Breaking the Silence on Sexuality within the Orthodox Church

Open Letter to Metropolitan Jonah

December 28, 2010
24 Purvis St.
Watertown, MA 02472
Most Blessed Jonah
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada
P.O. Box 675
Syosset, NY 11791
Your Beatitude:
Most Blessed Master, Bless!
This letter is in open response to your letter of 20 May to the Armed Forces Chaplains Board regarding the debate on the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy for the U. S. military, which has appeared on the Internet. You will likely remember me from our days together at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, from our visits in Boston when you were doing graduate study at Holy Cross here in the later 1980s, and though our numerous mutual acquaintances.
In addressing the issue of the Orthodox Christian position on DADT you make an effort to present the church’s general view on homosexuality, in doing so going so far as to raise issues unrelated to DADT and to speculate about situations outside the realm of possibility—such as the notion that any religious organization might be forced to teach a particular doctrine, or might be forced to marry two people against its moral beliefs. The Bill of Rights has of course prevented such coercion in religion throughout U.S. history and is likely to do so in the future.
I take the main point of your letter to be in your assertion that “to validate homosexuality in the military would be a validation of it for much of American society,” with the conclusion that this would be a deplorable thing. The fact is that there is already very significant acceptance of homosexuality in America, and there is evidence that acceptance is increasing at a rapid rate. The repeal of DADT might possibly have some effect in that process, but the process is happening regardless of what happens with DADT, and its repeal isn’t to be blamed for that process.
But it does seem to me that the current discussion of DADT is an invaluable opportunity for our church to enter into dialogue with American culture. Some kind of response to the general acceptance of homosexuality is required of us, and that response should naturally include a reexamination of the church’s teaching on sexuality.
The normalization of homosexuality arises from new understandings of sexuality in general that are worth taking into consideration simply because we cannot turn our backs on new scientific knowledge, and also because many of those of us who have revised our own view of the inherent evil of homosexuality have done so with prayer and a sincere effort at honesty toward God and our fellow person. This includes gay people like me as well as the body of Orthodox Christians who have come to similar conclusions and who support us. To refuse dialogue in this context would seem to me a rejection of both knowledge and of compassion. And such a refusal to dialogue tends to leave our church with no space to navigate through any of the other complex issues of our time either.
To turn away from dialogue would also be a rejection of the notion that our collective relationship with the Holy Spirit is a living, dynamic thing, something that should make us unafraid of new knowledge, and very naturally unafraid of any sort of challenge. I believe that challenges to our own status quo should in fact be welcomed as ways of confirming or revising our view as needed and as opportunities for articulating the truth. It’s an idea I find beautifully expressed by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in an interview he gave late in his life:
Our faith must certainly retain its integrity, but we must not be afraid of thinking and expressing ourselves openly. Everything will eventually settle into order, but if we keep just endlessly reiterating what has been said long ago, more and more people will drift away from their faith, not because everything that was stated before is erroneous, but because the approach and language being used are all wrong. Today’s people and the time they live in are different; today we think differently. I believe one must become rooted in God and not be afraid of thinking and feeling freely. “Freely” does not imply “free thinking” or contempt for the past and for the Tradition. However, God does not need slaves. “I no longer call you servants, I call you my friends…”
Many of us believe that the scripture, canons, and tradition to which you appeal for the church’s view on sexuality should be subject to exactly the sort of respectful “free thinking” of which Metropolitan Anthony speaks. It’s the same sort of free thinking that has compelled the church to refine its views continually for the past 2,000 years. Big examples of this are found in the revision of our thinking on the acceptability of slavery, of polygamy, and of the spiritual and intellectual inferiority of women. There are canons, scripture, and Fathers to be quoted in support of each of those principles we now so fervently reject.
I understand that you may sincerely believe that issues of sexuality are never subject to reexamination, that to consider doing so should be considered outrageous or deluded. But I also believe that those of us who have come to think otherwise are worthy of being dialogued with for the reasons given above, and I offer myself as a participant in that dialogue.
I believe that the alternative to such a dialogue would be a major step in cutting off of our church’s engagement with the world, as well as its witness to the world. It would also naturally lead to excommunication for many God-loving people of sincerity and good will, both gay people like myself and the growing number of supporters within the church who have come to understand us not to be a special class of unrepentant sinner. Among these supporters are of course a number of clergy, many of whom have tended to remain silent but who are beginning to be confronted with the inevitability of speaking out.
I am sincerely grateful for your taking the time to read and consider this.
In Christ,
David O’Neal

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