Thursday, March 14, 2013

Is rejection of same-sex relationships Orthodox?

From the blog Mysterion, the first in a multi-part series on the question "How do we know that the rejection of same-sex relationships is Orthodox?"

The following is part of a correspondence with a friend of mine, who asked that I refer to him by his baptismal name: Basil. The question originally asked was, "How do we know that the rejection of same-sex relationships is Orthodox?" I hope to publish further portions of my responses in the next few weeks.

Dear Basil:

I apologize in advance for the length of this email. I also apologize for the time it has taken me to respond to your original email. I delayed for a couple of reasons. First and most obviously, the questions you asked are significant and deserved a measure of consideration before I could offer a suitable response. Second, I cannot escape the feeling that the standard responses to these questions, which we typically see in a wide variety of Orthodox apologetic literature—sermons, articles, podcasts, books, retreats, and even hierarchical epistles—are somehow threadbare and inadequate, if not for Orthodox insiders, then certainly for the people of our generation outside the Church to whom we are trying to give an answer for the hope that lies within us.

If our audience lay within the Church, or if this were another time in history, I might find a response easier. If you asked at that time, “How do we know that the rejection of same-sex relationships is Orthodox?” I might first appeal to custom and say that the Orthodox Church rejects same-sex relationships because it has always done so. This answer may well satisfy the insiders; in a more conservative time, it may also have satisfied non-Christians who valued conformity, duty and honour to a given cultural tradition. However, our contemporary society, particularly in the West but rapidly on a global level, no longer upholds such values. Perhaps we have witnessed too many historical instances in which cultural conformity, duty and honour have produced nothing but violence, death and destruction. Even as an Orthodox Christian, I see some of my fellow Orthodox devoting themselves to slavish obedience over practices and teachings that are trivial at best and destructive at worst. Even if I were to appeal to custom in answering your question, I might well be reminded of the words of St. Cyprian of Carthage, “Custom without truth is merely the antiquity of error.”

Perhaps I might appeal to Scripture and the teachings of the Fathers to bolster my argument from custom. I could point to the various verses that you mentioned in your first email, the strictures (supposedly against same-sex relationships) from the Old and New Testaments. I might dredge the sayings and writings of the Fathers for quotes that supported the ongoing practice of the Church. Again, if you were already convinced of the matter, no doubt this scriptural and patristic evidence would suffice. If you spent some time considering these texts, though, you might find yourself increasingly troubled. In your first email, you correctly pointed out the problems involved with using scriptural verses to legislate on our contemporary situation. Scriptural proof-texting, even at its most sophisticated, is not sufficiently compelling to a postmodern generation that tends to be suspicious of any attempt to assign texts of any sort, let alone Scripture, with inherent objective authority. To put it simply, if I were to answer your question, “How do we know…?” by saying, “Because it is in the Book,” you might be convinced, but no one else would be...

Complete post here.


  1. This is a debate set up by the Devil himself to sow disharmony and discord as well as to cast the Church as bigoted and intolerant - "unloving" as they say.

    Nobody is interested in understanding the Church's position on this, they just want to throw stones at her and cast brickbats.

  2. Goodness, Andrei -- did you read the entire post?

  3. I disagree with Andrei's assessment too, but I found the article(s) to be filled with a lot of words without really saying anything. Was the priest trying to inform or impress us?

  4. Probably this post should be read in context of Part 2, the follow up, and as the conversational email it was, rather than as a concise point by point presentation for a wider audience. This being the case, the "wordiness" could be viewed as an example of the patience, thought, and care that ought to characterize pastoral relationships that have a fully personal context, though it requires patience to read as well if you are just trying to cut to the chase to get information.

  5. ofgrace - if that is the case (an example of a pastoral relationship) it should not have been shared on a blog. I read both part 1 & 2.

    1. Many priests who write and have a blog interact in a somewhat pastoral way with their readers online (e.g., in comments) and I see nothing improper about this even though it is public. After all, it is part of their role. In fact, it seems to me it often has a pedagogical benefit for other readers as well. Certainly, there are very private discussions and issues of pastoral confidentiality that should never be breached in such a forum, but Fr. Richard's posts don't strike me as being of that sensitive a nature. I also rather doubt these were posted without "Basil's" permission.

      My apologies with regard to assuming part 2 (of which I had only read about 2/3 at my earlier reply to you) held the conclusion of the discussion. For those patient and/or motivated enough, there is apparently more to come! I personally am interested to see where Fr. Richard goes, because I think this sort of deeper reflection (which goes beyond a simple appeal to authority) fills a need in our postmodern context. (Apparently, at least one other reader does, too, judging from the strongly appreciative comment at Fr. Richard's site.) From what I have gathered so far, it seems clear to me that Fr. Richard and Basil both accept as true and as a given the traditional Orthodox teaching on this subject, which is why Fr. Richard is not simply reiterating that Tradition in his replies to Basil. Even in my former life as an Evangelical, I kept wondering, apart from the appeal to Scripture and its traditional interpretation as authorities, what apologetic for heterosexual marriage as the only appropriate context for sexual union could be made that would make sense to someone who did not any longer trust those authorities at face value. What was on offer (apart from the appeal to Christian tradition) were only vague threats that somehow legalizing homosexual marriage or civil unions would practically undermine traditional families. I'm not saying there isn't something to that argument, but it wasn't intuitively convincing to me at the time, and so I was in no position to make it convincing to someone else either! Since as an Orthodox Christian, I believe Scripture and Tradition reflect Christ Who is the very Reality upholding all things, a Reality that on some implicit level at least has to be apparent even to those who don't any longer trust the Scriptures or their traditional interpretation, I expect there to be some sort of bridge of thought based on insights from the Tradition to connect to mutual perceptions, values, and experiences that can used as a precursor to such a person reconsidering the full authority of the Tradition. I could be mistaken, but I expect that finding the right pieces of the Tradition to attach to that common ground in a way that makes some sense to a postmodern mind is where Fr. Richard is attempting to go with his musings.

  6. I read both parts, tedious and prolix though they were. My impression was, mostly, that the author wanted to make the reader feel good, rather than to make clear why homosexuality is sinful. Like DebD, I wondered why private correspondence was posted on the Internet. One only can hope that permission was granted.

    Is the the author named for the obscure "St. Richard of Swabia." If the author is a priest, he should be posting with his real (Orthodox) name. As considered, however, maybe he did.