Conservative vs. Liberal Clergy?


A well-known and esteemed American priest recently spoke on the topic of the use of appropriate terminology for describing Orthodox clergy, both priests and bishops. Since many issues from secular society present themselves in the life of the Church, it has also become common to use secular labels (all too familiar in political discourse) to describe views expressed by the clergy. This priest was pointing out, quite wisely, that while it is certainly appropriate and necessary for the Church and Her clergy to speak to many political issues which face Orthodox faithful, the political labels of “conservative” and “liberal” do not in fact have any meaning in the Orthodox Church.

Here is the reason:

Any priest or bishop who expresses the teaching of the Church, as it is outlined in the Scriptures, the Canons, the Church Fathers, and all of Holy Tradition, is not “conservative”—he is simply Orthodox, following the traditions of the Church.

Any priest or bishop who does otherwise is not Orthodox.

Any priest or bishop who teaches that “God created them male and female” (Genesis 5:2), that the gender and sex of the body correspond to that of the soul is not “conservative”—he is simply Orthodox.

Any priest or bishop who writes articles or speaks at conferences advocating for various aspects of the LGBT agenda is not “liberal” –he is simply not Orthodox.    

Any priest or bishop who affirms the unity of all races through the Body and Blood of Christ in the Church, that there is a single Orthodox Church regardless of nation, in which all share Communion within the Canonical order is not “conservative”—he is simply Orthodox.

Any priest or bishop who pits one nation against another, who advocates for racialist politics or advances the idea that the concept of race is fundamental to human identity is not a “liberal”—he is simply not Orthodox.

Any priest or bishop who advocates that human life begins at conception, exhorts his faithful to work to preserve life in the womb, to donate their time and their money to helping mothers and their children who are at risk of abortion, and to vote for candidates who oppose abortion in law is not a “conservative”—he is simply Orthodox.

Any priest or bishop who supports the killing of unborn children in the womb, either overtly or with veiled terms, or who launches an assault on the Image of God through deceptive language about “respecting the autonomy of women”, which confuses the faithful and allows the Lord’s innocent ones to stumble unwittingly into grievous sins—these are not “liberal” clergy or bishops—they are simply not Orthodox.

Any priest or bishop who affirms and teaches that all sexual sins including same-sex attraction arose from the Fall and require struggle and repentance is not “conservative”—he is simply Orthodox.

Any priest or bishop who goes to the trouble of traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to attend a conference to brainstorm ways in which the Orthodox Church might be “enlightened” to the “new psychology” of contemporary sexuality is not “liberal”—he is simply not Orthodox.

Any priest or bishop who draws his teaching for moral, medical, psychological, and family decisions strictly from the Holy Tradition of the Church—the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers—is not “conservative”: he is simply Orthodox.

Any priest or bishop who gives weight in teaching on these areas to the “enlightened” teachings of the human intellect, believing them to be much more progressed than the Holy Tradition of the Scriptures and the Church Fathers is not “liberal”—he is simply not Orthodox. 

The wise priest who made this important distinction has done all our clergy and faithful a great service. We might use these terms—“liberal” and “conservative”—in our informal conversations, but this father is correct: there are not “parties” within the Church, only those who hold the Mind of the Church, the Mind of the Fathers, and those who would attack it, and try to redefine it—because they are outside it.

Inevitably, every Orthodox Christian will come across such people. Some of them will even be wearing cassocks. If and when you do, the best strategy might be to turn and run from their churches and their schools, and to warn others to do the same.

Michael D.8/17/2022 8:56 pm
Fr. Geoffrey Korz, for whom I usually have a great reverence, wrote a disturbing thing concerning what is the Church's teachings regarding race, nationhood and the universality of Orthodoxy. What he outlined to be Orthodox, is in fact a modern, liberal and globalist misconception and inversion of the meaning of true Church doctrine on unity. In fact, it's a far worse misconception than the LGBT thing. Actually the truth is the exact opposite from what he writes. "Race" understood in the proper sense, is the extended family grounded in the Orthodox faith. It is the sense of common kinship and understanding with members of your community that forms the basis of needed for any Christian society to function. It is inherently exclusivist and it places limits and threshholds on who can belong to the specific social organism historically formed into a nation. This is how it should be from the point of view of Orthodox tradition as practiced and defended throughout the millenia, the reasons of which are plainly laid out in the Old Testament. No Christian, past or present, has ever advocated for the Nazi German racialist-biological meaning of the term when defending the concept of the nation in the light of the Orthodox tradition. Either G. Korz is unaware of this (which he should not be), or he is willingly misrepresenting his opponents.
Conner Toennis8/15/2022 10:54 pm
Great article! Very helpful and enlightening. I wonder if it's directed at someone...
Bogdan Bogdanowitz8/7/2022 8:37 pm
To Gavin James Kampbell. So how would you explain what transpired from Babel. 11 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
John 8/2/2022 4:42 pm
Responding to Luke, yes you are 100% correct that it is not the churchman's concern whether their orthodoxy maps on to more "conservative" or "liberal" positions in the secular political game, and often (perhaps more often than not) an Orthodox position and attitude will indeed appear "conservative". However, the author seems to have specifically avoided listing all the ways in which, in parallel to the ways in which it might appear politically "conservative", Orthodoxy might appear "liberal" (or, even, and perhaps more accurately, "radical"). I listed a few of them in my comment. In a nutshell, if one is Orthodox, one will appear "conservative" on most social and cultural issues (marriage, family, sexuality, morals, bioethics, personal virtue, education), but will likely "liberal" or "radical" on many economic or international or other social issues (care for refugees and the poor, war, racism). To deny either one of these facts is, I think, to make an idol of secular politics.
Just a correction8/1/2022 1:18 pm
What Theo wrote is not correct. The teaching of our Church are being abused and hedonistic herresis are being created and spread like here: St. John Chrysostom: "Thus, marriage was given to us for procreation also, but much more for the purpose of extinguishing our burning nature. And Paul is a witness to this, saying, 'Because of fornications, let each have his own wife,' and not for the purpose of procreation. And he commands that you come together again, not for you to become fathers of many children. But to come together again for what purpose? 'So that Satan may not tempt you,' he says. He continues, but he does not say, 'come together if you wish children.' But what does he say? 'If they cannot abstain, let them marry,' for in the beginning, as it was said, marriage had two purposes. But later, with the earth and the sea and the entire world filled, one reason alone remains: to cast out debauchery and lasciviousness.” How would a Married couple know if the earth is populated enough? When God stops creating children! And how would they prevent the creation of life when having sex? Why should they? God decides when he creates life and when not! Not the married couples while having sex. Their role is merely a co creator. This article did a huge effort into standing up for Orthodoxy: "In the entire universe, there is only one place where a Christian man may legitimately issue his seed. His seed is intended for the wife of his youth. She has a sacred chamber, and that chamber is the only place where sexual activity may take place in a holy way. As the Orthodox Saints have unanimously agreed for the past 2000 years, the seed is neither to be killed, nor to be spilled in an unnatural location. This principle makes every form of birth control forbidden. At no time is it ever permissible to seek for the pleasure of sex, while artificially avoiding the possibility of pregnancy." Saint Chrysostom: "St. John Chrysostom declares that a marriage is accomplished even when only it’s principle purpose – the regulating of sexuality – is achieved without the fulfillment of it’s second purpose, the procreation of children. He adds, however, that the marriage is realized without the birth of children when this occurs not through the will of the spouses but apart from their will. For when the birth of children is intentionally avoided, the bond between the spouses declines into a simple occasion of satisfying the desire of the flesh and thus shifts towards acts that are sinful. (Fr. Dimitru Staniloae, The Experience of God, Vol. 5, pg. 182) “It is particularly a perverse act when we note that the primary reason God attended the sex act was to encourage procreation. This consistent link between pleasure and procreation is emphasized by Chrysostom on many occasions. Those who would separate the two realities, something which Chrysostom says cannot be done, must invent a new perspective on pleasure not taught by the Church.” (Josiah B. Trenham, On Contraception: according to the Holy Fathers of the Church, pp. 24-25) “For the virtue of each thing then discovers itself when it is brought to its own fitting work, but when to one that is alien, it doth no longer so. For instance, wine is given for cheerfulness, not drunkenness, bread for nourishment, sexual intercourse for the procreation of children.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Colossians, Homily XII) Also this: “From the medieval Slavic perspective, contraception, abortion, and infanticide were similar offences . . . All three represented the same thing: an attempt to forestall the introduction into the world of a new soul. For that reason, all three offenses were sometimes called dusegub’e, literally, ‘the destruction of a soul.'
Michael Bauman8/1/2022 2:27 am While the intent of the Conservative vs Liberal is good, I think. It misses the point. The nature of modernity is that all politics becomes ideology and all ideology is wrong. Matthew 4:17 is my starting point. It is a tough battle but it is the battle to which we are each called. Clearly, if one believes in the soul destroying modern dogmas over the Truth, trouble lies ahead. The major dogma of modernity is that man's will is supreme. It has advocates in one form or another in all modern "spirituality"; "morality" and political virtue. T. S. Eliot in his masterful play, Murder in the Cathedral, has Thomas Becket struggle with the temptation to become a martyr to glorify himself, not God. We each face a similar temptation in today's world. Becket turns the tempter away by saying:"The last act is the greatest treason; to do the right deed for the wrong reason." Forgive me, a sinner and may the Joy of the Lord be with each of you.
Fr Jacob Van Sickle7/31/2022 10:47 pm
Sts Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor (at least) are quite clear that the distinction between male and female pertains to bodies and not to souls. As far as I am aware, no Father suggests otherwise. That doesn’t make sex-changes or transgenderism okay, but we should be clear about what our tradition teaches and not ignorantly take up unOrthodox arguments just because they support our cause.
Gavin James Campbell 7/31/2022 10:45 pm
To Mr Saturday Night Special- God not create the nation state. The nation state is purely man made. And have the guts to use your real name.
Luke7/31/2022 6:41 pm
John wrote: >> But then you go on to make the same error, by systematically implying that (politically) "conservative" = "orthodox", which undermines the claim you're making. << No. You've got the ontological order precisely reversed. It's not that politically conservative = orthodox, it's that being Orthodox (inadvertently) = political conservative (predominately). The writer's premise is to 'what IS Orthodox'. Whether that correlates generally to one political identity or another is not the Orthodox churchman's concern. The narrative, then, does not fall prey to what you imagine.
John 7/31/2022 4:33 am
The idea behind this article is excellent, but it falls victim to exactly the same fault that it so accurately diagnoses. Yes, the secular political categories of "liberal" and "conservative" are irrelevant to the Church; the only relevant categories are "Orthodox" and "not Orthodox". But then you go on to make the same error, by systematically implying that (politically) "conservative" = "orthodox", which undermines the claim you're making. So it ends up simply being a subterfuge to reintroduce the liberal/conservative distinction, but just saying "if you're not 'conservative', you're not 'orthodox'". To correct this impression, plenty of examples could have been added to the ones given, to say that "if you beleive x, you're not 'liberal', you're just 'orthodox'": "If you're against racism and believe that all people are made in the image of God, you're not liberal, you're just Orthodox. If you beleive that one race is superior to another, you're not 'conservative', you're just not Orthodox". "If you oppose imperialistic wars of choice, you're not 'liberal', you're just Orthodox. If you are a jingoistic war-monger who supports the 'war on terror' in the Middle East, you're not a 'conservative', you're just not Orthodox." "If you oppose capitalist consumerism and hedonism, you're not a 'liberal', you're just Orthodox. If you put money and freedom above all other values, you're not a 'conservative', you're just not Orthodox." Just like, if you support same sex marriage, you're not a 'liberal', you're just not Orthodox; and if you oppose it, you're not a conservative you're just Orthodox.
Sad PK7/30/2022 5:58 pm
I’m glad we have such wise priests to let us know who we should welcome into the Church and who we should shun. We all know that judgement belongs only to God, but it’s nice to receive priestly guidance on how we can help pre-filter the unworthy. Articles like this are not written to promote the health of the Church so much as they raise the garden walls higher and higher to keep the faithful from having to meaningfully think about morality. This is not priestly guidance on how to live an Orthodox life, nor is it an attempt to welcome more into the embrace of the Church; this is a line drawn in the sand to separate the unredeemable from the morally superior pious. Sometimes people ask why myself and so many of my generation are leaving the Church they have known since birth. The mentality represented here is the reason. We have let ourselves become the Corinthians, so proud of our understanding of the Church that we lose our humility before God and grow comfortable interpreting and enforcing his will. What is one to do when the desire to love your neighbor as yourself runs counter to the teachings of respected clergy?
John Nimmer7/30/2022 4:48 pm
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but having itching ears, they shall heap to themselves teachers in accordance with their own lusts. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." 2 Tim. 4:3 – 4 This article is a good litmus test to separate true and false clergy. Flee the latter!
Dionysius Redington7/30/2022 4:53 am
It will also be noticed that (with the partial exception of the racism issue, on which the liberal and conservative secular camps are both divided), the position that Fr. Geoffrey calls 'Orthodox' is the position that most people (in the US, anyway) would call 'conservative'. So he is really saying that instead of 'conservative' and 'liberal', we should say 'good' and 'evil'. He does not, for example, say the following: 'Any priest who blesses with holy water nuclear weapons designed to murder thousands of civilians at one blast is not "conservative"; he is simply not Orthodox. Any priest who questions the present capitalist economic order, based on usury and the unfair, often racist, treatment of the poor, is not "liberal"; he is simply Orthodox.' --Dionysius Redington
Panagiotis7/30/2022 3:30 am
What a great article. Thank you very much Father Korz. If one is an Orthodox Christian, a true Orthodox Christian, then he is conservative by his very nature. Our Orthodox Priests and Bishops should be the MOST conservative of all the Orthodox, since they are the Protectors of our Holy Orthodox Faith. They are the ones who are supposed to keep the faithful from straying! God Almighty, how can an Orthodox Priest or Bishop be liberal!? Father Korz is exactly correct. If you are an Orthodox Priest or Bishop, and you preach no good liberalism, then you are not a true Orthodox Priest or Bishop. Plain and simple. Glory be to our God! THOXA SI O THEOS, THOXA SI! .....Just my humble opinion.
Theo7/30/2022 2:25 am
You forgot artificial contraception. That's where all this garbage started. The Anglicans accepted it first and look where they are now. And now many Orthodox do, too, including bishops. I was told by a priest that the US Antiochian bishops are telling clergy not to interfere in "bedroom matters." Do they think sin can't happen in the bedroom? That is an egregious failure of their office of shepherding souls, likely because they're afraid all the Protestant converts, who are clueless about birth control but who bring lots of money into the Church, will leave if they're told the truth. So it's no real surprise the gay marriage thing is now entering into the Church, too. Natural Family Planning and continence are the only methods God gave, we need to get back to that. Use the fake stuff, you cut yourself off from God and the spiritual effects on the whole Body are dire, and get worse over time.
Carl L. Noble7/29/2022 9:39 pm
This was the best article I have ever seen about the issue of "conservative" or "liberal" clergy. Well done, I totally love the information in this article. Thank you so very much. Fr. Carl L. Noble (conservative and "orthodox" Lutheran!)
Mr Saturday Night Special 7/29/2022 3:55 pm
God created the nation state. The Holy Spirit moves through the nation state. God's plan for the interaction between nation state and Church is symphony with Christ as the conductor. Different groups of people choose the composition of their government institutions. How do people, Christians judge the workings, output of governments? How does one inform others about good and evil? People must lable things with words inorder to convey meaning. So yes there are conservative Priest,and conservative Bishops. Everything is not always black and white. Two people can both be correct yet differ in opinion.
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