Oxford, August 23, 2019
An international group of “scholars, pastors, clinicians, and other experts” gathered in Oxford from August 16 to 19 to discuss their opinions on the contemporary issues of sex, gender, and sexuality in relation to the Orthodox Church.
The conference was organized by scholars from the University of Exeter and the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University and supported by the British Council as part of its Bridging Voices project, according to the press release published on the Fordham University website.
Fordham and Exeter were awarded a grant from the British Council last year to launch a study of “LGBTQ rights alongside Eastern Orthodox identity.”
The conference gathered about 50 scholars from various academic disciplines, including theology, philosophy, Church history, canon law, and the natural and social sciences, with clergy from multiple jurisdictions, LGBTQ activists, and clinicians in attendance, in addition to observers from the Catholic and Anglican churches.
As with the Fordham Orthodox Center’s controversial Public Orthodoxy website, the goal of the conference was to “stimulate dialogue” to help the Church learn how to respond to the pastoral needs of the 21st century. All participants attended as private individuals and under the Chatham House Rule, meaning information from the conference can be used but not attributed to any specific person, in an effort to allow participants to “speak freely.”
Topics included hermeneutic issues in scripture and tradition, theological anthropology, ethics, pastoral challenges, therapeutic approaches, and secularism and public policy. As the press release states, views were heard from various perspectives—both those who respect the teachings of the Orthodox Church, and those who object to them, finding them personally problematic.
“The gathering can serve as a model of how issues of sex, sexuality, and gender can be approached without the recriminations and polarization that too often characterize this discussion,” the press release claims.
The conference featured many of the same participants who had gathered at the conference in Amsterdam in June 2017, including Drs. George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou of Fordham and Dr. Brendan Gallaher of Exeter University.
Also participating were several figures who have caused public scandals, such as Sister Vassa Larin, who was censured by ROCOR for giving advice to a mother that would lead her to believe that her son's interest in a homosexual relationship is acceptable, and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, who called the Church’s teachings on matters of sexuality into question in a foreword he wrote for an issue of the pro-homosexual journal The Wheel.
Also present were Dr. Ashley Purpura, who argues that Byzantine hymnography “reflects gender fluidity,” Gregory Tucker, who is in a homosexual relationship with a former hieromonk who abandoned his priesthood and repentance, and Nik Jovčić-Sas, a Serbian man who openly mocks the Church and goes by the name of “Orthodox Provocateur” online and whose social media pages are filled with photos and videos of drag queens, including from drag shows he has hosted. There were also several others who either publicly or privately, often in their university classes, agitate for the Church to change its teachings on LGBT issues.
While the content of the discussion is not publicly known, several of the participants tweeted throughout the event.
On August 17, George Demacopoulous wrote: “Overheard in Oxford, ‘Why would any Orthodox Christian talk about ‘traditional family values’? Neither the language or concepts have ever been a part of our tradition. Of course, ‘family values’ is something that is important to the mafia…”
Overheard in Oxford, "Why would any Orthodox Christian talk about 'traditional family values'? Neither the language or concepts have ever been a part of our tradition. Of course, 'family values' is something that is important to the mafia . . ."— George Demacopoulos (@GDemacopoulos) August 17, 2019
Pointing out the curiosity of arguing that the Church’s tradition would not have any traditional family values, several other users reminded Dr. Demacopoulos that the Scriptures and Church Fathers, in fact, have much to say about the value and morality of the Christian family.
Despite the variety of viewpoints, “All agreed that dialogue must continue in the same uniquely respectful and gracious tone that characterized this gathering,” states the press release.