The Wrong Question?

The Wrong Question?

October 30, 2022

One of the things that good teachers know is that there is no such thing as a stupid or wrong question from their students. To suggest to a student otherwise is to immediately shut down the possibility of further learning by the student. Every teacher has encountered numerous instances in class when a student raises their hand and begins with one of these phrases “I know this is a stupid question… OR… I am probably wrong but…” It takes a lot of courage for many students to raise their hand, risking judgment by their teacher as well as their peers, to ask a question that might be perceived by others as a stupid one or the wrong one. To dismiss that student’s question is the complete opposite of what teaching is all about. The Socratic method of teaching, based on asking and answering questions, promotes critical thinking and draws out new ways of thinking and understanding.

The clergy of the Orthodox Church, in their role as teachers, have not been immune to the practice of characterizing a question from the faithful as stupid or the wrong question. Years ago, I was present at a youth convention of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. During a Question-and-Answer session with the bishop, a teenager asked about the Church’s view of divorce, wanting to know more. The bishop stated, in front of the teenager’s peers, that the young man was asking the wrong question. The bishop stated that the question instead should be about marriage in the Church, and not about divorce. Hearing the question and noting the bravery of the teenager to even ask a question of the hierarch, I could not believe the pastoral insensitivity of the bishop. It was more than likely that this young man’s parents might be going through a divorce at that time. He deserved support and an answer to his question, which he never received from the bishop. I often wonder if the teenager later found a Church that would welcome and answer his questions.

It is not only young people that have been accused of asking the wrong questions of their Church leaders. Driving, I was listening to a radio show sponsored by the Greek Orthodox Church, the host priest read an email he received from a listener asking why women can’t be priests in the Orthodox Church. The first words out of the priest’s mouth were: “that is the wrong question”. The priest stated that the question should be about the foreordained role of women in the Church and not why they can’t serve as priests. And so, the host never directly answered the question.

Can it ever be wrong for a member of the faith to ask a question of their faith leaders? In the Gospel, we discover that Jesus was quite fond of asking and answering questions. A rough estimate from the Gospels finds that Jesus asked over 300 questions and answered some two hundred. Imagine how many more were never recorded by the evangelists. In imitation of Christ, the ultimate teacher, a few bishops and priests have been willing to ask and answer what are viewed as difficult questions of the faithful. Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), who reposed earlier this year, was chided by numerous Orthodox theologians and clergy because he frequently asked questions and raised issues the Orthodox Church is quite uncomfortable with, especially contemporary moral issues. In particular, he asked questions about the Orthodox Church’s stance on the ordination of women to the priesthood and same-sex marriage. In one article he stated that such issues deserve “rigorous inquiry”. Recently the official response of the Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America concerning same-sex relationships was a decree to end all discussion on the matter – no more questions.[1]

The faithful are asking questions and are being told that they are asking the wrong questions. But what concerns LGBT Orthodox Christians is that the leaders of the Church are not even talking to us openly, let alone asking us questions. In the book Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, the author quotes his grandmother saying that important things can only be understood when you get close. The leaders of the Church need to get close because, as an old Ukrainian proverb states: “wisdom is in the head, not in the beard.”

[1] Numerous priests and scholars have reacted to the statement by the OCA.  In particular, see the comments by Very Reverend Dr. Isaac Skidmore and Very Reverend Dr. John A. Jillions.



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