Prejudice can’t survive proximity

May 10, 2015

pride_ver6_xlg“Prejudice can’t survive proximity, it melts away when you meet and speak to those you fear”.[1] This statement is from an interview with Stephen Beresford, the screenwriter for the movie, Pride. The movie was inspired by a real story about a group of lesbians and gay men who supported striking miners in Britain in the early 1980s. After the group of gay men and lesbians came to the aid of the miners in their cause, the miners later supported significant changes to the political platform of the British Labour Party, urging the party to adopt a pro-gay stance. Completely opposite bedfellows, they found respect and mutual support, but first they had to get to know each other. The initial reluctance and even open dislike and mistrust, was turned into mutual respect and admiration once they got to know each other. Prejudice could not survive proximity.

There are a few amazing things that have happened since I started this website. Through the incredibly long reach of the internet and effectiveness of social media, people that I haven’t heard from, or even thought of in years, have contacted me. As a parish priest for over twenty years, I had wondrous interactions with numerous people, able to attend to their needs in the darkest moments of their lives, such as the death of a parent or spouse. I was also blessed to be part of the joyous events of their lives, such as weddings and baptisms and graduations. To be called to baptize a premature baby while she lies in an incubator, or hold the hand of someone as they pass away, is truly a particular honor and sacred privilege. As a lecturer in Seminary, I had the awesome opportunity to educate and mold future leaders of the Church, including two who would later become bishops. This website has served as a type of online ministry, supporting LGBT Orthodox, as well as family members with LGBT sons, daughters, spouses, siblings and friends. It has also helped to advise those who are concerned that their sexual orientation and their same-sex marriage is a barrier to becoming members of the Orthodox Church as converts.

Frequently I will get a Facebook message or an email via the website from someone I had the honor of baptizing, or educating or marrying. I am sure that many more people I have known discover the website of OrthodoxandGay.com and decide not to contact me. Recently I exchanged several emails with a priest who I knew for several years. He told me that while he had always had a fairly negative view of gay men, the fact that he now knew that I was gay, has had significant impact upon his thinking. He respected me as a priest and as a teacher, and now had to give pause to his own beliefs about gay people. I was touched by his kindness and moved by his willingness to be open minded. Every time that this man of the altar, spiritual leader of his congregation, will read a harsh and negative story about gay people, especially emanating from the bishops of the Church, he is going to think of me, and question the veracity and legitimacy of the story. The more LGBT people are open about their sexuality, and who they love, the harder it is for people to hate us, and hold negative prejudices against us. Suddenly, we are not the people with horns, but average citizens, next door neighbors, co-workers, friends, family members and prejudice can’t survive proximity.

Quite often this website receives emails from Orthodox Christians desperate to come out to their parish priest, wanting to tell them that they are in a same-sex relationship, in one case, a twenty year relationship. They are often pillars of the community, choir directors, chanters, parish board members, and yet an important, God given part of their life is hidden from the priest and the church community out of fear. What should I do, they ask? On the one hand they want to share with the priest not only an important part of their life, but also ask for his blessing upon their marriage, or their child, and rejoice with him in times of joy, as well as seek his comfort in times of distress. And yet the greatest fear is that because the priest might lack knowledge about human sexuality, or be trapped by his own unfounded prejudices, the Orthodox gay man or women might be barred from the sacramental life of the Church and also be shunned by the church community. One person shared the story that the priest told them to leave their fifteen year relationship, abandon their adopted child and move far away from the person they shared their life with, and with whom they raised a child. If the advice was not taken, the person was to be excluded from the mysteries of the Church until the wishes of the pastor were carried out. Leaving aside this instance of spiritual and pastoral malpractice, it is not difficult to believe that numerous Orthodox LGBT are told by their parish priests to “straighten up” or risk the salvation of their immortal souls. In one case a gay man was told by his priest that homosexuality was such an evil that even the devil did not want it,” thus, in essence, telling the man he was worse than the evil one himself.

And yet I have to wonder, what would happen if every Orthodox LGBT would come out to their parish priest and live their lives and their relationship openly within the community? How many priests would be unable to continue their prejudice and dismissal of gay people, once they looked into the faces of their gay choir director, their gay cantor, their gay Sunday school teacher, their gay parish board member, their gay communicant and see the face of God and the breath of the Holy Spirit within each one of those people? Would prejudice be able to survive that proximity, or would it melt away in the face of God, “as wax melts before the fire.”[2] Of course I recognize that for Orthodox LGBT to do these things, would be to risk much, and in many countries, where homosexuality is still punishable by law, perhaps even put their own lives in perilous danger. And so, what would it take? Such changes need to come from above as well as from others outside of the community. What if every gay Orthodox bishop came out of the closet and revealed their long term, same-sex relationship? What if every gay Orthodox priest came out of the closet and revealed openly their full support for LGBT members of their parish? What if the straight parents and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and cousins and friends spoke up in support of their gay relatives and loved ones, and demanded change within the Church? Would prejudice survive such a revelation? We won’t know until we utter the first word and take the first step.

[1] http://creativescreenwriting.com/a-film-to-take-pride-in/

[2][2] Psalm 68:2 as chanted in the Orthodox matins service of Pascha (Easter).

  1. Isaac Said,

    You touched upon something that has been a fear in my heart for quite some time and didn’t know how to deal with it. I know very well that I am who God created me to be and I take great joy in serving the Lord and trying to see him in others. My fear was if someone found out the “real me” as well as facing rejection from my church. I always pray that the Lord comfort me and help me deal with this fear. If it’s something I realized is that we truly MUST BE the change we wish to see. This gives me hope because I know that belief must be accompanied by action. I truly don’t want to lose my relationship with this beautiful spirituality. Orthodoxy has helped me to grow as a man, as a human, and as a compassionate person. I try my best, I may not be perfect but all we can do is try.

    Also, I have come across writings from Orthodox authors (one of them being Father Hopko) that talks about same-attraction. I assume the worst and don’t even bother because usually, they talk about an experience completely unknown to them. Think of it like this, when various European countries were diving up the African continent as to who gets what, guess who wasn’t invited to have a say in this? The Africans. Likewise, with these books and clergy they talk about what they do not know instead of inviting us to share our stories. It is the same with the entertainment media, consumers don’t want to hear rappers or hip-hop artists sing about disadvantaged youth struggling to get by and overcoming odds, no, they want to hear about sex and drugs. Likewise, the similar happens with layity and clergy, they don’t want to hear stories of LGBT+ people who live Christ-centered lives, help their community, etc. They just want to hear bad things about us, which are not even true. This is why we must be the change we wish to see in the world.

    I know God is calling me and I feel it through my prayers and spiritual life. Truly, God loves His LGBT+ children as well. I wish to be that light to others.

  2. andre Said,

    Isaac,

    Thank you again for supporting this website with your thoughts. The rejection that you write about is very real for many of LGBT Orthodox. It is the same fear that many of us live in our families, places of employment, where we live and even in our friendships. This is a calculated risk that we each have to measure for ourselves. There are times that I can feel safe holding my husband’s hand in public and there are times when I sense a judgment or danger. No one can make that decision for anyone else.

    However, I do think that we need to trust in God a bit more as well as in others. “You shall step on the lion and the vipers” according to the Psalmist, but we will be protected and delivered. But we also have to use our brain that God gave us. But since God already knows who you are, we have to have some faith that He will guide us and protect us.

    Concerning the late, blessed, Father Hopko. I admire many of his works and bow at the immense work he did in numerous areas. But in the area of homosexuality, I believe that he was mistaken. On this website you will find a review of the book that he wrote on same-sex attraction.

    Always live, dear Isaac, as if you know God loves us, because He does. And to quote a beloved friar from the West, “always preach the Gospel, when necessary, use words.

    I bid you peace,

    Andriy

  3. Elena Said,

    I was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church, I grew up with this religion and truly love it and miss it. I have been with my wife for almost 18 years. I am not a member of a Church but, I long to be. I do at times, go to mass, it saddens me to the point of tears. I long to go to confession and tell the priest that I’m gay. I am very afraid that I would be shown the door. I think, what do I have to lose? I’m not a member right now anyway? My wife calls herself a “recovering Catholic” and she’s not pleased about me going to a church that will not accept me or our relationship. I never thought I’d see the day when I could get married so, you never know – maybe the Church will change their mind someday. I’ve even thought about contacting one of my Cousins, that is a Priest in Alaska who I have not seen since I was a child, and tell him that I was gay – just so he would know he has family that are gay. And of course to see what his reaction would be. Any advise?

  4. andre Said,

    Dearest Elena,

    Thank you for your email and support of this website. My heart aches for you because I understand you. After I left the active priesthood, I also hard a time, bit when in church and when I stayed away. I would talk with your wife and explain how you feel. Certainly you can just go to Church to be in the presence of God and His icons, hear the music, small the incense and pray. When you feel comfortable, you will know when it is right to approach the priest for confession and then you can also decide if to tell him you are gay. If you believe that God created you as a gay woman, then you would not need to confess that. But, I would advise you to take one step at a time.

    Concerning corresponding with the priest in Alaska. I do not know him, but you need to pray on this topic and ask God for His guidance and trust that He will help you, both in deciding if to write and what to write. Certainly you will make him think. But the first thing you want to consider is your own relationship with Christ and His Church. Take some time, reflect and then act cautiously, but always remember that God loves you, and He is always with you to guide and help you.

    I bid you peace. Please stay in touch,

    Andriy

  5. James Said,

    I’m in favour of not hiding one’s homosexuality but think everyone has to decide what degree of openness will be appropriate in each situation. I think those gays/lesbians who make some effort to humbly fit in in the Church will be more welcome than those who come holding the hand of a same-sex partner or demanding change in Church teachings. Unfortunately, the issue of same-sex marriage is a *huge* stumbling block for many more traditional or evangelical Christians who truly do believe that homosexual behaviour (or for some fundamentalists merely homosexuality) is a grave sin. Unfortunately, it seems many of these less accepting believers find the Orthodox Church a secure refuge when their own denominations become more liberal on gender and sex matters than they can stomach.

    Although there are countless stories of gay/lesbian people being banished from their parish by a furious priest or shunned by their fellow worshipers, I’ve often thought that because priests have a solid understanding that sin is ‘just’ falling short of the mark Christ sets and not something abhorrent and because they have seen first-hand the struggles all of their parishioners go through in daily life while trying their best to follow Christ, priests may well be better equipped to accept gay/lesbian people for who they are and offer compassionate acceptance than are some of the rank-in-file members of their congregation.

  6. andre Said,

    James,

    Thank you for your email. I could not agree with you more. Everyone needs to decide and judge the situation they find themselves in. However, as people of faith, we need to trust in God and listen to the inner voice as to what He is telling us to do and believe that He will protect and guide us. We have all found ourselves in situations when we ignored what we later understood to be God talking to us.

    While I agree with you that many LGBT who od not make waves in a parish, especially in a larger one, will be accepted or even ignored, that is not always the case or the situation. Many Orthodox find themselves in areas where there is only one Orthodox parish, and everyone there knows everyone else. There are also nosy priests and nosy parishioners. And then we must consider that people want to be open and honest with their priest, and many are worried what might happen if they were open and honest.

    You are of course right that there are numerous compassionate, understanding priests, but unfortunately there are also many who are stubborn and refuse to accept or see the beautiful diversity of God’s creation. I have also heard my fair share of anti-gay sermons from the amvon.

    I always love to hear from you and read your thoughts.
    Please be well.
    I bid you peace,

    Andriy

  7. Xeni Said,

    I am so sad to read how people judge those for being what God created them to be. I am heterosexual but have relatives that are gay. Love is love. I hope someday all Gods children will be loved and accepted. God bless each and everyone.

  8. andre Said,

    Thank you so much for your very kind comment and support. Certainly LGBT people need straight allies just like you that love us, understand and support us. This is especially needed in communities of faith and even more especially in the Orthodox Church where it can be exceptionally difficult to be gay.
    Please stay in touch.
    I bid you peace,
    Andriy

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