February 27, 2012

Will the Church ever listen?  Letter from students to the bishops.   

In August 2011 a very brave and sincere group of 15 Orthodox college students wrote an open letter to the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America.  (Link to complete letter below) The letter was written to “express our grave concerns about the state of public Orthodox discourse on a highly sensitive pastoral issue that especially affects young people in our Church.”  The students accuse some Orthodox in repeating disgusting and discredited theories about the etiology of same-sex attraction, using words that “make us vomit.” The letter is written as plea to the bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, although it could and should be directed to every Orthodox bishop in the world – canonical and “uncanonical” to take action.

  Although not outlined in this manner by the students, I see four direct requests that the students make of the bishops:

  1. Stop the hateful speech about gay people which only causes spiritual harm and causes gay Orthodox Christians and the families that love them to leave Orthodoxy;
  2. Treat gay people with “understanding, acceptance, love, justice and mercy” (1992 OCA Synodal Affirmation);
  3. Speak with love and moderation;
  4. Be willing to listen as well as condemn.

I wholeheartedly support the students in their courageous move to change the tenor of the discussions about the “vulnerable and marginalized” in the Church, in particular, gay people. My fear is that their plea will fall upon deaf ears.  My greater fear is that their request will evoke even stronger anti-gay rhetoric from some bishops and priests which can actually already be read on various Orthodox internet sites. If I had only one question to ask and one plea to make of the bishops, they would be as follows:

  1. Have you ever sincerely listened to a gay Orthodox Christian about their life, their dreams, struggles and hopes?
  2. Please listen to gay Orthodox Christians and try to understand their lives, their dreams, struggles and hopes!

As a former member of the Social and Moral Issues Commission for SCOBA (Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas) representing my diocese, I can tell you that there was never much of an attempt to listen to those Orthodox Christians about whom we were creating policy.  Assembled were bishops, priests and well educated laymen discussing and preparing documents for Episcopal approval on a wide range of contemporary social and moral issues.  While each member brought to the table decades of pastoral and professional education and life experiences, we never directly consulted the lay people who have directly experienced such issues.

Ask the mother of a gay child if she condemns her child as much as her pastor does in his sermon. Ask the brother who has a lesbian sister if he agrees with the fact that the Church denies his sister participation in the holy mysteries even though she is more faithful to Christ and the Church than most of his family members.

Where is the dialogue?  Where are the discussions?  Is anyone in the Church listening to these students?  Is anyone listening to gay people who have a story to tell about their real life experiences in society and in the Church?  Has any bishop or priest offered to sit down and listen to the students who wrote this letter?  Have we heard the stories from Orthodox gay people who have been abused; abused spiritually, emotionally and mentally by “pastors” of their own Church?  Have we asked for their forgiveness for maligning them with our words and deeds?  Have we asked for their forgiveness for not showing love, kindness and charity?  The answer to all of these questions is NO.  The Church has failed gay people and the families who have gay sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, grandchildren…. There is a reason that our Lord Jesus Christ told the parable about the Good Samaritan and used a priest as an example of the lack of charity. “The priest passed by on the other side.” (Luke 10:31)

One final plea to the bishops and my fellow priests: Confession is good for the soul, brethren.  Confess that you have spoken more about gay people than you have listened to the gay people in your diocese and parish. Confess that you have been less than kind and charitable in your words and actions about and towards gay people.  It is time to be the Samaritan – bind the wounds and listen.





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