A friend of mine recently moved to Charlottesville. She was at the protests over the weekend, or I guess you would say she was a counter-protester. (I am hesitant to say “counter,” though, because it implies that the white nationalists had anything worth protesting.) A photo of her came across my timeline, posted by Jill Harms Photography. When Brandy (my friend) commented on this photo, she explained that they had just faced down a group of club-wielding white nationalists who were trying to access Emancipation Park, and they were steeling themselves for a second confrontation.
Then a news article came across my feed. It was from the Indianapolis Star, and it featured the guy pictured below. His name is Matthew Heimbach. He is probably the most notorious Orthodox heretic there is today. And it turns out, he was a major organizer of the alt-right march. (I wonder if he was one of the club-wielders.)
So there is my friend, a female minister in a liberal Christian denomination, one my church would brand as “heterodox,” and on the other side is someone who claims to belong to the “true faith.” Though Heimbach was excommunicated by his parish priest, excommunication need not be honored by other jurisdictions. Rumor has it that he is in good standing somewhere else. A quick Google search will show you that Heimbach has his Orthodox sympathizers.
I was shocked when I first learned about the connection between Orthodox Christianity and white nationalism. Shocked, but upon reflection not surprised. The Orthodox Church condemned racism in 1872, but our churches are mostly divided along ethnic and nationalistic lines. Ethno-phyletism (i.e. love of one’s race) is the defining characteristic of Orthodox Christianity in the United States, and we have done little to combat it.
The picture of my friend reminded me of a photo of Archbishop Iakovos standing with Martin Luther King Jr. We Orthodox love to bandy that about every January. His Eminence is our most famous civil rights activist. In fact, he is pretty much our only civil rights activist. I wanted to ask my friend if she happened to see any Orthodox clergy standing with her, but I think I already know the answer.
I understand why we Orthodox are reluctant to get into politics. It is easy to get politics wrong. But sometimes the issues are obvious. Racism is a no-brainer.
You will rarely find a visible Orthodox presence at any protest. When we do come out with political statements, they are pretty tepid and almost always about sex. (The exception is the Ecumenical Patriarch, who is often criticized as being “too liberal.”) There is not a single person who knows about the Orthodox Church who would have to guess where we stand on gay marriage. But when it comes to the prideful elevation of one’s race, we are either on the sidelines or on the wrong side. Shame on us.
Update: The language above on excommunication was revised from “tends to be local.” And more recent rumor has it that Heimbach was excommunicated from his newfound parish as well.