February 12, 2012
Precious little has been published about homosexuality by Orthodox theologians in recent decades in comparison to volumes written by Roman Catholic and the various Protestant denominations. What has been written by Orthodox bishops, priests and laymen has been overwhelmingly negative in tone, attitude and direction. Most of what has been written, even by “modern theologians” of the Church has continued to rely on antiquated and often faulty interpretations of Scripture and Canon Law and perhaps most egregiously has been authored as if no advances in science, medicine or psychology have been made since the seventh Ecumenical Council in the eighth century.
Recently I read two works by eminent theologians of the Orthodox Church which present dueling opinions on homosexuality. The first is entitled “Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction – Eastern Orthodox Reflections” by Father Thomas Hopko. (Conciliar Press, Ben Lomand, CA, 2006). The author is Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir Seminary in Crestwood, NY – an institution of higher learning of the Orthodox Church in America. The second work is a much more recent work entitled “On the Neurobiology of Sin” by Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) published by Synaxis Press in Dewdney, B.C. Canada in 2010. Archbishop Lazar is a retired bishop of the Orthodox Church in America – thus from the same jurisdiction as Father Hopko.
The difference between these two books could not be any more opposite in their theological approach, and pastoral perceptions. Here is the main difference, before I get into some details – Archbishop Lazar has read recent scholarship in the fields of biology, psychology, medicine and general science – before he began to write on this vital topic. Father Hopko shows no evidence of understanding basic biology and psychology and in fact relies on the works of discredited Protestant theologians with little or no accredited education in the aforementioned fields.
Although there are numerous passages in Father Hopko’s small book which seriously calls into question his scholarship, these passages written by him struck me as some of the most incredulous and outrageous:
-“God does not make human beings homosexual” – pg 18
-“sexual desires for carnal relations with persons on one’s own sex are not part of a person’s basic sexual identity as a human being.” –pg 18
-“Genital sex also seems to diminish and often even to disappear between gay men who remain together in long-term domestic arrangements as they continue to engage in sexual activities with men and boys other than their domestic partners,” – pg 29 (emphasis mine)
-“Sexual intercourse between people of the same sex, however, is incapable of expressing divine love because of the incapability of human beings of the same sex to be sexually united in a mutually, fulfilling, complementary, life-creating, and life enhancing manner.” –pg 44
Archbishop Lazar has obviously not only deeply thought about these issues but has also done his research. He is also acutely aware that what he writes will have a significant impact upon the thoughts and actions of gay Orthodox Christians. Although his book is not directly about homosexuality, he does make several statements on the subject:
-“The very possibility that there is a neurobiological factor in sexual orientation should alert us that we need to be extremely careful in how we approach the subject and that ideologies simply will not do.” (pg 50)
– The reality is “that it is a great error to equate ‘homosexual’ only with a sex act, because it actually refers to the personhood of the individual, something that is innate in his or her very being.” (pg 51)
-“several scientific studies indicate that homosexuality is neither a matter of choice nor of nurture but that there is hard wiring in the brain before birth, and that it is not changeable.” (pg 51)
Numerous gay people would, by their lived experiences, tell Father Hopko that he is wrong. They were born gay, can’t change their orientation, are drawn to same-sex relationships which are expressed sexually in a strong desire to create “fulfilling, complementary, life-creating, and life enhancing relationships with people of the same sex”. These same people would thank Archbishop Lazar and tell him that indeed they were born gay and that their sexuality is not limited to a sex act, but in fact is a deep desire to create “fulfilling, complementary, life-creating, and life enhancing relationships with people of the same sex”.
Perhaps the most sobering and effectual statement comes in the first few pages of Archbishop Lazar’s volume. “All clergy should learn the boundaries of their competence and feel free to commend a person to a professional who does have competence to deal with their particular issue.” (pg5) If only Father Hopko had left the vitally important and contemporary topic of homosexuality to those competent and educated on the subject matter instead of inflicting his own personal biased reflections upon others, especially gay Orthodox Christians. In this case the priest (Hopko) should listen to the archbishop (Lazar) and maybe pick up a book on biology, one written after 1970.