Fear of Gays and Episcopalians (and Bears, Oh My!)

Fr. Robert Arida

Not long ago, Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse suggested that Fr. Robert Arida go become an Episcopalian. For those who don’t know, that’s the conservative Orthodox equivalent of, “Go [email protected]#k yourself!” This sentiment was echoed by the always level-headed, never trollish, commenters of Monomakhos.com. The ostensible source of their outrage is an article that Fr. Arida had posted on Wonder, a blog for OCA youth. According to Fr. Jacobse, Fr. Arida attempts to “legitimize homosexual parings” in clear violation of “Orthodox self-understanding and practice.” That is a pretty bold accusation, one that demands a first-hand investigation. Unfortunately, the original article was censored taken down, but I found a PDF version. In it, Fr. Arida says the following about “homosexual pairings”…

Nothing!

 

 

qY4Prfc

 

 

Fr. Arida mentions “human sexuality” one time in a sentence that also addresses abortion, euthanasia, family, and the environment. The words “gay,” “lesbian,” “LGBT,” and “homosexual” appear exactly zero times. The letters “l,” “g,” “b,” and “t” do occur, but not in sequence. Fr. Arida’s article claims to be about the Orthodox Church’s need for a more robust theology of culture (hardly a controversial claim), which is a theology that knows how to begin looking for answers to the kinds of questions the fathers and mothers of our tradition did not even know how to begin to ask. So what is it about this article that is making some readers see words that are not there?

Ignorance?

Scandalous!
Scandalous!

Fr. Arida talks about the need to “to critique and build upon the writings and vision of the Fathers.” His point, as I read it, was that we need to be careful not be fundamentalists. He places some of the blame for a growing fundamentalism in the Orthodox Church on converts who sometimes join the Orthodox Church because they perceive it to be a bastion of the true faith against the disintegrating effects of secular culture. As a convert, I agree with Fr. Arida’s sense of things. I have met more than a few individuals who, when they convert, replace their old biblical literalism with patristic literalism (I know a young earth creationist who cites St. Basil as a prooftext). So what you get is a fundamentalism with more resources (i.e. not just the Bible but tradition too). Of course every religious tradition will have fundamentalists, but it has not been a major part of the Orthodox tradition. Fundamentalism is more prominent today than in the past. Orthodoxy has not always been this reactionary. We have a long history of pillaging the Egyptians – a patristic metaphor for taking whatever is “excellent” and “praiseworthy” from one’s culture (Phil. 4:8) – to better understand the gospel and apply it in everyday life. If St. Basil believed the earth was a few thousand years old, it is because he thought it was true, not just because the Bible said so. The saint of Caesarea would find what some call “Orthodoxy” today embarrassing. This is indeed, as Fr. Arida says (quoting Florovsky) a “new and alien spirit.”

Not Jesus
Not Jesus
People forget that the fathers and mothers of the church were just men and women. Citing them as authorities, with little regard to real contextual differences between them and us, is not fidelity. It’s idolatry! Faithfulness to the fathers is faithfulness to their spirit, which is the Holy Spirit. There were some opinions they held that were informed more by their historical context (e.g. slavery) than the gospel. To read the fathers critically, as Fr. Arida says, is to read them with that difference in mind. Just because the fathers say something does not mean that we must say the same things. So when it comes to the questions our culture asks us to consider, we need to be humble enough to remember that, “The wind [i.e. “spirit”] blows where it wills.” Let us be attentive. (Note: in Greek “wind” and “spirit” are the same word.)
(UPDATE: I forgot to mention that my book deals with some of this stuff!)

Rumor?

Of course ignorance of context does not fully explain why so many of Fr. Arida’s readers would read some kind of ulterior motive between the lines of his plainly stated intent. One clue comes from my first encounter with something Fr. Arida wrote a few years ago. He raised a pastoral pickle for the church to consider. Namely, what happens when a family with same-sex parents wants to convert to Orthodoxy? Do we break up the family in the name of family values? Fr. Arida does not answer this question, but I suspect this essay may have set off a few alarm bells among individuals with more reactionary temperaments. Based on some comments I’ve seen, others claim to know that Fr. Arida is, in fact, one of those Orthodox priests I have heard rumors about, the kind that communes unrepentant LGBT. I do not know if this is true, and I’m willing to be they don’t either. I suppose some of his critics could be basing their knowledge on direct conversations with Fr. Arida, or perhaps surreptitiously recorded confessions, but I doubt it.

 

Rumor would explain why some might see a hidden agenda in Fr. Arida’s article, but rumor is not a sound, or very Christian, basis for lobbing accusations at people. This is not the first time that Fr. Jacobse and his readers have demonstrated an uncanny ability to know a person’s inner thoughts, so I suppose it is also possible that I am criticizing clairvoyants (at great risk to myself, no doubt!). Perhaps the rumors are true, or perhaps not. One might also consider that some priests are generous when it comes to oikonomia, which (in short) is the practice of erring on the side of grace when it comes to the rules and regulations. Those who see an agenda in Fr. Arida’s essay are basing their suspicions on gossip they have heard and now are helping to spread.

 

Fear (1)?

Hearing a rumor is one thing. Believing it is something else entirely. We believe things that align with our intellectual prejudices, which is another way of saying that often what we say has less to do with the facts than how we feel about them. Some feel that there is an underground movement to make Orthodoxy more Episcopalian (the Episcopalian bogeyman is a whole other issue I don’t have time to discuss). There are certainly some Orthodox Christians who would like to see us change our stance toward LGBT, both politically and theologically. Others are not quite sure where they stand. But the vast majority hold firm to the traditional teachings of the church. Whatever opposition one might detect to these teachings, it takes a special kind of paranoia to see a movement at work. Fr. Jacobse’s essay is a call to fear, to fear priests who may or may not commune gays, parishioners who may or may not have secret agendas, and to fear that communing gays will cost us money and members, like it has the Episcopalians (because that is how we know we are being faithful to the gospel, apparently).

 

REALLY dangerous!
REALLY dangerous!

Fear is great if you are being chased by a bear. It is a powerful emotion that helps us survive dangerous situations. Fear is what makes us act first and think later, which is precisely why it is not a sound basis for thinking about culture theologically. Fear is the antithesis of the gospel because it causes us see other people as threats rather than children of the living God. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

 

Fear (2)?

I also wonder if another kind of fear is not at work here, a fear that is more personal. Since it is personal, I want to be clear that I am not pointing a finger at any particular person. I am not accusing anybody of anything! I am only going to raise a question that our Lord himself raised. “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3). My grandparents said that you could tell what someone was doing by what they believed other people were doing (case in point). Or to put it another way, we can sometimes put on a show of being extra indignant about things we are worried other people might find out about us.

 

Righteous indignation can be a defense mechanism for those who are ashamed of their own desires. Over a decade ago, a friend told me that, in his experience, the more outraged someone got about LGBT issues, the more likely it was that that person was cowering in her or his own closet. To be honest, I had my doubts. But I kept hearing this hypothesis confirmed by others. Then there were the the more prominent Ted Haggard and Larry Craig scandals. This anecdotal evidence was recently confirmed by a compelling scientific study, which compared what men said about LGBT to how they really felt. To put it frankly, the study compared men’s words to their penises. There were three stages to the study. Part 1 questioned men about their opinions on LGBT issues and individuals. Some men scored high on the “I don’t like gays” questionnaire. Others were more like, “Meh.” In Part 2, the men were shown three different kinds of porn: male-female, female-female, and male-male. Devices were attached to…um, their organs to measure arousal while they watched the movies. Finally, in Part 3, the men were asked which films they were aroused by. The study found that those who claimed to be most anti-gay (in Part 1) were also most aroused by the gay (male-male) porn (in Part 2). Here’s the kicker! When questioned (Part 3), they denied that they were aroused at all. They lied! This study suggests that men who make a good show of not being gay are, quite possibly, reacting to desires they are afraid of in themselves.
If you have seen this movie, then this photo needs no caption
Let me be clear that nobody knows what another person might be feeling inside, least of all me! Outrage is complicated. Just because you get incensed about something does not mean that you are struggling with that thing yourself. I get incensed about rape. That does not mean I am a rapist. On the other hand, I also get incensed about the objectification of women in the media, but (confession time) I do a lot of objectifying myself. I am not proud of the fact that, when I see a pretty face (by which I mean “ass”), I have to remind myself that it belongs to a human being made in the image of God. But there you go.

 

My point is, I am not pointing fingers, nor am trying to silence the opposition through passive-aggressive shaming tactics. I just think it is important that, before we speak, we take some time to reflect on where our outrage might be coming from. The vast majority of Orthodox Christians who take a politically conservative stance about same-sex unions, and a theologically traditional stance about same-sex attraction, do so out of love for the church. The same is true for the “liberals.” That said, about 5% of the general population is LGBT. So it is a safe bet that some people who read “gay” when Fr. Arida says “human sexuality” are probably reacting against their own secrets.

 

On the other hand, some people are just trolls.
anigif_enhanced-23778-1408400408-1
Shake it off, baby!

30 thoughts on “Fear of Gays and Episcopalians (and Bears, Oh My!)”

  1. Here are some practical considerations:

    If an Orthodox Christian wants to marry and remain “in good standing” (participate actively in the Church, partake of communion), they must marry a Christian. If they marry a Moslem or Jew or avowed atheist, they are no longer “in good standing” no matter how much they love each other. If a heterosexual couple are cohabiting, without the blessing of Holy Matrimony, they would be expect to abstain from communion until such time as their relationship was blessed. Matrimony between a man and woman (as attested by the Holy Apostle Paul) is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His Church. If parishes start communing homosexual “couples” who are not in a sacramental relationship, it destroys that iconography. Communing a homosexual in an illicit relationship is no worse but no better than communing a heterosexual who is likewise engaged; both would be WRONG. “Accepting”, excusing, or sweeping under the carpet of homosexual relationships would have a reverberating effect throughout the Church, affecting much that may not be obvious to the casual glance, cracking and undermining its firm foundation, causing it to crash to the ground. This is why I am confident that the Church will stand firm, that the gates of hell shall not prevail, and that we who are faithful to the true teachings of Christ will be stigmatized, vilified, and persecuted. And this will be a blessing, because persecution and struggle for the Christian are what flame and hammer to steel, making that which is weak stronger. This is the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE, not the mere moralistic therapeutic deism that much Western “Christianity” has become.

  2. Dr. Dunn, what is the compelling reason that we should question or reconsider what the Church has always taught about human sexuality, abortion, euthanasia, family and the environment, as Fr. Arida has suggested?

    1. Ah. That’s a good question, but did he say “reconsider”? I didn’t get that sense. At any rate, the short answer is that it is often hard to parse what the fathers said from our own intellectual prejudices.

    2. What else could he mean when he writes that the Church must “struggle” with “controversial” issues?

      Is there anything in the Orthodox faith that is settled? Or must we perpetually “parse” and struggle with it?

    3. Yeah. Sure. Some things are settled. I think our challenge is not to reconsider what has been “settled,” but to try to know what those “settled” things are. Consider the fact that for a long time the church thought slavery was pretty normal, and it encouraged slaves (in keeping with the Bible) to be obedient to their masters. I would not say that today. I doubt many priests would either. A girl who is sold into sexual slavery needs to resist her master and make every effort to escape.

      Let me give you a few more examples:
      • For most of the church’s history, Communion was infrequent. Now there is a greater emphasis on regularly partaking of Eucharist.
      • For most of the church’s history, menstruating women were barred from receiving the sacrament. That is still the case in many places, but it is changing.
      • The church still does know what to do with organ donation. Some say that we should not donate our organs for the same reasons that we should not be cremated. We value the body. I would argue that that very principle makes organ donation a very Christian thing to do.

      Theosis never ends. So no. We never stop struggling. Ever. But that struggle is not about trying to be hip. It is about trying to be faithful. It is about trying to make sure that what we preach and teach has more to do with the gospel than with our own presuppositions about it.

      (Also, I really cannot engage in the conversation on Facebook I was tagged in. It may have something to do with your settings or the settings of the person who posted the link to your timeline. I suspect the latter. As for children living and dying by accident, I was not endorsing abortion. I’m not sure how you got that from that statement. I was saying that children should not die because of choices their parents might make. I applaud you for reading with suspicion. I would, however, recommend that you also read with charity.)

    4. Since Juli quoted you on Facebook and you can read my response to what she quoted there, I won’t clutter things up here by repeating myself.

      Although Fr. Arida’s litany of things the Church needs to struggle with is a veritable grab bag of progressive political issues, it didn’t include organ donation, theosis, etc., so let’s not get off on a tangent.

      The issues he was addressing include abortion and marriage and the family — and those issues ARE settled in the Church, and you know it. There is nothing new about them as there is with organ donation, for example.

      Although Fr. Arida is apparently willing to accept some parents making choices that result in their children’s deaths — at least, that is, by abortion — I am glad to hear that you oppose it (assuming, of course, that you would include the choice to abort any of them).

      It’s tempting, but I’m not going to get into a discussion with you about the difference between slavery as it existed when St. Paul addressed it and contemporary sexual slavery; however, your example of a girl sold into sexual slavery makes it devastatingly clear that abortion is morally equivalent to it.

      If only an unborn child could resist and escape.

    5. Maybe when Scripture, the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils, the writings of the Fathers and Saints of the Church, 2000 years of history, and every official statement ever made on the subject by every local Church, all converge in agreement.

  3. I have a serious concern for those that are constantly worried about the sins or proclivities of others. Someday those same worriers may get an awakening and find out that they are not keeping the faith as much as they would like to think.

    1. We are not having a controversy on this question because those who want to keep the Tradition of the Church are looking for a fight. We are having it because those who want to change our Tradition are constantly pushing an agenda to effect that change.

      I don’t think I have ever barred someone from communion for refusing to forgive, but I have come close a few times… though when I have said that if they would not make the decision to forgive, I could not commune them, and explained that this was a choice and not a matter of their feelings, they have responded in the affirmative. However, if they persisted, I could not commune them, because a priest cannot in good conscience commune anyone who refuses to repent of a sin (any sin) and commit to trying to change their behavior. And when you have people arguing that a sin is not a sin at all, they are even further away from repenting — in fact it is impossible to repent of a sin that you do not recognize to be a sin. That is why those who push this view are so dangerous, and why those who care about the salvation of souls cannot be silent in the face of their heretical teachings.

    2. David, Slavery was normal in the ancient world, for a number of reasons. The Church never taught that women slaves should submit to their masters. There are many women martyrs who were in precisely that situation, and were martyred because they refused to submit.

      We don’t have a historic teaching on organ donations, because organ donations are a relatively new thing. We do have a historic teaching on homosexual sex, and that is that it is inherently sinful. There is no ambiguity on the question. If we talk about how to pastorally deal with people who are struggling with temptations in that area, that is a matter we can discuss, but whether or not such things are sinful is not a matter up for debate in the Church.

  4. “Fr. Arida mentions “human sexuality” one time in a sentence that also addresses abortion, euthanasia, family, and the environment. The words “gay,” “lesbian,” “LGBT,” and “homosexual” appear exactly zero times.”

    Please, then, will you tell me what and who he was referring to when he mentioned people who verbally and physically assault those they think are immoral.

    THAT is what made me think he was speaking about gay folks.

    If not, then who?

    1. I don’t think I was saying that Fr. Arida did not discuss LGBT at all. I think it would be nuts not to see some kind of reference to LGBT in “human sexuality.” I also think it’s nuts to see that as the focus of the article or even the term itself. It says more about the anxieties of the reader than the ostensible agenda of the author.

    2. You don’t think you were saying he didn’t discuss LGBT at all.

      Ridiculous.

      You think what he wrote says more about who is reading what he wrote than about his agenda.

      Absurd.

  5. If there is a commonly-available glossary of terms that allow Fr. John Whiteford, Rod Dreher and others reliably to dissect and interpret articles like that of Fr. Robert Arida, I would be interested in seeing it. “Studied ambiguity” is a particularly…well…ambiguous phrase. It alleges a conscious intent on the part of the author, while making its stand on an interpretation of a text that many read differently. I know that exegesis is a complex business, but this case strikes me as akin to someone maintaining that when Jesus upset the tables of moneychangers in the temple, his REAL message was “I renounce ownership of property.” In this case, his critics may or may not have guessed at Fr. Robert’s agenda, but they certainly have not gleaned it from a reading of his article.

    1. When you speak about a matter that the Scriptures, Tradition, and canons are clear on, in an ambiguous way, but one which repeatedly suggests that somehow the Church needs to change its position, and when you are asked, repeatedly, to clarify what you mean, and you repeatedly engage in the same kind of ambiguous statements without clarifying what you mean, you are engaging in studied ambiguity,

      And this is how liberal Protestants discuss matters of doctrine or morality… not how Orthodox Christians discuss such things.

    2. Well put, Alexander. I think that a lot of misunderstanding owes to ignorance of method and hermeneutics.

    3. David, what is that supposed to mean? The method of Orthodox discussion of moral issues is clarity, not ambiguity. You do not find any saint or father of the Church who wrote on a moral issue, clearly addressed in Scripture, the Tradition, and the Canons specifically, who wrote in a way that only hinted at what they were trying to say.

  6. One constant thread throughout Wondergate, which has been raised again above by Fr Whiteford, is the inquisition into Fr Arida’s communion practices. This is very strange and rather worrisome.

    The fundamental point is clear and correct: Fr Arida is responsible for administering the sacraments of the Church only to Orthodox Christians who are reconciled to Christ and (to borrow an old-fashioned Anglican phrase) in ‘good standing’ with the Church. How we understand this ‘good standing’ may be parsed in many ways, and the nature of a blog comment constrains me to some brief observations of a historical nature.

    In the early Church, in which the regular practice of the sacrament of confession was not yet established in the form we would recognize, being in ‘good standing’ entailed having committed no serious sin after baptism. As the Church grew, this position erupted under pressure, leading in one case to the ferocious debate in North Africa over the communion of the lapsed, during the episcopate of Saint Cyprian. Over the centuries our practices have evolved (different in different places) to meet the pastoral needs of the day. In modern Slavic usage, communion of the laity is regular but infrequent, always following on from confession (though the seriousness of this practice may be called into question by the dubious practices one so frequently hears about)—thus we may deduce that ‘good standing’ is established through auricular confession in which the priest pronounces God’s absolution, and presumably this is accepted by the community as sufficient. In modern Greek practice, communion is also infrequent but usually does not follow after auricular confession (except in the case of grave, publicly known sin), rather after strict fasting. As we know, communion and confession practices in the Middle East are also highly complex, and communion of Christians of other traditions (whether non-Chalcedonian Orthodox or Roman Catholic) by Orthodox priests with their bishop’s blessing, is not unusual. Practices vary by pastoral need.

    I do not know how Orthodox Christians in the three contexts I have outlined above would regard those in their midst whose sins were considered to be serious and were publicly known, nor what would happen if a priest were to commune them, presuming they were seen by all to have prepared in the same way as their brothers and sisters. I might uncharitably speculate that a known homosexual (who desired to enter into an environment as frequently hostile as the Orthodox parish church to begin with) would be refused communion even if they were living a celibate life (but were ‘out’), whereas a known usurer or violent spouse would slip by without comment. But what I feel confident in asserting is that if a priest were to judge pastorally that a person had adequately prepared to participate in the sacraments and was, at the moment at least, in ‘good standing’ with the Church, the vast majority of Orthodox Christians would accept that judgment. In very rare cases would it be called into question, and in such cases the proper course of action would be to refer the matter to the bishop for his consideration, rather than inaugurating a public inquiry.

    I feel very strongly that the patchy inquisition into communion practices which has been floating in recent discussions is highly problematic and inconsistent with the tradition. It establishes a new level of scrutiny, by laity and clergy, of other priests—in Fr Arida’s case, one canonically ordained and himself in good standing with the Church—which cannot and will not be consistently applied, but merely used when convenient as a weapon in the ‘conservative’ arsenal, deployed against those who take the wrong side in hot-button debates.

    We must assume, in Christian charity and obedience to the Church’s tradition, that Fr Arida, like all priests, administers communion only to those whom he knows to be in good standing with the Orthodox Church—a knowledge necessarily conditional upon his full awareness of the spiritual condition of any communicant. If we wish to assume otherwise, we will have to inaugurate a new practice whereby each and every communicant, at each and every communion, makes a full profession of their Orthodox faith and confession of their sins, which will be scrutinized and judged by the whole Church, before permission is granted to the priest to administer the sacraments. One wonders if any but the most arrogant fundamentalist would even bother getting in line.

    My point is simply this. In the contemporary North American context, the communion of the laity is often frequent (and I think this is a laudable thing, one of the fruits of the liturgical renewal of the mid-20th Century) and usually no longer follows immediately after auricular confession in every case. This means that we need to think very carefully about how we understand the ‘worthiness to partake without condemnation,’ spoken of in the Pre-Communion Prayers. Certainly, if we have knowledge beyond doubt that a person is living in grave sin, and that they are unrepentant, and have hidden their sins from the priest in confession, and that the priest thereby risks himself in admitting them to the sacraments, we should bring the matter first to his attention and then to that of his bishop if we are certain that he has misunderstood our concerns and continues to commune a person in error. Otherwise, we must accept the authority entrusted to the priest by his bishop to know what is good for the cure of souls in his parish, and, moreover, we must desist from the desire to identify, label, examine, and write reports on the specs in the eyes of our brothers and sisters.

    1. It’s hardly an inquisition when people are merely responding to the public statements of Fr. Robert and his own gay parishioners.

      In 1st Corinthians St. Paul responded to the situation of a man who was living in an immoral relationship with his step mother. St. Paul did not go to Corinth to speak to the parties privately. He wrote an epistle, in which he responded to what was “reported” to him, and this was a public epistle… and in fact, his comments found their way into the most widely published text in human history. When gay parishioners in a parish say that they are communed without any concern being given to their immoral sexual relationship, this is a public scandal that must be dealt with publicly.

      If Fr. Robert affirmed the traditional Orthodox teaching on homosexual sex, and denied that he allowed those who were living in ongoing homosexual relationships to commune, I would be more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but when he issues intentionally ambiguous statements on the matter, and his gay parishioners make the comments that they do, the question has to be addressed rather than swept under the rug.

  7. It is not a rumor that Fr. Robert communes homosexuals who are sexually active, this is based on comments from his own parishioners. The comment Rod Dreher cites in this article has been deleted, but I have a screen shot of it, and it was post to the “Pro-Gay Orthodox” facebook group, which is a group viewable by anyone, and thus the comments were made publicly:

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/episcopalianizing-american-orthodoxy-round-ii/

    The quote from Michael Berrigan Clark is as follows:

    “Gerard, have you been to Holy Trinity (mentioned by Maria McDowell)? This is the OCA cathedral in Boston. So entirely canonical. I am gay… I was married to my husband in a civil ceremony in 2005. When I began attending Holy Trinity later that year I was completely up front with the priest. My husband, Martin, began attending liturgies regularly about two years ago. He was chrismated Holy Saturday earlier this year. Our relationship is not a secret; I have had no negative interactions with either clergy or laity in this parish. Martin and I are not the only gay people in the parish, though after Martin became Orthodox, we are the only Orthodox gay *couple* as far as I know. I don’t think this constitutes “don’t ask don’t tell.” More like “ask or tell whatever you like… we don’t care.” Just saying.”

    The point of this comment is abundantly clear.

    Jjust after the blog post in question was posted, he also posted another article in which he said:

    “No longer can the Church expect its faithful and the wider public to accept its decrees, exhortations and admonitions that often ignore sophisticated and refined theological scholarship, science and technology. If the Church is to “expand its mission” it can no longer turn away from, ignore or condemn questions and issues that are a priori presumed to contradict or challenge its living tradition. Among the most controversial of these issues are those related to human sexuality, the configuration of the family, the beginning and ending of human life, and care for the environment. If the Church is to “expand its mission” then, in and through the Holy Spirit, it must be able to expand the understanding of itself and of the world it lives in.”

    http://holytrinityorthodox.org/articles_and_talks/HOW%20TO%20EXPAND%20THE%20MISSION.pdf

    When he has been asked to come out say what he really means in unambiguous terms, he has chosen not to. He would have to be a very unintelligent man to not realize how his words would be taken, and no one describes him as being anything but a very intelligent man.

    And when his own parishioners proclaim for all the world to see that he has a “go ahead and ask; we don’t care” approach to homosexuality and that people in gay marriages who make no secret about their lifestyle are freely communed without that being an issue, then it is clear that his studiously ambiguous statements have gone beyond mere musings into actual practice.

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