Acceptance Comes Before Revelation
February 9, 2014
What would it take for the Orthodox Church to officially recognize that God created some people with same-sex attractions?
What would it take for the Orthodox Church to officially recognize that gay people fall in love and desire to live in loving, sanctified relationships?
What would it take for the Orthodox Church to officially recognize that gay people in life-long relationships sincerely believe that God led them to be with their particular spouse?
What would it take for the Orthodox Church to officially accept same-sex relationships and celebrate the commitments made by the couple with the mystery of crowning, in the midst of a church community?
These are just a few of the many questions that this website frequently receives from sincere Orthodox Christians. They are also the questions that this author frequently asks. What would it take for the Orthodox Church to officially change its views on homosexuality, gay people and same-sex relationships? I use the word “officially” because from anecdotal evidence, numerous Orthodox priests and laypeople, especially in the West, already accept this fact, that God made some people gay just as He made others straight. These priests and laypeople work with gay people, are friends with them, and of course, even have gay people in their own family. Priests and laypeople have met, and are even friends with gay couples and see that they are “normal” people that have the same desires, the same troubles, and the same wishes in life that everyone else has. Heterosexuals have come to see the love and commitment that same-sex couples have, is the same love and commitment that straight couples have and share. And so, at what point do these people and their views form a chorus and start to ask the above questions of the bishops? What would it take for the Orthodox Church to “officially” acknowledge the will of God when it comes to lesbian, gay and transgendered people?
These same questions are actually hopes and desires of sincere Orthodox Christians who are either in same-sex relationships or hoping to find a life-long spouse. Usually the questions asked come to this website with stories about people’s lives and the full or partial acceptance and support that they has already been given by family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors and even parish priests and fellow parishioners. One person wrote the following to us: “when I told some people from my church that I (a man) was going to propose to X (my boyfriend), they were so happy for me. One woman said that it is shame that the wedding could not take place in the Church. Another, much older woman, immediately said, well, it should.” Another person wrote to us saying that when the parish priest found out that a parishioner had an anniversary celebrating a 10 year same-sex relationship, he was very upset that he had not been invited to the party. I found it even more interesting that the pastor found out from his wife about the anniversary celebration.
A priest recently wrote to me via the website to say how happy he was to find me after losing contact with me several years ago. Father said that although he had always fully accepted the “official” teaching of the Orthodox Church regarding homosexuality, he would now have to rethink that acceptance in light of knowing me and the deep respect he has for me. I assume that he would have never questioned the “official” teaching of the Church had I not been open about my sexuality and my relationship. On the same note, a former parishioner wrote to me saying that I certainly have caused many people to question their former convictions about gay people and the “official” teaching of the Orthodox Church on sexual orientation.
What would it take for the Orthodox Church to “officially” change its teaching about gay people? Father Alexander Schmemann, the former professor of liturgical theology and dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, NY (Orthodox Church in America) was renowned for his erudite scholarship, as well for his willingness to confront and wrestle with contemporary issues. Although there are at least one or two places in Father Alexander’s writing where he rejects acceptance of homosexuality by the Orthodox Church, to be fair, Father reposed over thirty years ago. While basic Orthodox theology has not changed, scientific advances in biology, and our understanding of gender have grown by leaps and bounds. No one can know for sure what views the prominent and respected theologian would put forth for discussion today if he were still alive today. However, it is interesting to note that in a work concerning iconoclasm, and the acceptance of the veneration of icons in the Byzantine Orthodox Church, Father Schmemann wrote the following: “But, as is almost always the case in the Church, acceptance and definition preceded “the path of understanding”, experience came before revelation in thought.” Acceptance comes before understanding, experience comes before revelation. Such powerful words describe the path most Orthodox LGBT persons have experienced. Such powerful words describe the experience of numerous straight Orthodox Christians as they came to know, accept, respect and love gay people. They get to know us, they begin to understand us, they accept us and a profound revelation is given to them.
Certainly we cannot expect to change everyone’s mind just by getting to know us and who we are, especially those who have a sincere desire to fully accept the “official” teaching of the Orthodox Church on homosexuality and same-sex relationships. However, it is in our ability to invite people into our lives so that they will get to know us and our relationships. How far would just talking to people about our lives and our marriages go towards acceptance? Imagine if every gay or lesbian Orthodox Christian would invite one straight couple into their homes for coffee or a dinner. How many sincere friendships in Christ might be formed and how many people might begin to question the “official” teaching of the Church and accept the love and direction of Christ? To my LGBTQ Orthodox brothers and sisters, the Lord says “have courage” (Matthew 14:27) If we have courage and faith in Christ to allow others to truly know us, acceptance of us and our relationships by the faithful, the Church, will come and this will lead to a new revelation in the “official” Church. Acceptance comes before revelation.
 For example, few could have imagined the mapping of human genome fifty years ago.
 Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, Byzantium, Iconoclasm and the Monks, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 3, Fall, 1959, pp. 18-34 http://www.schmemann.org/byhim/byzantiumiconoclasm.html