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.

  1. Archbishop Lazar Said,

    Ignorance is too often equated with piety. How does one measure the quality of another person's love? We cannot even explain the nature of our own love, let alone the nature and quality of the love which other's share, and what gives us either the understanding or the right to "certify" or "decertify" the love which others share? The very meaning and purpose of life is to love and be loved. At the highest level, this is the love between God and man, but it is the very essence of meaning at every level of human life. Moreover to say that "God does not make a person homosexual" is to suggest that God does make one Down's Syndrom, does intentionally give babies retinoblastoma, does intentionally engineer the spontaneious abortion that takes place in the vast majority of pregnancies, does turn zygotes in hadaditform (sp?) moles that become cancerous, etc. To say whether God "engineers" foetuses is to blame God personally for every genetic illness, pain and suffering that visits humanity. In fact, the manner in which a foetus become homsexual is not at all mysterious of difficult to understand, and I assert that God does not engineer each foetus individually. To suggest, as Hopko does, that it is otherwise is to turn God in something much worse that Satan or the most evil human being to have ever walked the face of the earth.

  2. andre Said,

    Your Grace, Thank you so much for taking up this issue and making it clear. My concern is that people have read Father Hopko’s book on the subject and believe that what he writes is the truth of the Orthodox Church. Εισ Πολλά Ετη Δέσποτα

  3. obadiahorthodox Said,

    I am a bisexual Orthodox Christian, I remain celibate.

  4. Andy Said,

    I am one who has read Father Hopko’s book, and have listened to many of his lectures and podcasts…not only on the topic of same sex attraction, but on many topics in Orthodoxy. I believe he does speak the truth in love, and I see no inconsistencies with his statements on homosexuality to those from scripture or teachings from the church fathers. As you mention, he is one of the few Orthodox theologians taking on this difficult issue – he deserves more respect than suggesting he pick up a book on biology written after 1970. “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith.” –Hebrews 13:7

  5. andre Said,

    Andy,
    I thank you for your message and comment. Father Hopko is indeed a very learned man and worthy of respect that should be given to a priest but he is not infallible and therefore not all that he thinks and writes and speaks is without error or closed to interpretation. On the issue of homosexuality he is wrong. For example his views on the subject differ from Bishop Lazar’s. Can there be two right answers from people in holy orders?

    While I admit that the comment about picking up a book published after 1970 was flippant, the truth of the statement stands. The Orthodox Church has recognized certain biological facts which contradict tradition and canon law and ignored others. For example, the canons are very strict when it comes to menstruating women and yet what priest today publicly, in lectures and published works, tells women that they can’t commune when they are menstruating? And why would we?
    I truly pray for Father Hopko and others who are not only our leaders but have the power to change people’s lives. I pray that they bring consolation and hope instead of shame and guilt for who God created us to be.
    I bid you peace and a blessed lent.
    Andriy

  6. Margaret Said,

    I don’t pretend to know biology, and there is a great deal of difference between scholastiicism vs mystery. What I do know is this:

    I do know that alcoholics also claim they are born with a predisposition towards addiction to alcohol. But they also learn that abstinance from alcohol is necessary for sobriety. They don’t try to convince the world that because they are born that way, that the church ought to allow drunks into heaven and they don’t say that the law is predujiced and discriminating against them because of drunk driving laws. I do know that alcoholics are grateful for their struggle to have abstinance from alcohol, it what what drew them to Christ. It became their salvation.

    I do know St Paul says that marriage is an example of Christ’s relationship with His church. Would Christ marry another man? I do know that Christ said that many make themselves eunuchs for the sake of heaven. This would imply abstinance, similar to the way that alcoholics and drugs addicts are to be abstinant from those things. Is there a reason why a person with homosexual tendencies must have sex in order to love? Is that truly love then?

    I also have read of people who had been healed of homosexual urges, who have happy marriages.

    Just wanted to put some of these thoughts out there.

  7. andre Said,

    Margaret,
    Thank you for your comment. While I hear your comparison of homosexuality to alcoholism, there are numerous differences. Being gay and wanting to love someone of the same sex does not destroy lives, it empowers them through the love of Christ. God does not call the vast majority of heterosexuals to a celibate life, and do He does not call the vast majority of homosexuals to a life of celibacy. We just desire, a desire that God has placed in our hearts, the same love that you do and many of us have found it, again thanks to the direction of the Lord Himself. Christ Himself was not married, to a woman or to a man, and so the reference is not correct. St. Paul also said that women should be silent in the Church and second marriages (let alone third which the Church permits) should be highly discouraged – and yet the Church celebrates them in the temple within the community. Certainly you would not suggest that gay men should castrate themselves which of course does not take away sexual desire or the desire to love someone for that matter. God created us and I can’t fathom that He wants us to mutilate ourselves. Is there any reason that a heterosexual must have sex in order to love? If you married, did you marry and then tell your husband that you would never, ever make love to him? Such people are called to a different life, a monastic life or a celibate life. To be created as a gay man or women does not mean that God gives you the gift of celibacy. Finally there is NO credible evidence of homosexuals being converted to heterosexuality. This is simply folly.
    I bid you peace and thank you for your comments.
    Andriy

  8. Margaret Said,

    Hi Andriy – Oh my goodness, I in no way meant literal castration. Wow. I thought it was obviously a metaphor. The reference of the mystery of marriage relating to Christ and His church is from Ephesians. The church is indeed Christ’s bride!

    Alcholics also claim they hurt no one, but, if you do not care for the alcholic analogy, then you could also say the same about a liar. Liars think they hurt no one, not even themselves. Also, if you have not heard of a homosexual being converted to heterosexuality, you haven’t looked in the right places for information. It definitely happens!

    My brother, repentance is not easy: I too have recurring sins and passions for which at times I beg for repentence, and give up fighting at other times. Each time I end the struggle with repenting and confessing His truth, and He forgives me. God does not give up on me, nor will He give up on you. Let God be true, and every man a liar. Keep His word and truth in your heart. God bless you in His love…fight the good fight.

    Here are a couple of very good resources which are more beneficial than me.
    http://www.ldolphin.org/twoofme.html
    http://www.pravmir.com/is-gay-marriage-just-about-civil-rights/

    The things we fight against the most are the things which bring us closer to God. Those weaknesses are the means of our salvation. His power is made perfect in our weakness. Look to the Lord for help. He is our helper and deliverer!

  9. andre Said,

    Margaret,

    Do you love your husband? Do you make love with your husband? Do you want to live your life with him so that the two of you can grow together spiritually, emotionally? Could you love and make love to your best female friend? No, why not? Because God did not give you that desire.
    I love my husband and express my love and want to grow older with him, and grow spiritually and emotionally. This has nothing to do with alcoholism or lying or anything else to overcome. I pray that your heart and mind be open to the possibility that the love I feel for my husband is the same God created love that you feel for your husband.
    Andriy

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