Why I Haven’t Spoken Out on Gay Marriage–till Now

[April 22, 2015]

With some kind of genius for stupidity, I said on my Facebook page recently that I am not particularly opposed to gay marriage. No, it was worse than that; what I said was, “I was asked why I don’t oppose gay marriage, and I’ll try to make this brief. It’s because I don’t agree that gay marriage harms society, or harms marriage.”

I’m no big-time writer, but it caused an outsized stir. My readers are mostly Christian and conservative, and the comments overflowed. Clearly, I struck a nerve.

But it was a nerve I never intended to strike, for I am not actually in favor of gay marriage. I’ve just never opposed it publicly (what I meant by saying I “don’t” oppose it). I don’t think it’s the catastrophe my friends do.

The thing responders most urgently wanted me to know is that people who oppose gay marriage are facing persecution. Yes, history attests that people who believe they have been bullied often bully in return. But blocking gay marriage would not prevent that. We’re in the midst of a long-term change in public opinion on these matters, and will just have to live through whatever that entails.

The other thing animating responders was the prospect of the government redefining what marriage is. Marriage, or at least mating, has defined itself ably for all of human history. Many find it downright surreal that the official line could be that gay and straight couples are just the same.

In that regard, biology (or perhaps endocrinology) is on our side. A young child may be taught that marriage can take different forms, and that the physical differences between men and women are meaningless. But a few years later he’ll be thinking about those differences quite diligently. For the vast majority of teens (90 percent? 95 percent?) those thoughts will focus on the opposite sex. He will discover that opposite-ness is indeed a marvelous thing. This pondering is how we come to understand what are accurately called the “facts of life.”

Life-facts in general don’t impinge on us as sharply as they used to, for we live in a mostly-artificial habitat, insulated from the forces that heave up mountains and sway the tides. Yet we are still embodied creatures. The endless thinking about sex, the endless yearning to have sex, derive their obsessive power from the deep and primitive need to reproduce.

And gay sex does not participate in that. Straight marriage is a gear in the ancient machinery of the universe; gay marriage is not. No law can change that, or even obscure it. Hopefully this child has been taught to be polite, and not say things that might hurt others’ feelings. But no law can make him un-know what we all instinctively know: gay marriage is not the same.

That makes me not worry about it so much. As a conservative Christian, my beliefs about the meaning of marriage already diverge from secular assumptions at a number of points. If the differences between Christian and secular marriage become even more clear, that’s not a bad thing.

In fact, I wish those differences were more clear. What’s the main reason I haven’t joined up with the anti-gay-marriage movement? Sheer exasperation. It mightily annoys me when opponents of gay marriage use the term “traditional marriage” to mean solely “not gay.” Straight marriage is much more threatened by the things straight people do: internet porn, adultery, and most obviously, divorce. To blame gay people for destroying marriage seems a classic case of “Look over there!”

I admit my complaint is a little unfair; other Christian organizations do address those threats, and it’s also true that a political cause must narrow its focus. But it still seems to me there’s a double standard going on.

Here’s what I mean. Some years ago I received a Christmas letter from the head of an evangelical organization. About halfway through he shared that, sadly, he had gotten divorced that past year. But in the next paragraph he had great news: God had given him a new wife!

Well, maybe there were extenuating circumstances, maybe I shouldn’t judge—but it still irritates me how blandly Christians accept this sort of thing. It used to be that, if gay people were expected to live celibately, married people were expected, at least, to preserve marriage for a lifetime. Even if divorce was unpreventable, remarriage wasn’t assumed. That line about “What God has joined together, let no one put asunder” comes from Jesus himself. (Mark 10:8-9).

Gay marriage is only the last in a long series of shifts in sexual morality. Why didn’t premarital sex or cohabitation galvanize our attention, like this has? Where were the protests then? How did divorce and remarriage become about as frequent among Christians as in the general population?

When reminded of those higher standards, of not that long ago, people say, “But it would be too hard for divorced people to remain unmarried. It’s too hard to live without love.” Yet that’s exactly what we ask gay people to do. We should at least admit that it is not easy; it is in fact a kind of heroism, and we should honor it better than we do. I don’t advocate relaxing the rules (of the faith) for gays, but I wonder how straight people came to relax the rules for themselves.

So I don’t care what other people do in bed, and I don’t think that a gay couple living down the street undermines the marriages around them. But I do think that gay sex damages the soul, and I’ll tell you why.

My Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that the whole purpose of human life is union with God. It teaches that this is possible even for the most ordinary Christians. Our church has had plenty of practice—centuries and millennia of practice—discerning what helps and what hinders that process. It has long observed (as have most ancient faiths) that sex outside hetero marriage (gay or straight) is one of the things that impede spiritual growth.

This is not a theoretical belief, but an observation based on practical experience. So it can’t change. But why should other people care what I believe? If I saw someone smoking a cigarette, I might worry that he’s harming himself, and he might suspect I disapprove. But we don’t have to have an argument about it. He’s free to do what he wants, and I’m free to have my own opinion. Live and let live, I say.

But mark this: I also expect my church to be free practice this faith. While there is much more to the process of soul-healing than sexual activity—anger and pride, for example, are much more frequently addressed—that doesn’t make the sexual morality obsolete. So we uphold it, whether gay or straight. Everyone in my church is there voluntarily; everyone is free to leave at any time. We all struggle with one temptation or another, and support each other on the path. If any attempt is made to restrict what people of faith believe, teach, preach, and practice, this country will have a much bigger fight on its hands.

I’ve resisted joining up with the “defend marriage” movement for a long time, and you might wonder why I’d change my mind now. It’s not that I think I have anything fresh to add to the conversation. People aren’t listening anyway; to gay advocates, I am just another hater. When I tried, a few years ago, to put my “live and let live” perspective into words, a gay blogger responded with a post stating, “Frederica says I don’t deserve to be loved.”

No, I’m joining the fray because it looks like the battle is lost. That means it’s time to stand together. It’s not hard to predict what happens next: winners silence their opponents, and losers are hounded, misrepresented, and punished for their views.

Well, what did we expect? What we are saying seems nonsense to the secular world, and is felt as actively antagonistic. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

This past Good Friday I was struck by the scripture that says Christ suffered “outside the gate,” as an outcast, beyond the city wall. Why should we be any different? As the Scripture says, “Let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured” (Hebrews 13:13). It’s time. Let’s go.

About Frederica Matthewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

Christian LifeGenderMarriage and Family

29 comments:

  1. I have very gradually and slowly come around to the case for same-sex marriage. In part because of a couple of people I know who married someone of the same sex and not only was their faith life not diminished, but vastly improved by the experience. But my point isn't to disagree with you about SSM itself; rather I want to add my agreement to your thoughts on the religious response to it. It often amazes me that Christians are only now starting to think that our culture doesn't value the things that our faith values. I'm not sure why it's been the issue of gay marriage rather than divorce, wars of choice, oppression of the poor or any number of other ways that our society acts in ways which are incompatible with the faith. We have always been strangers in a strange land, no matter how outwardly Christian society has claimed to be. For those who are just now realizing that their faith makes them outsiders and might even lead them on paths marked by suffering and rejection, I can only say: welcome to reality, friend.

  2. "Our church has had plenty of practice—centuries and millennia of practice—discerning what helps and what hinders that process. It has long observed (as have most ancient faiths) that sex outside hetero marriage (gay or straight) is one of the things that impede spiritual growth."
    How can your church have observed that sex within gay marriage impedes spiritual growth when, as far as i know, there isn't much historical precedent for gay marriage in the countries where orthodox christianity has been practiced?

  3. Love your writings – and truly appreciate your thoughts on this very difficult topic. If possible, though, I'd like to understand what you mean when you say,

    "and I’ll tell you why…[o]ur church has had plenty of practice…discerning what helps and what hinders [process of spiritual growth]… It has long observed…that sex outside hetero marriage (gay or straight) is one of the things that impede spiritual growth.

    This is not a theoretical belief, but an observation based on practical experience. So it can’t change."

    I first would say that I appreciate you turning not to parsing Scripture or biblical language or history to make your case for your opinion, but turn instead to the practical evidence of the value of such relationships to those individuals involved.

    However, wouldn't it be at least plausible to claim that throughout the centuries, the church has been harshly opposed to and judgmental toward non-hetero and non-canonical monogamous partnerships? If so, isn't it also plausible to claim that the "long observed" elements were not objective evaluations of the efficacy or value of non-hetero+non-canonical relationships, but, rather, strongly held biases against such relationships?

    I don't see how you might say otherwise, but perhaps I am missing the historical data where the church allowed such relationships to attempt to flourish only to, assuredly sadly, observe that they are not, in fact, congenial to spiritual growth. Please point me to that information if available.

    In absence of clear evidence that your (or other) church has explored the value of loving non-hetero/non-canonical relationships with abundant evidence that such relationships – ontologically – have no redeeming spiritual value, could you not suppose it is possible that the church's position is formed rather a priori on the basis of particular cultural and societal norms that perhaps presuppositionally informed interpretations and readings of Scripture?

    This is further chagrined by the growing body of sociological and psychological data that appears to demonstrate that non-hetero monogamous partnerships see to have all the benefits of their hetero counterparts – both for the involved partners and for children raised in those homes. Would it then be possible to say that the very things that lead to human flourishing in all the meaningful ways we understand that has no consonant with "spiritual growth"? This, again, seems unlikely.

    While I appreciate attempting to ground your opinion in evidence of value, it seems that the choice of church practical history – without some evidence as to its objectivity, fairness and representativeness vis a vis modern non-hetero monogamous partnerships – is hard to defend as a basis to claim such non-traditional relationships are prima facie contraposed to spiritual health, flourishing and growth.

    But maybe I've misinterpreted your point or am sorely uninformed as to the church's sociological and anthropological research in this area.

  4. I continue to admire your wisdom. There is such an exasperation in my own heart over these issues. May we continue to be able to practice Christianity FREELY in this nation! Setting all "marriage" issues aside, let each one worship as directed by the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

  5. You make, or drive at, some great points, jeff_r: Sex between any two loving, consenting adults is OK and richly rewarding. Gay families are just as, if not more so, supportive and nurturing, than hetero families. The evidence is in, and that’s why gay marriage is being more and more recognized around the world.

    And that’s great. But we are not talking sociology here. We are talking spirituality, ancient Christianity, which limits, for its adherents, sexual expression to heterosexual marriage. It is a spiritual discipline, with its own reasoning, not subject to scientific analysis.

  6. While I identify with a congregation which has been marrying same sex couples since about 1980, I see nothing wrong with your point of view. Same sex marriages differ in some ways from heterosexual marriages, and I believe it will take time to assess their effects on those who enter into them. At the moment we can say only that such marriages secure a slew of legal benefits important to gay couples, especially those raising children together. And I share your skepticism that having probably less than two out of a hundred marriages between persons of the same sex will have any large effect on heterosexual marriage. So does a friend who is a Mormon lawyer who has devoted much of his time to fighting against same sex marriage for twenty years; he thinks it will do harm, but much less than the present widespread adultery and divorce, which is what you are saying. It is nice to encounter a voice championing moderation among all the extreme viewpoints.

  7. Otherwise a nice article but I wish you would just knock off the persecution complex!

    What you say is true— 99% of all kids will, at some point in their teenage years, start thinking about the <em>opposite</em> sex. About 1% (by no means the 5% you suggest!) will think about the same sex. Gay marriage will not threaten straight marriage, or change it. All that will happen when the nonsense dies down is that some few men and some few women will settle with a life partner who is of the same sex. And probably get divorced about as fast. Some will raise kids. Big deal. My own father was raised in a same-sex household— two uncles who were not gay, but several parents of that generation had died young and they were left to raise more kids than they ever bargained for. Dad turned out just fine.

    Persecuting Christians! Persecuting Christians! Emergency! Pass laws! Vote Republican!

    Ah, there— we've finally gotten to the core of it, haven't we.

    DO NOT get your theology or your morals from Fox News!

    People will be attracted to Christianity by the beauty of our lives, not by the "right"ness of our politics!

  8. Linked over by Rod Dreher. A solid and thoughtful post. One part, however, stood out.

    Frederica wrote:

    (( It’s not that I think I have anything fresh to add to the conversation. People aren’t listening anyway; to gay advocates, I am just another hater. When I tried, a few years ago, to put my “live and let live” perspective into words, a gay blogger responded with a post stating, “Frederica says I don’t deserve to be loved.” ))

    Please don't essentialize and hive-mind "gay advocates" based on one drama queen misrepresenting you, any more than you would essentialize and hive-mind "Christians" based on the worst of the drama queen emails and response posts you are going to get from this. Drama queening is 100% certain, but has almost nothing to do with the larger conversation.

    The Inter-toobz are full of ridiculous idiocy, in every group of size, without fail. Especially in unmoderated comments! But that ubiquitous idiocy is not the median thought of the other group, nor the median thought of one's own group. That entirely-predictable idiocy has nothing to do with whether your voice is adding something meaningful, nor with whether or not you are being heard (and listened to!) by quiet people on the other side outside the most histrionic drama queens.

    You liken gay sex to smoking. That implies that you find gay sex to be unhealthy, inadvisable, pleasurable in a shallow and fleeting way, and inappropriate to do in public spaces … but also not worth making illegal or worse than generally disliked and regulated as to acceptable time and place restrictions. Fair enough. However accurate your health assessment may or may not be (for the full Truth is known only to God), you seem fully capable of grasping the difference between Orientation and Activity, which is far from common among your compatriots. Moreover, you appear fully capable of expressing distaste for the Activity at a volume less deafening than, "You Are All HELLBOUND PERVERTS!!1!eleven!!"

    That seems to be an all-too-rare contribution to the conversation, from my perspective, and a far cry from hate (unless "I dislike cigarettes" is the new bigotry of Our Age). Of course your sentiment isn't received well by many others, because cigarette habits are somehow less socially acceptable than cocaine addiction in America. But so long as you are willing to listen to, say, an anti-theist earnestly express how they find any and all religious talk to be as repulsive as cigarette smoke, you certainly deserve a fair hearing when you equally liken non-matrimonial sex acts to inhaling tar vapor, in turn.

    So consider this one "gay advocate" who does not find you to be "a hater", and who can't wait for your viewpoint to be more widely believed among your peers. "Please stop blowing cigarette smoke in my face" may or may not be an accurate characterization of what your comrades confront, but it is vastly more realistic and proportional than the overwrought martyrdom fantasies in deep circulation.

  9. More to your Ancient Faith podcast than the wording of your post here – Welcome from those of us outside the gates Frederica!

    Allow me to be honest (but hopefully not misinterpreted): Since I first heard you speak (at Jesus People's Cornerstone festival in Bushnell – I have a sister and brother in-law who spent some time there and I was soon to be an Orthodox convert in the mid 1990's) I admit I kept you a bit at arms length. Like many (most?) speakers on the english language "Orthodox lecture circuit", you seem to have carried with you certain "progressive" thinking that is so common in folks of your generation in NA and Europe. I suspect I would strongly disagree with you (and others on said circuit, such as Bishop Kallistos) on issues such as womens ordination/vocations, pacifistic politics-as-Christianity, and most forms of ecumenism (to name the most divisive "top 3"). It still leaks through, such as when you say:

    "Why didn’t premarital sex or cohabitation galvanize our attention, like this has? Where were the protests then?"

    Well, actually it did, and there was (and is) plenty of protest. It's just that you probably did not notice, it simply was not part of the "scene" you were a part of at the time. I know this post is for a general audience, but you would do well I think to make some sort of delineation between how marriage is understood by "Classical" Christians (RC, Orthodox, and an ever-dwindling minority of protestants) and the modernist "christians" (of both the "liberal" and "evangelical" variety of protestants, and of course the many modernists who stand next to us in the Church) who would flippantly say "God has given me a new wife"!

    Things are moving very fast now. A "hard" persecution is almost upon us (and is already for a few, like the traditional protestant photographer in my state who refused to take part in an unholy rite of "gay" marriage and was financially ruined by our states "Human Rights Commission"). As Rod Dreher reports, the New Intolerance is already preparing criminal penalties in congress for those of us who hold to the thought crime of traditional Christianity. As the fortunate nexus of historical circumstances and ideas that was the American experiment of Religious Liberty fades into the rear-view mirror, Classical Christians will see that Hebrews 13:13 is not just a historical reference, but is rather the normative existential condition of our Faith. It is good to have you with us Frederica!!

    Christopher

    FMG: Thank you, Christopher, for your kindness and gentle rebuke. I am probably not as far on the liberal side as you think, but try to think and pray separately about each issue. Well you bring up something that has been on my mind today, as so many people try to tell me that it is absurd to say that resistors will be oppressed. I would like to see more of the firsthand stories of reprisals get out there. At present it sounds like we're talking in theory, but I hear anecdotal evidence that some are already bearing penalties. I do think the rhetoric about it becomes overblown at times, and it would be best to encounter real stories first hand. I wonder what the best venue would be, for that. I asked Rod if he has been able to gather some of those stories. Of course they would have to be thoroughly checked, because a false tale would undermine the whole project.

    Thanks for your welcome! Glad to be here.

  10. Your thoughtful comment largely resonates with me. My grandparents practiced a variant of Wesleyan asceticism that incorporated many of the self-sacrificing principles of Orthodoxy. If they were alive today, they too would oppose same-sex marriage, just as they would oppose any number of other features that conservative Christians have let infect their vision of "traditional" marriage.

    Your witness is a necessary witness because it's an essential voice for calling American Christians to repent of worldliness and take on practices that reflect the self-giving love of Christ.

    Still, I would caution against a hasty joining of hands with the self-proclaimed defenders of orthodox Christianity whose Christian convictions amount to little more than opposing civil same-sex marriage and adorning the walls of their homes with some Christian kitsch from the local Christian book store. I would caution against relying on a few interactions with deranged gay bloggers from defining how you view the cultural shift that is occurring. Many conservative Christians seem to thrive off of the threat of impending disaster. To think that our culture's acceptance of civil same-sex marriage represents some kind of victory for the forces of cultural Marxism is nothing shower of foolish. Nowhere has the granting of civil same-sex marriage resulted in its widespread practice. In fact, among the class of Americans who most consistently favor civil same-sex marriage–the cognitive elite–the practice of this social arrangement is remarkably rare. There will never come a point when our culture will forego its skepticism over same-sex marriage for the very reasons you suggest. Its recent tendency to tolerate it rests on our culture's neo-liberal tendency to let people do what they want as long as they don't impose direct and substantial harm onto others without consent. To the neo-liberal, opposition to civil same-sex marriage simply looks like the whining of self-righteous busy-bodies. Sure, a few liberal bloggers may wrongly see this as the great triumph of progressivism. I see nothing in the culture to suggest any such thing. To cede that false narrative to progressives is to cede far too much.

    In fact, I'd suggest that the culture's current skepticism toward religious-liberty claims is due precisely to the fact that many American conservative Christians practice a Christless, consumeristic faith that demands little of its adherents besides taking a few symbolic political stands. The culture knows hypocrisy when it sees it. It knows what self-sacrifice looks like, and it knows that it sees little of it in the lives of most American Christians. The skepticism isn't due to a lack of belief in religious liberty; rather, it's due to a refusal to let the narcissistic, consumeristic liturgies of American Christians qualify as a religion that's worthy of receiving special protection by the law. In fact, it's out of respect for people who practice religion in a manner that reflects some semblance of self-sacrifice that the culture refuses to grant those protections to the fat-and-sassy American Christians whose faith consists of little more than refusing to transacting business with gays. If some amount of social opprobrium pushed the fat-and-sassy lot to forego some of the pleasures of this world and reacquaint themselves with prayer, fasting, modest living, and the like, that's probably a good thing.

    I was visiting family in southern Indiana last year. The news featured a story about a water park that had kicked out a male patron for showing up in competition-style swimwear. The news broadcaster was interviewing another of the park's patrons, a massively overweight woman in a string bikini. She replied along the lines of, "I'm an evangelical Christian, and I want this to be a family-oriented place for Christian people; I'm glad they kicked him out. When I come here with my kids and my boyfriend, I don't want to see some guy in a Speedo." The news broadcaster couldn't help but smirk. The world often knows Christian hypocrisy when it sees it. Sadly, too many Christians don't, or are too timid to call it out for what it is. That "Christian" woman probably did more to further gay rights in Kentucky than a hundred gay activists did in the preceding year.

    FMG: I agree with most of what you say, especially that the numbers of gay marrieds will never be large, and gay marrieds as members of society will have little impact. And I agree that some of the talk about the coming oppression is overstated. I agree that many Christians are judged to be shallow–but many non-Christians can be judged to be shallow, too. Shallowness is a byproduct of the self-indulgent consumerist culture, and we should feel more pity than anything else. There are plenty of Christians who are *not* shallow, who practice their faith diligently and speak about this issue in a fair and sober way. They should not be smeared with the behavior of those who don't represent them.

    So its not an influx of great numbers of gay marrieds that concerns me, but curiosity about what restrictions will be placed on those with an objection of conscience. I don't run a bakery, but I'd like to see bakers define for themselves what they feel they can and can't do, in accord with their conscience. Of course, many people already say they have experienced reprisals. I would like to see those stories get out there in the public realm, so we can know more accurately what's going on, rather than gaze into the future with dramatic expressions on our faces 😉

  11. Dear Ms. Mathews-Green:

    You can be as articulate and charming as ever, but I fear it comes down to an unchristian refusal to engage the world. Christians have opposed sexual revolution from its inception- at each stage derided as hysterical by the progressives. At each stage, the thoughtful evolved Christians offered some way for entente, and then society as a whole moved on so that the innovation became the norm. This has happened with birth control; abortion; divorce; fornication; masturbation; pornography; gay rights.

    The Gay Marriage movement is without precedent. Even in societies where homosexuality was favored (Sparta, Rome, ancient Philistines), no one ever thought of gay marriage even if homosexual acts might be part of the liturgical rites.

    Please reconsider. Be willing to be hated by the world to say that gay marriage is bad for everyone.

    I also fear that as such a prominent spokesman, you are signaling that the OCA are going to go over the cliff with the Franciscan Papacy which-will-not-judge-anyone.

    Yours,

    Publius

    FMG: Dear Publius, thank you for your thoughts. In fact the point of the essay was that I *have* decided to ally myself with the movement. See you on the front lines!

  12. I agree that a measure of conscience-based protections are warranted, especially for religious non-profits whose religious identity is central to their existence (e.g., Christian colleges). Some measure of protections concerning direct participation in same-sex wedding ceremonies may also be warranted. Such protections passed easily in New York and Utah. Sure, some of the more radical elements of the progressive movement would oppose them. But I suspect that they would pass easily in nearly every state in the country.

    Of course, the laws that have recently been proposed are not so narrowly tailored, and would have had the effect of authorizing discrimination against gay people in all manner of public accommodation, housing, employment, and the like. Nearly 80% of gay people in Indiana lived in cities or counties that prevented discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I see no reason to take away those rights in such a sweeping way by a measure that was not narrowly tailored to address specific religious objections. Now, conscientious objectors in many municipalities in Indiana are left with no legal ability to dissent.

    In my view, there is a substantial gap between how committed people of faith would address these issues and how self-serving culture warriors would address these issues. I'm all for joining the ongoing discussion. But I'm not for joining it in a way that fails to make clear the distinction between actual religious practitioners and the carnival barkers who claim Christian piety and live no differently from the rest of the world around them. The former have often trusted the latter to do their bidding, and have been sold up the river time and again. If we jump in, we must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

  13. Publius has said it much better than me. "I also fear that as such a prominent spokesman, you are signaling that the OCA are going to go over the cliff with the Franciscan Papacy which-will-not-judge-anyone."

    But this intellectually twisting and turning by Frederica shows how hard it is to support her view of non-judgement, what you do on your own time is okay with me attitude.
    I had just found her writings and was beginning to be inspired to join Orthodoxy with the Antiochans but it now seems just another group who will go against the early church and great fathers at will to fit their church into their modern views. I cannot agree with this commentary and will move on to try to find a more traditional Orthodoxy. May God help me find the right path. Time is short.
    This is disturbing but I m glad that I found out early before spending any more time.
    May God Bless you all.

    FMG: I'm sorry you came to that conclusion, Stephen, and I am also getting slammed so much by gay advocates calling me a bigot that it's clear I'm not communicating well what I'm trying to say. I believe that homosexual practice damages the soul. Those who want to grow in Christ need to live celibately. I demand my church's right to go on teaching and preaching that. But I recognize that gay people who aren't in my church won't be interested in following its rules. I don't expect them to fast, either. I don't expect straight people not to cohabit, or not divorce a wife to get a trophy wife. Perhaps the main difference btw me and someone like my husband (who vocally opposes gay marriage) is that I lost hope that anything we said could make any difference. I just feel fatalistic about it, increasingly so. And this might be because of what I saw as a public pro-life advocate in the 90s–how hopeless it was to say anything that could be heard or make a difference. I just lost heart. But I love many people who oppose gay marriage, so I'm signing up.

  14. Thank you for so clearly articulating how I've felt for a long time (though I would add some thoughts about legal and financial considerations, and the evangelical bias against chaste lifelong singleness). I can't get any hearers, either. When they realize I'm not 100% aligned with one of the two warring camps, at best I'm just ignored. Often, the other person will just decide I must be in the other camp. Thank you for being a very thoughtful voice for the rest of us.

  15. I think no-fault divorce has been a disaster. Trouble is, I wasn't alive when that happened. Things are always harder to change once they become entrenched.

  16. Thank you for this balanced article. As a gay (homosexual/same-sex-attracted/take your pick) Catholic who is trying to adhere, however grudgingly and stumblingly, to a chaste and celibate way of life, the gay marriage debate is a tough one for me!

    Your point about how blandly Christians accept a statement such as "God has given me a new wife" is compelling. Divorce has become so casual that some Christians have forgotten the "commitment" part of marriage. And these can be the same people who are busy preaching conversion therapy or celibacy to homosexuals, blended with a toxic dose of revulsion, and topped off with rejection — a merciless indifference which typifies the Christian response to problems such as me.

    In today's marriage-saturated world, I can understand why two men or two women who are deeply in love would want to commit themselves to one another in a lifelong matrimonial bond. And, contrary to uncharitable views of homosexuals as sub-humans dominated by lust, I don't doubt that gay couples are less capable of lifelong commitment to each other than straight couples. From their perspective, they are asking for what they view as a civil right that their fellow heterosexual citizens already enjoy. While Western culture has reductively sentimentalized marriage as the romantic pursuit of Mr/Mrs Right, followed by the subsequent sense of personal fulfilment and social respectability one gains by putting a ring on him/her, Christian churches share some of the blame here too. My own parish church is filled with posters of happy nuclear families; the weekly newsletter promotes marriage preparation courses, counseling for troubled marriages, get-togethers and workshops for parents, excursions for grandparents… It can seem as if the only way to fit in is through marriage and a nuclear family. Single people need not apply.

    So I can understand why gay couples want access to the social respectability and economic benefits that civil marriage provides. In this sense, the civil institution of marriage and the sacramental institution of marriage diverged many decades ago — long before the so-called Homosexual Agenda began to unroll their rainbow flags. Divorce, contraception, cohabitation, and the (primarily heterosexual, but also homosexual) culture of casual Saturday night fornication with whomever one hooks up with at the bar/club, have eroded concepts such as commitment and chastity, and undermined kinds of love that are not primarily sexual.

    Given how much civil and sacramental marriage have diverged in the past few decades, it is probably worth renaming one of these institutions in order to underline the distinction that has emerged between them. Two women might be civilly married, but they can not be sacramentally married. A man might be civilly married to his second wife, but he can not be sacramentally married to her.

    Whatever way the gay marriage issue goes, I hope Christian churches, including my own, can formulate a more sensitive pastoral approach to gay people, rather than leaving them to burn up in solitude and despair while they are indifferently promoting marriage and family for everyone else.

    FMG: Thank you for this very thought-provoking comment. I'm going to copy-paste it to my Facebook feed, because it gives a lot to think about. By the way, I have heard single Christian women make exactly the same complaint about the over-emphasis on families in our churches; it's very isolating.

    God bless you! May he give you strength! May he show you even now, in this life, the joy that rewards the struggler. I hope you're aware of the expectations in Eastern Christianity of the transformations even in this life that can come to those who wage war against temptation ("the passions") in a demanding ascetic challenge like this. It makes all the difference as you strengthen the ability to control and direct your thoughts. If you haven't looked into Eastern spirituality before, you might find it helpful in practical terms.

  17. What I find amusing is that gay marriage advocates insist the gender does not matter in child raising, yet categories such as "gay" and "lesbian" would make no sense if gender were not a unique and profound form of difference.

    A same-sex couple is by nature deficient. A man cannot understand his daughter's puberty experience fully. A lesbian has much less incentive to work to understand men, and thus would likely have trouble giving her straight daughter advice on men.

    It may be possible to compensate for those deficiencies, but they exist nonetheless.

    The most profound problem with a same-sex family is that it necessarily represents a broken parental bond. A lesbian couple who adopts a child did not break a bond that was not broken already, but a lesbian (or any woman) seeking insemination is asking me to break the paternal bond with offspring from my own flesh and blood to have a child without a man. I find that repulsive.

  18. FMG says:

    " I just feel fatalistic about it, increasingly so. And this might be because of what I saw as a public pro-life advocate in the 90s–how hopeless it was to say anything that could be heard or make a difference. I just lost heart. But I love many people who oppose gay marriage, so I'm signing up."

    I understand the sentiment, but remember we Orthodox Christians being Realists understand that we are not going to "fix" the world (that is a central myth of the modernist "progressive" religion). Indeed, the world has no where to go but down:

    "… in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." (2 Peter 3:10). In this, we can agree with modernist who also believe that the universe (as they understand it) will either collapse into another "big bang" or cool off into absolute zero. Either way, "progress" is but temporary.

    Fr. Freeman has an excellent essay about the "long defeat" here:

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2014/07/15/tolkiens-long-defeat/

    One could equally be fatalistic about the "poor". We have been waging a "war on poverty" of one sort or another for all of human history, and even our Lord admits that "the poor will always be with you". We don't feed the poor, or love our neighbor, and in this case love our neighbor by opposing the unholy rite of "gay" marriage because we look for worldly "success" and "progress". Indeed, we know we will be defeated, on all levels, even unto death….and yet, Christ is Risen, so we go JOYFULLY into that defeat, this futility that we wake up to every morning, saying "This is a day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it"!!

    Stephen,

    As a convert of nearly 20 years that has been a part of many different parishes and "jurisdictions" (we moved across the country many times due to education/jobs), I would caution you against looking for a "perfect" Orthodoxy. St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great have some choice words for the unfaithful "Christians" of their day. That said, I would agree with you that the OCA in particular has a special problem around this subject (I will refrain from "naming names"), and has for quite a while. Still, the simple truth of the matter is that other "jurisdictions" have there own problems that could be just as spiritually damaging. You might be better off forming a relationship with a parish and/or a priest and taking it from there…

    Christopher

  19. Hi Frederica

    Thank you for another honest and generally sane article.

    One thing that struck me is that, if nothing else, your article implicitly shows how hard it is to identify precisely a real spiritual problem with the gay thing. With other sins there is usually another victim, or an obvious problem for the soul. With adultery, for example, there is a betrayal involved (of at least vows, if not trust in a real and close person).

    But it seems that the only easily identifiable problem is a kind of potential spiritual health risk : that it might be blocker to the process of theosis. And abstaining from gay sex is a bit like fasting : it is something that is good for you, rather than something that represents on obvious harm let alone 'Evil'. If that is right then it is very, very hard to see what the church is doing interfering in a broader societal debate. If we said there should be laws preventing the population at large from eating meat on Wednesdays and Fridays we would justifiably be laughed out of court. Indeed, this example is itself an example of how a broader societal attitude (which is a vaguepuzzlement about fasting as a concept) will in fact highlight the counter-cultural nature of Orthodoxy which has some potential pluses.

    But I suppose I still remain somewhat puzzled (and in fact somewhat exasperated) by the idea that acting on gay attraction is in itself a blocker to theosis. (I can see why a multiple partner fornicatory lifestyle would be, but surely this is in part what gay marriage is trying to discourage?).

    In this article you say on this point that "This is not a theoretical belief, but an observation based on practical experience." This had me wondering whether you had come across a practical experience of this occurring, or rather whether it was just the "wisdom of the church as handed down in tradition". If you do have a personal story or two to share of where you think this has occurred that would be interesting, and possibly powerful. If it is just the "wisdom tradition of the church" line, then again a couple of sources to writings of the fathers who actually explained the logic and how it applied in this particular circumstance would be helpful.

    I suppose that if I am asked to explain to gay friends or acquaintances why committed gay relationships are bad because they are a blocker to theosis then I would like to have some evidence or at least anecdotes to share given that this will not be particularly obvious (and frankly it is not obvious to me), and from their side there is such a lot at stake …

    One other thought : in St John's gospel the crystalising moment for Jesus' ministry is when some Greeks show up an say to Philip, insistently, that they want to see Jesus. Philip, perhaps not quite knowing what to do with these people who have hitherto not been at all part of the story and in fact probably representing something unclean ("immoral outsiders"?), first speaks with Andrew. Then they both approach Jesus. It is this that triggers Jesus' announcement in that gospel of his impending fate. The arrival of 'Greeks' who are genuine is, and always has been, awkward to any traditionally structured religion, and is a moment of crisis about how and what to do with them. I can't help but think that Jesus' (surely rather shocking to Andrew and Philip) response to news of these outsiders bears careful pondering in the heart as we think about this kind of development?

    Every blessing,

    Chris

  20. I want to agree, and disagree.

    Agree on the point that there is an over-reaction in many circles to the significance of the change, all this talk of a post-Christian US and apocalyptic fear-mongering is way out of hand. Personally, I do not understand why Christians should be concerned any more about single sex marriages than they are about other non-religious marriages. That should not trouble us. Christianity often imposes standards different from those of earthly law and that is quite consistent with the Gospel, where we are warned that Christ's kingdom is not of this world. It is inconceivable that any American government as presently constituted would interfere in church marriage or dictate the performance of same sex marriage within a church. The US, for all its flaws, remains firmly committed to protecting religious minorities and to separating church and state. Just last month, the US Supreme Court ruled that discrimination against a Muslim woman in job hiring because of her headscarf is actionable.

    Where I disagree with you is on the conclusive decision that the church has practical experience demonstrating that only monogamous straight marriage leads to salvation. The church cannot have such experience since it did not allow or study the other kinds of relationships. You say this is not a theoretical belief but evidence based. How is that possible? If you were to watch a film of Arthur and Obergefell getting married on the tarmac at BWI it would be hard not to see how this is a loving committed couple. It is hard to see this as a spiritually negative event not leading to salvation.

  21. Frederica: an excellent article! You may be interested to know about my book, scheduled for release in November 2015, "WHEN BROTHERS DWELL IN UNITY: Byzantine Christianity and Homosexuality." It has received excellent advance reviews (posted on http://smmorris58.wix.com/whenbrothersdwell). In it, I examine the historical practice of the Orthodox Church in the Byzantine world through the prisms of monastic charters, civil legislation, canonical rulings and penitential handbooks, homiletics, and liturgical practice. I think it will be an important contribution to this discussion, especially in light of the Supreme Court decision in June 2015. The problem with most discussions of this topic in Orthodox circles is that we have not really been aware what the actual practice of the Church has been in the past and this study aims to fill that void. I look forward to your thoughts when you have read it!

  22. Well written, sane, sober, reflective. What I've come to expect from your writings. Thank you for thinking prayerfully and for the kind of quiet confidence that befits a sister in Christ.

  23. There have been a couple of similar comments on my essay, “Why I Haven’t Spoken Out on Gay Marriage—Till Now,” and wanted to respond.

    <<Where I disagree with you is on the conclusive decision that the church has practical experience demonstrating that only monogamous straight marriage leads to salvation. The church cannot have such experience since it did not allow or study the other kinds of relationships.>>

    But same-sex relationships are not a new thing. Same-sex desire is not a new thing. People were having same-sex relationships in ancient Greece and Rome, and long before that.

    But remember that the Church has a great deal of practical experience in observing how two people of the same sex might live together in a loving relationship; vastly more experience than a typical modern person who has a few gay friends. The laboratory for such study was, of course, the monastery. Thousands upon thousands of same-sex relationships could be studied there.

    But even among lay people, same-sex bonding was a much more common aspect of daily life, back in the days when friendship was still understood as a noble thing. Two men or two women might be very close, in fact might form a life-long relationship in which they preferred each other to anyone else they knew. I think of Ss Barsanuphius and John, who were co-anchorites and after their enclosure never left their room. So the Church has had a vast amount of experience in observing same-sex relationships, over many centuries and in all sorts of different cultures.

    Living closely together, physical expressions of affection, and many other things were positive aspects of these same-sex relationships, but not sexual activity. That was shown to be damaging to spiritual growth, as were other sexual behaviors that our culture condones, like masturbation and premarital sex. In our age, sexual behaviors that look “no fault,” where no one is visibly hurt, are automatically approved. The Church must say that, nevertheless, we have observed a danger.

    This is something contemporary people find very hard to understand; but if you don’t understand, then you don’t understand, and your criticisms of the Church have no knowledgeable basis. You might come to understand it after living the Orthodox life a decade or two. But in the meantime, let us go on practicing our faith the way we know how. There is no reason you should try to stop Orthodox from continuing their ancient practice.

    There are plenty of other churches that support gay relationships. But there are some people who are gay who sense God calling them to celibacy. The Orthodox Church is becoming one of the very few remaining places that will give them love and support, and help them follow the ancient way and the ancient wisdom. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it; but we can still coexist.

    Another comment, in a similar vein:

    <<In this article you say on this point that "This is not a theoretical belief, but an observation based on practical experience." This had me wondering whether you had come across a practical experience of this occurring, or rather whether it was just the "wisdom of the church as handed down in tradition".>>

    I should first respond that, in the West, “Wisdom the Church has handed down in Tradition” is taken to mean a statement or assertion by rulers of the church and official theologians.

    In Orthodoxy, though, it means “community memory.” It means what we have found to be true, over the centuries.

    That is why it can’t change. You can’t change what people actually remember. Even if you could persuade an entire nation that their memory was wrong—there would still be all the other nations in the world saying, “Well, we remember it that way, and if you decide you don’t you’ve decided to take a solo path.” You would no longer be abiding in the community that is formed by common memory.

    I think I have read references here and there about monks having to resist same-sex desire for other monks. I know that adolescents and men not old enough to grow a beard were not admitted to monasteries, so they would not pose a temptation to older monks. The reality of same-sex desire is simply a matter of fact, and a prevalent temptation in any same-sex living situation. I have read a few references to it, particularly in the guidelines for priests who hear confessions. As you know, until recently it has been thought that what was wrong with it, and wrong with premarital sex and masturbation and other “no fault” sexual practices, was self-evident. There’s a huge multicultural witness there, people in every land who “got it” instinctively (and sometimes still broke the rules, to no one’s surprise; that’s why there are confession guidelines about them). Everybody else sees the elephant in the living room. That contemporary people have trouble seeing it says more about their powers of perception than anything else.

  24. Frederica, I think you have initiated an important discussion among us about how we conform our lives and hearts to God's laws or not. Jesus said for instance, that the old "law" against adultery also covers looking at another woman lustfully – already committing adultery in the heart. We have forgotten this and allow ourselves all kinds of leeway on that front, gay or straight. So if we start cleaning up our own hearts and minds, the outward expression of those, namely our actions, should reflect our interior disposition. Anything else is hypocrisy and of course God can see through us and He's the One that ultimately matters. We must love all others, especially those we disagree with and this would include gay marriage advocates. Hate the sin, love the sinner because love is the strongest tool in this battle, the kind of love Jesus showed for us, hanging on the cross. So let us all resolve to, yes speak the truth but always in love. This will commend itself to all.

    I also wish to reach out to the Catholic man who wrote above about his struggle to live in his faith while experiencing same sex attraction. I am also Catholic and wish that the ministry of Courage International were more known about and promoted in our Church. It's a fantastic organisation which offers loving and concrete support and help to people with same sex attraction and also to their families and friends. This issues can divide families and Courage seeks to address this problem. I hope this young man can make contact with a chapter of Courage local to him, or find out how to set up a chapter in his area. Priests themselves often aren't aware of the existence of Courage and struggle to support parishioners in this situation. So please don't stay isolated and unsupported in Catholicism – there is help in the Church and we all need to promote it and spread the word – discretely. Courage is not advertised in parish bulletins for obvious reasons but maybe the time is right for its existence to receive more publicity. Their online presence is very strong and the website is excellent. My prayers are are with you and all men and women dealing with same sex attraction. There is often pain underlying these feelings and our young people are so confused about sexuality, bombarded as they are with it, as if it's the only thing important in life. Human beings are so much more than their sexual inclinations and we need to reconnect our young people with this reality through a relationship with Jesus Christ Who loves them beyond all human imagining and has big plans for their lives, way beyond sex! God help and bless everyone in our fallen world today.

    FMG: Well said, Liz. Thanks for shining a light on Courage International.

  25. Gay Marriage – Feminism – Porn = 3 heads of the same hydra.

    This hydra leads to divorce.

    Don't throw porn under the bus without the other two. They are all intrinsically tied.

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