Is it New?

In my last article, I argued that we do not ask often enough to what extent lust is prevalent in our sexual relationships. I suggested that St. Paul’s exemplar of same-sex lust in his Epistle to the Romans in fact challenges all of us to critically examine how the worship of the creature rather than the Creator, that is, self-worship, permeates our lives and particularly, our sexualities, even if they do not take same-sex forms.

My point was not primarily to wade into a debate about gay sex, a debate that is even now raging in North American Orthodox circles, having been kindled by an article by Fr. Robert Arida on the OCA’s “Wonder” Blog. Nevertheless, a thoughtful reader raised a question that my article may have begged or implied: by interpreting St. Paul as I did, was I suggesting that same sex intimacy is inherently lustful?

Just so you know, I will not answer that question in this forum. The reason is, the question itself rests on certain assumptions which, if not shared, will result in a fruitless and empty debate. My purpose here, as briefly as I can, is to identify what I see as one of the main assumptions (there are certainly others).

In particular, the question raised to me assumes that “same sex intimacy” is essentially the same sociological phenomenon to which St. Paul refers in Romans. Those on the conservative side may say, “Yes, of course it is!” but this belief is not shared by all involved in the conversation. Whether the contemporary LGBT community is indeed what St. Paul (not to mention the other biblical authors) is describing, is something that needs to be settled first and foremost, before the conversation can continue.

If the two phenomena are not the same, for instance, then Orthodoxy must respond to something entirely new in its historical experience. We cannot simply apply traditional sources literally to the current situation, since those sources cannot speak directly about a reality that did not exist for them. James Alison put it as follows in one of our email exchanges, “How do highly skilled duck breeders react to the discovery that what they thought was an ugly duckling is in fact a swan, an unprecedented reality within the normal canons of duckitude?” In other words, if we recognize that LGBT persons are not merely ‘anomalous,’ but a genuinely new sociological group, how might we respond? One hopes that we would do so with the same theological rigor, depth and creativity that the Church has, at its best, demonstrated when faced with new challenges in its collective experience.

If, however, the LGBT reality is substantially the same as we find testified in the writings of the Church, then we must contend with the testimony of our tradition as it stands. Just as we should not resort to mere ‘parroting’ of tradition to reject a sexuality that is truly new, it is not appropriate to try and exonerate a historically condemned sexuality by excluding the traditional testimony on the basis that it is the product of a particular time and culture, and therefore ‘irrelevant.’ Rather, as one friend of mine put it, we must see the substance of traditional testimony as inspired, and ‘save the appearances’ by finding a pastoral response that reveres the past while speaking in love to the present.

How we answer this question of newness would have a significant effect on whether or not we see LGBTQ intimacy as inherently lustful. If it is new, then we may discern that same-sex relationships are consistent with the spirit of tradition, if not its apparent sense and meaning. Having made this determination and resolved to see our tradition in this way, we might envision a new kind of relationship—rooted in a new anthropology—where same-sex intimacy could speak the Gospel to the present culture.

If, though, the LGBT community is not substantially a new phenomenon, then we would answer the question of whether same-sex intimacy is inherently lustful with a “yes.” However, we would then want to evolve a pastoral response to those with same sex attraction who wish to live as Orthodox Christians. We may want to ask, for instance, whether “intimacy” necessarily requires sexual intercourse to be meaningful. We may envision same-sex relationships that are committed, lifelong, intimate, and yet celibate, as a way to honour the testimony of our tradition while offering a way for same-sex attracted persons to work out their salvation in the full communion of the Church…

Wherever one stands on this matter, it is crucial that we concern ourselves with the right questions. In the case of the contemporary culture of same-sex intimacy, such a question would simply be, “Is it new?” Unless we first answer this, our conversation will involve talking past, rather than to, one another.


Anonymous said…
Thank you, sir, for affirming my decision to leave the OCA.
Human nature is always and everywhere th same. (If it weren't, then neither would Christ be always the same, yesterday, today, and forever.)

Homosexuality remains what it has always been: not so much a moral issue (but that, too) as a psychiatric one. It is a severe, disabling emotional disorder in which one is unable to have stable, lasting, satisfying sexual relationahips with the opposite sex. Or to relate normally with the same sex, either. Compassion is needed for the sufferers of this tragedy, and understanding.

It's no good my dentist telling me my rotting teeth are just fine in ider nit to iffend me or hurt my feelings.

It's no good giving a drink to an alcoholic, howver much he may beg you for one.

And it's no good accepting a perversion as normal just because we love its victims.
Pr Seraphim said…
Very skillfully written. "Their words are smoother than oil, and yet they are darts." The sad thing is that scripturally illiterate people, even in the church, will take this article to mean that the sexual heresies of this age are plausible.
Anonymous said…
anastasia,love the sinner not the sin.these people need help not a kick in the butt.priests can do much to help them
Anonymous said…
Responding first to the comments: This posting asks a question, it doesn't propose an answer. Is asking anathema?

That's a sad state of affairs.

Responding to the post itself: This is a thoughtful and important question. I hope it can lead to a real conversation, wherever that may lead.
Anonymous said…
"sad thing is that scripturally illiterate people, even in the church, will take this article to mean that the sexual heresies of this age are plausible"

That is the opening he is leaving though, is it not? This is simply a restatement of the idea (in this case in the form of a question) that their is somehow (and this is never explained) a "new anthropology" a "new" type of homosexualism (in this case the author is imprecise, perhaps on purpose, suggesting that a "new sexuality" is "sociological", etc.).

All this is nonsense of course. The Tradition is quite clear on the nature of this sin. The wasteland that this particular devil has made of other Christian sects should be warning enough for us of it's source and nature. The attempt to relabel an old sin "new" - "you see, it's not really a sin anymore because I am something new, or misunderstood, or...." - well the devil is not called the deceiver for not...

So, just to be clear, the answer is no, it is not new - this is obvious to anyone with any sense of history (scriptural or otherwise). Of course, modern man is perhaps the most ahistorical idealist ever to walk the earth.

Fr. Richard, your seeming ignorance of this is disappointing - it puts the rest of your work in doubt...

Anonymous said…
Speaking as an Orthodox Christian who struggles with this passion, to see a priest even entertain the questions posted here is most distressing, as is the situation throughout the OCA. It seems that some quarters of the Church are not even safe anymore for those of us who need encouragement as we try to fight the good fight. Seriously, I do not need this coming from our clergy.

Those of us who struggle with this passion and desire to follow the teachings of scripture and the fathers have enough obstacles from the world, without needing to raise these questions.

It's just the newest version of "did God really say..."

I will be sure to stay far away from such quarters, because the last thing I need in my spiritual life is for my sins to be enabled or explained away, as if there is anything new under the sun.
Anonymous said…
Keep this up Fr Richard! Soon the OCA will go into schism!
Anonymous said…
Speaking person to person intelligibly has nothing to do with diluting or changing the gospel. On topics especially such as homosexuality, Christians are only heard as being stupid and hateful. Oh, you don't speak English? Maybe it will help if I just shout louder?

The sunlight and fresh air of God's healing is shut out as such on these topics. The Gospel must be preached to a culture that speaks the foreign language of secularism. I am grateful Fr. Richard is making such an effort.
Isaac said…
Wow. This is really terrible. The ambiguity and sophistry says it all. I hope the sane part of the OCA joins ROCOR soon, to get away from all of this garbage. Intellectuals are the most capable of self-deception because they can twist reason to fit their passions. Please consider the saints and their unfailing witness to the Scriptures. They do not speak in the manner that you do here, Father. I think the "shepherds and fishermen" have seen through the cleverness and realize that it is Christ's commandments that are here being violated.

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