Part One: Of Gay Sex and Leaven

What does the Orthodox Church think about gay sex? The official answer is not hard to find. The Orthodox Church has always condemned gay sex as sinful and as something therefore not allowed to Christians. The case of gay sex is not much different from that of fornication (i.e. illicit “straight” sex)—fornication has also been condemned as sinful and is also not allowed to Christians. If a Christian man is a fornicator (i.e. one who routinely and without repentance has sex with a person to whom he is not married), then that person may not receive Holy Communion until he has repented and gone to Confession. It’s as simple as that. That is the teaching of Church, however much it may be currently unpopular and however much some pastors may shrink from proclaiming and enforcing it.

Confirmation of Orthodoxy’s condemnation of gay sex may be found in several places. In the OCA’s 1992 Synodal Affirmations on Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life, for example, the section on homosexuality teaches that “Homosexuality is to be approached as the result of humanity’s rebellion against God, and so against its own nature and well-being. It is not to be taken as a way of living and acting for men and women made in God’s image and likeness…Those instructed and counseled in Orthodox Christian doctrine and ascetical life who still want to justify their behavior may not participate in the Church’s sacramental mysteries, since to do so would not help, but harm them.” The section goes on to say that persons with homosexual feelings are to be treated with understanding, and that Orthodox Christians who struggle with such feelings and who nonetheless strive to live according to the Orthodox way of life may receive Holy Communion—in the same way as any person struggling to overcome a sinful passion must be welcomed. But the basic message is clear enough: homosexual practice is sinful and thus incompatible with life as an Orthodox communicant.

In today’s western culture where the aggressive promotion and celebration of gay sexuality is everywhere in the forefront and where refusal to celebrate it is deemed reprehensible, it takes courage to proclaim the Church’s teaching. Indeed some Orthodox not only shrink from doing so due to lack of courage, but also inwardly dissent from that teaching themselves. It is not because the teaching is not rooted in the Scriptures and the Fathers. The Scriptures and the Fathers clearly condemn homosexual practice, and the dissenters do not usually say, “Well who cares? Let’s junk the Scriptures and the Fathers.” Orthodoxy is the Church of the Fathers par excellence, and such a wholesale and full-throated rejection will simply not sell. They are other, more subtle ways of throwing the Scriptures and the Fathers into the ash-can. One can disingenuously ask questions (“Don’t get upset; I’m only asking the question!”) which suggest that the Scriptures and the Fathers do not condemn homosexual practice in itself, but only when done promiscuously.

Thus, though St. Paul condemned homosexual acts in Romans 1 as “contrary to nature” (Greek para physin), these revisionists suggest that it was only the case of men promiscuously using boys for recreational sex that Paul objected to and that he would’ve had no problem with the case of two homosexual men living together in faithful monogamy. It is an astonishing thing to say about Paul, who was after all a first-century Jew, but it does show the desperation of their exegesis. Or one can talk in the social media about “a new anthropology” using many long words in an attempt to dazzle the simple, when in fact what we have here is not a new anthropology, but only a novel interpretation of the old texts. What is new is not the anthropology, but the anthropologists, the sight of Christians openly contradicting their own received Tradition.

Or, perhaps most easily, while not openly condemning the Church’s official teaching, one can refuse to enforce it. That is, one can knowingly allow men or women who are actively homosexual to stand in the Communion line and knowingly given them Holy Communion. If anyone objects, one can respond with a barrage of fine words about love, acceptance, the fact that we are all sinners, the dangers of Phariseeism, and Christ’s universal love. Or, perhaps better yet, one can respond by not saying anything, and pretending that the split between what we say and what we practice does not actually exist.

There is, however, a problem with this even apart from the breath-taking hypocrisy of those giving Holy Communion to unrepentant homosexuals despite the clear teaching of the Church about the sinfulness of homosexuality. It is the problem of leaven.

St. Paul warns the people of Corinth that they must not ignore unrepentant sinners in their community and continue to commune them as if their sin did not exist because such sin would work in their church community the same way that leaven (or yeast) works in a lump of dough. That is, just as leaven eventually effects everything in the lump, so such sin grows and effects everything in the church. He used the example of leaven; in our modern culture where each household no longer bakes its own bread, perhaps the example of cancer might have more resonance. If cancer is allowed to stay in the body, it will spread and will eventually effect everything, with death as the final result. St. Paul’s solution and order: “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” The issue is not just the sinner’s individual fate, but the fate of the entire community. The unrepentant sinner must be expelled lest the health and spiritual life of the entire community be imperilled. “What have I,” said Paul, “to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 6:12-13). And of course by “driving out”, Paul does not mean running them out of town on a rail, but simply depriving them of the Eucharist. Such excommunication is consistent with love and sensitive pastoral care. It is in fact rooted in concern for the person’s soul, and aims ultimately at the person’s repentance.

That is the problem today of allowing unrepentant practising homosexuals to receive the Eucharist. It imperils the health of the entire Church, giving everyone the idea that the Church now accepts as its own the shifting standards of the World. For of course most people in the Church are not well-read in the Scriptures and the Fathers, and are even less likely to read the encyclicals of bishops. But they do know what they see happening before their eyes every Sunday. They know that Joe and John or Susan and Stephanie are living together in homosexual union and are still being given the Eucharist. What else can the faithful conclude but that the Church has somehow changed its position on this issue? This therefore now becomes the New Normal. We will have indeed embraced “a new anthropology”, not as the fruit of considered theological re-evaluation, but simply through worldly praxis and lack of courage to protest it. If it is true, as our bishops once said, that the Faith is preserved by the mass of the faithful and not by bishops alone, it is the task of the faithful to protest whenever they see the Tradition being trampled. Otherwise we will not really be Orthodox followers of the Fathers, but simply worldlings with a Byzantine flavour.

Next week: Part Two: Of Gay Christians and their Struggle

 

 

12 comments:

  1. Father Lawrence: Thank you for this excellent article and I look forward to Part Two. As it happens, just yesterday I finished reading the chapter on homosexuality in the book On The Neurobiology of Sin by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo. (Published in 2016) While he drew no specific conclusions as to how to deal with this issue he overwhelms the reader with medical jargon and research to “prove his point” that all homosexuals are born this way without exception.I am an Orthodox Christian in the OCA and I find this to be a disappointing and perplexing position for an Archbishop in our church to take. Will you address this in Part 2?

    1. I specifically leave the question of origins to one side, since it is too big a question for a non-specialist to deal with in a blog format. I also leave to one side anything written by Puhalo, since his eccentricities are well known. I do reject, however, the view that all homosexuals are “born that way” as incompatible both with history and common experience. Sexual passions and desires are fluid.

    2. Rodney, Not only is Puhalo preaching heresy and contradicting the teaching of the Church, but he is clueless about the science. There is actual scientific evidence that shows that homosexuality is not genetic.

      Identical Twin Studies Prove Homosexuality is Not Genetic
      http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2013/06/identical-twin-studies-prove-homosexuality-is-not-genetic/
      Eight major studies of identical twins in Australia, the U.S., and Scandinavia during the last two decades all arrive at the same conclusion: gays were not born that way.

      “At best genetics is a minor factor,” says Dr. Neil Whitehead, PhD. Whitehead worked for the New Zealand government as a scientific researcher for 24 years, then spent four years working for the United Nations and International Atomic Energy Agency. Most recently, he serves as a consultant to Japanese universities about the effects of radiation exposure. His PhD is in biochemistry and statistics.

      Identical twins have the same genes or DNA. They are nurtured in equal prenatal conditions. If homosexuality is caused by genetics or prenatal conditions and one twin is gay, the co-twin should also be gay.

      “Because they have identical DNA, it ought to be 100%,” Dr. Whitehead notes. But the studies reveal something else. “If an identical twin has same-sex attraction the chances the co-twin has it are only about 11% for men and 14% for women.”

      Because identical twins are always genetically identical, homosexuality cannot be genetically dictated. “No-one is born gay,” he notes. “The predominant things that create homosexuality in one identical twin and not in the other have to be post-birth factors.”

  2. I’m curious Father how the Church interprets the relationship between Romans 1:21-25 and 1:26-27. Whenever I’ve discussed this issue with others and bring up verses 26-27 as scriptural evidence against same-sex relations, the response has been that verses 21-25 provide the context which is describing idolatry and not monogamous relationships.

    I don’t buy this argument, but I find my only counter to it results in the Protestant dilemma for Sola Scriptura: whose interpretation is more correct?

    1. No Sola Scriptura is really necessary, since the Fathers–our lens for reading the Scripures– unanimously condemned homosexual acts as unnatural and disordered. Chrysostom for example, in his Homilies on Romans, says of the sins Paul mentioned, “All these affections then were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males”.
      One’s exegesis needs to follow Paul’s argument. His basic point in that everyone in the world needs Christ and that He came to save all, not just the Jews. He argues therefore that everyone is guilty before God. He surveys Roman society and sees it shot through with idolatry, and he says that “what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them” (v. 19). Their idolatry therefore was not a legitimate but unsuccessful quest for God, but rather a rejection of Him. It was because of this societal rejection of God that God rejected society in turn: He “gave them up to impurity”, to “dishonourable passions” and to “a base mind” (v. 24, 26, 28). As an example of the depths to which they have sunk, Paul focuses upon homosexual acts, which he describes as “unnatural” (Greek para physin). Note that he describes the acts themselves as unnatural, and not the idolatrous context in which they occur. The idolatry is not stated as the problem with acts, but as the prior cause of them–i.e. society had descended to such unnatural depths because it had first committed idolatry and thus had been abandoned by God. Since Paul described homosexual acts as para physin (not surprising in a first-century Jew soaked in the Hebrew Scriptures), it is inconceivable that he would have approved of these acts if committed in a non-pagan, monogamous relationship.

  3. I am wondering about the way the meanings of words are being distorted . these days.
    This all maybe a symptom of an attack on language and so it this which is causing moral confusion.

    I think of Anthropology as the dictionary definition – Social Anthropology. a Study using scientific method.
    “The branch of anthropology that studies the development of human cultures based on ethnographic, linguistic, social, and psychological data. Compare physical anthropology.”

    Twisting it to refer to a view on behaviour rather than a study of the way people act. is misusing the term. Let’s ask these pundits to define their terms as Mediaeval students did when they studied rhetoric according to Dorothy Sayers.
    http://www.gbt.org/text/sayers.html
    I digress here,
    It is my contention that choosing your sex by how you feel ,which seems fashionable, is not scientifically defensible since we have developed through the ages by sexual reproduction. and
    so it is our genetic lot which tells us what we are when we are born. Therefore only a few can be said to be bisexual other than hermaphrodites.
    The muddying of language is a sign of inability to think logically.
    The Tower of Babel should be contemplated as back ground when listening to some fashionable pundits.
    Well that’s what I think , and I haven’t read enough of the Fathers to change my mind yet.
    I will do so if I find they are against me.

  4. Thank you, Father, for this important article and your witness. As you well know, this is not unconnected with the issues you discussed in your book Feminism and Tradition. And the same principle of leavening applies. Both heresies are essentially gnostic, are they not? I think we have Femo-Gnostics and Homo-Gnostics in the Church, trying to tell the rest of us that what we believe is not so, and that the “truth” has been revealed to them alone.

      1. Your question, “Where are the bishops?” is THE question to be answered. Private Orthodox belief counts for nothing if it is not openly acted upon.

  5. Message and warning to the bishops, archbishops, and metropolitans in the GOA and OCA:
    “The new religion of sex requires us to take down the Cross and erect something else. We must not do so. It requires us to abandon our fellow men to lusts that destroy the common good, as even sociologists, often the slow kids on the block, have begun to see. We must not do so. It requires us to subject our bodies to the phantasms of homeless postmodern man. We must not do so. It requires us to avert our eyes as our little brothers and sisters are dismembered. We must not do so. It requires us to wink as the minds of children are subjected to confusion in order to ratify the choices of adults. We must not do so. It requires us to subordinate political liberty to sexual license. We must not do so.

    It requires us to spit upon the Cross, to sink our fingers in the blood of innocent children, to harden our hearts against the crushed lives of brothers and sisters who learn to their dismay that Priapus is a stupid and stupefying idol. It requires us to like ourselves rather than love our neighbors. It requires us to tell a deadly lie.

    We must not do so. We shall not do so. Truth is truth to the end of time. Even if the battle appears lost, let each Christian raise one sword at least against the lie. Even if the fight is fierce, the warfare long, let each Christian remember that our Captain triumphed in and through the hour of His utter defeat upon Calvary. We set our faces like flint. While there is breath in our lungs and blood in our hearts, we will not cease to tell the truth, and we will not bend one inch in homage to the idol.

    The Lord does not require that we win. He requires that we be steadfast. The battle is not ours but His. Yet let us not suppose that we are doomed to lose this fight. The gates of hell are not iron; the gates of hell are straw. For a vanguard has gone before us that our opponents cannot see, whose very existence they do not suspect. It is that great cloud of witnesses—and they are armed in the full array of God.” ~ Anthony Esolen

    http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2014/05/christians-stand-firm-fight-the-lies-defend-the-truth/

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