A Little History Lesson

Not long ago the question about whether or not Orthodox Churches could accept homosexuality as a valid lifestyle came to the fore. The year was 1983. A denomination by the name of the “Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches” applied for membership in the association of mainline Protestant churches, the National Council of Churches. The raison d’être of the Metropolitan Community church was the acceptance of homosexual lifestyle. It was and saw itself as, “the gay church”. This was acknowledged at the time by G. William Sheek, the Director of the National Council’s unit on Family Ministries and Human Sexuality, who wrote that accepting the Metropolitan Community Churches into membership would contribute to the “high visibility” which had been tending to legitimize homosexuality.

Many in the National Council of Churches wanted them in. But the Orthodox balked, and in fact drew a line in the sand: if they were in, the Orthodox were out. In a statement drafted by the Greek Fr. Stanley Harakas with help from the Antiochian Fr. Joseph Allen, and with supplementary comments by the Orthodox Church in America’s Fr. Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory), the Orthodox were clear that accepting the Metropolitan Community Churches into membership would not contribute to inter-denominational Christian unity (the supposed reason for the National Council’s existence), but represent “a further dilution” of the ecumenical work. In a prepared statement, the paper drafted by Frs. Stanley and Joseph said, “A body whose reason d’etre is not the faith of the Scriptures and the Creeds, but a passion universally condemned in the age-long tradition of the Church as inappropriate and unfitting to the calling of the Christian life, cannot in fact be seen as a Christian communion by the Orthodox.” In other words, the Orthodox Church could not maintain an ecumenical relationship with a body which blessed homosexual practice. The Metropolitan Community Churches were characterized as a group which was (to quote the Orthodox statement again) “specifically organized around a moral failure, and which finds support in a thoroughly rewritten exegesis of the apostolic, patristic, canonically embodied mind of the Church”.   The acceptance of the Metropolitan Community Churches into membership of the NCC therefore would make Orthodox membership in that body impossible.

The debate over the motion whether or not to accept the Metropolitan Community Churches into membership was a long and agonized one, lasting almost two hours. At last, by vote of 116 to 94, the board agreed to “postpone indefinitely” the decision on whether or not to accept them for membership. Documents, including the Orthodox statement and Fr. Hopko’s even more radical stance, can be found here.

This is not ancient history, representing the benighted first century or the medieval times before Science enlightened us all. This was 1983. The irony of the whole thing of course (as Archpriest John Morris pointed out in his book The Historic Church) is that this was “a meaningless victory”, because since that time many Protestant churches have come out in favour of homosexual practice anyway. (The irony was doubtless not lost on the Metropolitan Community Churches.)

What has changed in the few years since 1983? Just this: the cultural tide is now flowing in favour of those promoting the legitimacy of homosexual practice in a way that it wasn’t just three short decades ago. Do the Metropolitan Community Churches proclaim “another Jesus”? In 1983 we thought so, and said so clearly and emphatically. The question now is whether or not we will retain the courage to say so when the majority of secular society is ready to shout us down for saying it.


  1. Do we have to be members of The National Council of Churches to have ecumenical dialogue? Can’t it be done under other venues where decisions are not made by a “democratic vote”? Or even where decisions are not made at all…just having a dialogue. If not, then we will end up compromising our faith, and further succumb to secularism. The insidiousness of these things are those that have compromised the faith wear crosses and robes, hidden, as it were, in plain sight. Didn’t Jesus warn us of this?
    I certainly hope we can maintain the courage to “stand fast” in the midst of being shouted down. If anything, in fear, we will loose faith.

    1. My own sense of such ecumenical organizations is that they are a complete waste of our time and theirs. We can have healthy and practical relations with non-Orthodox Christians apart from the NCC (or, come to that, the WCC). I tend to think that we have more in common with some Evangelical groups than we do with the so-called “main line” denominations which have long dominated the NCC.

  2. In the cases of some of the communions that constitute the NCC membership it can no longer be said that they are in schism – or rather the multiplied layers of schism typical of Protestant groups. As groups (and I am not necessarily speaking of individual members of the groups) many current member communions in the NCC are now in total apostasy.

    I empathize (though I do not always agree) with those who think that maintaining dialogue with schismatic groups is a good thing. But a distinction should be made between schismatics and apostates. Apostates are a breed apart from schismatics. Lovers of Christ are often, through no fault of their own, reared in groups that are in schism and continue in them in a sort of blameless ignorance. Apostasy, however, is a series of conscious decisions against not only the authority of Scripture as it had always been previously understood in their own traditions, but – most importantly – against the Holy Spirit of God.

    We can share a degree (however small) of common faith and understanding in dialogue with those who are in schism that may someday bear the fruit of unity in truth. But we can have nothing in common with those who are in apostasy. They are parasites on the larger believing community who only survive by slowly destroying their host. Moreover, they are in militant opposition to God with neither intention nor inclination toward repentance. If not cut off cleanly, in accordance with clear Apostolic practice, they will destroy us (or at least some of us) along with themselves.

    The continued association of Orthodox Churches with ‘Christian’ organizations that include apostates is severely detrimental to them, to our own Churches, and to our witness in the world. And, unlike those who are merely in schism, we cannot use the excuse of engagement with them in the sort of cooperation among morally like-minded groups that can benefit the wellbeing of society.

    If there is to be dialogue with schismatic groups, let it be with those groups. But we do damage to ourselves and to all who seek the truth by our continued association with the apostate members of the NCC.

  3. Ecumenism and the fixation of “dialogue” is part of a wider problem of secularization, secular thinking (borrowed unconsciously for the most part – or at least innocently), and what is called “secularizing theology”. I am currently reading Augusto Del Noce and he does as good of job explaining this kind of thinking as any.

    The EPatriarchate’s program of “dialogue” or encounter with the modern world started early in the 20th century and the results are prima facie (i.e.real division centered around the calendar, acceptance of nominalistic understandings of terms such as “church”, etc.) bad IMO. The *naivety* displayed is revealing IMO, and even today his allies (say, most of the “theologians” in western academia, etc.) are not helping – indeed they seem wholly unaware of just how secularized their thinking is.

    Perhaps the fallout currently occurring around the meeting in Crete will be the motivation for “canonical” Orthodoxy to become a bit more circumspect about the ground of it’s participation. Much work needs to be done, including what it means to “dialogue” (in a theological, epistemic, even psychological) with what modern man has become, with this diabolical Cartesian Self.

    Or perhaps the ordination of women (as occurred recently ) will overshadow all of this. Interesting times, unfortunately…

    1. I agree absolutely about the EP. The problem is that “dialogue” (a nice happy word) can mean so many things. Our main mandate however is effect conversion, not dialogue, for the Lord did not say, “Go into all the world and hold dialogues”. I was struck that in the Patriarch’s book Encountering the Mystery the mandate to convert the world did not appear a single time. (My book review of the volume can be found at: oca.org/reflections/fr.-lawrence-farley/encountering-the-patriarchs-book ). Interesting times indeed.

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