My Year as a Pro-Gay “Orthodox” Heretic

 

 

By Bilerico Project (California Marriage Equality – San Francisco)

When people call you a blasphemer, Christ-denier, a defender of tyranny, and an apologist for Babel, who cares more about impressing liberal academics than listening to the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church, the best response is almost always silence. My general practice is to avoid confrontations with anyone who believes him/herself capable of knowing me in 1500 words or less. But, for Fr. Johannes Jacobse and some of his readers, I am going to make an exception. Fr. Jacobse is involved with a call-in radio show I will appear on this Sunday (June 17). Even though his article did not speak for the show or its station, I thought it might be wise to offer potential listeners/callers a short “intellectual memoir” of my involvement in the gay marriage debate over the past year. I do not intend to change anyone’s mind. I only hope that offering a little insight into my intentions and motives might help us have a more substantive conversation – one focused more on the issues than speculations about my character.

Last July, I published a blog article in the Huffington Post on gay marriage. I used New York’s decision to legalize gay marriage to point out that a sacrament is not the same as a civil contract. Relationships other people call “marriage” has no bearing upon what we believe marriage to be. But some readers missed the point. Either they did not pick up on the double sense of the term “marriage,” or they simply assumed that anyone not wagging a Pharisaical finger at gay people must be pro-gay. Of course, in my case, they would be right. But more on that in a moment.

I got my PhD from Vanderbilt, which has a reputation for promoting “liberal” theology. This seems to have led some to assume I pray for the day when an Orthodox priest might hold wedding crowns over the heads of Steve and Frank and pronounce them husband and husband, “You may now kiss the groom.” (Yes, I know that is not exactly the way an Orthodox wedding ceremony works.) The words “liberal” and “conservative” are okay for convenience’s sake, as long as we don’t use them to scour away any nuance in a person’s theology or politics. Then they just become an excuse to stop listening.

My politics lean left sometimes, but they lean right in other ways. I am not a political liberal in the proper sense of the term, and my theology is orthodox. I believe in the Holy Trinity, the virgin birth, the two-natures of Christ, the bodily resurrection, the real presence of Christ in Communion, and miracles. When it comes to gay marriage, the position I take is about a quarter-step to the left of the well-respected Orthodox theologian, Fr. Thomas Hopko.

Fr. Hopko has written a book called Christian Faith and Same Sex Attraction. I picked it up a few years ago and was surprised to find that he supported civil unions. In his opinion, Christian love demands extending the same rights to gay couples that straight couples enjoy. The exceptions he makes are adoption and marriage.

That book made me wonder what the difference was between a civil union and a civil marriage. What if a civil union gave gay couples all the rights of straight couples? Does it matter what we call it? Does using the word “marriage” to describe that relationship affect what it actually is in the theology of my, or any other, church? Civil union laws are often piecemeal. They are not always understood or consistently enforced. Using the word “marriage” seems like a more effective and just way of giving gay couples the rights Fr. Hopko says Christian love requires.

Let me illustrate what I mean with a thought experiment. In many states only the biological parent has legal rights to her child. Imagine a little girl, nearly four years old, born to a lesbian couple. The birth mother dies suddenly and tragically. Now imagine the screams and terror of that little girl as a DCS agent rips her, in her grief, from the arms of the surviving, non-biological mother – the only other “mommy” she has ever known – and puts her into foster care. Forget about the morality of same-sex relationships for a minute! What about that little girl?

Five years after reading Hopko’s book, I decided to practice a little “holy disobedience.” My views on gay marriage are at odds with the consensus of my bishops. Speaking out on this issue has probably done irreparable damage to my career. I can forget about ever teaching at an Orthodox school. But after five years of thinking and soul-searching, I could not ignore that grieving child and her sobbing lesbian mother. I do not know if or how much this happens, but I know it is a fear that many gay families live with every day. In this sense I am pro-gay, because I am pro-people.

As a theologian, that does not necessarily make me a part of the “Steve and Frank” camp. I will admit to struggling with my church’s official teaching on same-sex orientation (or as we Orthodox often call it, “same-sex attraction”). Fr. Hopko made a good start with his book, but our theology has yet to bring the rich resources of our tradition to bear upon modern LGBT experience in any kind of comprehensive or particularly Orthodox way. Mostly we just parrot the natural theology arguments of Roman Catholicism or the Evangelical mythos (and concomitant persecution complex) of American moral and spiritual decline.

Fr. Jacobse and his readers can blame Doug for my reluctance to jump on their finger-wagging bandwagon. I got to know Doug in my early twenties. He was my first real gay friend, and he has taught me more than any straight person I know about what it means to exude the love of Christ from every pore of one’s being. I remember once when the two of us were approached by a homeless woman. I kept my “scared white man” distance from her, but Doug walked right over to her, held her hand, talked to her, and hugged her goodbye. He touched a person that I considered “dirty,” or as a Pharisee might have put it, “unclean.”

Some of my critics would say that, as an unrepenent gay man, Doug will go to hell. I have a hard time accepting that. Doug repents all the time. I have met few people who are as aware of their own brokenness and need for grace as him. He believes he has plenty of sins, but he does not believe being gay is one of them. If Doug is going to hell, there is no hope for me. Thankfully, the last time I checked, neither I, nor Fr. Jacobse, nor any of his readers get to make that decision.

Being Orthodox means learning to be comfortable with ambiguity and mystery. It means remembering that every Sunday, before I receive Communion, I pray that God would have compassion upon me, a sinner, “of whom I am chief.” I will practice intellectual humility when it comes to the teaching of my church on same-sex orientation, but I will also not condemn or judge any LGBT individual. To do so would not only be to commit the sin of Adam (to believe I can possess the mind of God), but it would make my own “Lord have mercies” hollow.

Some readers, who support the full inclusion of gays into the life of the church, may struggle to understand my reluctance to oppose my hierarchs on this point. I think the past year shows I am willing to utter a respectful “No” when I firmly believe they are wrong. Orthodox theology moves slower than molasses. To put things in perspective, we still fight about when we should celebrate Christmas. As a lay theologian, I can take a bit more intellectual risk in what I say, because I am not a spokesperson for Orthodox Christianity, but as a man in love with his church, I have an obligation to respect the process.

Fr. Jacobse and his readers may see my equivocation as a sign of a secret agenda. I doubt I can say anything that will convince them otherwise, but if they feel like being charitable critics, they might consider that many Orthodox Christians have beliefs (about icons, Mary, the saints, and even the Holy Trinity) that they have to grow into. As St. Gregory of Nyssa said, our journey into God never ends. We are on an infinite journey into Infinite Mystery. Some of my critics may know where I will end up, but I don’t. Therefore, I will close with what seems to me the most definitive thing an Orthodox Christian can ever say about the sinfulness of “homosexuality.” “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).

I think we should live and speak and write like those words mean something.

Note: Doug Harrison is the first to admit his brokenness, and so he thinks my praise is undeserved. I will let you, the reader, decide. http://www.outpatientmonk.com

 

63 Comments

  1. iblase July 1, 2012 8:40 pm  Reply

    The advert I heard on AFR made it sound like you were going to argue for the legalization of gay marriage from the point of view that there is church/state separation and from the fact that the Orthodox Church need not recognize the state’s incorrect definition of marriage. I would have liked to hear more reasoning along those lines since I am inclined to hold that same position.

    I hold that position not because I have any belief that homosexual acts are somehow moral or neutral (I think Fr. John Whiteford had excellently laid out the reasons on why they are not acceptable in the Orthodox Church), but I think the more libertarian approach to these matters is required simply for the Church’s survival in this land. The same sort of legal thinking that can outlaw gay marriage can, in maybe not such a long time, be used to place serious restrictions on the Church’s freedoms (such as denying certain ‘civil rights’). This is already happening in some places (see the recent Denmark case).

    • davidjdunn July 1, 2012 9:43 pm  Reply

      I don’t share your politics, but I take the point. I wish we would have had more of a discussion about this as well.

  2. M. Stankovich June 19, 2012 9:00 pm  Reply

    Dr. Dunn,
    I must say I was amused to find my words “embedded” in your essay and, I might add, not in a context I find worthy of a blessing. My objection was solely to what I perceived as your pretentious “hit-and-run” into the enemy camp to say you have learned by experience (presumably “fruitless”) not to engage on blogs, and you “really didn’t have the time.” You compound my offense by using my voice.

    I believe if you were to explore, you would quickly find that I am hardly an AOI “apartchik.” but a vocal, and perhaps obnoxious apologist for the Church as the source and fountain of healing, yet pointing out that those with same-sex-attraction who seek the path of chastity and “rightmindedness” to which we are all called, are consistently isolated and stigmatized IN the Church. I have continuously argued on AIO that it is our Orthodox anthropology that we are biological-psychological-environmental-spiritual beings created at the hands of the Master in “symphony,” and to attempt to understand homosexuality by segregating a factor(s) or to disrupt this “symphony, even for the purpose of “debate,” is grave error. And I have argued that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that reparative therapies are helpful, efficacious, or demonstrate a benefit-to-harm ratio that suggests they are safe. Most importantly, I boldly claim that nothing I promote is contrary to the Scripture, Patristic Teachings, Canonical Teachings, or Tradition of the Orthodox Church, and invite correction.

    My opinions, Dr. Dunn, are not popular on AIO. I have been labelled everything you have have been labelled, more, and worse. I persist, and I continue to engage. I am neither brave nor admirable. I am, however, correct.

    • davidjdunn June 19, 2012 10:59 pm  Reply

      For what it is worth, my intent was to let the harsh language of some critics stand as a backdrop to the “memoir,” without direct comment. I believe I am responsible for words I say in public. Had you sent me an email, I would have asked for your blessing. I felt no need to ask because I assume you are responsible for the tone you take online. But if you feel my snapshot of your comment unfairly casts a polemical shadow over words that were, in truth, rather benign, say so, and I will give you the benefit of the doubt. I will remove the statement.

      I do not enjoy polemics. If, at such great distances, you know my true motives for refusing to respond to any further critique Fr. Jacobse makes, I doubt anything I say will be able to convince you otherwise. Such impervious confidence does not lend itself to constructive discussion, only the lobbing of rhetorical petrol bombs. I suppose you are right. Some conversations are just words that lead nowhere, and I do not have time for that.

      • M. Stankovich June 20, 2012 2:35 am  Reply

        Dr. Dunn.

        I appreciate the benefit of doubt wherever I can get it. My point, however, was that, given your opinion of AIO, I believe it was needlessly provocative of you to leave any comment at all. If I misinterpreted your comment to mean that “engaging” was beneath you, I apologize. While I fully appreciate the desire to avoid polemic, all the more reason, to question the motivation of suddenly appearing, like “Glinda the Good Witch,” in Oz. I believe you fail to appreciate how the rank and file live for moments like you provided; in effect arriving with a bucket of meat at feeding.

        I once wrote on AIO that the Church has historically come to its Truths and Traditions through processes that one can only be describe as contentious: the details of the events leading to and including the Ecumenical Councils are vicious, and personal; monastics, dragged against their will from seclusion in caves and deserts, to “testify” and expound for one side or another; angry shouting matches bordering on violence; and dissension and argument in the markets and in the streets. All of this leading some to imagine the Church itself would be lost to the heterodox and schism. And somehow, by the Grace of God and the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the Truth was revealed and the Fathers spoke: “And so it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28) If everything that needs to be said has already been said, we are dead.

        My “impervious confidence” is limited to what I know to be true, plain and simple. Otherwise, I try to “keep a door about my lips” and sit on my hands. Likewise, I work hard at not mistaking my friends for my enemies and critics. I am not your enemy. Dr. Dunn.

        • davidjdunn June 20, 2012 2:43 am  Reply

          What I am hearing you say is that I should not have written the post entitled about “My Year as a Pro-Gay ‘Orthodox’ Heretic.” Is that correct?

          • M. Stankovich June 20, 2012 4:44 am 

            Absolutely not! I have no issue with your essay. I refer to your comment to “The Antietam of the Culture War.” Your opinion of AIO was known, so what point was served? By saying I will not engage you here, but I will post something on Huffington, does it seem unreasonable I would conclude this to be provocative? Thus my comment, and thus your “harsher language backdrop.” Lesson learned on this side.

            While I do not agree with your tact in this particular instance, I did not comment here to begin some excoriation or judgment of your opinions or motives. In fact, My intention is to bring encouragement. It is said “there is room in this Church for everyone,” and I truly believe we are foolish to respond to these contrivances of “liberal,” “conservative,” and “traditionalist” Orthodox, but the fact they cannot change is we are only saved “together.” We are not at “war” as the “conservatives” would have you believe, but we are actively re-articulating and re-expressing, and ever re-vitalizing our Traditions. No one can “calm” us, or silence us, or minimize our influence or participation because this the irrepressible Energy of the Father. And we are not intimidated, or outwitted, or out-debated by their “logic” and persistence because, with faith, we are all moved by the same Holy Spirit, “Fire proceeding from Fire,” moving, working. inspiring them no more than us, And, of course, despite their protestations to the contrary, the “Spirit goes where He wishes.” Simply put, I cross the street to avoid no man. “Stand firm, therefore, having fastened the belt of truth around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” (Eph. 6:14) That and never, but never, deviate from substance. Trust me on that.

          • davidjdunn June 21, 2012 10:19 am 

            It makes sense to me that you would see my post as provocative. I did, after all, draw attention to AOI and the comments made there. Perhaps I should have remained silent or simply responded in the comment section itself.

            I hope you understand my reasoning for choosing to speak as I did. Like I said on my blog, (1) I really did hope to have a more substantive discussion on Sunday night by trying to offer potential callers a bit more insight into my background and intentions. (2) I chose not to engage on the AOI blog because I am human. I would be more likely to speak out of anger or frustration. The screenshots themselves were an exercise in intertextuality. (3) I did not want to address the comments directly because I felt like that would be more provocative. I chose to thread them through my short memoir because they conveyed to the reader some of my personal difficulties over the past year, without sounding whiny.

            I appreciate your encouragement. I have always said Orthodoxy is a “Big Tent.”

  3. David Sanders June 19, 2012 7:36 pm  Reply

    I can’t help but think if same-sex marriage is okay why not incest? I mean if it is between two consenting adults, what is the difference? Both are un-natural acts.

    Someone once told me that same sex was fine because it is practiced in the animal world. Yes, and some animals eat their young.

    Alex Scott wrote in his comment, ” Gay marriage, on the other hand, involves two consenting adults. Sadomasochism is more of a safety risk, and requires far more precaution.”

    Actually, sodomy (even between heterosexual couples) is also a “safety risk.” Besides the germ and disease aspect, it causes major physical damage. That part of the anatomy was meant for discharge of bodily waste, not for sexual fulfillment.

    With that said how could one even possibly think of “sanctifying” such an act?

    I’m not a theologian but some things seem to hard to overlook.

    • davidjdunn June 19, 2012 8:51 pm  Reply

      And if one opposes same sex marriage, why not criminalize sodomy? I can make a case for why incest is bad, but I won’t because the question is a non sequitur. It is like asking, “Well, if you allow jaywalking, what’s to prevent you from blowing up the moon?”

      • Alex June 19, 2012 11:11 pm  Reply

        David,
        Can you make a non-religious case for why incest is bad?

        I’m not sure that the objection is a non-sequiter. We could tell a story of a child born to two brothers, one dies, and then child protective services comes and rips the child away from his remaining father. Is there any fundamental difference in argument for incestuous marriage equality?

        • davidjdunn June 19, 2012 11:22 pm  Reply

          It is a non sequitur because it lies so far beyond the realm of probability as to be virtually impossible.

          To offer another example, it would be like saying, “I should be okay when I retire. I play the lottery!”

          A brief non religious case is that it is in the interests of society to prohibit relationships that can negatively impact genetic diversity. Some might say the same is true of same sex relationships, but I IMHO this is an apples to oranges comparison. Relationships that are not inherently reproductive have a neutral effect on the gene pool. Any slight negative effect, say when it comes to egg donation from a family member, is offset by producing healthy children who grow up to positively contribute to society. This positive benefit is compounded by giving gays the right to adopt children who might otherwise spend their lives in foster care.

          Of course this is a bit hypothetical, but far less so than the question itself.

          • Alex June 19, 2012 11:54 pm 

            So then there’s no objection to marriage between two brothers or two sisters? The brief story I gave is of two brothers, and we presumably don’t need to worry about genetic diversity in this case.

            We can ask, though, is there some number of people desiring state recognition of their incestuous relationship (at least between brothers or between sisters) at which it would be wrong to oppose incestuous marriages?

            In regards to genetic diversity, first, it’s not clear that genetic diversity would be all that negatively impacted by however many people are in incestuous relationships. I doubt it would be noticeable.

            Second, and more importantly, who says genetic diversity is more important that two brothers being able to have their relationship recognized by the state? I don’t see how one would justify imposing this sort of morality.

          • davidjdunn June 20, 2012 12:39 am 

            I don’t see how we are even having this discussion. It is very silly. Maybe one believes “the principle is the thing.” Assuming I concede the point and say that by my logic there is no reason to preclude consensual incest. Thus, if we are going to prevent things like consensual incest from happening, we must stand our ground against gay marriage.

            Really? Is that really what we want to say?

            Okay. But why stop there. If “biblical law” should inform our social policy, then let’s recriminalize sodomy. Let’s do what the Puritans did and punish Sabbath breaking.

            I am not trying to be ridiculous, only showing how ridiculous this discussion is. Like I said, non-sequitur.

            Next thing you know, someone will try to blow up the moon.

          • Alex June 20, 2012 1:21 am 

            David,
            The question is, does your argument apply equally to incestuous marriage? If so, that’s a reason to think there’s something wrong with your argument (assuming that we shouldn’t create a legal contract recognizing incestuous relationships). Simple modus tollens. Your argument cannot be of valid form if it yields a false conclusion in any case.

            In other words, if your argument is an argument for incestuous marriage (though you may not have intended it as such), why should one listen to such an argument?

            And you’ve left the other question unanswered. How do we justify imposing any morality on those who don’t accept that same morality?

          • davidjdunn June 20, 2012 1:36 am 

            It has been a long day for me. I realized on the drive home that I broke my self-imposed rule not to respond to comments when i am tired or irritable. I have been exhausted since Sunday. I will answer later. In the meantime, I welcome your answer to your own question.

          • Alex June 20, 2012 1:55 am 

            No problem.

            There are three issues I’d be interested to get your response:

            1. If your argument would justify state recognition of incestuous relationships, then that suggests that the form of your argument is invalid.

            This undercuts any question of probability of this ever being a political issue. So long as your argument tells us that something not ok is ok, then there’s something wrong with the argument.

            Additionally, this is not an issue of stopping incestuous relationships. It has to do with the validity of the argument.

            2. It’s not clear how you justify imposing whatever morality it is that you do think is ok to impose.

            You say you welcome my answer, so here’s what I’ve got. In as much as a religious point of view is justified, and that religious point of view entails certain moral propositions, those moral propositions are justified. If there’s a non-religious argument for any positive moral propositions, I’d be very glad to hear it.

            3. Why shouldn’t one’s religious views inform their voting or policy decisions? The question isn’t whether everything needs to be put into law. We don’t make all forms of lying illegal, but that doesn’t mean one’s ignoring his religious worldview. Not all immorality is legislated against, but just pointing that out doesn’t explain why any other immoral act shouldn’t be legislated against.

            You may ask why we shouldn’t re-criminalize sodomy. I haven’t thought at length about this, but I suppose I would answer it by considering what would be the effects of the law. Would it make society better or worse? It’s not like outlawing something eliminates the behavior, or necessarily makes society better.

          • davidjdunn June 20, 2012 2:41 am 

            Aha! The context helps. Now I understand better the point behind the question. Like I said, I will try to respond as soon as I can and when more than two synapses are firing. The short answer is that I do not think I disagree with you as much as you might think.

          • Alex June 20, 2012 2:06 am 

            Rereading, I think I made it seem like you said something you didn’t.

            I should have been clearer where I wrote “Not all immorality is legislated against, but just pointing that out doesn’t explain why any other immoral act shouldn’t be legislated against.” You weren’t pointing that out, and certainly not “just pointing that out.” I think the point you were making though is similar enough: we don’t think we should outlaw these things, so we don’t think we should apply “biblical law.”

          • davidjdunn June 22, 2012 9:47 am 

            Alex,

            My apologies for not getting back to you sooner about this. My answer here will be very brief because I am still very swamped. Thank you for your last post and clarification. The nature of the question confused me. At first I thought you were asking me a hypothetical from something like a “secular humanist” perspective. In other words, How would I justify outlawing incest to a secular humanist? But what I am now hearing you ask me is something more substantive, namely the role of faith and morality in the establishment and regulation of law. That is a very big question. It is one where I think there is actually little disagreement between the two of us, at least in terms of principle.

            So your comment has inspired me to begin plugging away – again – at something I started to write and then put down where I talk about the concept of “free theocracy” as articulated by the Russian philosopher, Vladimir Solovyov, which looks very much like democracy in some ways, but on Christian terms.

            But so that I do not seem completely to defer the answer to your question, let me say briefly that the political implications of the “free theocracy” concept look a lot like the economist Amartya Sen’s capability theory applied to the state. That is, Sen questions the very idea of wealth, saying that the economic health of a society must go beyond GDP and instead be understood as “the capacity to live lives we value and have reason to value.”

            This is an excellent statement because it is so rich. As a Christian, I must remember that the rule of God is not the same thing as the rule of the church or the rule of one particular reading of religion. This means that my Christian commitments inform my action all the way down. First, my ethics derive from the kingdom of God, which is embodied in Christ and anticipated by the church (that is the “theocracy” part of it). Second, the fact that the full reality of the kingdom is not revealed means that my ethics must always be tempered by humility. It means that the meaning of my past will have been made clear to me in the future, but is not made clear to me yet. Not fully! Thus my politics are completely informed by my faith, which is equal parts hope and humility. This means I care less about legislating what has been received than creating the conditions that conform for which we hope. (Of course, that raises questions about theological methodology – the relationship between the past and the future in the present life of the church. I had started to explain that below, but then edited it out. Just know that I do not dismiss the past nor take a propositionalist view toward it. I think that the present of the church is a constant re-reception of the past. … Probably not a satisfactory answer. I had said more below, but then I decided to edit it out).

            So when it comes to things like incest or any other moral decision, I have to ask myself two questions. First, does it create capacities for people to live lives they value? This is basically a libertarian idea. But this libertarianism is mitigated by the next question: Do they have reason to value what they value? There things become more complicated, because we have to consider how values sometimes bump up against each other, but also relate to the first question.

            For incest, I suppose I do not have a good argument against cousins getting married (except, eww!). Nuclear relationships are more complicated, for they raise issues of coercion, grooming, and (yes) genetics that have serious potential to inhibit the capacities of others. The idea of “consent” is not very clear when you are dealing with families, for in those cases the people one would be having sex with are the people who gave us our values in the first place.

            This is vastly different from gay marriage. Do gay marriages create capacities for people to live lives they value? I say, Yes. Do they have reason to value those lives? Again, I think so. There is no evidence that gay relationships inhibit the capacities of others. Nor do they harm children. The data Fr. John offered Sunday night is specious, and the more I read about the data Kevin Allen mentioned, the more troubling it is. (The study he “debunked” because the author was lesbian was confirmed by the hardly gay-friendly Brigham Young University.) Society is served by stable families, and as a Christian it is unloving not to let gays have the same privileges straight people enjoy.

            This has all been very scattered. I apologize. I am writing off the cuff. The only other thing I wanted to say is that it seems to me that people are harmed by precluding marriage from them simply because we might have a particular moral objection to it. The imposition of moral standards on others whose relationships are not only valuable to them, but do not harm others, are damaging not only to gay people but also to the church.

            Okay… I could go on. This comment has ended up being a lot longer than I intended. I apologize. All the more reason, I think, to gather my thoughts a bit more and write something more formal. But I did not want to promise a response and then not give you one.

          • Alex June 22, 2012 8:27 pm 

            David,

            I understand that you’re busy, so no rush in replying (if you wish to reply).

            I take it that if something is immoral, it is something that one should not engage in. It is a valid inference, in other words, from X is immoral to One shouldn’t engage in X or I have a reason not to engage in X. I take these as valid forms of inference.

            So if cannibalism, for example, is immoral, we can validly infer that we have a reason not to engage in cannibalism.

            The law shouldn’t make illegal those things that people have a reason to do, nor should it support things which people have a reason not to do. Of course, the law cannot cover every individual decision made by those subject to it, but on the whole the law should not prohibit what is foreseeably acceptable, nor promote that which is never acceptable.

            Here are issues I see, then, in your response:

            1. You write: “Do gay marriages create capacities for people to live lives they value? I say, Yes. Do they have reason to value those lives? Again, I think so.”

            –No one is questioning that the life of a person in a homosexual relationship has value (this is something independent from one’s desires). A relevant question is, is the homosexual behavior behavior one has reason not to engage in? If so, this may be a consideration in deciding not to support homosexual relationships.

            2. You write: “Society is served by stable families, and as a Christian it is unloving not to let gays have the same privileges straight people enjoy.”

            –First, it’s not clear that the same privileges are denied on the basis of sexual orientation. It has to do with the type of relationship. And of course this is the issue, does the state have reason not to recognize and promote this type of relationship? It’s just the question of same-sex marriage.

            Second, and along the same lines, if the state has reason not to promote the relationship, it’s not clear that not promoting is unloving. It might make people mad or sad, but that doesn’t mean it’s unloving.

            As for families, it’s not clear what constitutes a family. In any case, I doubt that any economic benefits to society of stable homosexual relationships is so significant. Even if they were, it’s not obvious that economic gain outweighs other considerations. All things being equal, we might say that economic gain is something the state has reason to promote, either for itself or the individual/family. But it’s not at all obvious that the state has reason to promote immorality (which is something the citizen has reason not to engage in) in exchange for economic gain.

            If there are other, non-economic benefits, that you think are substantial enough to be taken into consideration, I’d be interested to hear what you think they are.

            3. You write: “it seems to me that people are harmed by precluding marriage from them simply because we might have a particular moral objection to it.”

            –It’s not clear that not promoting homosexual relationships is harmful or damaging, though it may be saddening or angering to those who do not believe they have reason not to engage in homosexual behavior. If homosexual behavior is immoral, then it is behavior which one has a reason to abstain from. As mentioned earlier, this may be a consideration in deciding not to support homosexual relationships.

            ——
            A fundamental question is, does the Church authoritatively teach that homosexual behavior is immoral, or that we shouldn’t engage in homosexual behavior? If so, why would it be unloving to not promote homosexual relationships? If homosexual behavior is immoral, what would be required for homosexual relationships to be worthy of promotion?

          • Alex June 22, 2012 8:29 pm 

            David,

            (please delete the comment I posted just a minute ago. I mistyped an italics tag. Thanks.)

            I understand that you’re busy, so no rush in replying (if you wish to reply).

            I take it that if something is immoral, it is something that one should not engage in. It is a valid inference, in other words, from X is immoral to One shouldn’t engage in X or I have a reason not to engage in X. I take these as valid forms of inference.

            So if cannibalism, for example, is immoral, we can validly infer that we have a reason not to engage in cannibalism.

            The law shouldn’t make illegal those things that people have a reason to do, nor should it support things which people have a reason not to do. Of course, the law cannot cover every individual decision made by those subject to it, but on the whole the law should not prohibit what is foreseeably acceptable, nor promote that which is never acceptable.

            Here are issues I see, then, in your response:

            1. You write: “Do gay marriages create capacities for people to live lives they value? I say, Yes. Do they have reason to value those lives? Again, I think so.”

            –No one is questioning that the life of a person in a homosexual relationship has value (this is something independent from one’s desires). A relevant question is, is the homosexual behavior behavior one has reason not to engage in? If so, this may be a consideration in deciding not to support homosexual relationships.

            2. You write: “Society is served by stable families, and as a Christian it is unloving not to let gays have the same privileges straight people enjoy.”

            –First, it’s not clear that the same privileges are denied on the basis of sexual orientation. It has to do with the type of relationship. And of course this is the issue, does the state have reason not to recognize and promote this type of relationship? It’s just the question of same-sex marriage.

            Second, and along the same lines, if the state has reason not to promote the relationship, it’s not clear that not promoting is unloving. It might make people mad or sad, but that doesn’t mean it’s unloving.

            As for families, it’s not clear what constitutes a family. In any case, I doubt that any economic benefits to society of stable homosexual relationships is so significant. Even if they were, it’s not obvious that economic gain outweighs other considerations. All things being equal, we might say that economic gain is something the state has reason to promote, either for itself or the individual/family. But it’s not at all obvious that the state has reason to promote immorality (which is something the citizen has reason not to engage in) in exchange for economic gain.

            If there are other, non-economic benefits, that you think are substantial enough to be taken into consideration, I’d be interested to hear what you think they are.

            3. You write: “it seems to me that people are harmed by precluding marriage from them simply because we might have a particular moral objection to it.”

            –It’s not clear that not promoting homosexual relationships is harmful or damaging, though it may be saddening or angering to those who do not believe they have reason not to engage in homosexual behavior. If homosexual behavior is immoral, then it is behavior which one has a reason to abstain from. As mentioned earlier, this may be a consideration in deciding not to support homosexual relationships.

            ——
            A fundamental question is, does the Church authoritatively teach that homosexual behavior is immoral, or that we shouldn’t engage in homosexual behavior? If so, why would it be unloving to not promote homosexual relationships? If homosexual behavior is immoral, what would be required for homosexual relationships to be worthy of promotion?

      • Fr. John Whiteford June 19, 2012 11:23 pm  Reply

        Consensual Incest is a very close analogy to homosexuality, and in fact it is less contrary to nature, though still a bad thing. And as a matter of fact, it is not so far fetched as you think: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/10/david-epstein-incest-char_n_794864.html

        Polygamy is an even more likely result of redefining marriage. Why shouldn’t a Muslim be able to marry 4 women in accordance with his religion, if it doesn’t matter what goes on in the bedroom?

  4. Tim June 18, 2012 4:34 pm  Reply

    I’m with you in being weary of the legislation of Christian morality because which sect do you choose? Could we legislate the prohibition again to appease Muslims and certain Christians and ban actual wine in the Eucharist? How does one co-exist with different moral codes without resulting in violence or coercion? The only way I can answer that is via a libertarian philosophy in which the law intervenes when there is coercion. Murder and stealing are coercive and a society can’t function like that. On your interview with Kevin Allen, you were posed the question of why not legalize consensual incest, polygamy or even worse. My response is allow it and let God be the judge as long as it doesn’t infringe on others freedoms. My only exception would be consensual pedophilia and drawing the line on that is difficult and even somewhat arbitrary. Otherwise, how else can we co-exist in a world with so many different moral codes without one infringing on the other. Do we have a violent crusade on all non-Christians?

  5. Deacon Eric Wheeler June 17, 2012 4:27 pm  Reply

    David,

    Thank you for a most reasonable post.

    Dn. Eric

    • davidjdunn June 17, 2012 7:27 pm  Reply

      Thank you for your kind and encouraging words.

  6. d June 17, 2012 9:13 am  Reply

    You end your piece with ” “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).”

    Save the sinner from what?
    Orthodox teaching is “man is dead in his sins”.
    In other words Christ enters a world of the dead and dieing.
    He came to save a lost world that will eventually lead to eternal lostness away from God.
    If you believe gays are “born that way” and acceptable in this born state it is in direct contrast to what Christ came to do…save the lost.
    That saving grace demands change inside and out.
    The blind man (born that way) was given site.
    The lame would walk. The sick would be healed.
    All represent change. Not status quo.

    If sexual attraction is going to be the deciding factor what will you say to pedophiles,
    paraphilia, masachism and any number of other conditions that involve sexual arousal. Love is the new cover for acceptance of all things but all things are not good in the eyes of God.

    • davidjdunn June 17, 2012 11:44 am  Reply

      It is hard to tell if you mean big-O or little-o Orthodox. The teaching of the Orthodox Church is that “my sins are worse.”

    • Alex Scott June 18, 2012 1:53 am  Reply

      (Caveat: I’m not Orthodox, so I hope I’m not barging in. This message aside, I honestly think my church has much more to learn from Orthodoxy than vice versa.)

      The difference between homosexuality and the other acts you mentioned is that the latter have nothing to do with love. Children and animals can’t consent, so any sexual act done on them is an act of violence. Gay marriage, on the other hand, involves two consenting adults. Sadomasochism is more of a safety risk, and requires far more precaution.

      For that matter, I personally think there’s a better case to be made that these are learned behavior. They’re pavlovian responses. I’ve never heard of anybody who had a fetish or paraphilia before they hit puberty; whereas there are many, many gay men and women who knew they were attracted to the same sex from a very early age. It’s too easy, I think, to gloss over the role of emotion and intimacy in same sex relationships; it’s not just a collection of sex acts. Fetishes, on the other hand, prevent intimacy.

      Does that mean I think all gay sex is okay? Absolutely not! I think promiscuity, incest, rape, prostitution, abuse, paraphilias, and the like are wrong no matter who does them. I’m especially disgusted that our society treats prison rape as a joke. I also think it would be wrong for me, as a straight man, to have sex with another man, because even if for some reason I wanted to, I wouldn’t get anything out of it, nor would I be able to give much to the partner; I could never be intimate with a man the same way I could with a woman.

      I also think that for more people now, the command “Do to others as you’d want done to you” takes priority. More people have gay friends and relatives, and when they see them forming long-term, committed relationships built on mutual love and respect, it’s hard to judge. They’ve also had to deal with years of deceitful, cruel, and bizarre anti-gay rhetoric, whether it’s about Tinky Winky or Spongebob, or about causing Hurricane Katrina, or preachers telling parents to beat their kids, or kids taking the messages they hear from religious and political leaders to school and bullying other kids to suicide (the really pernicious thing is, you don’t even have to be gay to be bullied for it, just perceived that way). Between the two, it gets difficult to tell how you can reconcile “Homosexuality is an abomination” with “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

      So what does this mean for the Orthodox Church? I have no idea. I can’t tell you what to do–I’m just an Episcopalian layperson. I completely get that you don’t want to change tradition to suit today’s culture. I get irritated at people in my own church who seem to think that way, that living in a “post-Christian” culture means we should be post-Christian, too. I’m also not trying to accuse your church of the abuses I listed above. I guess I’m mainly just interested in seeing more open engagement and discussion. Frederica Mathewes-Green’s essay on the “common ground” meetings between pro-life and pro-choice activists rings especially true to me.

      • Andriy December 28, 2012 8:02 pm  Reply

        Numerous gay people would, by their lived experiences, tell Father Hopko that he is wrong. They were born gay, can’t change their orientation, are drawn to same-sex relationships which are expressed sexually in a strong desire to create “fulfilling, complementary, life-creating, and life enhancing relationships with people of the same sex”. Consider the work by Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) entitled “On the Neurobiology of Sin” published by Synaxis Press in Dewdney, B.C. Canada in 2010. The difference between Father Hopko’s book and Archbishop Lazar’s could not be any more opposite in their theological approach, and pastoral perceptions. Perhaps the most sobering and effectual statement comes in the first few pages of Archbishop Lazar’s volume. “All clergy should learn the boundaries of their competence and feel free to commend a person to a professional who does have competence to deal with their particular issue.” (pg5) If only Father Hopko had left the vitally important and contemporary topic of homosexuality to those competent and educated on the subject matter instead of inflicting his own personal biased reflections upon others, especially gay Orthodox Christians. In this case the priest (Hopko) should listen to the archbishop (Lazar) and maybe pick up a book on biology, one written after 1970.

        • davidjdunn December 31, 2012 4:24 am  Reply

          Thank you Andriy. The Neurobiology of Sin was actually the next item on one of my readings lists, and I am about 25% of the way into it.

        • davidjdunn January 28, 2013 8:40 am  Reply

          Update: I read the book. I found aspects of it helpful. I do not think the author has done much to put to rest the arguments of the other side, but I do think he has raised some interesting points the other side has not considered. His Grace added new terms to the debate. That is something. I am still processing its implications.

  7. Brian Tipton June 17, 2012 6:02 am  Reply

    Disappointed that I have posted two meaningful opposing arguments on your Huff Post blog for your last two posts and you have refused to let them through. Misunderstandings will only be resolved if all sides of the issue are openly discussed. Being so closed minded to only allow your point of view is what is actually destroying this country. Putting your fingers in your ears and refusing to have a dialogue is not going to help liberals and conservatives find middle ground. It reminds me more of our current Congress and the little good they have done in the last 4 years because of their refusal to talk with each other.

    • davidjdunn June 17, 2012 11:40 am  Reply

      Brian,

      I have no power to moderate comments on the Huff.

      David

    • Fr. John Whiteford June 17, 2012 8:15 pm  Reply

      This is why I stopped posting comments on the Huffington Post. Any conservative comments are deleted almost immediately.

      • davidjdunn June 17, 2012 8:59 pm  Reply

        Too simplistic. Many of my non-conservative comments have also been deleted. Not sure how their moderation works, but I think it is nonhierarchical and this a bit too subjective.

        • Fr. John Whiteford June 19, 2012 11:43 am  Reply

          I have posted many inocuous but conservative comments to blogs that were deleted immediately. There is no question that the Huffington Post leans very far left, and that is reflected in their editing. I am sure that they delete liberal comments that they find objectionable, but there is no point in conservatives even trying.

  8. Lee June 17, 2012 3:19 am  Reply

    Being gay is not a sin, in of itself. It’s choosing to act on it. When it comes to marriage, the issue is that we were told what a marriage is. Christ laid it out as one man and one woman, which is why the Church won’t entertain the idea of any other type of marriage within the Church. Any sex outside of marriage goes against God, it doesn’t matter if it’s homosexual sin or heterosexual sin. The gay couple down the road living together and have sex is no different than their unmarried heterosexual couple living next to them that aren’t married, in the eyes of the Church. Any Orthodox members of either couple are self-excommunicated by their actions.

    Sex outside of marriage is sex outside of marriage, no matter the sexual orientation of the couple. Marriage in the Church is defined and that definition can’t be changed. But, one type of sex outside of marriage is no worse than another.

    As for outside of the Church, I don’t know. On the one had, we can’t force everyone to follow the Church, when they’re not Christian, much less Orthodox. We don’t live in an Orthodox nation. We don’t even live in a Christian nation. We live in a pluralistic nation with no set religion. On the other, gay marriage with the idea of raising children present some real issues. One, children of a gay couple can have, at most, one parent’s genes and the genes of some stranger. The other is the raising of a child. A kid gets their ideas of how men and women should be and interact from their parents. What happens when both parents are the same. I can’t imagine that the kid grows up the same way. So, I have mixed feelings on the whole matter from a legal standpoint.

  9. Grace Monk June 13, 2012 12:39 am  Reply

    One thing I am specifically thinking of is your example of the little girl from the lesbian couple, and it feels somewhat dishonest, both factually and emotionally. In point of fact, as witnessed in my seven years as a CASA in Metro Nashville, children are not usually placed in foster care unless there are no members of the biological family who can or will care for the child either through adoption or guardianship. So the juxtaposition of home vs. foster care is not anywhere close to the norm, and rules based solely on exceptions are not always the most well designed. Will the child be emotionally damaged being pulled from her home? Yes. And, she will be emotionally damaged by staying in her home: we ALL are (as my children’s mother, I have the greatest potential to harm them, even though and maybe because I love them more than life itself), and some kids with “intact” homes are damaged way worse than others who live in “broken” homes, so that alone can’t be our criteria because pain and inner damage cannot be objectively measured. Also, one cannot use the desire of a child to accurately gauge what is in the best interests of that child. As a spec ed teacher, I see this now, and definitely saw it while a CASA. Children love their homes and parents regardless of the worth, safety, or health of the home and parent. I see this every freaking day of the school year, seriously. Kids, even smart teens, will defend their horrific families regardless because to acknowledge how awful the family is is much too painful to contemplate. So I can’t go with your reasoning on this one point… But I am still thinking. Thank you for that, at the very least.

    • Fr. John Whiteford June 19, 2012 11:40 am  Reply

      When my wife and I began having children we executed a will which appointed Fr. Joseph Huneycutt and his wife to be the guardians of our children if both my wife and I were to die while they were still minors. I did not have to marry Fr. Joseph to make that happen. Legalzoom.com is all that is needed to deal with such an issue.

      Now might a child in a case like David describes be taken away from her mother’s gay lover? Yes, if that child had a non-sperm donor father. But that would also be the case if the mother was married to another man. Every child has two parents, and normally both parents have rights to that child. If the mother had a child with a man, and went on to marry anyone else, the father still has rights, and if the mother passed away while the child was still a minor the father would have every right to take custody of the child, and that is as it should be.

  10. Grace June 12, 2012 8:43 pm  Reply

    This post is so very frustrating. I can appreciate how wonderful and kind you must be as a person, and I’ll assume that Doug is a lovely person as well.

    I have met some very nice gay individuals in my life. I’ve also met some that were very messed-up people. I don’t allow either one of those facts to create a stereotype for gays — either as being monsters or (as you seem to favor) of being angelic victims. They’re human beings, as I am. And if I were committing fornication or adultery, I wouldn’t expect the Church to wink at me and tell me my actions were “good with God,” when we know that they’re not.

    And I don’t think that’s off the subject from the question of gay marriage. Your thoughts about civil unions are similar to my own. If gays overall had pushed for that, I don’t know that there would be much of an argument. If all gays were motivated by pure love as you imply, then why is the LGTB movement overall characterized by so much that is over-reaching, angry, corrupt and intent on tearing things down? To only see the gays that rise to the level of being “poor little things” requires a blind eye and deaf ear that I’m rather sorry to notice in a priest.

    Or maybe I shouldn’t be sorry. Maybe I should wish such a handicap on my priest. I have my own sins that I work on. With a little luck, maybe I can just get a kindly priest to change the rules so that I can feel like I, too, am a lovely and angelic person. The only problem, as I see it, is that if I spend my life thinking that, when a life’s work actually going to the hard work of defeating my passions would have gotten me results, I think both my priest and I will have to answer for it.

  11. Fr. Hans Jacobse June 12, 2012 8:37 pm  Reply

    Hang on here David. You are ascribing comments to me I never made. My criticism of your piece is that you separate Church and culture (different than Church and state) in ways not justified by either our moral tradition and history. That’s the only criticism I personally have ever made of your editorial and one I am ready to defend if needed.

    Put another way, I think your definition of the separation of Church and State (by which you mean Church and culture/society) is too dependent of the categories of the political left and not in accord with either Orthodox self-understanding, the self-understanding of most Americans, and certainly not the broad swath of history. The sacramental understanding of the Church and civil contracts are more related than you seem to realize.

    • davidjdunn June 12, 2012 11:02 pm  Reply

      Sorry, Father. I cannot respond what I do not understand. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I have a few questions about a couple of your statements.

      But first things first, you say, “You are ascribing comments to me I never made.” I never want to ascribe to people words they did not say. This is really important to me. I want to hyperlink the erroneous text and target it to a correction/redaction at the bottom of the page. I have submitted this to the Huff, and I want to make the change there ASAP. Thank in advance for your timeliness.

      You say: (a) “My criticism of your piece is that you separate Church and culture (different than Church and state)…” You add later, (b) “I think your definition of the separation of Church and State (by which you mean Church and culture/society)…”

      1. Do you mean that I see state, culture, and/or society as equivalent social categories?

      2. Is it your view that state, culture, and/or society should be seen as separate social categories?

      3. If not, can you briefly explain to me how you believe they are interrelated?

      4. If yes, can you briefly explain to me how you feel the state should contribute to the merger of church and culture? From your criticism, I infer that this is your position. Please correct where I am wrong.

      Finally, thank you for your patience. I am not attempting to get into a tit-for-tat. Only, I am finding the substance of your critique difficult to understand. I thought I read you as saying:

      Major premise: Civil rights derive from natural rights.
      Minor premise: Heterosexual relationships are normative in nature.
      Conclusion: Therefore, one does not have a right to a homosexual relationship.

      Thus I read you saying that I was an apologist for Babel because I was elevating an innovation sexual relationships over the divinely-established natural order. I apologize for the long response (as Mark Twain wrote, I did not have time to make it shorter). Correct where you believe I misunderstand you.

      Thanks again.

      • Fr. Hans Jacobse June 16, 2012 10:08 pm  Reply

        David, Church, culture, state, are not ‘categories” as such. Neither is the Church or state. They are what the words mean: culture, church, and state.

        Your formulation tends to collapse state and culture, the implicit thesis being that the state is culture. You say as much by granting the state authority to craft a definition of marriage that is contrary to nature (homosexual relationships are naturally sterile). The sate of course has never before arrogated unto itself this kind of authority — until today. Put another way, the role of the state in enforcing contracts for heterosexual marriage is not a mater of moral subjectivity, but the affirmation of what nature itself decrees (children, and thus family, are the result of the union of one male and female).

        You lay the source of this formulation inside the Church, thereby arguing it’s a matter of private (or institutional) predilection having no more moral force than any other subjective belief. But the Church too affirms marriage as the union between one man and one woman for the same reason the state does: it is written in nature. That the Church expands this natural definition has no real bearing on the state. No one, for example, thinks that anyone who wants to get married (avail themselves of the contractual benefits and restrictions) has to get married in a Church, except for those who are already members of a particular church for example.

        Again, in your view state and culture are one. You argue that the state should be both the source and final arbiter of the moral precepts guiding and directing the larger culture. It’s socialism moving from the economic into the moral dimensions of human existence. What you fail to see is that by granting the state authority in this moral dimension, you grant it authority over every aspect of human existence.

        • davidjdunn June 17, 2012 1:32 am  Reply

          Father, I think your critique is more eisegetical than actual.

          Also, I have been very concerned because you accused me of putting words in your mouth (i.e. ascribing comments to you that you never made). Seriously, I need to know what I said so that I can change it! This piece is already up at the Huff.

  12. Fr. John Whiteford June 12, 2012 11:52 am  Reply

    There is a point that is not clear here, but makes a big difference as to how one would understand your comments. When you say that Doug does not think being gay is something he needs to repent of, do you mean that Doug does not think he needs to repent of having an inclination toward homosexuality, or do you mean that Doug thinks that engaging in homosexual sex is not something that he needs to repent of?

    • davidjdunn June 13, 2012 2:20 am  Reply

      Fr. John,

      I was aware of that question, and I left it deliberately ambiguous for two reasons. First, as a general rule I do not speculate or discuss other people’s sex lives, especially not in a blog. Second, my post is too long already. To make the questions less personal:

      1. Is it sinful to be attracted to members of the same sex?

      2. Is gay sex a sin?

      3. If the answer is not a simple “yes” or “no,” under what conditions is gay sex sinful or not?

      I will not answer for my friend, and I think we should understand if he will not answer for himself, either.

      • Fr. John Whiteford June 13, 2012 10:24 am  Reply

        I can understand not wanting to get into the personal affairs of someone else in public, but you can answer the question generally, without reference to your friend. According to the Scriptures, homosexual sex is sinful 100% of the time. Do you agree or disagree, and if you disagree, on what basis?

        • davidjdunn June 13, 2012 2:25 pm  Reply

          I think I addressed that in my post.

          • Fr. John Whiteford June 13, 2012 11:04 pm 

            You said you would not answer for your friend. I am asking you to answer for yourself. The problem with ambiguity on a point like this is that if St. Paul is to be believed, those who engage in homosexual sex and do not repent will not inherit the Kingdom of God. The problem with heresy is that it gives people a bum steer… and throws people off the path of salvation. If this is a matter of one’s salvation, and yet we encourage people to think that it isn’t, are we really being loving, or are we leading people astray?

          • davidjdunn June 14, 2012 3:47 am 

            I understand what you were asking me. I was saying that I did answer for myself already in the body of my post.

          • Fr. John Whiteford June 14, 2012 4:00 am 

            But your answer was, as you noted, ambiguous. If it is a matter of one’s salvation, why would ambiguity be a good thing, when the Scriptures and the Tradition are decided unambiguous?

          • davidjdunn June 14, 2012 9:42 am 

            I don’t know what to tell you, Father. The ambiguity was with reference to my own experience. I can only fully reconcile my heart to the teachings of the church through an act of cognitive dissonance. “Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.” That is the most honest prayer I can pray right now, and honesty seems like the most Christian thing I can do.

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