Thursday, October 11, 2012

An anonymous Orthodox Christian asks...

(Tumblr has the option to ask me anonymous questions here.  I really like it.  Here's today's question.)

First:  thank you, and right back at you.  Living in the balance of loving your tradition, loving yourself, and loving others is a huge task, and you are inspirational (literally -- God-breathed!) for taking it on.

To start, I haven't studied Orthodox theologies or practices in depth, so my ideas are very preliminary.  My very basic understanding is that the Orthodox church understands the formation and application of the Bible in a distinctly different way than the Protestant church does.  I'm hesitant to say a lot for that reason; I don't know a lot about the nuances inherent in Orthodox belief and teaching.

I did some reading, and also some prayer, and here are the questions that arose for me.  I put them forth in the hope that you, dear Anon, can find someone better educated in Orthodox tradition than I to tackle them with!

- In general, the understanding of sex and gender has seen significant change in the past fifty years.  That bears consideration (not necessarily change, but absolutely consideration) by any religious tradition.  What kinds of consideration has the Orthodox church given this?  What does the Orthodox tradition say about the relationship between male and female, and about marriage?  Does that differ from other Christian confessions (in which case, one would need a specifically Orthodox way of talking about sex and gender), or are there enough similarities that other Christian confessions about sexuality and gender can enter the conversation?

- The Orthodox church has deep conviction about the value of its tradition.  This is a very good thing -- and yet I believe it can be difficult to discern where divinely instituted tradition and cultural norms overlap.  For example, the Orthodox church, by tradition, does not ordain women -- and yet there appears to be lively debate in pockets here and there on the Internet (and I would presume in congregations, as well) about that tradition.  One post I saw said, "We should be cautious that the question of the ordination of women did not arise in the first 1,950 years after Christ."  How do we know that question did not arise because, for the first 1,950 years after Christ (and for thousands of years before Him!), women were not allowed to have positions of power in almost every situation?  The larger question here being:  how has the Orthodox church discerned when to separate from cultural norms, and when to go along with them?  Does that have any bearing on the conversation about sexuality and gender?

- Finally, and what I think most importantly:  your question, at heart, has personal consequences.  You want to know if you can still love your church.  To that, I ask:  what about Orthodox Christianity draws you in?  Is it the teaching of the Holy Tradition?  Is it the beauty of art and ritual and how it connects you with the divine?  Is it the spiritual pilgrimage throughout life by which you seek to better imitate Christ?  Find what makes you long for the church.  That is where the question has to be answered-- not in theology but in how you experience the work of God in your life.  If the thing that draws you in is the uncorrupted Holy Tradition and the patristic consensus, you may struggle more with how to integrate LGBTQ welcome into that; I don't perceive a lot of space allowed for change within the tradition.  But if what speaks to you is the beauty of liturgy, or theosis, or something else, then there might be more space for both what you love about the Orthodox church and what you understand about LGBTQ rights.

I'm deeply honored that you came to me with this question and I hope my stumblings in the dark are of some help to you on your way.  Know that my askbox is always open.  I am admittedly not the most knowledgeable on this subject (and many others!), but I try to know and love people where they are, and I'd be honored to walk this with you in whatever capacity is helpful to you.

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