In light of the confusion stirred in some readers of recent texts on Social Media and other online portals, regarding the Church’s clear teaching on homosexuality and the pastoral need to care for those suffering in particular from the social trend to regard it as “natural” or a thing to be accepted as part of human nature, the following text is provided for contrast. Presented as a “reference text” at a clergy meeting of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in the USA last year, it offers a clear response to many of the social arguments used in the attempt to diminish the Church’s pastoral teachings, which always aim for the loving care and conversion of all who fall into any sin.
OrthoChristian.com is offering this in-depth report as a series of posts.
The entire PDF version of this article can be found here.
As one considers the extraordinary fabric of falsehoods and suppression of the truth that has characterized the evolution of this issue in the West, it is impossible not to hear the laughter of our ancient Enemy, the Father of Lies. This is one of his greatest masterpieces. Indeed, it is almost incomprehensible that gay activists, a small subset of people within a tiny minority, have been able to overturn reality within an entire culture in so short a period, unless it be with the help of an ancient intelligence and malice that we can scarcely comprehend.
That the Enemy enjoys the degradation of humanity is a given. But always, his ultimate target is the Ark of Salvation itself, the Church—to bring it under ostracism and persecution, and to direct people away from its saving message. That the kindly intentions of well-meaning people have been turned to hostility towards the Church’s traditional teaching, and towards the Church herself, is an extraordinary accomplishment of his malice and art.
One of the most tragic aspects of this new social orthodoxy is that rather than guiding those who struggle with this passion to counseling and support, they are now subject to relentless propaganda that rejects any consideration of seeking help, and urges them to whole-heartedly embrace a self-destructive path. It is as if we told drug addicts, “hey, it’s okay that you want to do drugs, it’s who you are—just be sure to use clean needles.” An absurdity, to be sure, but this is essentially what homosexuals and pre-homosexuals are now told. And this view, if embraced by the sufferer, will likely separate them from the Church.
We have discussed in the preceding sections the general success rates of therapeutic approaches to this problem. Most of these were purely secular approaches, although some were ministries. As with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), the introduction of a spiritual dimension measurably increases success rates, and so many of the most successful programs have been ministries.
And this is unsurprising. Beyond the mere acknowledgment of a higher power that can affect the lives of men, a genuine understanding of the nature of man is, and should be, invaluable in treating the ailments of our fallen state.
Only a few of us have the training to treat addiction. So what can be done, in a practical way, to help someone who is struggling with this passion?
To begin, we will say very directly and emphatically, that the first rule is not to judge anyone for experiencing this passion. Flee judging like the plague. Not only will it make it almost certain that any counsel you offer will be rejected, but when you judge, you fall into sin yourself. So guard your soul. Remember, in our fallen state we are all subject to many passions, of which this is just one—not something uniquely sinful and set apart.
Certainly, we may counsel individuals who are struggling with feelings of same-sex attraction that have not yet begun to act upon them. We want to lead them to question the “four core beliefs” generally, but especially number 4, which has the potential to lead them down a self-fulfilling path. You will recall that that one said: Orientation equals self-identity and behavior. Once a person experiences same-sex attraction, that is who they are.
Let’s look at some practical examples.
Say you have a young friend who confides to you that they are experiencing same-sex attraction, and say they “think they might be gay.” The first thing you might do is to tell them that it’s normal to experience many physical attractions at their age, and that it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is how they’re going to be long-term.
If your friend is an Orthodox Christian, you should definitely encourage them to discuss their feelings with their spiritual father. This may seem obvious, but the reality is that many people are ashamed to tell their confessor all their thoughts, for fear of being judged and rejected. Actually, the reverse is true; father confessors hold in high regard their spiritual children who speak frankly and hold nothing back: in the words of one bishop, “they are the most precious treasures.”
If your friend is not Orthodox, one thing you should tell them is that they have choices in life that are their choices, and that they shouldn’t feel pressured to behave or live in a certain way just because someone puts a label on them. You might warn them against getting “counseling” or “help” from LGBTQ organizations, because “they’re basically going to put a label on you and tell you how to live.” This “appeal to freedom”, if we may so term it, is especially attractive in a culture that extols personal liberty, however often misapplied. It legitimizes a cautious and waiting approach, rather than encouraging experimentation. In other words—“don’t be in a hurry.”
If the topic of pornography comes up, you can express the opinion that “it’s bad news, and basically messes up your mind.” This is a subject unto itself that could be discussed at great length, but in the context of this topic one should recall the processes of desensitization, habituation, and addiction; exposure to pornography presents a false impression of reality, creates an addictive response, and hardens us to things that we would by nature reject.
Depending on your situation, and your relationship, you might express concerns about the destructive physical aspects of the lifestyle.
How do we respond in the situation where a friend embraces an alternative sexual identity, and begins to live “the lifestyle?”
This is one of the hardest situations to deal with, because we need to refrain from judging them personally for having made the decision, while not implicitly endorsing or “affirming” their choice. It is appropriate to reassure people of your friendship, while expressing frankly your concerns about the destructive physical and spiritual effects of their lifestyle. For someone who is not religious, or whose spirituality is accepting of homosexuality, this might prompt the question: “What spiritual effects?” To this, we should simple reply that our understanding of spiritual life is that we are striving to transcend, or overcome, our passions—and that to identify with any one of them makes this difficult or impossible. Some people might not “get” that, but in some cases, it may prompt a genuine curiosity about what our faith does teach.
To be sure, some individuals will not let you make that distinction—being their friend, but not “affirming” their lifestyle. They will make their friendship conditional upon your approval of their behavior. Be aware that in some cases this stems from insecurity—they need to hear everyone say that everything’s fine, that it’s “cool” that they’re gay. Withholding that much-desired approval can sometimes, in the long run, help them to question the choice. Sometimes we will lose friends, but always put them on the spot first with what they’re doing—“So I have to approve of everything you do, to be your friend?” (And to the likely retort, “It’s who I am”, the reply: “No, it’s not who you are—it’s only a way you are.”)
What about family? How should a Christian family deal with a member that has embraced an alternative sexual identity and abandoned the Church, either for secularism or for a religious organization supportive of their new lifestyle? Everything just said about friends in this situation applies to family members, except that it is even more difficult and painful. Many families simply cut off these individuals since, admittedly, they are very poor role models for younger family members. On the other hand, people in this situation are already self-isolated to a considerable extent within the “LGBTQ community,” which is a self-reinforcing subculture. Giving them continuing exposure to normal, healthy family life may be helpful in leading them to question that subculture. Naturally, boundaries must be established, but in speaking to therapists who work in this area, their guidance is to err on the side of more contact, rather than less. It will only be when the individual desires to change that change will be possible—just as it would be if the person were addicted to alcohol or drugs. Beyond prayer, the only practical step may be for family members to simply ask that individual, from time to time—“Are you happy?” And perhaps then there will be an opening, at some point, to introduce the idea that change is possible, if they desire it.
Finally, what if you, yourself, are experiencing same-sex attraction?
This discussion should have equipped you with much information that will be helpful. Again, your spiritual father should be a key resource. If, for some reason, he is not helpful to you, you should seek out another priest who can counsel you constructively in dealing with this particular passion.
Sometimes general counseling and spiritual support will be sufficient to address this passion. However, at some point you and your spiritual father may decide to call upon outside resources, especially if habituation has already taken place. With respect to secular resources, the NARTH Institute will make referrals to qualified therapists. It should be noted that this will be done strictly in keeping with the desire of the prospective patient. Remember that the positive results of treatment described previously were achieved by “highly motivated” patients, who earnestly desired to change. Let us also recall that in some states, it is illegal for individuals under eighteen to receive this type of therapy, even if they want it. Sadly, it may be necessary to wait for the assistance of a professional therapist, if you’re under 18, although it would be better to first try to find a workaround with a qualified therapist, or to approach a faith-based ministry.
For in addition to secular resources, there are many ministries that work with individuals struggling with same-sex attraction, sometimes in cooperation with NARTH, and often staffed by people who have themselves come out of the gay lifestyle. I should mention, in passing, how impressive these people typically are; they have truly come through the fire, and achieved a strength, wisdom, and humility that is deeply moving. Many have published their own personal stories as an inspiration to others. Most of these ministries are run by evangelicals of one stripe or another, if for no other reason than they are more numerous on the ground, and so have the scale and resources to support a specialist ministry. They all emphasize that the individual is pursuing Christ, not heterosexuality, and that by His grace change is possible (remembering, in particular, 1 Corinthians 6:11, And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God). They are used to working collaboratively with the parish pastors of the individuals they are counseling. Meeting Orthodox Christians is often a new experience for them, but in general they are respectful and supportive of the individual’s existing spirituality. A worthwhile resource is a video documentary produced by one of these groups, entitled Such Were Some of You. The testimonies of the ex-homosexuals in this film, male and female, are truly inspiring, and have a credibility that no one without such a history can possible have.
Remember always that we are, first and foremost, children of God and His Church, united to Him and to each other through the Holy Mysteries. The choices that we make in life are our choices. God respects our free will absolutely, and with the assistance of His grace we can make God-pleasing choices for our lives.
It is relevant to make some observations about a relatively new phenomenon (or, at least, only recently receiving attention in the media)—that of “gay celibate Christians.” These are individuals who identify as homosexual, but reconcile this with traditional Christian moral teaching by remaining celibate. They blog on a website entitled Spiritual Friendship (spiritualfriendship.org), taking their name and inspiration from a treatise written by the 12th century Cistercian monk, Aelred of Rievaulx,1 and many speak eloquently of their personal journeys to this position. Needless to say, they face criticism from gay activists, who regard their position as unrealistic and untenable for most. However, many Christians would also assert that their position begs the question, why? That is, if you have chosen to live celibately, what is the relevance of your personal sexual attractions?
A more fundamental objection can be made to this odd juxtaposition of identities, in that it implicitly challenges the Church’s understanding of the unity of soul and body of man as created. As discussed in a previous section, our identity as Christians is paramount. As Daniel Mattson, a Catholic who himself experiences same-sex attraction, wrote recently in Crisis magazine:
Despite what most people might think, the virtue of chastity, like all other virtues, isn’t so much concerned with what we do or don’t do. Rather, chastity is the virtue that helps us see things truly and objectively—things as they really are—within the realm of sexuality. This clarity of vision is necessary for true human freedom and human flourishing. It is chastity that gives us the freedom to order our sexual appetites and therefore make decisions that correspond with reality. Christ lived as a chaste man, not because He followed every dot and tittle of the law (which of course He did), but rather, because He lived in accordance with the truth of what it means to be a man, made in the image and likeness of God. Like Christ, a man who truly knows who he is will naturally lead a life of chastity . . . Put more simply, the reason it is immoral for me to live out a life according to my subjective desires and inclinations is precisely because I am not, in fact, a gay man . . . Nor is any man.2
Our fallen nature is, in other words, not who we are, but a way we are. And it is by God’s grace that we can seek to become who we truly are.
The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). She is not swayed by the winds of contemporary social and political philosophies, but continues to offer the path to the healing of the human person and the restoration of fallen human nature. Among the virtues, a chaste life remains the aim of every faithful Christian. Unnatural acts are proscribed because they are destructive of soul and body. With respect to marriage, the Church understands it as an institution established by God before the Fall, Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Gen. 2:24), and later blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ with His first miracle at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11). This understanding has not, and will not, change.
The Church is a spiritual hospital for fallen mankind. In the Fall, man became subject to a multitude of infirmities of body and soul, which can find healing only through the fullness of spiritual life within the Church, which leads to union with God in Christ. The Church welcomes sinners and strugglers with every passion, and offers a path of healing and restoration to all.
Christians in the United States should be prepared to live in a cultural environment increasingly hostile to traditional morality in general, and to Christianity in particular. To create such an environment of hostility, and ultimately to bring the Church under active persecution, has always been the aim of our invisible enemies, who indeed have had their role in bringing about these societal changes. Given the steep trajectory of change in societal attitudes on this issue, increasing persecution of the Church and discrimination against Her faithful members is likely.
In the face of such hostility and ostracism, we must respond with both truth and love. We must live up to our highest aspirations, making clear the other-worldly dimension of Christianity. Our forbearers emerged into the world of late-classical antiquity with a radical, life-transforming alternative to the worldview of pagan society; increasingly, this will be our position in our secularist society. The days of “fitting in” will come to an end. Under persecution, we will either become more Christian or less; there will be no middle ground.
We should not be daunted by these things, remembering the words of our Lord and Savior, In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33). The Church has experienced many periods of persecution in Her history, and has only added to Her choir of saints. May we be accounted worthy of them. Amen.