December 9, 2012
The opening of a Gay friendly mosque in Paris has made international headline news. The first inclusive mosque which welcomes LGBT people as well as offering women non-traditional roles in worship was opened on November 30, 2012. The mosque is the conception of the association of Gay Muslims in France (HM2F) – (http://www.homosexuels-musulmans.org/) Their unique idea combines a welcoming and safe sanctuary for Muslim LGBTQ people, as well as a place for women to freely worship inside the mosque without having to comply with the customary head coverings or sit in the “back seats”. The founder of the group stated that “many Muslims feel frustrated with the conservative and intolerant views expressed in mosques towards women, marriage issues, or homophobic abuse. Many Muslims simply feel they can’t have an open dialogue let alone consulting the imam without fearing condemnation.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20547335)
The new mosque in Paris will conduct Friday prayers in a Buddhist temple which can accommodate 200 worshippers. The HM2F already has 320 members. Three imams are currently training to serve the mosque which aside from regular Friday services will also bless same-sex marriages and provide funeral rites to those denied traditional Islamic burials because of their sexual orientation.
This website orthodoxandgay.com receives numerous emails and contacts from LGBTQ Orthodox people who are seeking to consult with a compassionate and understanding Orthodox priest, or have their same-sex unions blessed by an Orthodox priest or even people looking for a gay friendly Orthodox parish. Some have even asked if I would consider opening a LGBT friendly Orthodox church. What this demonstrates to me is that there are Orthodox faithful who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning their sexual orientation, who desire to be full members of the Church without denying who God made them to be, or rejecting their God given desire to love and be loved by someone of the same gender. While I understand and support the gay Muslim community in France, their motives and achievements, creating a separate Orthodox parish or groups of churches that would serve the LGBTQ community is not something that I would encourage or support. Orthodox Christians need more unity, not less. Parishes must be centers of love and compassion no matter who comes to church.
Orthodox parishes must be Christ-centered and our Lord, Jesus Christ spoke about unity very often. Perhaps the most moving is the prayer of Christ to His Heavenly Father found in John 17. “That they all may be one” was the prayer of Christ to His Heavenly Father before His crucifixion. And yet Christianity, and indeed the Orthodox Church frequently is a very segregated institution. Furthermore, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., once said “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is on Sunday morning”. This can certainly apply to Orthodox Christians in the United States who still find themselves attending the “Greek” Church or the “Russian” Church as opposed to simply an “Orthodox Church”. Searching for a local Orthodox parish to attend involves several questions: new calendar or old, Slavonic, Greek or English Liturgy, on top of the ethnic jurisdictional question. Indeed there is very little unity in Orthodox in America. In countries where Orthodox Christians are in the majority, there are numerous other jurisdictional divides based on calendar, theological, political, national and a host of other issues that divide. The lack of unity is indeed a crime that has been committed primarily by the bishops of the Orthodox Church. It is a direct affront to the teaching of Christ that “all may be one.”
This week I received a very troubling and sad email from an Orthodox Christian who had recently moved with his husband of 15 years to a new city. The man went to see the priest in his office to introduce himself as a possible new member of the congregation. Once the priest found out that this man was gay and in a committed relationship, the priest not only told the man never to come back to the church, but that he would publically denounce the man if he ever dared to approach the chalice. The actions of the priest were certainly disgraceful and do not image Christ.
Frequently I hear stories like this from other LGBTQ Orthodox Christians and I think for a moment that maybe we do need a Gay friendly Orthodox Church. A church where LGBTQ faithful Orthodox Christians could pray, confess and commune without fear of being rejected simply for who God made them to be. A church where same-sex marriages might be celebrated with great solemnity and joy. A church where one would not be afraid to speak of their same sex spouse during coffee hour. There are times that I think that such parishes are needed. And then I remember the words of our Lord and realize that what is really needed is for the bishops to listen to the message of Christ and the voices of LGBTQ Orthodox Christians. If they did that they would begin to heal the Church and stop throwing souls away, but welcome all with the loving embrace of the Heavenly Father.