Prejudice can’t survive proximity
May 10, 2015
“Prejudice can’t survive proximity, it melts away when you meet and speak to those you fear”. 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.” 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.
 Psalm 68:2 as chanted in the Orthodox matins service of Pascha (Easter).