Orthodox Christian Synergy is a pan-Orthodox organization consisting of clergy and lay representatives of Chicago-area Orthodox Christian parishes who seek to project awareness of Orthodox Christianity to the public at large. Synergy works together with its parent organization, the Orthodox Christian Clergy Association of Greater Chicago, and with the blessings of the Chicago-area Orthodox Hierarchs.
The topic of Synergy’s 2011 Symposium was “Orthodox Christianity and Homosexuality,” and featured was Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary and the author of Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections. The gathering took place at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cicero, Illinois, on Saturday, October 15, 2011.
I looked through the questions that came up so far, and I think there are four areas for comment, four areas that I would pick up on the questions that came. They actually work into this second area of our discussion, which is the more practical area, the more pastoral area, not so much the theory, but: Okay, if we hold this theory, Christ and him crucified, center of our faith, made in God’s image for everlasting life, you enter into everlasting life through suffering in this world, struggling with passions, you can’t do it alone, you need the life of the Church, you need the grace of God, that it’s not a picnic, it’s not magic, we are free, and God knew that and he gave us this freedom and we’re working through it, and of course we could add the Lord’s teaching also, on one side rather comforting and on the other side rather tragic, that the Lord did say that it’ll get worse and worse as time goes by, and he said, “When I return, will I even find faith on the earth?” Of course, the last stage of humanity according to the Scripture is the apostasy of Christians. It’s not a struggle between Armageddon, good and evil; it’s when the Christians themselves apostatize and in fact change the face of Christianity, still using the name of God, Christ, grace, Church, but it’s not at all what it really means any more. So you have a real pseudo-morphosis of the whole reality, and that’s pretty much I think what we’re coming to right now. I think that’s what’s happening in our time.
Which leads to my first point for this afternoon, and that is that dealing with any Christian issue whatsoever of spiritual life, whatever it is, and certainly sexuality, human behavior… our humanity is being formed long before we are even born! That our parents, their parents, how they act, how they interact, the traumas they went through, and everything—this affects us from the moment that we are born, even before we are born. Sometimes that trauma can even be prenatal in the sense that we know now—and I’ll speak about this more, about science—we know now that embryos in the tomb—“tomb”!—in the womb [Laughter] that turns into a tomb can know that they are being attacked even before they are actually born. There’s studies to prove that and so on.
But in any case, we didn’t fall from heaven. We do not believe in infused souls. We believe that we receive our whole humanity from our forebears, our parents, their parents, their parents; and that we’re shaped in this and that we’re all in this together. Therefore, you could say that the first thing that we would want to say is: our task is to produce and to create and to actualize the most healthy spiritual conditions we possibly can. In fact, we should leave our children healthier than we are. We should deal with things, work through things, deal with our family of origin issues, and all these kind of things, because this impacts not only our children, but it impacts the people around us. St. Seraphim says, “Be saving yourself, being healed yourself, you save the whole world.” But at the same time, one impure thought in the depth of the human heart, unknown to anybody, as Dostoevsky said, pollutes the entire universe.
So we’re all in this together. We are members, one of another. St. Anthony the Great said in seven letters—at least once in all seven, twice in two, and three times in one—although he lived on the mountain all alone—he was a hermit; he prayed to God—he said, “We are members, one of another.” We’re not Adam; we’re not atoms; we’re not individuals: we belong with one another. Therefore, we have to a have a healthy condition, healthy family, first of all, healthy church. We can’t do much about healthy society, but if the healthy family and the healthy church are in order, somehow the society can be handled.
I really do believe that is true. I don’t think that it makes even much sense spending a lot of time and energy trying to change society. I really don’t. Or to expect people who don’t believe in the Gospel to live according to the Gospel. They’re just not going to do it. What we are interested in is our own self, our own Church, our own salvation, and that’s the best thing we can do to everybody around us.
We could make all the decrees and statements that we want to make and picket and everything, but if our reality of our Church is faulty, even in its image… I mean, if, I don’t know, we get up there and we look like the Ayatollah Khomeini and are railing against the heinous evils of this age, we’ll be turned off by most people [Snap] right away, just like that. It’s not how it works. But it’s got to begin with ourselves, and there has to be the formation in the family. It has to be free. There has to be dialogue; there has to be conversation. You have to speak with the children, you have to listen to them, they have to feel comfortable to speak to you, and in sex this is one of the main places where that doesn’t happen very often, and it’s got to happen.
Especially now where they have the sex education in the schools and all that kind of thing, you’ve got to ask questions. Did you have this class? What did you do? What did they talk about? and so on. Now, some people homeschool, trying to keep the kids from society. I just would give my opinion. I don’t think that works, because first of all, a school is a school, society is society, a home is a home, and they’re not the same thing. You’ve got to learn to deal with what’s out there, and you’ve got to know how to handle it and how to be able to talk about it and how to bring it home and so on. But if the home and the church are basically healthy—there’s a healthy adult community, and healthy sexually—there are going to be problems; there’s no one without problems, nobody!—but at least there will be a chance that there will be a more healthy formation and then instinctively people will realize what it is that’s going on.
I think that’s very important, and that is not very much a pattern that’s going on in American life today. I know our kids, when they went to college, their friends were always amazed that they liked to go home, that they would cry on the first day of Lent because they weren’t hearing this song or something. They would actually talk on the phone, because “you actually like to talk to your mother?” But those things have to be in place from the earliest time, and they begin before they’re born, and we’re shaped also before that.
Now, we’ve got to come to terms with that. That’s a big, huge thing, because none of our parents are God. There’s a great problem, I think, challenge of being really, brutally honest about your story, not idealizing the parents, not demonizing them, and not flipping back and forth. And no one can be a mature adult and therefore raise children properly until they’ve come to terms with their own parents and with their own family and with their own story. And that means feeling the pain of it, it means talking about it, and so on. So there is this formation.
But I also believe that it cannot be done by the family alone, because the family is always part of the problem, without a doubt. No matter how good it is, no matter how healthy—the priest can’t be the confessor for his wife or her kids or something. There’s a wider community that we have to cultivate and develop that would be healthy. That is what we want to do. I think a lot will help in all of issues, and certainly in the issue of sexuality when we can do that. Then it can be a situation where people can talk about what they feel, feel safe about what they feel, and so on.
I would say that our parishes are not these kind of places today. They are not. However, I think that, in any given parish, there can be groups of people who are sensitive, who are Christian, who are struggling, who can provide counsel and so on to people who are struggling with things. In a sense, everybody’s got to come out of the closet. Everybody’s got to come out with what’s bothering them. If we’re not, it’s festering in there, and we’re in trouble.
When I was the dean of the seminary, we used to have a rule that if you don’t have one or two adults—your spiritual father, confessor, whatever—by Thanksgiving Day, that we know who it is, and you’re talking to them about everything in your life—your dreams, your feelings, your childhood, and everything—you’re expelled, out, because you will be a danger and a poison, and all this theology won’t help you a bit. In fact, you’ll screw it up.
So there has to be this spiritual formation that begins long before somebody passes puberty or all those kind of things. And you can’t stress that too much, in my opinion. You just cannot do it. So there have to be… We have to find places where it’s safe to speak, where people can say what they feel, without being shamed, without being judged, without feeling… Now, one thing is for sure. People who have somehow been raised in a Christian setting, whatever their sins are, they’re guilt-ridden, and they have shame, especially if it has to do with sex. So we’ve got to know we’re dealing with issues that are incredibly delicate, very delicate.
The first thing that we have to do when we actually are contacting people—parents and priests and counselors and adults and catechists and teachers—is to really, really, not just act this way, but to really have people know that you are trustworthy, that you’re not going to judge them in any way. You’re not blaming them. You’re not punishing them. You’re not demonizing them. You’re treating them as a human being made in the image and likeness of God who is struggling with big-league issues for God-only-knows how many reasons. No computer in the world could [process] the data that goes into forming a human life. But there has to be some kind of healthy leadership that leaves a person free, that begins by face-to-face conversation, that is totally truthful but at the same time totally loving.
By the way, you can have truth without love, and there’s probably no greater weapon that can hurt a person that when you tell them the truth—and it really is the truth—but you don’t love them, you don’t care about them, you want to dismiss them, you feel—eaugh. That’ll kill them. So you can have truth without love, but you can’t have love without truth. You cannot have love without truth. You’ve got to be in reality.
Now, in dealing with children or pastoral care or parishioners or whatever, and this certainly would apply to everything but certainly the issue of homosexuality, we’ve got to realize several things. Number one, society is against us. The world, the flesh, the devil—is against us. That doesn’t mean you have to [be] paranoid and defensive and come in with your armor on, but you’ve got to know that that is the case. There’s other influences in these people’s lives. There’s other influences in our children’s lives. And very often, the influences nowadays, especially in America, are contrary to everything we’ve been saying all morning long.
A cute story I heard, where… You know, in college, as you’re supposed to be objective and free and have open debate and all that? Well, that’s a lot of B.S. [Laughter] But in any case, there’s a story that, in one philosophy class, the professor was a violent anti-Christian.
By the way, being anti-Christian is the one prejudice that’s still culturally acceptable. You can’t be anti-Islam, you can’t be anti-Jew, you can’t be anti-gay, you can’t be anti-anything, but you can be anti-Christian. That’s even like a medal that you get in certain settings. So what we have to say is, okay, you’re against us, but we’re not against you. We’re not against you. We don’t kill people; we let people kill us. We’re not here to win. We’re not here to win in a battle. When you get into that, nobody wins. We’re here just to be, to use a classical Christian term, to be martyrs in the technical sense, which is to bear witness to what we believe is true. Then you can do with it what you want, but we’re not going to harm you, we’re not going to beat you, we’re not going to trick you, we’re not going to out-political you, we’re not going to whatever. Our only tools are truth and love, and both of them have to be together, otherwise it doesn’t work.
But the story goes that this one professor had a rather large class, and he said one day, “Are there any Christians in this room?” So a couple of kids meekly raised their hands. For the sake of the story, we’ll have one of them be an Orthodox boy, right? He raised his hand. So the professor says, “Oh, you’re a Christian, are you?” He said, “Well, yeah, I’m a Christian.” So the professor says, “Could you please tell us why you are a Christian? Why?” The boy says, “Well, I didn’t think about that before, but I guess it’s because of my mom and dad and my grandma. When I was little, they took me to church and I heard the Gospel and I loved it all and I saw the icons and they pinched my cheek and they gave me bread and they sprinkled us with holy water. We just loved it so much, and it was there.” Of course that presupposes they could understand. There’s a lot of things that… “But in any case, I just went there and I just learned this and I live this way, and I guess, you know, that would be the reason why I am a Christian.”
So the professor says, “Oh, okay. But suppose your parents and your grandma or whoever, suppose they were fools? Suppose they were stupid. Suppose they were ignorant. Suppose they were misguided, and suppose they led you into all of this, being ignorant and foolish and whatever. If that were the case, then what would you be?”
The kid thought, and he said, “Well, I guess if my parents were kind of ignorant and misguided and stupid and they led me into all of this, I guess that if that were the case, I would probably be someone like you.” [Laughter]
Because, unbeknownst, the student was saying: You were formed by something, too, sir. What was it? Your crazy Evangelical pastor father who said, “You’re going to get crushed on the stone of Christ because you’re not well with Jesus because you’re gay”? What did that kid hear? Who formed them? Maybe they were formed by who knows what: scientific, free-thinking people, I don’t know what. I think that the whole—I’m going to speak about science in a minute—one of the great problems about science is the science deals with natural phenomena trying to find what the truth is about when you observe things. Charles Darwin: you can’t be all bad if you write a thousand-page book about earthworms, [Laughter] barnacles, or whatever, and go down and keep diaries because you want to know what this is!
I talk about this on Ancient Faith Radio. I have 17 talks about the Darwinian revolution and natural science. But it has its place, but then it can get beyond it and whatever. But you don’t know how people are formed, why they are formed the way they are. Maybe they even… maybe the guy even had very pious parents who treated them awfully, sinfully. It’s such a mystery.
But in any case, we’re all formed. That’s the point. The professor was as formed as that boy. So what forms us? How do we deal with it? And you’ve got a lot people nowadays—well, not a lot, but a significant number—who are actually turning to the Orthodox Church because they were raised that way, and life is empty and meaningless, and they’re strung out and they don’t know where to go. They meet some priest somewhere or something like that, and they say, “Oh my God.” Here studies will prove that in Chicago, right in Chicago in the 1960s, there was a study of Lutherans and Catholics. One of the guys doing it was Andrew Greeley, the guy who ended up writing the raunchy novels, you know, the Catholic priest. But they questioned Catholic and Lutheran peoples, adults who were active in church, the kind of people who would come out for a thing like this. [Laughter]
They asked them: why do they do it? Why do they run the soup kitchen? Why do they pray? Why do they come to church? Why do they put up with all this garbage that you have in the church? Why do they do it? Their survey showed that it had nothing to do with formal education or anything like that. Some went to parochial school or church school, some didn’t. Some did this, some did that, whatever. But the one thing that was universally in every single person’s life who as an adult was a committed Christian was that they had met some one whose life they wanted to share. They met someone who said, “Oh wow! What that lady has, I want to have.” And it could be their friend’s mom, it could be the church school teacher… Even sometimes it’s through a book. You have a person, reads a book on Mother Teresa, says, “My God! Somebody can live like that? [Clap] That’s what I want to do.”
There’s the human contact again. That’s why the human contact is not only central: it’s essential. Without it, nothing works. No books, no lectures, no decrees, no statements, no political actions, no picketing. There’s the face-to-face encounter. How many times is Jesus asked a question, he answers with a question! I think that’s what we have to do, too. Now, someone wrote here and said, “What do you do when someone comes and says: I’m gay and I’m a Christian and I think it’s all right and so on?” What do you do? Well, what you don’t do is say, “You’re a stupid jackass.” You don’t do that! You say, “Tell me about what you think Christianity is. Let’s have a conversation about it. Have you read the New Testament? Do you go to church? Do you pray? How do you think about God?”
One of our graduates, a woman who worked in the hospital for troubled children, had them draw pictures of God. You can’t imagine the ugly pictures that they drew. Horror and fire, that was God. So you’ve got to ask questions. You being with questions. Before you start giving answers and decrees, you visit, you look face-to-face, and you have a conversation, and you begin with questions. “How do you understand this?” Then you’ve got to determine, somewhere along the way… And while doing this, you’ve got to develop trust. The person has to feel that you care about them, that you’re not just out to get them. You’re not exercising authority over them; you’re trying to come together to an understanding of things.
Then that means, also, I think, that then you have to ask them to do certain things that, in some sense, will prove whether or not they’re serious about this or whether they just want to chit-chat or whether they want to “stump the priest” or whether they just want to tell you what they think and tell you to jump in the river and get on with their life. So I do think that’s one of those things that at some point… But you’ve got to know the point. That’s why diakrisis, discernment, is the highest level of parental and pastoral gifts that you have to have when dealing with people including your own children. You have to have the spirit of discernment.
Here there’s a couple of really good writers named Barsanuphios and John. They were desert-dwellers. There’s two volumes. They say in there, “No one has discernment until their own heart is broken.” Broken by the mercy of God and the misery of their own sins. A person who does not see his own sin and fault will never have discernment and will just destroy people’s lives, especially if they’re bishops, priests, and elders and gerontas and all that. Very dangerous stuff. So it takes time. You’ve got to build it up.
What are the things that we can suggest, and I think we must suggest, if we’re serious about this? I think my own opinion would be… Well, when I get emails and people say, “How come you Orthodox think you’re the only true Church? Why do you think unbaptized babies are burning in hell? Why do you think this? Why do you think that? Why do you think that?” Well, I’ve come to the point now where I don’t answer that. I don’t answer the questions. But I answer in this way. This is just my personal opinion. I say, “Listen, you don’t know me, I don’t know you. I don’t know where you got these ideas. I hate to think it was from your local priest, but it probably was. [Laughter] But in any case, let’s do this. Let’s do this.” And I actually have a list of twelve things that I ask a person to do. I said, “If you’re willing to do these twelve things, then I’m willing to talk with you. But if you’re not willing to do them, we’re wasting each other’s time.” By the way, I do this when couples come and want to get married, who never go to church, but mama or grandma wants the crowns or something. It’s the same thing. “I’ll ask you to do these things, and then we’ll talk.”
If it’s a gay person who’s coming, “I’m gay and I think…” I say, “Let’s do these things first. We can meet, we can talk, we can see how things are going. We can get to know each other, but while that’s happening, these things have to be in place.” I really believe in this. I really do, obviously. One is, you have to ask the person to read through the New Testament slowly at least three times, because most Orthodox Christians haven’t even read it through once, and they’ve been teaching Sunday school for 20 years. Take the time you need. We ain’t going anywhere! If the Christ comes, our problem’s solved. [Laughter] Take your time, but do it slowly, a little bit. While you’re doing it, I would ask you to pray to God to guide you. If you don’t believe in God, pray “to whom it may concern.” [Laughter] Even just say, “If you are there, lead me, but I want to know. I really want to know, and I’m serious about this.”
Then I think we would ask them… And by the way, we all should be doing this ourselves all the time, right? We’re not telling them to do things we’re not doing ourselves, right? Then we say, “When you read through these Scriptures, what you understand, try to put it into practice. If it says: Bless those who curse you, try to bless those who curse you. If it says: Give to those who ask of you, try to give to those who ask of you. If it says: When you fast or something, try to fast. If it says… whatever it says that is clear—do to others as you would have them do to you and so on, try to put that into practice.” A lot of it is not rocket science.
I can’t resist telling you: I was in California once in Silicon Valley and giving a talk. A guy asked a question, and I said, “You know, that’s not rocket science.” He said, “I’m a rocket scientist, Father, and I still don’t understand.” [Laughter]
But a lot of it is pretty clear. Read the Sermon on the Mountain. A lot of it is not a great mystery. What you do not understand, let it go. Don’t get hung up about it. If it really bothers you, write it down on a piece of paper and ask your priest or bishop or whoever to help you to understand something. Some of this is going to be very complicated—letter to the Romans, for example, I don’t know. If you just take the New Testament, not speaking about the Old. The problem with too many of our Bible studies in our Church is that they’re not Bible studies. They’re like Karl Barth said about his grandmother when they were reading Ezekiel. He said, “Grandma, how can you read that? It’s a very difficult book.” She said, “Oh, we don’t have any problems at all. The parts that we don’t understand we explain to each other.” [Laughter] Well, that’s a lot of Bible studies in our Church, too. The parts we don’t understand we’re explaining to each other.
Theoretically the catechist or the priest should have some education beyond that of the people. They should know what a denarius is worth, what a Pharisee was; they should know why they used Samaritan in this parable. So there’s factual things. But the point here is that you don’t get hung up on those at this point. You may make notes, but you’re not reading it for that purpose. You’re reading it for illumination to see what this vision is in these books that are taken together. No one book has it all, and as St. John says, if everything that Jesus said and did was written, the whole world couldn’t contain the books. So it’s not about books, even St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press—forget it. It’s the Scriptures. Now, some books could help and so on, but that’s one of our problems, too. We have an explosion of books. Everybody’s reading Philokalia, Abba Paisios, I don’t know who, and are ignorant of the basic teachings of the Christian faith, which are always biblical. They’re scriptural. All the holy Fathers were commenting on the canonical Scripture. That’s what they were doing. We’ve got to do the same thing, and take the time to do it.
Then there’s other things that you would ask. You would ask that you would fast some days, eat less some days, watch what you eat. The spiritual life begins with your belly. Theophan the Recluse said, if you’ve got a full stomach, and it’s filled with no-good junk—not to speak of drugs, alcohol, or whatever—then for sure you’re going to have a hard heart, a stiff neck, a babbling mouth, itchy ears, roving eyes, and whirling thoughts. So it begins with your belly; it begins with your body. We are not angels. So discipline of the body is important.
Another thing, absolutely important, is silence. You have to sit in silence at least 15, 20 minutes a day. See what comes to you. Turn it over to the Lord or “to whom it may concern.” But to learn how to be quiet, to turn off those machines, those twitters, those textings. Now we’ve got… somebody told me yesterday that he saw a bishop texting from his throne during a service. [Gasps] Well, you know, bishops are a nice target. [Laughter] But in any case, that’s part of the job description. [Inaudible] Yeah, that’s right. You walk around with it all the time. That’s it. But in any case, we’ve got to worry about this explosion of sounds, images, teachings, television, all this garbage that’s out there, going through the air like the aerial phantom demons. That’s really a big thing. So to learn how to turn off the machines, to sit in quiet, to read a book, to contemplate it. If you ask a person to read through the New Testament, as I said to one of my grandchildren lately, I said, “You know, you read seven volumes of Harry Potter. I think you could read through the New Testament. It’s appreciably shorter.” [Laughter]
This kind of effort. Then you have to have someone who knows everything about you. You have to go to confession. You have to share your life with somebody. You can’t editorialize any part of it; you’ve got to let it out. But you’ve got to trust the person. You’ve got to trust the person. You get the spiritual father or mother you deserve. You’re responsible for whom you open your life to, but there’s got to be someone that you open your life to and hold nothing back, because, as Dorothea says, no matter how smart you are and how learned you are, if you’ve chosen yourself as a guide, you’ve chosen an idiot and a fool, because you only come to see yourself in mirrored back from another person’s hearing it. That person hopefully is a friend, is mature, is safe, but that has to happen. That has to happen.
Then you’ve got to deal with your family of origin. I’ve already spoken enough about that. You’ve got to deal with mom and dad, grandma, grandpa, and the whole history. You’ve got to, and no idealization, no demonization, and you can’t do that alone either. The only thing you can do alone is go to hell. We’re members of one another. We need each other. So those are the kind of things we do.
Then, I can’t remember all twelve, but one of them would definitely be: You live one day at a time, and you do what God wants you to do right now. Right now you’ve got to listen to me blah-blah-blah. This afternoon we’ll pray, this evening… We live a breath at a time, and we try to do our work or our studies or whatever it is as well and as honestly as we can. Just do what you’re doing to the glory of God, without lying in any way, without deceiving yourself.
Now, I think that anybody who’s serious about this should be willing to do that, and if they’re not, then you could almost assume that they’re not serious. So why should we bother, so to speak? But it can’t be serious for them if they don’t see that we’re doing it ourselves. That’s very important, especially parents, and priests, of course, too.
Another point here on the cards is the relation to science, especially neuroscience, especially the brain. People will say, “Well, maybe the same-sex attraction is inherited in your chromosomes. Maybe it’s part of the DNA. Maybe it’s part of the body chemistry,” and so on. My guess is that it certainly is. It really is, because we’re human beings. We have brains. We have no spiritual life without a brain. We’re not dis-incarnate souls floating around somewhere. We have bodies. We have emotions. We have passions. St. Maximus said there’s four things that determine a person’s life. One is their experience of their memories and their feelings and their thoughts, which comes from how they’re raised. The second are the demons, and when you’re trying to do this, you’ve got to tell people: Every demon in hell is going to give you a counter-argument and is going to attack you; they don’t want this to happen. You know what the other two things are? Food and the weather. [Laughter] Thoughts, memory, and feelings; demons; food; and weather. I can’t do too much about the weather, but the weather does play a big part in how we are, how we feel, what we do, because we’re in this world and we’re bodily. We’ve got to deal with that body.
Now, the brain—you can’t have a spiritual life without a brain. People say, oh, we have studies. A guy who’s a horrible person, he got hit on the head with a beam and he turned into a holy guy. Well, that’s very great, but I wouldn’t suggest everybody who’s angry and ornery that you get a beam and you hit him over the head. It might not work… But the brain is a part of it. But we have to remember also that all of this is very interesting; all of this is very pertinent, and anyone who’s really into it seriously, like the priests and the counselors and so on, they must know the scientific literature on this subject. You must. You will see that it is much less assured than sometimes you get the picture about in the newspaper, much more open to question: Is there the “God gene”? Is there the “gay gene”? and all that stuff. Nobody would hold that. But that there are genes and chromosomes and DNA and chemistry.
One thing we know for sure also is how you behave affects your bodily chemistry. So if you’re born from people who are rage-aholics and alcoholics and fighters and ornery, you’re going to have a brain that’s predisposed to that kind of activity before you’re even born. There’s always a Greek word for it. Prolepsis, in Greek, the predisposition to a certain kind of behavior. It’s not for nothing that the saints come in clusters, usually in families. Notice how all the great saints came with a holy mother or a holy father. It’s almost like a pattern. And relation of men and women in the community. You can’t understand the Cappadocian Fathers without understanding Gorgonia, Emilia, Nonna, Theosevia, Olympia—all the women that they were living with—and not having sex with.
So there is definitely this knowledge of neuroscience in relation to spiritual life and how it works, because it works both ways. If you’re in a very negative spiritual climate, your body chemistry and your brain chemistry will be different. Al Rossi says it’s just proven: someone who’s hooked on internet porn has different brain chemistry than a person who’s not. So it can be like a vicious circle. You have the brain chemistry first, and then it pushes you toward the act, or you’re involved in all the actions, and it has an effect on your brain. That’s what can make people sick: asthma, cancer, all those things. They’re connected to spiritual life. That’s becoming a pretty acceptable fact in the scientific community nowadays. When I was young, it wasn’t. We were like souls in bodies, and the soul didn’t exist so all you were was a body, and all of that stuff. I think people are coming around on that one.
But there’s two other things that can be said about natural science. The way you come to knowledge by the methods of natural science are very different by how you come to the knowledge of God and things that are not material. But it’s as scientific. You could write down a list, that if you want to know God, you have to do these things, but if you want to know earthworms, you’ve got to do those things. But God ain’t an earthworm. So there is instruction in how these can interface.
But one more point, very important, for me, at least, is: We must always remember that when we are doing scientific study, especially on human beings, we’re studying fallen creatures! We are not studying people pristinely as made by God. We are studying products—I would go, I would use the word—of an evolutionary process. We’re studying products of other people’s behaviors, and they are a mixture of the mystery of Christ and the mystery of iniquity. The Holy Spirit and the devil are battling for people’s lives and so on, and that has a total effect on them, including their body, including their brain, including their activities. That’s true. You could say it’s important to know these things, but on some level it’s irrelevant. It’s irrelevant, because if somebody says, “I’m studying orangutans,” or something like that, or, “I’m studying” whatever it is, or, “I’m studying human beings in the ghetto,” or whatever, that’s fine, but the only problem is the mystery of evil is mixed into that, too. So the conclusions that you come to might not be binding at all, theologically and spiritually. Change the condition, and you’ll change what you discover scientifically.
There is this interaction which we must, I believe, deal much more carefully and deeply with. But one thing is for sure. If it were proved now, this minute, that there is a certain gene or chromosomal whatever-it-is that predisposes a person to same-sex attraction, our answer, as Orthodox Christians, would be very interesting: “But so what?” But so what? I’ve still got to deal with it. And if I still have a transcendence that I can deal with it, then I’ve got to deal with it.
St. John Climacus, in The Ladder, he says Christianity is a warfare against nature itself in its presently corrupted form. So we are actually trying to re-create creation, to have a new nature that is the true nature, the one that’s given to us by God. In a sense you can say whatever you prove about fallen nature doesn’t really ultimately have an ultimate meaning for Christians, because we’re fighting against that fallen nature, and we believe by the grace of God, we can overcome every determination of so-called scientific—what’s the word I want?—behaviorism. Just the fact that we can speak about it shows that we have a certain freedom in relation to it. If we change our certain way of living, things are going to change, which leads to one more very important point.
You always begin with changing the behavior. First. Because if you don’t, you’re wasting your time. If you’re talking to an alcoholic who’s drinking, you might as well talk to the wall. You’ve got to stop the drinking first. If you’re talking to a pedophile, they’ve got to stop the action first.
I once saw on TV an interview with a Catholic priest who was a pedophile, and the journalist who was interviewing him said, “Weren’t you going through counseling during this period?” He said, “Yeah, I was.” He said, “Did it help you?” He said, “No, not at all.” The journalist said, “Why not?” The priest, whose face, you couldn’t see who he was, he said, “Because I was still acting out.”
So if you’re talking to a drug addict and they’re still using, you’re wasting your time. So you first begin with the physical behavior. Here I think with the issue of same-sex attraction, you want to get to the point at some point—this ain’t for the first, second meeting; it may not be for the first three years—that they have to agree that they’re just going to stop the behavior. They’re going to give a chance of living without this behavior, without this erotic, genital, anal, oral—if they’re men, or women, too—behavior. Just, they’re going to give it a chance, you see, and I think you’ve got to get to that point at some point. Otherwise you’re just talking in circles, and you’re moving towards that point where they’d be convinced enough that there’s a truth here that they want to discover, and the only way that they’re going to discover it is, at least hypothetically for a time, stopping the behavior, and doing everything they can to stop the behavior: call a sponsor, don’t put yourself in certain situations.
By the way, all passion and all sin, especially sexual, is very much a routine pattern. You’ve got to break the pattern and replace it with another routine. If you follow the same routine, you’re going to be in the same boat. If you come out of work, you have to know: if I go down that street, I’m going to be in that adult store, so I can’t go home down that street; I’ve got to go home down this street. I’ve got to walk with somebody, not by myself. I mean, there’s certain things that you can do, but it’s like a person who’s had a stroke. You have to learn how to walk again, and it’s hard and you fall down and it doesn’t work—but that’s basically what’s going on: you’re reconstructing the person’s psycho-spiritual-somatic being in a holistic manner. I think that that is something that we really have to think about a lot: how that does happen, but I think it does have to be done that particular way.
Two more things on that point. One is there’s going to be falls all the time. You know the story of the monk in the desert, where the pagan says to him, “Who are you, anyway?” And happily he said, “I am a Christian.” I say happily because he didn’t say, “I am the Right Reverend Archimandrite”; he said, “I am a Christian.” [Laughter] Then he said, “A Christian? What’s a Christian?” He said, “Well, a Christian is a person who falls down, he gets up again, falls down and gets up again, falls down and gets up again.” He said, “Really, that’s a Christian?” He said, “Yeah.” He said, “Where do you live?” He said, “I live out in the desert.” He said, “What do you do out there in that desert?” He said, “All day long and all night long, all we do is fall down and get up again, fall down and get up again, fall down and get up again.” And that’s part of it. We will fall. Anyone who says they won’t is a liar. So you’ve got to deal with the falls, and it can’t be apocalyptic and it can’t be the end of the world when that happens.
Also, when people are working through this and testing it, they will do outrageous things to see if you’re going to stay with them, because they want to drive you to the point where they say, “You’re not interested. I don’t know. Get the hell out of here.” That’s what they want; then the thesis will be proved. So if it happens seventy times seven, if they’re still coming around, they’re in the orbit of the church or whatever, you deal with them.
I had these two gay guys in my church in Wappinger. They would smash the church. They would fight with each other. One guy put a screwdriver through the other guy’s hand. They were in jail half the time. My wife says to me, “How come you keep dealing with these guys?” I said to her, “Anya, you see how they act coming to church? How will they be if they didn’t come?” [Laughter] At least when they get over the top, they know to run to Fr. Tom. But they’ve got to know that the door is open, they’re going to be received, they’re going to be loved, but they’re not going to be blessed and they’re not going to be affirmed in what they’re doing. That’s very important, the truth and the love thing.
I would say that, practically, we have to keep everybody as much in the orbit of the Church as we can. Here I would say, personally, I’m ready to go 10,000 miles with gay people, because I know what a treacherous cross it is to bear, that kind of thing, and what pressure is on them not to follow the Christian way, or to make up a new Christian way that is not Christian at all. So I think, my own opinion would be this: When it comes to clergy, akrivia—one strike, you’re out; when it comes to lay people, 10,000 falls a day, it’s okay, as long as you come back and you’re willing to keep working. So we’ve got to keep the working going.
If they’re out there picketing and throwing condoms at the cardinal or something, then you can say, “I’m sorry, you can’t have holy Communion here. You can’t come here,” but if they’re still open to it, they’re still struggling, they’re still not sure, they’re still fragile, they want to be but they don’t want to be, and they want to have a life, and they feel they should have sex and intimacy and all this kind of stuff and you’re condemning them to celibacy or whatever, you’ve got to realize that’s hard to handle in a person, especially a younger person. They’ve got to live the rest of their life how? So I think that here we have to be incredibly merciful.
Because the healing power is love, they will test the love. Here not just people struggling with same-sex attraction. Every sinner will test the love of their parents and their priests. How far can I go? How far can I push them? When are they finally going to kick me out? When am I going to get whatever it is—the excommunication summons or something? Well, my own opinion would be: Not until they have made a statement that they are no longer interested in working. If that happens and he says, “I’m sorry. I don’t believe this. I don’t want to work with you any more. I’m not coming here any more. Or I’m going to come here and I’m going to come on my own terms and I’m going to get in the Communion line and there’s nothing you can do about it,” you have to say, “Oh, yes, there is.” Oh, yes, there is, because you’ve got to at least say, “I’m open to the grace that perhaps there’s something here I’m not seeing. Perhaps.” We’re going to work together with this. I think if that happens, I think that’s how we should act. I really believe that that’s how we should act.
One more thing, the fourth thing, that has to do with the relationship to society. I already said that I don’t have much hope that making decrees, putting things in the newspaper, and all that is going to help much. We don’t have to say every day of the life, “We’re against gays. We’re against homosexuality. We’re against gay marriage.” People know that. Just see you walking around like this, they know that. [Laughter] If they don’t mistake you for a Muslim by how you’re dressed. [Laughter] But I think that that becomes counter-productive after a while, and you get turned off right away. Then it’s an easy way to be righteous.
One of the very interesting books to read is Stranger at the Gate by a guy named Mel White. He was the poster boy for Evangelicals. He ghost-wrote the biographies of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, and all this kind of stuff, but the guy was gay and struggling with it. He went this and he did this and they prayed and nothing happened. So finally he just gave it all up, and now he’s married to a guy and whatever. But in any case, the interesting thing about that book, beside the kind of crazy Christianity he was in, in my opinion in the first place, was that he said many people that he knows, they need someone to demonize and to hate, because then that makes them feel righteous. He said he feels that guys like Pat Robertson and Falwell, their object of hatred were Communists. But when Communism fell and the only Communists left were in American universities [Laughter] they needed another group to hate, and they chose gays. Then they scare everybody, “All our kids are going to become gay, and then marriage is going to go away!” Well, if everything else is in order, that ain’t going to happen. It’s just not. You could have a law favoring abortion, but if the person’s in the Church and believe it, they’re not going to do an abortion. Or they might, and repent and weep, and you’ve got to deal with that.
But in any case, there’s a lot of hatred going on back and forth. Like those people who would picket at funerals, saying, “God hates Americans because of fags, and that’s why he’s killing them in Afghanistan.” They’re sick; they’re really sick. Really sick. So there’s a sickness here on both sides. I think, again, practically, my opinion would be that you’ve got to be careful about this also for other reasons. One reason is, you’re not going to get a fair hearing. You’re not.
My wife’s brother is a journalist, and I always tell him—well, first he tells us: Stay away from the media. It’s anti-religious and especially anti-Christian to begin with. You’re not going to get a fair hearing, no matter how much you try. You think you’re going to be out there and you’re going to make your statement and they’re all going to agree. That ain’t going to happen. Then I used to joke back with him and say, “You know, Serge, the only place where I would be in favor of using the King James Version of the Bible was where a crowd of people were around Jesus, trying to hear him, and it said, in old English, ‘They could not get near to him because of the press.’ ” [Laughter]
Well, we’ve got to be careful if we think we’re going to use the press and it’s going to be in our favor. I’m willing to say we’ll never… I was at meetings that I read descriptions of in newspapers. It wasn’t the meeting I was at. So this is a very, very important issue. Every kook can get on a talk show about religion and so on. Try to get a decent, upstanding Christian who knows what they’re doing, has been around the block—they’ll never invite you, never! It’s just not the way it works.
The other thing I would like to say is this. If you take it on directly in that way, in a more general theoretical way—this is my opinion; I could be wrong—and by the way, I could be wrong about all of this. You have to decide. But I think that what happens is people who want to do what they want to do—and let’s be specific here: gay people who want to affirm same-sex love is absolutely like heterosexual, it can be marriage, it can be whatever, should be free even, you don’t have to stick with your one partner and that’s kind of crazy and all that—but in any case, they’re going to look for stuff to attack you. All you have to do is have one unfelicitous sentence and they’ve got you. Then they want to be hated. So when you just say a simple thing like this: “We think this way of living is unfruitful for a human being,” they hear, “You hate me. You’re vilifying me. You think you’re better than I am. You think you’re greater.” I think that’s going to happen every time you make those sentences. So what do you? You don’t win anybody, but you allow them to confirm their worst opinion about you! And that’s why the personal contact is still the only way.
I mentioned earlier that I was for several weeks, over several years, in dialogue with the USMCC; that’s the Metropolitan Community Churches that were the first gay-advocacy churches. The first week there after we were there for about four, five days, the moderator said, “Is there anyone here who would like to say anything about these days?” So this guy raises his hand—Adam du Baugh, his name was; he was a lobbyist for gay rights in Washington—this was a long time ago; this was in the ‘70s—and he said, “Yes, I’d like to say something.” “Well, what would you like to say?” the moderator said to him. “I’d like to say this,” he said. “When I came to this meeting and I heard that there’s going to be an Orthodox priest here, I was very tempted not even to come. I didn’t want to sit in the room with such an anti-human, destructive people. There’s a guy here in Chicago, a Greek guy, who sends me regular emails that I’m responsible, personally, for the death of thousands of young people in America who are killed by gay-bashing and who kill themselves because they believe they’re condemned by God to go to hell because of their same-sex feelings.” I asked him if he read the book. He said, “Not really.” [Laughter] At least he was honest.
But in any case, this guy says, “I’d like to say something.” “What is it?” He said, “I didn’t want to come here. This bigoted retard who thinks that the world is flat and whatever, why would I even sit in the room with such a person?” Then he said, “However, after these three, four days, I see that Tom is a pretty nice guy. [Laughter] And he doesn’t seem to be like that. And he listens.” I don’t know if I should tell you this, but one day I even wrote the gay paper. Don’t tell anybody. [Laughter] One guy was trying to tell everybody, “We think this; we think this; we think this.” I said, “Is this what you’re trying to say?” “Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to say!” The moderator said, “Could you please go out and help him draft it?” [Laughter] So I’m out there drafting the gay position. [Laughter]
But in any case, the guy, because of a personal contact… now, I don’t think he changed his mind. He certainly didn’t jump and become Orthodox. He had incredible arguments against Orthodoxy, just on a practical level. He said, “Why do you say gay pride is bad?” He said, “I went to church with a Greek Orthodox friend of mine. They had a big sign in the church: Be proud you’re Greek. What’s the difference.” And then he said, “You don’t want us in the National Council of Churches. But you have churches in the National Council of Churches that support abortion! And you’re willing to sit down and talk with them; why aren’t you willing to sit down and talk with us.” In some sense, abortion is much worse than same-sex love or whatever you want to call it. So they have lots of arguments against us. Lots, de facto arguments.
But I honestly think that there’s not even a chance of not having them interpret you in the most negative way unless there’s some kind of personal encounter. I just don’t see how it’s going to be. So if we could go to meetings where it’s discussed, we can be involved in things, great! But then when we go, what do we say, how do we act? What do we look like, even physically, when we show up? All those things are incredibly important in my opinion if we’re even going to establish some kind of communication. The greatest, for me anyway, the most gratifying review of this book that I got was from a Catholic lesbian in England. This is what she said:
Although I profoundly disagree with the stance taken toward homosexuality in this book, I found it a delight to read. It is a careful, compassionate, and comprehensive discussion of contemporary same-sex attraction from the perspective of the Orthodox Christian tradition. It is informed by gay and lesbian theology—(she herself wrote a book on what they call queer theology)—and other alternative perspectives. I would recommend it to all who study or are personally involved in the issues around same-sex relations in the Christian tradition, perhaps particularly to those not part of the Orthodox tradition, for the rich theology of that tradition frames the debate in very different terms to those of other denominations. This book holds out the possibility of a debate which need not fracture the Church nor create alarming levels of animosity and hostility between Christians. For this reason alone it’s worth reading and engaging with. —Elizabeth Stuart, Professor of Christian Theology, [Winchester]
I know that she’s not totally convinced with her own queer theology, because I’ve read her books, and she criticizes lots of stuff. I know that she’s hungering and thirsting for a more biblical, deeper theology. On the other hand, she’s a lesbian lady. I don’t know if she has a partner or not; I don’t know her, but at least you have a feeling something might possibly happen there that you don’t know what. It may not involve you at all; you may be dead and buried and someone else comes and they hear things… You just don’t know. So you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, but one thing you cannot do is offend people unnecessarily.
The other thing you cannot do is chase away members of the Orthodox churches and their families who are struggling with same-sex attraction. You’ve got to meet them, you’ve got to talk with them, you’ve got to spend time with them, you’ve got to go over it with them, and until they become really offensive and proactive, I think even they should be able to remain in holy communion. However else are they going to be able to continue? But then their part of the deal has to be: they’re open, they’re repenting, they’re quiet.
And here I would think we must trust their priests. If the priest is in a parish and he’s dealing with someone, and other people think that person is lesbian or gay or has a partner or whatever, my own opinion is it shouldn’t be any of their business. If there is a problem, they might go to the priest and say, “Are you aiding and abetting same-sex lifestyles?” or whatever. There is a conversation that can go on, definitely, but my conviction about how personal it is, how difficult, how complicated—you’ve just got to honor that. You have to honor it. And we have to be ultimately… Sometimes I think—and I’ll end with this—that the statement that we need to hear is, in our time, this one from the first letter of the Corinthians, the ninth chapter, which is actually read in our Church on Epiphany at the Liturgy. The Apostle Paul says this. It helps to be in 1 Corinthians, not 2 Corinthians… [Laughter] It says:
For though I am free among all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win the Jews. To those under the Law, I became as one under the Law, though not myself being under the Law, that I might win those under the Law. To those outside the Law, I became as one outside the Law, not being without the Law toward God, but under the law of Christ, that I might win those outside the Law. To the weak, I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might perhaps by all means save some.
Not all: some.
I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I might share in its blessings.
Maybe today we have to put in another sentence: I have become to the homosexual, not being a homosexual [Laughter] but identifying with the homosexual so that maybe by God’s grace the Gospel can somehow come through to them.
Thank you. [Applause]mposium_2011/spiritual_practice_orthodox_christian_faith_and_homosexual_attraction_and_b