Rumors of my Excommunication

Screenshot 2014-12-08 04.48.30Rumors of my excommunication have been greatly exaggerated. The other morning I received a message from a Facebook friend saying that some folks over on the “TradOx” Facebook group were saying I had been excommunicated. When I found the conversation he was referring to, I realized he was not quite right. It was more like they were celebrating my excommunication. (Seriously! Who “Likes” someone being excommunicated?) The TradOx criticisms were more hurtful than the usual trolling I get from time to time, in part because the rumor apparently started with one of my fellow parishioners. It also brought back memories of the time when I really thought I was going to be excommunicated.

Screenshot 2014-12-08 04.48.17When the opportunity to blog for the Huffington Post presented itself, one of the first things I did was to talk to my priest. I did not say, “Hey, Father! I’m thinking about coming out as pro-gay-marriage on the Huffington Post. Are you cool with that?” In hindsight, maybe that is what I should have said. But I know that our priest tends to keep his own politics out of his ministry. I did not want to put him in an awkward situation. Plus, there have been plenty of times when someone disclosed more information to me upfront than I would rather have known. I was trying to give my priest a certain amount of deniability, so I said something vague about having opinions some would find controversial and asked how he would feel about those opinions being voiced in a more public forum than scholarly publications. In particular, I asked if he would like to review articles before I published them. I was prepared to drag my first Huffington Post article into the trash if he asked me to. The reply I got from my priest (who, by the way, I am not calling by name on purpose for reasons that will become clearer momentarily) was basically, “I don’t make a habit of policing the thoughts of my parishioners.” If I stuck with the seven councils, I was good. Since I have never contradicted any dogma of the Orthodox Church, nor do I intend to, I went ahead and submitted my article to the HuffPost.

Screenshot 2014-12-08 04.48.41When the article came out, and when upset readers began Googling me, figured out where I went to church, and then began calling my priest, my spiritual father was understandably upset. I have only had a panic attack once in my life, and it was after I read his irate email to me about my article. Having suddenly realized that I was in over my head, I kind of freaked out a little. My default setting is “mildly paranoid” anyway. It took me about a month, and a long meeting with my priest, to stop worrying every few minutes about my impending expulsion from the fellowship of the church. When I brought up my concerns about excommunication, my priest responded that he does not use the chalice as a weapon. He did not doubt that my heart right (even if he still believed that my head was wrong).

Screenshot 2014-12-08 04.48.50My priest is definitely not a fan of what I write. Definitely not! We have debated the subject of gay marriage before. He thinks I am wrong, but he does not think I am a heretic. Like I said, he does a pretty good job of parsing theology from politics. That is not to say that theology does not impact politics, but the two are not the same thing. One is more affective; the other is more cognitive. To wit, one is about belief, and the other is about judgment. Two people can believe the same things on a theological level, but one of them might exercise what the other considers to be poor judgment on the political level. Or to put it another way, theology is about objectives, but politics is about tactics. Theology is committed to the reign of God’s righteousness. Politics is about how we live into that reign until Christ’s kingdom comes.

Screenshot 2014-12-08 04.49.01The TradOx conversation started when a Facebook friend posted something I wrote for the HuffPost blog. It was an older piece in which I attempted to clarify, as much as I am able, what I think about same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue versus what I think about it theologically. What I said, in sum, was that I love gay people, and I am the chief of sinners. I am not sure what TradOx found so heretical about that.

Screenshot 2014-12-08 04.49.37Of course, the low-hanging fruit whenever Orthodox Christians read something I don’t like is to ask, “How dare he call himself a theologian?” They have a point. I prefer not to call myself a theologian because, in the Orthodox Church, that is a title you receive after a life of saintliness. I am no saint. That is why, on this site, I simply refer to Orthodox political theology. But as I explain elsewhere, the word “theologian” is useful when I have character limits. I use it on the Huffington Post because it quickly conveys, to a broad audience, that I am doing academic stuff. I have played with my HuffPost tagline from time-to-time, but I kept coming back to “Orthodox lay theologian.” I say, “lay,” to make clear that I am not a priest. What I write is not official or representative. If I cannot say, “lay theologian,” what should I say? “Orthodox scholar”? “Haters gonna hate.” I am pretty sure that those who do not like what I write will not be satisfied with anything short of, “Dumb-ass heretic.” I am open to suggestions for a better tagline. Keep it to about three words please.

I was invited to join TradOx by some of my Facebook friends a couple of years ago. A scan of the site told me that I probably did not want to get involved in most of the conversations happening there. It would be a time-suck. In particular, I found that its members seemed to lack the ability to read with charity. Obviously, this does not apply to every member of the group. I am referring to an overall “tone” of the group. By reading with charity, I mean the ability to try to give the author the benefit of the doubt, even if one ultimately ends up strongly disagreeing with that person. Reading charitably is an important skill because it helps keep one from reading prejudicially. We all come to the text with our own biases. If nothing else, giving the other person the benefit of the doubt lets our biases be challenged, enabling us to develop a stronger criticism later. Charity is how we avoid setting up and knocking over straw men. On a purely argumentative/rhetorical level, a charitable critic is a more convincing one.

Screenshot 2014-12-04 09.07.15I would add that a charitable critic is also a more Christian one. For kicks and giggles, I looked over the rules of the TradOx group. As an exercise in internet performance art, I half-thought about joining the group, and then reporting those members who were violating their own terms. Apparently the admins of TradOx only have a problem when members question the motives of, and insult, each other, but it is perfectly fine to attack those outside the group.



28 thoughts on “Rumors of my Excommunication”

  1. It is heretical to claim to be Orthodox and be pro-gay marriage. Heresy essentially means “to choose”‘ to choose your own opinions and your own views over what has been established by the Church, which alone is the “pillar and ground of the truth.”

    Regarding people being pleased over the thought of your excommunication for expressing pro-gay marriage views; those who care about the Church’s historic teachings do find it reassuring to see people properly disciplined when they attempt to spread cancerous ideas which can harm the souls of others. Such discipline gives the reassurance that there are standards in the Church and that the shepherds care enough for the flock to protect them from the grip of various wolves. When people who claim to be Orthodox openly proclaiming teachings that are at odds with what we have received from the Councils, canons, saints, and Fathers; this gives others the false impression that there are “differences of opinion” on certain matters in the Church, or that such things are “debatable” or “open questions”. The reality is that such things are usually only open questions for those who refuse to accept what the Church has continuously taught regarding such things. It is usually a willful ignorance employed by those who, instead of striving to repent and turn away from their sinful passions, want to see the Church change to accommodate and justify their sinful passions.

    1. “The first and, in my opinion, the biggest problem in Orthodox theology today is the lack of constructive ideas. […] We live in an era of theological strife. The word “heretic” tends to be ascribed to anyone who disagrees with our viewpoint, in spite of the clear teaching of St. Photius and the ancient tradition of our Church, which limits the term “heresy” to that which violates the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils.”

      — Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamum, Ecumenical Patriarchate

  2. David,

    I’ve been a member of the TradOx group for a little while now. Let me start off by saying I don’t agree with a portion of the stuff on there. The only reason why I’m a member? The same reason I sometimes watch Fox: Entertainment Value. If anything my line of thought is in the same vein as yourself. As such I’ve been in arguments with some of the individuals in TradOx before the group was created in some of the older Orthodox groups. Perry and I have a little history, he’s quite brilliant and his background is in Philosophy and Logic. His comments can be rather biting and he’s rather opinionated, but that’s partly because of his command of constructing arguments and his depth of knowledge. As someone I’ve debated with prior he has my respect. On the other hand I really have nothing to say about the rest of the offenders. No better than a lynch mob.

    As for a term to refer to yourself; instead of lay theologian, how about the less loaded theologist? I feel like it carries more of a scholarly tone to it.

  3. David, I regret that you, and your family, have had to go through this crap. I do not agree with all of your views on the various issues that you discuss; but I do believe that these issues need to be thoughtfully and prayerfully analyzed. It is not sufficient to invoke the opinions of the past and treat them as de fide, irreformable declarations. Dogmatic definition comes at the end of analysis and debate, not at the beginning.

    Orthodoxy need not fear honest theological and ethical reflection. It needs more of it, not less.

    1. “Dogmatic definition comes at the end of analysis and debate, not at the beginning.” Truth.

      Thank you. This means a great deal to me.

  4. I feel sick. The fact that people would encourage, cheer on, and endorse someone being excommunicated has my stomach in knots. Those people don’t know what I know- they don’t see what I see. How week after week, in spite of how others have treated you, you come to church with your children. You keep them in church school, seeing their Godparents, and you encourage their faith. You show greater Faith than I had realized until this morning by being strong enough to keep showing up. Forgive me.

    Lord, have mercy. While sometimes I think views that go against the church should be kept between the believer and his/her spiritual father, I also believe that concerns over a fellow Christian should be kept the same way. The internet, especially not a FB group, is not a place for slamming each other.

  5. Hi, I’m on the TradOx page. You can like it or hate it, not why I’m “here” so to speak. Why can’t your tag be ” Orthodox Christian”. Considering that is exactly who you are not only in the church but also the world. Calling your self a theologian is very bold even if you put lay in front of it. Putting the word theologian in your tag may not be misleading to other orthodox. But it definitely is misleading to those outside of the church . You are a man with his own opinions , not a representative of the church .

    1. Interesting idea, Mikhail. I like the minimalism. What I find really interesting about your comment is that you think the word “theologian” presents me as some kind of authority to non-Orthodox. Actually, I think it is the opposite. Among Protestants and Catholics, “theologian” tends just to mean a thing that you do for your job, like “programmer” or “P.E. teacher.” In Protestant and Catholic circles, theologians are often known to be at odds with church authorities. Your view helps me understand some of the ire from Orthodox Christians, who so far have been the only ones to suggest that I am passing myself off as some kind of spokesperson. For non-Orthodox, a theologian is often someone you shouldn’t take very seriously.

    2. Untrue David; the overwhelming majority of everyday readers- churched or unchurched- would hear your self-given title, and be misled that your views are representitive of Orthodoxy. Most Orthodox might see otherwise, but there’s no serious doubt that you use the title “lay theologian” for street cred with non-Orthodox. How would it sound if you just said, “David Dunn, lay person”. Wouldn’t that be even less misleading?

      Why bother being objectionable to your own overseers in the Faith? That’s a terrible badge of honor to aim for if youre Orthodox. Its akin to saying: “I know better than my bishop whom Christ put over me.” Its very damaging.

    3. I am not sure that it is entirely fair to say that I gave myself the title of theologian. That makes perfect sense from an Orthodox perspective. On the other hand, it is like accusing someone with a PhD in historical studies of trying to earn “street cred” by calling herself a historian. I can appreciate that what you think I said is “untrue,” but I wonder what evidence you have to support your opinion? Can you find a time when I took a minority position vis-a-vis my bishops without clearly saying so?

      SCOBA has produced a statement addressing the human causes of climate change. His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch, is right that ecology is a theological issue. I would say it is no less a theological issue than marriage and the family (indeed, how we care for the earth is ultimately how we care for our children). Does that mean that those whose politics incline them to act against measures to stem the causes of climate change are anathema?

    4. The big difference here is that the question of whether or not man is causing significant climate change, and the question of what, if anything, we can do about it are not questions that the Church as a whole has provided a definitive answer to. The question of whether or not homosexual sex is inherently sinful, on the other hand, is one that the Church has a clear and unambiguous answer to.

    5. I can understand your reluctance to see little more than ill-intent and deception behind my actions, but I think most people really do the best they can for who they are at any given moment. I have no doubt that you are motivated by nothing less than an undying love for the church. Please consider that perhaps I am motivated by the same thing.

  6. Brother in Christ David, forgive me. I was one of those in the TradOx group who read your comments, and I myself left an unkind word. I have since deleted it so as to keep my shameful words to myself, and with God’s help, rid them from my heart.

    But I will say that many of your statements are shocking; not because the hearers cannot follow precisely your line of thinking, but rather, because I and many others, find them to be dangerously far from what the Church has always taught.

    Amazingly, you wrote: “”… the kingdom of God is not our past ”

    Then what has every liturgy since Pentecost been? What have all the saints on earth held in their hearts?

    Didn’t Christ say 2,000 years ago the kingdom of God is at hand? (Matt. 10:7)

    Truly, this is not correct.

    1. From The Eucharist

      This means that all this—the “assembly as the Church,” the ascent to the throne of God and the partaking of the banquet of the kingdom—is accomplished in and through the Holy Spirit. “Where the Church is, there is the Holy Spirit and the fulness of grace.” In these words of St. Irenaeus of Lyons is engraved the experience of the Church as the sacrament of the Holy Spirit. For if where the Church is the Holy Spirit is also, when where the Holy Spirit is there is the renewal of creation, there we find the “beginning of another life, new and eternal,” the dawn of the mysterious, unfading day of the kingdom of God. For the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth, the gift of sonship, the pledge of future inheritance, the first fruits of eternal blessing, the life-creating power, the fountain of sanctification, through whom every creature of reason and understanding worships Thee and always sings to Thee a hymn of glory” (from the anaphora of the Liturgy of St Basil the Great). In other words, where the Holy Spirit is, there is the kingdom of God. Through his coming on the “last and great day of Pentecost” the Holy Spirit transforms this last day into the first day of the new creation and manifests the Church as the gift and presence of this first and “eighth” day.

      Fr. Alexander Schmemann said that the kingdom of God is the renewal of creation ahead of time in the kairos of the church. That is what it means for the Eucharist to be the “sacrament of the kingdom.” To enter into it is to enter into the reign of God that has not yet come in fullness but which is already happening in the midst of us (Luke 17:21).

  7. I like “Dumb-ass heretic”! It’s very evocative and might bring in more readers stunned by your profound sense of humility and self- deprecation. On the downside, if they read it while drinking coffee it could seriously harm their electronic reading devices when it is doused by the brown liquid being ejected through their nose.

  8. Hi David,
    Sorry to see the flack you’re getting. I don’t share your position, but I also see quite clearly the yuck that these people are throwing out there. I am quite familiar with these people, and have even spent time with some of them. Hopefully they’ll stumble upon that part of Matthew, where Jesus says will be judged by every idle word.

    In any case, a suggestion: Perhaps your tagline title should be something like “Academic Theologian & Orthodox Christian” (or “Theology Academic & Orthodox Christian)”. It’s more than three words, but separating Orthodoxy from theologian by that conjunction, and using either theology or academic adjectivally may help with some of the more distracting criticisms.

    One other thing to think about: It doesn’t matter what some random people on the internet think of you, be they some monk from a tiny monastery or some guy in his mother’s basement. What matters is your fidelity to Christ, and your standing with your priest and bishop.

    Peace to you,

    1. Thanks Jamey. I will think about the first one. I suppose the main reason this one bugged me a bit more is that it called to mind painful memories and tensions between myself and apparently some members (or former members) of my church. I welcome healthy disagreement. In all things charity.

  9. From the book _Everyday Saints_ by Archimandrite Tikhon:

    One day a young seminary graduate came up to Father John and without even bothering to introduce himself said: “I am a theologian.”

    Father John was quite surprised by this and asked: “Really? The fourth one?”

    “What do you mean by ‘the fourth one?'” asked the confused seminarian.

    Father John explained: “In our Church we know of three theologians. The first was John the Theologian, the Apostle and beloved disciple of our Savior. The second was Gregory the Theologian of Nanzianzus. And the third was Simeon the New Theologian. In its entire 2,000 year history the Holy Church has only granted these three men the title of theologian. So are you the fourth?”

    1. I explain the very particular sense in which I mean this on my website. Ongoing criticism of this point serves no purpose unless it is accompanied by proposed alternatives. In other words, I have already said I am not a theologian. So what’s your point? It’s like your arguing that the sky is blue.

    1. TradOx is much more representative of Orthodoxy then liberal detractors would like to admit. We have about 6000 members including over 50 clergy ( including several bishops) from virtually every Orthodox church in the world. The tiny modernist clique in American would be shocked how middle of the road TradOx is in “world orthodoxy”

    1. If on that great and terrible day of Judgment, you can stand before Christ and declare that the way that group has treated other human beings, for whom he shed his blood, has brought glory to his name, then I am more than happy to advertise for it.

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