Communion Secrets: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

In May of 2010, Metropolitan Jonah, chief hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America, wrote an open letter to the Armed Forces Chaplains Board in response to the (then proposed) revision of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. As the chief endorsing agent for Orthodox military chaplains, he felt compelled to outline the Orthodox position on homosexuality and explain the implications the proposed policy revisions would have for Orthodox chaplains.

Although the Metropolitan wrote in pastoral support of the Orthodox chaplains serving both their Church and their nation, his words served to alienate another population for which he is pastorally responsible. At the heart of the letter is the understanding that people who experience feelings of attraction toward a member of the same sex, let alone act on those feelings, are sinful and in need of repentance. His Beatitude writes, Those who engage in such [homosexual] activity are excluded by the Canons from the sacraments of the Church. A ‘gay’ identity is not recognized or accepted by the Church Fathers, for it entails a complete submission of oneself to a sinful state of self-delusion.”

With these words Metropolitan Jonah drew a line in the sand. People can identify as Orthodox Christians, or they can identify as homosexuals. But not both.

While I acknowledge that Orthodox Christianity has historically taught that homosexual behavior is sinful, these teachings are based more on Tradition—an authoritative source alongside Scripture in Orthodoxy—than on any one particular “prooftext.” The truth is that the Church Fathers, Church canons, and the Scriptures themselves have relatively little to say about homosexuality. Most priests and bishops today are tight-lipped on the issue—rarely is sexuality addressed from the pulpit. LGBTQ Christians are encouraged to attend liturgy, pray, receive the sacraments, do charitable works, and otherwise participate in the life of the church so long as they keep their sexual orientation a secret.

It is not surprising that Metropolitan Jonah is in favor of upholding the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, since it seems that the same policy is being enforced within the Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christians who identify as homosexual are welcome at the cup only as long as they keep their sexual identities secret.

I have a number of problems with the arguments and policies His Beatitude outlines in his letter, but I am most deeply troubled by his decision to exclude gay Orthodox Christians from receiving the Eucharist. Orthodoxy has traditionally seen itself as a communion of love. Our common reception of the sacraments—especially baptism, chrismation, and the Eucharist—constitutes a deep, integral bond between Orthodox Christians. This stands in contrast to some western Christian denominations, many of which define themselves by creeds and doctrinal statements. To be sure, Orthodoxy has its share of creeds, doctrines, and dogmas. But our belief in the “One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church” refers to an ontological reality rather than intellectual shibboleths. In Communion, believers are mystically united in a common body comprised of many members throughout time and across the globe.

So what happens when an Orthodox Christian finds herself in disagreement with church leadership? Does communion of faith necessarily mean uniformity of belief?

This is the position in which I find myself. I have been abstaining from communion for most of the past year. While my decision has been motivated by a number of reasons, it is due in large part to the difficulty I have in understanding the Church’s policy of excluding both homosexuals and women from receiving certain sacraments.

Many in the West are unfamiliar with Orthodoxy, sometimes called “Eastern Christianity” or “Eastern Orthodoxy.” Because Orthodoxy historically developed in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, it bears little resemblance on the surface to Catholicism and Protestantism, both of which developed in Western Europe. The story is often told of the Russian emperor Vladimir, who sent emissaries to investigate the religions of the world. Upon their return from Constantinople, where they attended an extravagant liturgy at the great Hagia Sophia, they recounted, “We knew not whether we were on heaven or earth.” Orthodoxy is relatively new to North America, having only arrived en masse in the late 19th Century with Russian, Greek, and other Eastern European immigrants. Babushkas and yia-yias are fond of joking that Orthodoxy is the best-kept secret in town.

When I began learning about the Orthodox Church during college, I was enamored with its liturgy, prayers, music, and icons. And I confess that there was something in me that was drawn to its seemingly monolithic authority. We claim to be the Church of the Apostles that has preserved the faith for two thousand years. Though some may laugh at the seeming naïveté of this claim, Orthodox believers find deep comfort and stability in a tradition that reaches far beyond our current cultural situation. It is all the more painful, then, when our tradition not only fails to adequately address present-day realities but also insists on judging modernity through the lens of antiquity.

The traditional teaching on homosexuality as recounted by Metropolitan Jonah ignores the reality of many Orthodox women and men struggling to understand their feelings of sexual attraction toward members of the same sex. Even if they choose not to pursue sexual relationships and struggle to remain celibate—a path imposed on them by the church, rather than a gift genuinely given by God—His Beatitude believes that they are condemned by virtue of their being in “a sinful state of self-delusion.”

How are homosexual Orthodox Christians to grow in love, virtue, and relationship with God if they are categorically excluded from the sacramental life of the Church? I have no answers to the questions here posed. This is a messy situation. The ancient faith I love so deeply lives in tension with our modern culture. As I have written in previous posts, I am embarrassed by the way in which some of our members behave, and I would prefer certain aspects of our tradition to remain in secret.

I choose to live within this tension because I believe that it is not God who is doing the excluding, but rather our fallible traditions and leaders. All of Scripture stands as witness to the fact that God desires to be in relationship with us.  Orthodoxy believes that no one is worthy to receive God’s love—and yet God offers it. In a line from the prayers traditionally prayed by Orthodox Christians before receiving communion, St. Basil the Great says, “You did not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners. …Lord Jesus Christ, my God, may my partaking of Your pure and life-creating Mysteries not bring me into judgement, nor may I become weak in soul or body, for I partake of them unworthily” (emphasis mine).

Rather than focusing on external conditions of worthiness, I believe that the heart of Orthodoxy lies in the simultaneous recognition of one’s own unworthiness and the immensity of God’s love.

And that is a secret worth sharing.

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47 thoughts on “Communion Secrets: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

  1. This is a cogent and level-headed yet compassionate and heartfelt comment on the Metropolitan’s public statements about homoesexuality. I not only identify with its ideas but am deeply grateful for Oliver’s wisdom and discretion.

  2. I’m “blown away” at your insight and compassion. Sorry, Oliver, I still pictured you as the “little boy” I watched grow up. As you turn 30 (and I am now twice that), I see that you have grown into a man of wisdom beyond your years. God has truly Blessed you with a love for Him and a desire to “make a difference”. May God Bless you in your pursuits.

  3. Fascinating, and locates the biggest challenge for non-affirming churches (not just Orthodox) in an inescapable way: “LGBTQ Christians are encouraged to attend liturgy, pray, receive the sacraments, do charitable works, and otherwise participate in the life of the church so long as they keep their sexual orientation a secret.”

    This, to me, feels horrifying. Basically, what keeping this secret does, from the standpoint of those who’d support keeping it a secret, is place full blame on the participant. If the priest doesn’t know he’s “wrongfully” delivering the sacrament to a member of the LGBTQ community, then they, in their own mind, absolve themselves. The individual, however, is seen as drinking judgment on him/herself.

    That spiritual shirking is egregious, and, as you point out, absolutely opposite of what ‘pastoral care’ means. It’s looking for an excuse to not deal with the tension. And if there is no tension, there can be no movement.

    This piece, however, is moving. And I applaud it’s thoughtfulness, respect, and beauty.

    1. @Amy: I guess I have to start a new thread to thank you for your compassionate comments about Evangelicals and other Christians who are troubled by what they regard as St Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality. Perhaps because I have been around for a lot of years, have struggled with frequent near-failure to align my life with both the Gospel and the truth of my psychosexual makeup, and have been managing questions like these for decades, I have almost exhausted my ability to be charitable with the kinds of Christians you mention, even though I do not question for one second their piety or their sincerity. It might be helpful, then, to I remind myself that I was born at a time and place that allowed me to know first-hand the grandchildren of slaves; that, in fact, I descend from Southern slave-owners. I also am fom a family of sincerely devout Christians who are Episcopalians. Even so, the culture into which I was born and reared regarded segregation as perfectly normal, the intellectual inferiority of people of African descent as beyond doubt, and the class-structure of society as ordained by God. People who believed those things, and taught them to me, found proof-texts in Holy Scripture to support their arguments. I was in my early teens before I began to see the error, even the evil, of all that; and I was in my early twenties before I began to understand that action and not just opinion was necessary to overcome that legacy. I further realized that I might not be able to expunge the stain of racism from my soul in this lifetime. But I have tried. And I began by re-reading and re-thinking the “sacred” proof-texts that supported American racism. Regarding the present question of homosexuality and St Paul, then, all I can say is that I hope that time and experience will suggest to those good people that they may have misunderstood. Meanwhile, many good Christians may continue to believe that I am going to hell because I am in a loving, sustained, mature relationship with another man. Frankly, though, that’s their problem to solve, not mine.

      1. @Bill Thanks so much for your thoughts. I honestly can’t imagine growing up thinking segregation was normal–that was [thank God] the opposite of my experience.

        “Regarding the present question of homosexuality and St Paul, then, all I can say is that I hope that time and experience will suggest to those good people that they may have misunderstood.”

        I hope so too. Sometimes it seems impossible to me, that the line was drawn too fiercely in the sand…but then I remember that slavery used to be justified through Scripture, and now it seems ridiculous to do that. It must have seemed impossible too back then to ever think that someday things would change. (But then I look at how staunchly many people have continued to hold against evolution and I lose some hope again. =\ )

        I think the best hope is to continue to get to know people, really KNOW people who are different–theologically, ethnically, and who have a different sexual orientation than we do. I think of my own prejudices that I had to overcome throughout life; most notably (being raised Evangelical) prejudice toward Catholics. Then I went to college and met someone, became friends with them, found out they were Catholic and had to change my opinions. I thank God for that every day, and mourn over my past prejudices–how could I have been so foolish, how could I have accepted that when people taught it to me? And I’m thankful for this blog, to read the thoughts and try to get to know the people behind such varying different perspectives. When you /know/ somebody that you once considered “other”, you can’t dialogue the same way. It makes it about being human, not about some austere dialogue. I think I’m seeing that in some parts of Evangelicalism, not in others. (It’s easier to be critical of my past tradition.)

        I think knowing people, and also teaching people about our errors in the past (I teach an Evangelical school, where most of my students think evolution is a four-letter word and hardly any of them know that slavery or Nazi-ism was once justified through Scripture) is our best hope to love well in the future. There is always hope.

        1. Dear Amy, you’re in the trenches, I see, and I am so touched by your transparency and honesty. I’ll pray for your strength and courage and — perhaps most — tolerance. Your not being able to *imagine* growing up in a segregated society is exactly the point I was trying to make. Basing themselves, again, on St Paul and many, many other spiritual writers, and bolstered by centuries of practice, even after the Civil Rights Movement was well underway, many people couldn’t *imagine* a society in which women might have opportunities equal to men’s. Of course, they still don’t, perhaps most painfully in the Church; and, of course, there’s still racism. But there is CHANGE, and in that regard I like to remember that the only time God tells us his name is when he says, basically, “I am a verb.” (After all, “I AM” is English, and Moses didn’t hear the Lord speak in the Queen’s — or the President’s — mother tongue.) Stasis is the work of the Enemy, who wants everything bad to stay just as it is. You are full of hope, and that is a luminous gift of the Holy Spirit. Thank you so very much for your thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

          1. @Bill Thank you for such thoughtful and encouraging responses and for your prayers (“in the trenches” is definitely how it feels sometimes.) You are in my prayers too.

          2. Bill and Amy – thanks for your willingness to engage this in dialogue (and for modeling good conversation skills!). I have lots of thoughts about Scriptural interpretation in general and homosexuality in particular, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time and place (and perhaps others more skilled in such disciplines!). My only comment, Bill, is that I am grateful for your willingness to tell a bit of your story – I think you offer a helpful for perspective, and it has enriched our discussion.

  4. Having read the Metropolitan’s letter to the Armed Forces and listened to the (in)famous sermon, I’m not entirely certain that he’s actually saying that simply *being* homosexual is itself sinful and therefore prohibits a homosexual person from the sacraments. Otherwise, there would be no point in confession and absolution. In other words, I doubt that he would say that anything is more or less permanently sinful. On the other hand, there’s no doubt he’s saying that homosexual acts are sinful and that persons who commit homosexual acts without confession and absolution should be denied the sacraments.

    1. Bill–great thoughts. Your confession-absolution-sacrament point brings a bigger, craggier question for me. It seems to suggest that as long as you continually admit that your lifestyle is wrong (when, in truth, the rest of a gay person’s life may be spent in confidence of that lifestyle), then you can receive the sacraments. To me, that seems to just be another side of the same coin Oliver is talking about–that it’s in danger of becoming a ritualistic ruse. And a harmful one at that. It seems like it’s just making people jump through a few hoops, again so that the clergy/leadership can feel absolved about the ordeal. In the end, the gay individual is still bearing the weight, and I’d guess that the whole act of confession may just ratchet up the discomfort and anxiety.

      Forgive me if I’m getting these assumptions wrong. I’m not gay or orthodox–in fact, I grew up in a church that was held in a gymnasium. One could say I know the least about this whole thing!

      1. Bryan, thank you so much for your thoughtful remarks. To make my point clearer, let me ty to put the matter less ambiguously. We all agree, I suppose, that molesting children is a bad thing, a sin. However, a person who knows himself to be susceptible to molesting children, but refrains from doing so, is not sinful. A sin, in the Catholic/Orthodox way of thinking, is an act, even something as evanescent as a speech act. A person who commits a sin is a sinner; but a person who does not do the thing s/he wants to do *because they are sinful* is not a sinner in the sense of being alienated from the company of believing Christians. If that were so, nobody would be able to go to Communion or receive any of the sacraments! Thus, if the social conditions allow it, I can’t see that anything prohibits a gay person who is Orthodox from simply saying so, and even saying that s/he is proud of it. Even the Metropolitan was careful to warn against judging anyone. It may seem a fine point, but there really is a difference between a sin and a sinner. (Thank God!)

        1. Yes, indeed–the difference between sin and sinner is an important one. This, of course, brings us to that elephant in the room–that a ‘practicing’ gay person is sinning, and therefore needs to refrain from that lifestyle (or, at least be in a constant process of trying to refrain). That is, unless I misunderstand your point. I think the comparison with molestation is what is tripping me up. I don’t equate the two at all.

          While, from the church’s standpoint, it is ok to be gay, as long as you’re not trying to act on that lifestyle, this strikes me as a dangerous oxymoron. Hiding one’s sexuality is shown over and over to lead to great depression and anxiety–and as we keep seeing, unfortunately, suicide.

          Even if someone holds that a gay lifestyle is wrong, there needs to be some level of self-acceptance if there is any hope at moving forward. And I don’t mean a self-acceptance of being a fallen being, but an acceptance that sexuality will complete us as human beings, not stifle our progress toward redemption.

          Confessing to a gay lifestyle, then, seems like it is just a way to impede the process of self-actualization, not enhance it. From how I understand it, the purpose of the Eucharist is connection, not subtraction.

          Thanks for letting me indulge these embryonic thoughts further!

          1. All — every one of them — of my thoughts are embryonic! So let me try again to be clearer. First, I do not believe that all homosexual acts are sinful, any more than I believe that all heterosexual acts are sinful. But I do believe that any sexual act has the potential to be sinful, even within marriage. I further believe that homosexual relationships of which sexual acts are integral can be as transparent to God as any marriage between a man and a woman. I want to be clear about where I stand. But I am saying, only, that *if you believe* that homosexual acts are sinful, it does not follow that you believe that homosexual persons are sinful. Not, that is, if you belong to a body of Christians that puts repentance right up at the front of the line, just behind the promise of God’s mercy and love for anyone. Despite the swarm of hostilities surrounding this particular issue, I really do believe — and have experienced — that the Orthodox Church is as warm, as welcoming, and totally affirming of God’s infinite love for each person. That means that I believe that the struggle we are in at the moment is a struggle ON BEHALF OF the Orthodox Church, not against it.

          2. Well said, Bill. Orthodoxy has been in my experience, and for many of my Orthodox friends, a place that is “warm, welcoming, and totally affirming of God’s infinite love for each person.” My concern – and my impetus for writing this post – was that this very hospitality was in jeopardy. Our discussion is extremely important – and I join you in hoping that it will be to the benefit, rather than demise, of the Orthodox Church.

          3. @Bryan/Bill To play devil’s advocate for a moment:

            I think the struggle is that for /many/ Christians it seems to be clear in the writings of Paul that homosexuality (whether they define that as only behavior or behavior+orientation) is a sin.

            For real change to happen in the Christian community, I don’t think we can simply alienate a huge segment of that population by saying “Well, Paul had it wrong.” The “inerrancy/authority” of Scripture is the lynchpin (IMO) of Evangelicalism, which seems to be the most vocal segment of Christendom in regards to this issue.

            I don’t know what can be done about that. That’s not necessarily an issue of theology/dry debates either. There are good people there too who maybe wish that Paul /hadn’t/ penned those verses, but still believe they have to hold to them. That Scripture [and an interpretation of those passages] should be a guiding rule for their life. It’s very personal and close to them–likely not always an issue of sterile dogma. To tell them just to ignore those verses would be like insulting Mary/Theotokos for a Catholic/Orthodox. Or insulting someone’s beloved mother. It’s personal.

            They’re not all bigoted, though I’m sure there are certainly a fair few who are. I think there are many many more though, who struggle with that tension. Believing that that’s what Scripture says whether they necessarily /want/ to believe that or not. Trying to figure out how to reconcile Scripture with what modernity is revealing to be true (e.g. being gay is not a choice); which is why I think there will continue to be a shift toward distinguishing “orientation” from “behavior”.

            How can that be addressed without alienating and shutting down dialogue? I don’t know. =\ Thoughts?

            PS–“From how I understand it, the purpose of the Eucharist is connection, not subtraction.” I cannot get over the profundity of this statement. That is really powerful and true. I find myself coming to the Eucharist distracted and praying for wholeness and integrity of thought, if only in that one moment each week. It breaks my heart to think that some come feeling they HAVE to leave part of themselves behind to even approach.

            PPS–To Paul (below) you are in my prayers too.

          4. A person is a person is a person. A child of God. WE all have the ability to come to him and recieve his blessings and grace. Sin brings us to a lower level and through confession and prayer, to rise above the lower levels and degradedness is what I would want to strive for. I have known many homosexual people, also caring for them when they got aids and were dying. This homosexual lifestyle has a very dark nature and to simply shirk this off to the level of letting someone be quiet and then nobody gets hurt is so wrong. God destroyed two entire cities because of the degradedness of them, through his love he ended themselves from any more harm to themselves or others. I don’t think this is to mean that we put them away as God is love and we are called to love all. But do we love them enough to help them stop the madness and then help to lead them to the fullfillment of where they should be. If something is wrong then it is wrong. To justify any action that is a sin or wrong is to put ourselves in the same sin as the one we are partaking in as knowing of the act and doing nothing. If I find a person pouring gasoline on himself to light him/herself on fire, should I just let them because that is where they feel comfortable even though you know they will be consumed? I say, better to be burned pulling someone from the fire to save them from the full consumption of the flesh and then you both heal and are able to go forward rather then watch another die and you are free of injury on the outside but black on the inside. It is so easy to ride where it is easy and not make waves. I know that the dark side is always there to snatch someone and we all must be on our guard, prayful. Letting homosexuals partake of communion is wrong as they are still identifying as homosexual. Unless they fully renounce, at least to the priest, as it is between the person and God. There has been such a push towards homosexuality and if one looks at the society in general then you see why this would be, very sad.

  5. Thanks for the feedback, all. Glad this has generated some discussion.

    @Bill—I should clarify that I have not encountered Metropolitan Jonah’s thinking beyond the letter in question—so I admit that His Beatitude may do a better job of nuancing his argument in other places. While I appreciate the distinction you have made between sin & sinner, I fear that the Metropolitan does not share this same distinction. He does make reference to homosexual “activity” at one point, but then makes this statement: “A ‘gay’ identity is not recognized or accepted by the Church Fathers, for it entails a complete submission of oneself to a sinful state of self-delusion.” How do you read this? It seems to say that the psychosexual orientation of oneself toward members of the same sex, apart from genital sexual activity, is sinful.

    @Bryan—I had not considered it in quite this way, but I think you are right. There does seem to be a sense in which certain members of authority try to wash their hands of the issue by making it a matter of one’s own conscience. Indeed, this is neither pastoral nor caring.

  6. Oliver, I hope you’ll go to the Facebook discussion called “Breaking the Silence” and listen to the Metropolitan’s sermon posted there. Indeed, that’s what kicked off this whole thing. Naturally, I cannot speak for him, but I think I’ve been able to wrap my mind around the contradiction you raise regarding “a ‘gay’ identity.” In fact, that’s the source of my primary argument with the Metropolitan, who is a young, highly intelligent, articulate convert who cannot fail to know what everybody else who reads newspapers knows, namely that there can be little doubt any longer that homosexual and heterosexual orientations are not chosen. Thus, I think there’s a kind of sleight-of-hand at work in his statements. Strictly speaking, he’s talking about acts not persons as sinful. But if the listener wants to believe that being homosexual is the consequence of election, that is, of choice, then the choice itself becomes sinful because the ‘default orientation,’ so to speak, is heterosexual. That’s what St Paul thought, and it’s always surprised me that otherwise educated people don’t seem to recognize that since the 19th century there has been accumulating a mountain of empirical evidence that St Paul’s psychology of sexual orientation was just plain wrong. To my mind, spiritual authorities who willfully ignore psychological truth — or at least psychological ambiguity — are wicked because ignoring it is another way of saying that God is not free to disagree them, and that the Holy Spirit, despite what Jesus promised, is not leading us into all truth.

    1. A rather odd argument, Bill. Since many centuries past there has been accumulating a mountain of empirical evidence that St Paul’s Theology is just plain wrong, as well as the theologies of all god-fearing peoples. It seems to me no less likely that religious adherents should ignore the evidence that their psychological theories are wrong than that they should ignore the overwhelming evidence in favor of a naturalistic universe.

      It is the whole edifice of “Sin” – the idea that some things are just abhorrent to God, regardless of their effects on human beings – that maintains this irrational prejudice. Sin has to go, and the only way I see it going is if God goes with it.

      1. My remark had *only* to do with research on sexual orientation carried out since the mid-19th century right down to the present. While it’s true that one can simply ignore the evidence, as is the case with people who still ignore the evidence of evolution, I was speaking of evidence derived from controlled scientific research whose methods and results are widely accepted in its professional community. That kind of evidence is not subjective, although it may be flawed, but its use and interpretation, of course, is. As regards the rest of St Paul, as I understand it there’s been non-stop discussion about one or another aspect of his theology since the beginning of biblical commentary. American Confederates and their descendents, after all, used Paul as a defense for slavery in the U.S.

  7. I was referred to this article by a post on the Eastern Orthodox forum at the Gay Christian Network (I am an Orthodox Christian and moderator of that forum).

    This article is beautifully written. Aside from everything else, it is comforting simply to know that one is not alone in experiencing this kind of injury and alienation – within the Orthodox Church, which I love.

    I’m a retired Naval Officer; I know all about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and it’s predecessor policies of exclusion. Even years after my retirement, it was an immensely emotional, relieving experience to watch that policy overturned in a suspenseful, last-minute lame-duck session of the Congress.

    Being a gay man and an Orthodox Christian is similar in some respects to the experience in the military, different in others. But there definitely is that nagging feeling of being in an organization where truth and compassion and honesty should matter most (as it was with truth and honor in the military), and realizing that this is now the ONLY place in my life where I have to conceal the truth, be tempted to dishonesty, and endure the kind of vitriol that comes out of the mouth of this hothead bishop and similar clergy and zealous laymen.

    On the other hand, I have been Orthodox for several decades now, and I’ve seen Metropolitans come and go, and dealt with a variety of pastors with varying gifts. Sometimes it is just a question of “waiting them out,” knowing that you are part of a faith community that you value, and that it has limitations on the human level. There are enough good and loving people within the Church to make it worthwhile.

    And finally, I always have to remember that we measure the history of the Church primarily in terms of its great saints and spiritual teachers, not in terms of patriarchs and metropolitans. I have learned to have low expectations of the latter, and have not been disappointed.

    1. Thanks for your response, Murph. It is, indeed, unfair of us to expect our religious leaders to be perfect. This line in particular is a good reminder: “I always have to remember that we measure the history of the Church primarily in terms of its great saints and spiritual teachers, not in terms of patriarchs and metropolitans.”

      In reflecting on your response, it occurs to me that the Church itself, like all of its individual members, is in an ongoing process of “formation” – and so we have hope that the Church might become a more full, true (and inclusive!) version of itself.

  8. Oliver —
    This is a well-written piece. It exhibits the sort of bravery that out people of faith exhibit regularly, as well as the compassion and love that this group of people (indeed, all people) deserve.
    Thank you.
    — Becky

  9. A very beautiful post, and a brave one. The question that always comes to mind for me is why people who experience a struggle between their sexual orientation and the teachings of their religious faith do not find another faith to comfort them. There are plenty affirming ones around, even if people do not wish to embrace naturalism.

    1. Thanks for your reply, James. I’m grateful to have so many voices and perspectives take part in this discussion.

      You raise a fair question. I tentatively pose an answer in the last paragraph of the post: “I choose to live within this tension because I believe that it is not God who is doing the excluding, but rather our fallible traditions and leaders. All of Scripture stands as witness to the fact that God desires to be in relationship with us. Orthodoxy believes that no one is worthy to receive God’s love—and yet God offers it.” Your question, posed from without, is one that is increasingly being posed from within. A growing number of Orthodox Christians are insisting that the Church re-examine its stance on this issue.

      I don’t know if you are familiar with the work of Robert Kegan at Harvard (“In Over Our Heads,” “Evolving Self,” etc)—I would be foolish to attempt summarizing his work in such a short space, but I believe he offers one paradigm to deal with the tension you’ve noted. In the face of conflicting values, retreat is one response. Reform (of the institution) is another. Remaining in relationship despite differences is yet another—though this is not for the faint of heart (or mind). For remaining in relationship despite differences requires what Kegan calls “fourth order consciousness” (or higher!). Many adults struggle to attain this order of thought, let alone teenagers. But the difficulty of this task not dissuade me of its worth, importance, or urgency. It, in fact, motivates me in my emerging work as an educator.

      I am curious to hear how people from other backgrounds deal with the conflicts that exist between their personal beliefs and those of their tradition.

      1. Oliver, thank you for raising the ideas of Bob Kegan here, as I think they’re extremely useful in this situation. I’m privileged to have studied with Kegan at HGSE and to have come to know him a little over the past four years. I have sent you a personal response to this question, since I think it may not be something to share here on SoF. In short, I agree with your use of Kegan’s framework, but I don’t agree with your analysis of this situation.

  10. Hey Oliver,

    I am a very-closeted Orthodox Christian. I have been alienated from my faith. I no longer confess or commune. My priest has been asking why. I don’t have the will, nor desire to tell him that I have had same-sex relations. Thanks for the encouraging post.

    1. I will keep you in my prayers, Paul. I know from first-hand experience just how isolating and lonely this kind of situation can be. You are not forgotten.

    2. Me, too. I try to remember that bishops, priests, and deacons are no more members of the Orthodox Church than the laity is. I am personally acquainted with Orthodox priests who I am sure would be glad to give you comfort and encouragement, even if only by e-mail. If you’d like to know how to contact one, let me know. I’m not sure how to do that on this site, but you can go to my Facebook page (William Hood) if you’d like to contact me. Meanwhile, you’re in my prayers.

    3. Having had same sex ralations means”had”. Are you still having the same type relations? This is sucha sordid society on the planet as a whole these days. The dark side has had a grip for awhile and no one is free from something out there. Please go to the priest or a priest you feel free to speak with and get this animal off your mind and get back to where you are better off. I know sometimes, heck, many times it is so easy to be hateful rather then full of love as christ would want us. But to hate someone because they sinned is just stupid…remember all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Homosexuality is so wrong and so is adultry. Adultry is something that people get corrected as stopping it and the other is no different. Please come back and stop worrying. Isolation never worked for anybody. In Christ, Lisa

      1. Lisa – I want to respect your right to share your views. But not everyone here necessarily shares your views. Please refrain from expressing your views in a way that might be hurtful/judgmental toward others (albeit inadvertently).

        1. I am sure many do not like what I said and calling a person hurtful can be a way of stopping a person from speaking out on something. I have noticed that if people are toward the liberal leaning the society has decided to swim then all are happy and those who express the views of yesterday then then are expected to refrain as it is not the happy group concensus. There is a homosexual agenda out in the world to make it so everyone has to look at it as ok, and it is not. This is a wrong and if someone does a wrong then it is still a wrong. Crap still smells the same. I know too many people dead now because of the wrong and they can’t come to the fullness of Christ as they are dead. In this particular situation, how wrong can a person be? Dead wrong, unfortunatly. How convienent for the dark side. God did not create man and woman and man and man and woman and woman, then tell us to go forth and have a good time.

          1. Lisa,

            The purpose of this site is to engage in meaningful dialogue with people of different faith persuasions [or no faith persuasion]. That doesn’t mean you can’t share your opinion, but the WAY that your are expressing it is full of judgment and not conducive to actual dialogue. Oliver was trying to remind you kindly that you can’t assume that everyone commenting here holds the same viewpoint. This issue may be black and white for you, but that doesn’t mean that everybody else sees it the same way.

            Dialogue means sharing your point of view respectfully as well as LISTENING to what other people have to say without automatically dismissing it–even though you don’t have to agree with it. If you want to engage in the conversation here, then please do so. If you just want to share your views without listening and use offensive language and unclear statements, then be aware that your comments aren’t serving anyone and aren’t constructive.

            You shouldn’t just people on this blog as “not having come to the fullness of Christ” because you don’t know them. Actually, even if you did know them, that’s for God to judge, and not us.


  11. Two comments in praise of a wonderful article:

    1. Metropolitans may come and go, but queer is forever.
    II. An examination of the rich variety of patristic commentary on Song of Songs 1:5 ‘I am dark but beautiful’ may shed light on the current pauline strands in conversations around homosexuality.

    Peace !

    1. @Michael Do you have a link to any articles on your second point?? That sounds utterly intriguing.

  12. @ Amy

    Though I find it selective, start by taking a look at the commentary provided in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament IX, pp. 296-300. While all of the sources frame the passage in terms of ‘sin’ and ‘repentance’, there is a complexity in understanding exactly what that means-given that the ‘darkness’ is deemed to be ‘by nature’. Hope this is a help.


    1. @Michael Thanks. the ACC has been on my Amazon wish list for months, must be time to purchase part of it. 😉

  13. This is an excellent article. I’d just like to add that I too am a convert to the Orthodox Church. I’ve been in the Church for 20 years-plus.

    Someone emailed me a question: “Frank, how do you pick up the pieces after your faith falls apart? How do you bring some order back to the chaos?” I think that this article is another sort of articulation of that question.

    A residual side effect of the born-again “method” of looking at spirituality is that some of us who have left Evangelical backgrounds still tend to think in terms of Lost or Saved. We want “order” not “chaos.”

    Maybe chaos is good. In reality it is impossible to actually live a life based on theological certainties. Some days I’m an atheist, on others I’m an agnostic, on other days I “feel God’s hand on me,” as my mom used to say.

    Does this make my spiritual faith chaotic compared to the rest of my life? No. This “confusion” puts my spirituality in the same boat as everything else. Some days I’m in love with my wife, others not, some days I love to see my children, on others I don’t. The journey of faith is like everything else. If it was not it would not be real.

    There is no “at last I’ve arrived!” moment. We never arrive because our spirits never die. Love not theology is the answer.

    Here’s the best definition of the word Love I’ve ever read:

    “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God…Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5: 3-45).

    When I try to live by those words I find Love and meaning in my marriage and in fatherhood and in friendships. As far as specific “Christian doctrine” goes it’s about geography. I was born here in the West. That is why a particular theology challenges me.

    If I’d been born in Saudi Arabia or Mumbai, I’d have other questions. Specific theology, let alone theological correctness, doesn’t matter because it isn’t universal.

    But “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” works everywhere, or would if it was tried.

    Maybe during the next ten thousand years or so the human race will begin to use the best roadmap to Peace, Love, Beauty and Happiness we’ve been given and that is waiting like a time bomb to shake up our complacent embrace of second best. Meanwhile you and I may choose to set off this “time bomb” individually.

    Any relationship with a friend, partner, child or spouse has a fighting chance to succeed if and when the truth of “Blessed are the merciful” is lived. In other words: Stick with the Sermon on the Mount and forget the rest. The “answer” is not the Orthodox Church but God.

    The choice isn’t between being in or out, taking communion or not. Just because a restaurant owner may turn out to be a jerk doesn’t mean I stop eating. The Church doesn’t “own” the sacraments. God does.

    The world, our country, the Church — everything — is sometimes dumb-to-evil. We are still here in the world. Gay men and women should not cut themselves off from community, love and sacrament, just because the Church or some bishop, is wrong.

  14. Thank you, Frank, for this beautiful comment. It’s full of the energy of love, as well as of wit, wisdom, and peace. You might enjoy a conversation along these lines over on Facebook. It’s called “Listening: Breaking the Silence on Sexuality in the Orthodox Church.” I hope you’ll read and contribute to that as well.

  15. The Church seems to have made some fairly odd attempts to fit in with the neo-conservative Protestant community on this. I remember hearing about some bishops supporting proposition 8 in California and scratching my head. Fr. Thomas Hopko got me wondering the same thing — what’s the point? Hopko is usually a decent writer, but some of his stuff on women’s ordination and homosexuality make him just seem like some bland mouthpiece.

    Best of luck and beautiful article.

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