What are we teaching the children?
February 3, 2013
Although I am not one to constantly waive the American flag, I am happy and grateful to live in an advanced, relatively free country. The fact that I was born and raised in the United States is nothing more than an accident of birth. Considering the nationality of my father, I could have easily been born in Soviet Ukraine, or somewhere else behind the Iron Curtain, where my daily life, especially from the 1960’s until the fall of the Soviet Union, would have been consumed with trying to obtain the basics for simply getting by each day. Living in the Soviet Union meant standing in line for everything. As one priest serving in Soviet Ukraine explained to me, preaching against stealing and bribery were useless, because if one did not bribe or sometimes steal, one might not eat, have a roof over their head, wear shoes, or have other basic necessities of life.
Living in the United States, especially as a white man, means that I enjoyed the protections of law, the ability to earn a higher education and the possibility of having solid employment which would afford me a relatively affluent lifestyle. Being a gay man in the United States means that I have recently seen very positive changes in the views of American society, as well as witnessed numerous gains for LGBT rights and protections enshrined in law. Hearing President Obama mention LGBT people in his second inaugural speech and listening to his commitment to work for LGBT equality was certainly a major milestone for the country. With constant access to news, web opinion sites, and social media, the days of LGBTQ youth feeling totally isolated and alone are, for the most part, over. While LGBTQ youth still suffer from verbal and physical abuse at the hands of churches, schools, parents and friends, and the rate of suicide among LGBT youth is still relatively high, there are numerous places on the internet where our young adults can find unbiased information and moral support.
Certain Christian groups in the US have poured time and resources into educating families, and especially youth, that being gay or lesbian or transgendered is not an evil or a choice, but is who God created them to be. Recently a publishing company has produced a series of books and teaching aides to facilitate discussion about LGBT issues and how they can be in tune with Christian spirituality. Instead of Churches leading LGBTQ youth to greater isolation, loneliness, insecurity and feelings of worthlessness, certain Churches have taken up as a mission to make sure that children know that they are loved by God just as He made them. They are also there to tell young adults that the love they might feel for members of the same sex is natural and can be life-creating.
A young adult Orthodox Christian living in the United States, who might be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered has conflicting messages coming at them. On the one hand they see that a greater segment of American society has started to support LGBT equality, and they know that certain states and localities have passed legislation guaranteeing either same-sex marriage or domestic partnerships, and in the last elections they have witnessed seven openly gay representatives elected to the US Congress. They have watched as the President signed legislation striking down the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” law, which prohibited gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces, and they see and perhaps benefited from numerous other gains in the acceptance of LGBT people in society and the advancement of LGBT issues. On the other hand, in Church, the younger Orthodox Christian who might be LGBTQ is likely to hear a message of condemnation of not only gays and lesbians but of recent gains in the area of equality in this country. Sermons are preached, literature is distributed, and encyclicals are read aloud, specifically condemning the “homosexual lifestyle”. Pity the Orthodox LGBT young person who might go to his priest for advice about the natural feelings he or she is experiencing. The vast majority of Orthodox priests in this country receive no or little education in advanced biology, psychology and many have only the most basic courses in pastoral theology. I have heard anti-gay sermons preached in this country by Orthodox priests, seen anti-gay literature distributed or available in Orthodox Churches and even personally experienced the lack of compassion from a priest while making a confession. At best the information coming from these sources is usually inaccurate, at worst it is damaging to the soul.
The situation in Russia is much worse for LGBTQ Orthodox youth. The Russian Orthodox Church fully supports the passing of a law by the Russian Parliament which would make it an offense, punishable by fines of up to $16,000, to hold public events or disseminate information about the LGBT community. How far could this be taken? Imagine being arrested on charges of looking up information on the internet about being gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgendered in Russia. And one of the reasons that the Church officially supports the ban is “It would help Russia’s declining birth rate”! Is it any wonder that many of our youth have fled the Church in droves?