Bullying and the Orthodox Church

Bullying and the Orthodox Church

March 17, 2013

Slipping is a play about bullying that I saw not too long ago at the Studio 620 playhouse in St. Petersburg, Florida. The work by Daniel Talbot is specifically about bullying gay teenagers.  The story revolves around Eli, a high school senior who must carefully walk through the minefield that is being a gay teenager in a public school in Iowa.  The play examines the very tragic issue of bullying, which unfortunately occurs at every level of society to one degree or another, but is almost pandemic in middle and high schools across the country.  I do not know if the playwright intended it or not, but I actually saw three different types of bullying taking place in the story. 

The first is a type of self bullying that Eli and regrettably almost every other gay person goes through.  It is hard enough being a teenager without the added pressure of realizing that you are different from almost everyone else. Society constantly tells gay people that they should be straight and we know that we are not. And so, many young people beat themselves up to varying degrees, vacillating between trying to change who they are and self acceptance. Hopefully they will hear the current message being broadcast to them that “it gets better.”

The second type of bullying that Eli must endure comes from his secret boyfriend who does not want to be seen or known as gay and so he takes his insecurities out on his off-and-on boyfriend, Eli. In private moments, the boyfriend is kind and sweet with Eli. In public he ignores him, especially at school, so as not to be labeled as gay.

Finally, Eli must suffer what most gay teenagers go through, bullying at his high school from students who verbally and even physically abuse him. He also suffers at the hands of teachers and administrators who ignore bullying in schools, who by their silence in general, and bullying against LGBTQ students in particular, grant their tacit approval to the bullying.  

The Orthodox Church is also guilty of verbally bullying its LGBT communicants. Because of the Church’s “official” message on homosexuality, LGBT Orthodox Christians are often forced to be their own worst enemies, loathing and bullying themselves.  We are also bullied by shepherds of the Church, individual bishops, priests as well as laymen in positions of authority.  At best the bullying comes from bishops who issue painful statements on homosexuality and worst the bullying takes place in the confessional. Personally I have experienced such bullying while going to confession, to a priest who did not know me.  I can only imagine that this sad and traumatic occurrence has happened to other LGBT Orthodox Christians. The Church as a whole bullies through its messages of either hatred of LGBT Christians or from the silence of straight brothers and sisters. As an example, these are the recent words of a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church, homosexuals are “people who have consciously chosen the path of moral and spiritual death instead of the path of life.” (Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro) What gay person has consciously chosen to be gay, to be persecuted, to be ridiculed, to be ostracized from the parents that gave them life, from the friends who have sustained them from the Church that nurtured them?

Bullying is an “aggressive behavior manifested by the use of force or coercion to affect others, particularly when the behavior is habitual and involves an imbalance of power.” (Wikipedia) As an Orthodox Christian who wants to serve Christ and His Church to best of his ability I, like many gay Orthodox Christians, was and am bullied on a regular basis. From the frequent articles that appear in the official Orthodox press and online websites of various jurisdictions giving “the official Orthodox view on homosexuality” to the recurrent epistles of the various Synods who denounce “immorality” in society, frequently pointing to gay people and their “demands for equality” as one of the major causes for the current “wickedness of humanity”.  These are methods of intimidation which are only one form of bullying and nothing more than bashing Orthodox Christians who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

Perhaps the most devastating form of the bullying of LGBT people in the Church comes from the individual bishops and priests who are ordained to serve and comfort the flock of Christ.  In sermons, confessions, counseling sessions and even casual conversations one can find numerous examples of coercion, intimidation and the spiritual persecution of gay people for simply being who God Created us to be. Just as egregious is the silence by those members of the clergy on this topic.  Certainly by their silence on the bullying, the clergy of the Church willingly assume the role of “lieutenants who may seem to be willing to assist the primary bully” in their actions. (Wikipedia) The hierarchy of the Church have a say in either stopping the bullying or remaining silent.  Their silence constitutes approval.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Antoinette Herrera

    Dear Father Andriy,

    thank you for this article. Coming as it does–at the top of Lent–it’s a very timely one.

    I have wrangled for some time with the idea of coming out to my parish priest. But I can’t help but think that Father XXX would probably advise me to remain celibate, or insist that if I do get involved with anyone, that it be a man, and that the relationship lead to marriage.
    Thank you for your prayers. You are in mine. Be well.

    1. andre

      Thank you for your email and kind remarks about the latest reflection. I think that you are right to be cautious. I have had a few emails within the last few months from people who came out to their priest with less than great results. One priest banned them from communion, another refused to christmate the person (a potential convert) unless they left their same-sex spouse and one has received the cold shoulder since discussing the issue with the priest. The truth is that most Orthodox priests are either ill equipped (educationally) or afraid to deal with the issue. I am not telling you to avoid speaking with your priest – but be careful. You may want to try and gauge his reaction by speaking in generalities.

      You remain in my prayers.
      Be well and at peace,

  2. Anonymous

    Sadly, your post confirms that bullying is alive and well.
    Oh, how what hellish years I had to go through in school: mostly from students, but some of it also came from teachers, at least tacitly so.

    As to the Church, well, it’s downright dispiriting.
    I’ve been exploring Orthodox spirituality for a while, attending a couple of churches regularly.
    What if a priest found out I’m still single at my age: wouldn’t that in and of itself arouse his suspicion?
    Does it mean Orthodox spirituality is out of bounds for me?

    I’m both angry and outraged and depressed , maybe not clinically, but extremely saddened.
    Any advice?

    1. andre

      Hello and thank you for your email and your support. What you have experienced is what many of us have, unfortunately. I hope that things are getting a little better with awareness.
      Most priests would not be suspicious of you just because you are single at a certain age – but there are nosy priests or those with vivid imaginations.
      There are supportive priests – although they are few and far between – or remain very guarded with their support. Of course I believe that Orthodox spirituality is beautiful -but you would have to see and experience for yourself. You can also attend services and avoid “coffee hour” – that is when the questions and issues might arise.
      I wish you well, and all of God’s graces.

  3. Noel Warren

    Happy Easter from the Anglican side of the fence!! A little early for you I know.
    I recently saw a photo on facebook of Darth Vader in the vestments of the Russian Patriarch. Fair comment or not? The supreme bully I would have thought as well as one who betrayed his Jeddai heritage and went over to the Dark side.
    If you are not out to your family and church friends then coming out to your priest alone puts you in a vulnarable position. Take a couple of friends along. Be firm and friendly but never retract anything. Stand your ground. God loves you just as you are. If the priest bullies you, get an older mentor to go and immediately confront him about his behaviour. It is not accetable undr any circumstances. Sorry I am in Australia, otherwise I would come with you.
    Lots of Love, Noel.

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