10 February 2014

An Honest Story Part 2

 (or Part 3, depending on how you count)

So, is the Orthodox Church homophobic? Well, what is Church?  Nothing less or nothing more than the Body of Christ, present on earth, active in the culture, the politics and daily life of the people. If you say, yes, the Church is homophobic than you are saying that Jesus, himself, is. But the Church is an active community of people working out their salvation in fear and trembling.  And some faster than others.  And they are capable of any number of sins as they live and move through their daily life.

What you mean, I think, is either, A) does the church actively inculcate homophobia in her members; or B are the teachings of the Church - especially those on sexual morality - homophobic in their content? These are the same question phrased in two ways: if B is yes, then A is true.  If A is yes, then it must be something about the teachings that does it.

At least officially, we must admit the one answer to both A and B is a resounding "No". On paper the Orthodox Church's teaching on sin - all sin - is, essentially, the patristic one: I am the only sinner God reveals to me. For all my faults, my ego, my sins are in the first person.  Everyone else is, to me, as Christ himself: part of my salvation on whom I dare not judge and on whose prayers my very life depends.

On paper, at least that's how it goes.  But we know that we are all humans and we fail. I have trouble daily judging others and others judge me.  Some who say they love me when I write certain things won't speak to me when I write others.  I've known clergy who described the primary Christian response to people with same-sex attraction as "the Ick Factor" and said that normal people all feel revulsion at the very idea of "it" and that such revulsion would keep gays in check. I've known people who acted like "gay" was the biggest sin out there, coming just before genocide and global thermonuclear destruction.  I've known clergy who had gay or lesbian couples in their parish and never said a word and others who had such couples but steered them towards celibacy before allowing them to approach the Chalice.  I've known clergy who were gay and celibate and I've know we have all read of clergy who were sexually active.  Lay people fall across that spectrum as well.

An honest story about being gay in the Orthodox Church must include all those experiences: the uncomfortable, the heterodox and the doctrinally dead on. But it must also include stories of one's own sinfulness, my own concupiscence, my own judgement of others.  I've known grace-filled moments when the chalice seemed to draw me forward and I've know moments when I seemed to be running away. When one priest called and asked me, pastorally, what it was like to be gay in the Orthodox Church it changed my life.  When I met the welcome and love of two clergy families in the South that kept me from sliding into sin, that saved me. When I told a confessor I needed to leave for a time and find out (if you love something let it go) he gave me his loving blessing and his holy prayers.  When I came back: everyone was right there with open arms to hug me in again. My experience, over and over, is that the issue wasn't "being gay" but rather having sex.

In our world we feel that being told "no" is a condemnation: sometimes it is a lifetime of experience speaking, or multiple lifetimes of saints and sages and prophets and elders saying "you know, there is nothing new under the sun and that has never worked."  No is the most loving answer possible. As we all work out our salvation in the Church, my job is not to whine about how I feel mistreated but rather to forgive and for all of us to grow together in Christ. The way some people feel about sex, I , in fact, feel about almsgiving: the ick factor.  We have a lot of things to work on without judging each other for our faults.