Monday, May 1, 2017

Part One: Of Gay Sex and Leaven

What does the Orthodox Church think about gay sex?  The official answer is not hard to find.  The Orthodox Church has always condemned gay sex as sinful and as something therefore not allowed to Christians.  The case of gay sex is not much different from that of fornication (i.e. illicit “straight” sex)—fornication has also been condemned as sinful and is also not allowed to Christians.  If a Christian man is a fornicator (i.e. one who routinely and without repentance has sex with a person to whom he is not married), then that person may not receive Holy Communion until he has repented and gone to Confession.  It’s as simple as that.  That is the teaching of Church, however much it may be currently unpopular and however much some pastors may shrink from proclaiming and enforcing it. 
            Confirmation of Orthodoxy’s condemnation of gay sex may be found in several places.  In the OCA’s 1992 Synodal Affirmations on Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life, for example, the section on homosexuality teaches that  Homosexuality is to be approached as the result of humanity’s rebellion against God, and so against its own nature and well-being.  It is not to be taken as a way of living and acting for men and women made in God’s image and likeness…Those instructed and counseled in Orthodox Christian doctrine and ascetical life who still want to justify their behavior may not participate in the Church’s sacramental mysteries, since to do so would not help, but harm them.”  The section goes on to say that persons with homosexual feelings are to be treated with understanding, and that Orthodox Christians who struggle with such feelings and who nonetheless strive to live according to the Orthodox way of life may receive Holy Communion—in the same way as any person struggling to overcome a sinful passion must be welcomed.  But the basic message is clear enough:  homosexual practice is sinful and thus incompatible with life as an Orthodox communicant.
            In today’s western culture where the aggressive promotion and celebration of gay sexuality is everywhere in the forefront and where refusal to celebrate it is deemed reprehensible, it takes courage to proclaim the Church’s teaching.  Indeed some Orthodox not only shrink from doing so due to lack of courage, but also inwardly dissent from that teaching themselves.  It is not because the teaching is not rooted in the Scriptures and the Fathers.  The Scriptures and the Fathers clearly condemn homosexual practice, and the dissenters do not usually say, “Well who cares?  Let’s junk the Scriptures and the Fathers.”  Orthodoxy is the Church of the Fathers par excellence, and such a wholesale and full-throated rejection will simply not sell.  They are other, more subtle ways of throwing the Scriptures and the Fathers into the ash-can.  One can disingenuously ask questions (“Don’t get upset; I’m only asking the question!”) which suggest that the Scriptures and the Fathers do not condemn homosexual practice in itself, but only when done promiscuously. 
Thus, though St. Paul condemned homosexual acts in Romans 1 as “contrary to nature” (Greek para physin), these revisionists suggest that it was only the case of men promiscuously using boys for recreational sex that Paul objected to and that he would’ve had no problem with the case of two homosexual men living together in faithful monogamy.  It is an astonishing thing to say about Paul, who was after all a first-century Jew, but it does show the desperation of their exegesis.  Or one can talk in the social media about “a new anthropology” using many long words in an attempt to dazzle the simple, when in fact what we have here is not a new anthropology, but only a novel interpretation of the old texts.  What is new is not the anthropology, but the anthropologists, the sight of Christians openly contradicting their own received Tradition. 
Or, perhaps most easily, while not openly condemning the Church’s official teaching, one can refuse to enforce it.  That is, one can knowingly allow men or women who are actively homosexual to stand in the Communion line and knowingly given them Holy Communion.  If anyone objects, one can respond with a barrage of fine words about love, acceptance, the fact that we are all sinners, the dangers of Phariseeism, and Christ’s universal love.  Or, perhaps better yet, one can respond by not saying anything, and pretending that the split between what we say and what we practice does not actually exist.
There is, however, a problem with this even apart from the breath-taking hypocrisy of those giving Holy Communion to unrepentant homosexuals despite the clear teaching of the Church about the sinfulness of homosexuality.  It is the problem of leaven.
St. Paul warns the people of Corinth that they must not ignore unrepentant sinners in their community and continue to commune them as if their sin did not exist because such sin would work in their church community the same way that leaven (or yeast) works in a lump of dough.  That is, just as leaven eventually effects everything in the lump, so such sin grows and effects everything in the church.  He used the example of leaven; in our modern culture where each household no longer bakes its own bread, perhaps the example of cancer might have more resonance.  If cancer is allowed to stay in the body, it will spread and will eventually effect everything, with death as the final result.  St. Paul’s solution and order:  “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”  The issue is not just the sinner’s individual fate, but the fate of the entire community.  The unrepentant sinner must be expelled lest the health and spiritual life of the entire community be imperilled.  “What have I,” said Paul, “to do with judging outsiders?  Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 6:12-13).  And of course by “driving out”, Paul does not mean running them out of town on a rail, but simply depriving them of the Eucharist.  Such excommunication is consistent with love and sensitive pastoral care.  It is in fact rooted in concern for the person’s soul, and aims ultimately at the person’s repentance.
That is the problem today of allowing unrepentant practising homosexuals to receive the Eucharist.  It imperils the health of the entire Church, giving everyone the idea that the Church now accepts as its own the shifting standards of the World.  For of course most people in the Church are not well-read in the Scriptures and the Fathers, and are even less likely to read the encyclicals of bishops.  But they do know what they see happening before their eyes every Sunday.  They know that Joe and John or Susan and Stephanie are living together in homosexual union and are still being given the Eucharist.  What else can the faithful conclude but that the Church has somehow changed its position on this issue?  This therefore now becomes the New Normal.  We will have indeed embraced “a new anthropology”, not as the fruit of considered theological re-evaluation, but simply through worldly praxis and lack of courage to protest it.  If it is true, as our bishops once said, that the Faith is preserved by the mass of the faithful and not by bishops alone, it is the task of the faithful to protest whenever they see the Tradition being trampled.  Otherwise we will not really be Orthodox followers of the Fathers, but simply worldlings with a Byzantine flavour.

Next week:  Part Two:  Of Gay Christians and their Struggle
             


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