words were addressed to the Church in Russia, but they are just as applicable to our Church in America:
“The Church, or rather clergymen and some of the conscious churchgoers, are afraid to do something wrong. After all these years when people could not think or speak openly with each other and thereby outgrow, as it were, the nineteenth century, there is much fear, which leads people to be content with mere repetition of what has been adopted by the Church long before and what is known as Church language and Church doctrine. This has to change sooner or later.
It seems to me that today the Church is in a period when on the one hand it is trying to remain particularly traditional; and on the other — first, people are not ready for this, and secondly, some of them are beginning to think, while not being supported or encouraged in this. (All this is generally speaking and without any individuals in mind). Are we not losing momentum and the chance to turn eventually from being a church organisation into being the Church?
I myself have reached the point where I am unable to increase my erudition or theological knowledge and I would rather speak about that which has come to maturity in my soul. While the form in which I speak may well be unacceptable to some, in essence, however, I believe it is not unacceptable. I hope that I do not deviate from the spirit of the Church or that of the Fathers. I do use, though, a different language and address different people. I think some Church fathers were accused of exactly the same thing; let alone Cyril of Alexandria, many were said to introduce ‘novelties’ and ‘inventions’. The same words were not used, but the approach was the same. In my opinion the Church today is going through a protracted crisis… […]
[…] Undoubtedly, after all these years when the only means of its existence was utmost faithfulness to the form, thinking and posing questions turns out to be a frightening experience. Remarkably, asking questions was the only work that preoccupied the Church fathers of old times. Even if some answers came from them, so did the questions. And the answers did not just appear from nowhere in response to non-existent questions. Mind you, the questions they asked were addressed to people surrounded by paganism, i.e. by an absolutely alien experience and outlook. And this must be taken into account. Nobody lives in a Christian country today. Certainly there are still people devoted and faithful to the spirit of Gospel, but we can no longer suggest there is a difference between Christian and non-Christian countries; just as it is wrong to talk about Russian Orthodoxy.[…]
[…] Fr George Florovsky once said to me, ‘there has been no Church father whose writings are free of heresy altogether, apart from Gregory the Theologian, of course, who was so careful as not to have said anything unnecessary or untrue.’ One can always find something unorthodox in each father’s works. So it’s possible to find something wrong with anybody. If this is the case, then make a note of what you believe to be erroneous, and ponder over it, and have your say about it. And one does not necessarily have to be hyper-critical. Why not simply say: ‘Well, I think this and that, based on what I have just beard’, and let us see then how your ideas correct or supplement those of your opponent. I believe it is extremely important that we start thinking and sharing our ideas, even at the risk of falling into error. Someone will always correct us, that’s all.”
Amen, amen, amen.
P.S. Florovsky was mistaken about St. Gregory, but that’s a different matter altogether.
If you had someone who wanted to discuss whether or not an innocent person should be killed, how would you proceed with the discussion? Would you seek common ground, and compromise on the matter? No, there would be nothing to discuss. If you are asking the Church to change its moral foundation, there is likewise nothing to discuss, and no grounds for compromise. I don’t Met. Anthony (Bloom) would think whether or not homosexual sex was a sin was up for discussion either.
Fr. John Whitford asks (in reply to a comment above which I am afraid will get lost): “Maria, why are you not allowing polite responses to be posted to questions you have asked me?”
Perhaps I do not think they are polite. I also may not have posted since at this point, Frs. John, Hans and Andrew are not adding anything new to their arguments. I will say that I have let through far more comments than many of my friends and colleagues think is wise. I generally believe in allowing conversation to continue. However, what is happening here is not a conversation. I was clear in the original post that this was NOT about scripture but about how gay men and lesbians are treated due to our current theology, and asking the question:
This question has barely been address in the comments that followed. The Frs. Three have made clear that they will not address this question as its very premise is anathema to them (my words, not theirs).
In the interests of bringing their participation to an end and either ending all comments entirely, or allowing others who want to address the questions of the post, I will summarize what I think their position is. If they have specific adjustments to my summary, or would like to add something NEW, they may reply to this comment. Otherwise, their comments will not be approved as I think their point has been repeatedly made and they have not addressed the content of the post in any substantive way. Given their position, this makes sense but it does not seem to me that any further conversation with them is helpful. So, here is my understanding of their view:
There is no reason to address the questions raised in the blog because it is clear that:
1. Scripture speaks with a uniform voice regarding homosexuality: it is inherently sinful.
2. Along with incest, homosexuality is a part of the moral law given by God.
3. This moral law is reflected in what is natural, and nature is evident in how our bodies and body parts are clearly to be used or not used.
4. If and when the Gospel does not specifically repeat a tenant of the moral law, it a) still holds, and b) may also be evident in nature (note I say “may” here as Fr. John is clear that incest is not unnatural, simply immoral).
5. Authoritative scriptural interpretation comes only from scripture, Church Fathers, and saints (by which I assume that the communion of the saints, which includes of all of us, is NOT meant).
6. Contemporary theory is not to be taken into account in any significant way, especially if said theory undermines a universal moral law.
7. Members of the Church who do not hold to the above beliefs, especially in regards to homosexuality, and especially those that engage in committed same-sex relationships, have already cut themselves off from the Church, are to be treated as heathens per Matt 18:17, and may find themselves more comfortable in the sinking ship that is the Episcopal Church.
I believe I have stated my objections to some of these points above. Where I have not, then it will have to wait for another time, place, post.
For those who are interested in a reputable scholar who addresses this issue, including terminology, please read Dale Martin’s Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation.
Enough said on this.
To clarify one point, the incestuous relationship in question was a man and his step mother. There is nothing in nature against such a relationship. However, according to the Scriptures and Traditions of the Church, such a relationship is inherently sinful, regardless of how the man and his step mother may have felt about each other.
I did not address your question, because you might as well have asked what would happen if we stopped believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. We don’t accept the premise of the question. The issue raised by the question is not up for discussion.
Thank you. Noted, approved. No further posts will be approved unless you decide to address the questions of the post directly, politely, and relevantly.
The New American Bible, the official translation of the United States Catholic Bishops (hardly a body soft on homosexuality) translates 1Cor6:9 as:
The official footnote approved by the Bishops to this passage is:
What this text seems to refer to is homosexual prostitution of adult males with boys, which is a far cry from homosexuals living in committed mutual relationship.
Note that the Bishop’s translation extends this understanding to the othe “clobber texts” in Rom 1:26–27; 1 Tm 1:10.
What we are missing with all the focus on sex acts, which Maria has very helpfully put her finger on here, is the overall quality of the relationship. Marriage is mostly about living together in love and growth in holiness through self sacrificial love and mutual service. Sex is only a small part of the overall loving relationship (and may be absent in particular marriages). Committed same sex relationships can certainly share in the great good of mutual love.
Just as we don’t focus on whether or not married couples are doing everything in the bedroom according to Church teaching, neither ought we for same sex couples.
We have mistreated our gay and lesbian brethren for far too long and it is well past the time for the Church to wake up and treat ALL God’s beloved children with the dignity and respect they deserve.
How does it happen that an uncle could be very close to his niece, but the moment sex enters the relationship it turns into something completely evil and degraded in the course of a few minutes?
I don’t understand the “incest” comparison at all. Clearly, permitting incest would be utterly ruinous for the family – and for trust within the family. The incest taboo makes sense; incest would it absolutely impossible for family members – especially, I’d say, for girls – to form close and trusting relationships with one another. I shudder at the thought of an uncle seducing his niece (or even the other way around); it will completely destroy the oasis of peace and safety that the family is meant to be.
That’s why incest is forbidden for the closest familial relationships – but not for more distant ones. (I’m sure it was forbidden for other reasons, as well: genetic problems, etc.) I mean, this seems obvious to me; it’s amazing to me that people don’t know this, or stop to think about it! The problem is, I don’t think anybody ever really does think very deeply about it.
None of this compares in any way to a relationship between two individuals of the same sex. Again, I’m always surprised that these things need to be explained…..
I do want to point out, too, that the Bible condemns certain male same-sex acts, and not female ones. (Read this article, please, if you were about to bring up Romans 1. And please keep in mind, if you were: it seems awfully hard to credit that one brief mention of something in the hundreds of thousands of verses of Scripture could possibly be determinative of anything at all.)
I propose that thinking clearly and deeply about that fact ought to help us in thinking about all this as well. In any case, it should make it possible to consider more carefully the question, “What exactly is the Scripture saying here”? Because Leviticus, for instance, is sure not condemning “homosexuality” per se – since women are not mentioned at all. It had the chance to do that, and didn’t take it. Why?
Jews – Reform Jews and about half of Conservative Jews have changed their teachings on this issue – have simply said: well, certain acts are not allowed (I won’t mention them by name!). I’d say that’s far more in line with “original intent” – and it’s compassionate, too, since it doesn’t keep gay people stuck forever at square one, attempting to “fix” something that isn’t actually broken.
From Fr. Hans Jacobse
Maria, the assertion that the moral prohibitions against homosexuality in the Orthodox tradition are merely cultural accretions of a bygone age does not deal with the tradition on its own terms. That’s undeniable. Further, those ideas have a pedigree that bears examination. It would be irresponsible of us not to examine them on those terms as well.
Some of these I have already touched on, chiefly the Marxist praxis of class struggle that informs most of ideological feminism. I’ve also pointed out that the feminization of the institutional church invariably leads to its homosexualization and eventual collapse. We have seen this with the Episcopalian Church and will see it with the Lutheran Church ELCA.
All the language about love and compassion, while certainly important and even central to the Orthodox moral tradition, should not stop us from examining those ideas. Arguments about compassion don’t explicate the ideas, they just frame them in a context where approval is suggested before the examination takes place. By the same token, language using terms like “oppression” and so forth should be avoided since they do little more than communicate moral approbation towards those who hold a position contrary to the scolder. There’s no real substance there.
It is becoming increasingly clear that any examination of the pedigree of those is not welcome. However, no set of ideas arise in a vacuum and an examination of their pedigree is necessary to understand them. We “traditionalists” have no problem with this since we see tradition as a source of authority. But you cannot expect to criticize the tradition without facing the critical examination of the pedigree of the ideas that you seek to import into Orthodoxy as well.
And make no mistake, you ideas have a pedigree. That’s why the question about why not become Episcopalian is a fair one. So far everything you have said differs little from what the Episcopalians now preach as true. This also applies to some of your supporters although it is becoming increasingly clear they are persuaded by the moral appeals and have a shallow understanding of both your ideas and the Orthodox tradition.
The essentializing of the same-sex passion changes Orthodox anthropology. It elevates a passion to a fixed anthropological category without providing any rationale why other inordinate passions should no be essentialized as well. It borrows from tradition by positing the homosexual couple as a legitimate social unit in the same way that heterosexual monogamy works (this is what is behind your thesis that “virtue” is the sole criteria for moral legitimacy) but it ignores the biological/material dimension of human life completely (hence your prohibition against any discussion about sodomy).
What do we say about incest or bestiality? If people feel sexual desire toward family members or animals, should that be essentialized as well? If not, why not? It is because it violates the monogamous heterosexual model outlined the tradition? But isn’t that tradition untrustworthy, bound to social convention of a bygone age?
Maria, I think you are on the right side here.
A priest who communes bankers and contractors, truckdrivers, professors, bachelors, accountants, and all – people whose lives tempt them to all kinds of sins – and who is not denying communion for fraud, tyranny, greed, avarice, rage, and what I venture to call ‘dry’ sins, makes himself ridiculous singling out alleged sexual sinners.
I very tentatively propose a third position, for the use of pastors : we just don’t know if the life of a monogamous same-sex couple includes anything described in Scripture, and therefore consists of inherent sin; also, that, like almost every couple, in the end, they will be living like siblings. Meanwhile, we don’t need to know the details of their expressions of affection, and thus parse their potential sinfulness on this measure – just as we don’t with straight couples. It seems to me that this, very lightly sketched, idea, should satisfy those who care so much about the doctrine in this issue; I simply would draw the Venn diagrams without any certain overlap. It does not address, much less solve, the issue of marriage. This is a pastoral issue primarily, not a doctrinal issue, and should be handled with pastoral reason and good sense.
And as for telling a person to leave and become an Episcopalian, that is evidently greater sin than any of which the target was accused
Fr. Hans Jacobse
Martha, you are correct. No one really knows if a same-sex roommates are sexually active or not and unless there was a compelling reason to ask, no priest I know would do so.
But people living together is not the issue here. The issue is granting moral parity to same-sex genital relationships which, if the new construct that morality is a function of proper virtue is adopted, would require the Church to treat them as marriages.
I’m sure you can see the difference. The latter violates the moral tradition.
Fr. Hans, the first quote in this blob post was told to a person whose sexual activity had not be examined. All that was known was that they were “in a relationship.” Couples who live-together are presumed to be sexually active. I am aware of one couple who was specifically NOT sexually active but was still condemned by a bishop who never bothered to ask.
Part of the purpose of this post is to shed some light on the utter naiveté with which people view the handling of couples in Orthodoxy. We can say all we want about same-sex friendship, but all that matters in far too many pastoral situations is the appearance of sin.
Ok, I read this, and I more believe than ever that just as much as I should be reading Sarah and Lindsay’s blog, I should NOT be reading yours.
I see in this the common denial of all post-Christian secularists of the concepts of sin and repentance; and likewise an utter hatred for heteronormative traditions. I’m sorry for you, because it is YOUR ATTITUDE separating you from the community; the attitude that the community needs to change for you, that we need to change the traditions of 2000 years just for a few who want to deny the gender they were born with and accept sexual chaos instead.
I’m done. You’ve proven to me that like all “women in theology” you care more about libertine attitudes than you do about Christ. This is the reason I am forever against women’s ordination; not because I’m against women, but because I’ve yet to meet any woman interested in ordination who isn’t only interested in ordination to destroy the Church, heteronormative families, and that hated male patriarchy (Christ was part of that male patriarchy you hate so much).
Theodore, that you read this essay as proof of a hatred of repentance and heteronormative traditiosn is, well, odd. However, given your comments on my conversation with A Queer Calling, I am not surprised. You suffer from confirmation bias. As for the rest, I am pretty willing to be seen as someone both interested in ordination and destroying “hated male patriarchy.” That you think this will destroy the church saddens me because it means you think that patriarchy is an should be inherent in the church. I consider this an belief which must be repented of it we are to fully participate in the work God is already doing in the world.