Breaking the Silence on Sexuality within the Orthodox Church

Open Letter to Met. Jonah

Joseph Clarke

January 10, 2011

The Most Blessed JONAH

Your Beatitude,

Most Blessed Master, Bless!

I write concerning your letter of May 2, 2010 to the Armed Forces Chaplains Board regarding the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which profoundly affects my life as an Orthodox Christian.

Born 29 years ago to Orthodox converts, I have been a member of the OCA all my life, and have found the Church to be a source of immense love, nurture, and moral guidance. In my early 20s, I began to acknowledge my sexual attraction towards other men, to recognize the limits of my control over my feelings, and to ask whether and how I might understand them as God-given. In the course of this struggle, I was been blessed to encounter priests, monastics, and wise laypeople who withheld summary judgments based on doctrine and, instead, counseled me as an individual. This sort of personal, pastoral approach to sexuality is, in my experience, the most effective way for the Church to act as the vehicle for divine grace and love.

Recourse to the language of the so-called “culture wars”—efforts by certain religious and political groups to reshape social discourse as a kind of moral Armageddon—is of absolutely no help to individual Orthodox Christians doing their best to live a godly life under the Church’s spiritual direction. There is no reason for the OCA to join these groups in blurring the Constitutional line between church and state by getting involved in political debates about military policy or advocating against the secular rights of citizens. Moreover, being lumped into a group ostensibly promoting a “gay agenda” or a sinful “gay lifestyle”—terms invented in order to promote bigotry—is terribly hurtful to me and countless others who have struggled with their sexuality while trying to remain faithful Orthodox Christians.

It is becoming impossible for truth-seeking Christians to overlook an enormous and growing body of peer-reviewed scientific findings contradicting the argument that homosexuality is utterly self-destructive, self-delusional, freely “chosen identity.” Nevertheless, I respect the centuries of Orthodox teachings which, absent a prayerful effort to bring them into dialogue with modern science, seem to point in a different direction. What we in the OCA need—urgently—is an honest, tolerant, and open-hearted discussion, led by our hierarchs, theologians, and parish priests.

Our Church’s general policy of silence on these issues, punctuated by occasional categorical pronouncements, has not served us well in recent years. I beg your Beatitude to refrain from making common cause with political players who oversimplify complex moral issues, and instead to help foster a climate of loving discussion in OCA parishes.

I sincerely thank you for taking the time to consider my words.

In Christ,

Joseph Clarke