March 18, 2012
Recently I attended an exceptionally enlightening national conference of the Gay Christian Network held in Florida. Not far from home, I decided to drive up for the day and check it out. It was not what I expected. There were over 500 participants, many of them college age students or younger adults in their thirties. Their deep Christian faith was evident in the worship services as well as the panel discussions, lectures and even while socializing with friends in the hotel lobby. The worship services were definitely Protestant in nature and did not particular draw me in as an Orthodox Christian, however, what astounded me was the lack of a single answer to the question: What does it mean to be a committed Christian and gay?
There was instead encouragement for discussion and dialogue. Throughout the sermons and the lectures, dialogues and debates, there was complete acceptance of different ways to express one’s homosexuality and remain a faithful Christian. Some were living celibate lives while expressing what it meant for them to be gay. Others were in committed relationships with other Christians of the same sex. Still others were dating people of the same sex and hoped to one day be married in their church. This demonstrated to me that there is a great need and indeed room for respectful dialogue on the subject of Orthodox Christianity and homosexuality. However, all too frequently the response of the Orthodox Church has been to ignore the topic entirely, ridicule or belittle not only gay Orthodox Christians who want to have an adult conversation but also demean heterosexual Orthodox Christians who have called for a more measured pastoral dialogue and approach.
The Orthodox Church urges celibacy before one is married. The Orthodox Church encourages, and indeed will only bless, marriages that are between an Orthodox Christian and another Christian. And the Orthodox Church recognizes that sometimes people sin and need to separate from their spouse and offers the couple the opportunity to marry someone else within the Church. There is just that issue of marrying someone of the same sex, the Orthodox Church is not on that page – yet.
While at the conference I picked up a small booklet entitled “Homosexuality and Your Church. Handling the controversy with grace and love.” There is no author but the booklet is published by the Gay Christian Network. One of the selections is a list of Seven Tips for Conservative Pastors. Conservative! I think that would include the Orthodox. Here is the list:
- Speak lovingly and compassionately
- Listen. Really, really listen.
- Know the difference between behavior and orientation
- Learn the language (terminology – my addition)
- Admit your limits
- Provide reasonable options for living openly and honestly
- Ultimately, this process may really be about you.
Sounds like a good place to start for a class in Pastoral Theology in any Orthodox seminary. Love, be compassionate, listen, learn, admit your limits, provide options and suggestions and remember that you are the priest and not the parishioner. Some of my closest priest friends have been doing this for a long time. The former rector of our Seminary understood my struggle and was an excellent listener, full of compassion, but ultimately felt powerless to change the Orthodox Church’s views on homosexuality. Another priest felt so strongly that he performed an Orthodox wedding service for two men. He did this after knowing one of the men for thirty years and his husband for ten. He also feels powerless to change the Orthodox Church’s view on homosexuality. Both priests – members of canonical Orthodox jurisdictions – have done the work of the Lord. “I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord, because you are called an outcast.” Jeremiah 30:17.
For many years I have argued that many Orthodox priests and laymen want an honest dialogue about homosexuality. They want this because the priests have encountered gay parishioners. Many straight Orthodox Christians have gay family members and friends. The discussion is already taking place in very small circles. It is time for the episcopacy to step up to reality, be good shepherds and heal the wounds of those they have cast aside. Healing in the Orthodox Church takes place by loving, being compassionate, listening and providing grace which flows from the sacramental mysteries of the Church. This is already taking place – let’s at least be honest and open about it and progress to the next level.