Building A Bridge

Building A Bridge

August 20, 2017

An Orthodox Christian reviews Building a Bridge – How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity by Father James Martin SJ.

Orthodox Christians are supposed to be highly suspicious of anything written or preached by Catholic clergy, and that holds doubly true for anything writer or preached by Jesuits. Thankfully, I am not one of those Orthodox Christians otherwise I would have never read the charismatic book Building a Bridge – How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity by Father James Martin SJ. While some reviewers have criticized Father Martin for presenting a positive view of LGBT individuals, others believe that he did not go far enough in his support for full inclusion of the LGBT Catholics in the Church. Orthodox Christians who are LGBT could only dream of one of our own priests writing such a pastorally supportive and spiritually uplifting work. If Father Martin were an Orthodox priest writing in glowing support of LGBT individuals, he would be suspended and his bishop would demand that he issue an immediate retraction, recant his words and ideas, and even offer penance for his actions. If he would not comply, I have no doubt that such an Orthodox priest would be defrocked. The fact that Father James still enjoys the support of many of his brother priests, let alone his superiors, is for this Orthodox Christian, is nothing short of a minor miracle.
There are several significant points which Father James Martin raises that are particularly important for the Orthodox Church and acute for LGBT Orthodox Christians and their families.
1) A lack of understanding and conversation between LGBT Christians and the institutional Church: Father Martin calls attention to the fact that LGBT Catholics are indeed part of the Church, and many LGBT individuals feel that they have been hurt, unwelcomed, excluded and insulted by the earthly Church of Christ. He also acknowledges that many within the Church desire to reach out to the LGBT community but are unsure of the path to take. He remarkably includes many bishops in this group, “all the bishops I know are sincere in their desire for true pastoral outreach.” What an incredible statement of hope, confidence, and faith in the work of the Holy Spirit! There is no bishop or actively serving canonical priest in the Orthodox Church who would publically recognize the hurt, exclusion, and insult felt by LGBT Orthodox Christians. In fact, official documents of the Church still discuss homosexuality in the same sentence with adultery and fornication.
2) The work of the Gospel is only completely accomplished when the Church is united: The Church has long since abandoned the ritual of dismissing the unbaptized and penitents from being present at the Eucharistic service , and yet many LGBT Christians know, and certainly have felt and experienced, that they are unwelcomed in the Church unless they repent of their God given sexuality. And yet without the presence of LGBT individuals in the Church, they cannot be ministered to and preached to. Unfortunately too often the only place for catechesis and ministry is in the Church. The earthly Church is only fully replete when all of its members can gather for worship and communion. For this reason, Christ speaks about leaving the 99 sheep and going after the one sheep who has wandered. (Matthew 18:12-14).
3) The institutional church should not only respect LGBT Catholics but also “suffer” with them: Taking his cue from the Greek root word for compassion – to suffer – (πάσχω), Father Martin calls upon the Church to listen to LGBT individuals, to show compassion, to learn and ask questions, in order to understand. Understanding leads to a greater depth of compassion, and as any pastor will tell you, there is little pastoral activity of value without listening and compassion. Unfortunately, the Orthodox Church has not “suffered” with LGBT individuals, and indeed has shown very little compassion. Recent events in Russia and Georgia have witnessed priests condemning and even physically attacking LGBT individuals and groups. The Russian Orthodox Patriarch recently compared same-sex marriage to Nazism. Can you begin a dialog under such conditions? Would someone enter your home knowing that they might be called a Nazi and/or violently attacked?
4) Father Martin calls upon the LGBT community to see the Church, as established by Christ, as a bridge, and to begin to walk upon the bridge with faith in the Holy Spirit. This act of faith might even demand that the LGBT community walk 99% of the length of the bridge in order to meet the institutional church at the final one percent. Many LGBT Orthodox are already walking and willing to walk even further in order to part of the Church of Christ on earth. We desire the mysteries, holiness, solace, and sacred community that the Church provides. We want to part of the larger community of faithful, we want to be one with our brothers and sisters who are not LGBT.
Ultimately Father Martin is simply asking for a bridge between the Church and the LGBT community that is based on “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” These three virtues should be the basis of all relationships that the Church has. However, there first has to be a desire on the part of the Church to want to see the bridge and walk the bridge in order to preach the Gospel. While Father Martin has taken the words of “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in order to frame the relationship, I might also add the virtues of “faith, hope, and love”, and “greatest of these is love”. (I Cor. 13:13)



This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Bob

    I appreciate Fr.Martin’s article and remain hopeful that bridges may be built between the institutional Church and LGBT Orthodox Christians. We should recall though that bridges already exist, and many have covered some distance in trying to reach the institutional Church, serving and suffering, in Christian discipleship, yet fearfully aware of being excluded from the body of Christ upon discovery of their sexual identity. With hope that some brave and honest servants of God will take some steps towards the LGBT Orthodox Christians who are also on that bridge, and with warm and loving embrace, accept fully that ” lost sheep” into the Body of Christ.

    1. andre

      Thank you for the wonderfully expressed sentiments of hope. May the Lord hear your prayer.
      I bid you peace,

  2. Marika

    Father Martin is a bit of an exception and Francis is not a typical pope. Make no mistake: more Catholic theologians have been silenced in the 20th and 21st centuries than Orthodox ones. It’s always struck me that the Orthodox have have taken the “reception” of teachings far more seriously than the Roman Catholics. Witness the colossal fail of Humanae Vitae, which the RC Church seems helpless to address except to restate the party line. The current problem with the Orthodox and LGBT issues right now is twofold: ancient cultural prejudice against homosexuality, which is alive and well among the various autocephalous churches, and the unfortunate coalition of the Orthodox with the anti-intellectual evangelicals, which has resulted in bypassing modern science and reinforcing all the old prejudices. Have any of these clerics from the East or the West ever humbled themselves to examine a modern undergraduate or graduate textbook in psychology to see what the research on LGBT issues (which has exploded in the last 30 years) actually says? Is it OK for churches to proclaim truths that are at odds with scientific literature on the nature of sex and gender or to misrepresent that work? What is a church for, anyway? Does it exist so that the male celibates can proclaim that “wife and mother” is a woman’s sacred duty and that LGBT people are spitting in the face of God? How would they know? How irrelevant can they get before people simply ignore them?

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