April 19, 2014

Facebook “Listening” Group Drags Culture Wars into the Orthodox Church

By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Progressive fads sweep through the culture like clockwork. Remember the impending global ice age in the 1970s that morphed into global warming today? How about the fight about abortion where anyone who dared criticize it was branded as a hater of women? Remember the Equal Rights Amendment and how convinced its supporters were that it was absolutely necessary for a just society?

None of these movements should be taken lightly of course but that doesn’t disqualify them as fads. There is always a strong strain of self-justification among Progressive Culture Warriors; a posturing that creates a facade of virtue and labels the critic as ignorant. Fellow travelers bask in that warm glow of imputed righteousness that they generously confer on each other. The rest of us can return to our caves.

That kind of arrogance informs the new Facebook group “Listening: Breaking the Silence on Sexuality with the Orthodox Church.” The tendentious title is the first clue something is seriously skewed. What silence needs to be “broken”? Who are the people breaking it? Is the Orthodox Church really silent on sexuality?

As it turns out, the only sexuality that occupies the “Listening” group is homosexuality. They oppose the prohibitions against homosexual behavior in the Orthodox moral tradition. The prohibitions go back to Apostolic times, but their rejection of them is only whispered — a silence they still don’t want broken apparently.

The Invitation To ‘Dialogue’

We’ve seen these arguments before, particularly in the Episcopalian Church that has been largely decimated by homosexual activism in the last three decades. Liberal activists overtook that once noble communion and forced the traditionalists out the door. The prognosis is dire. (See: When the Lights Go Out: The Death of a Denomination, and What Does The Future Hold For The Church Of England?)

The decline started out innocently enough. Traditionalists were invited to “dialogue” (a favorite term) about lifting the moral prohibitions against homosexuality. Many of the arguments heard on the Listening group were ones first uttered by these Episcopalian activists. Some were even true especially the assertion that we need a better understanding of homosexual pathology, that some homosexuals have suffered, and that some young people don’t know how to deal with homosexual feelings, among others.

Nevertheless, accepting the invitation to dialogue undermined foundations. When the operating assumption is that the moral tradition is wrong in its prohibitions, then the only way dialogue can be meaningful is when the traditionalist detaches himself from the authority of his tradition.

We call this moral relativism where no abiding truth, no moral universals, are believed to exist. Truth becomes relative. The touchstone for truth is not God but man, and every man is free to decide for himself what is true and what is a lie. In the dominant culture moral relativism reigns supreme. In the Orthodox Church however, we guide our lives and decisions according to the tradition we have received.

The traditionalist entered the dialogue with the deck stacked against him. As it turned out, the invitation to dialogue was a ruse, a way to undermine the confidence the traditionalist had in his tradition and ultimately many were driven out. The activists ascended into positions of authority so that when the purge of traditionalists began, they were able to hang onto the buildings, endowments, and key ministries. Today, the traditionalists are exiled in the desert.

My ’Dialogue’ With A Moderator of the Listening Group

No one is arguing that the Facebook activists have motives this sinister, but their thinking is no different than their Episcopalian counterparts. Consider this “dialogue” I had recently with one of the group’s moderators:

The moderator (and founder) wrote:

“We” (Orthodox Christians supportive of and participating in the kinds of dialogue we have in the Listening group) and “you” (Orthodox Christians opposed to this dialogue), have, sadly, become enemies. It seems to me that dialogue between us is not possible right now. This should be a source of grief rather than anger. It is for me. In this situation I want to try to take very seriously our Lord’s admonition to pray for our enemies. That simple teaching contains one of the great, inescapable truths of the Gospels. I think it’s the best thing we can do, and it’s a very good thing. I very sincerely ask you—readers of this site—to pray for us. And I sincerely offer my prayers on your behalf as well. May God bless us all, grant us all a spirit of repentance, and lead us all to Truth.

My response:

Pardon my bluntness, but your argument has the odor of sanctimonious posturing. The language confirms it: “This should be a source of grief rather than anger,” or “In this situation I want to try to take very seriously our Lord’s admonition to pray for our enemies,” for example. You imply that we should join together in feigned concern over a division that you have created. No thanks.

In reality the divisions are clear: One group approaches the prohibitions against homosexual behavior as an open question and the other regards it as closed. And no, the traditionalists don’t see the liberals as “enemies” but as flat out wrong. There’s a world of difference between the two and any prattle about “loving your enemies” blurs this critical distinction. Frankly, using the injunction to “love your enemies” to justify your notion of dialogue abuses the moral vocabulary. Any Christian who has faced the task of forgiving a real enemy knows this.

My response was harsh but necessary. Obscuring real intentions with overwrought language (what I call “Ortho-speak”) is an occupational hazard with us Orthodox and it is fully evident here. If the language of the moral tradition is employed in ways that undermine it (whether or not the moderator is aware of it is irrelevant), then strong reproof is warranted. The moderator must understand that for the Orthodox the question about moral prohibitions is closed. No dialogue is needful or desired.

If we want to think clearly, then we have to deal with what words really mean, not what we want them to mean. And no amount of self-justifying rhetoric about this or that putative virtue lifts this requirement. There is no “grief” or “hatred of one’s enemies” evident here. We see only the muddled thinking and ignorance of the neophyte.

Guideposts Keep Us On The Path

The moral prohibitions serve as guideposts, as warnings or barriers to us. If we cross them, then we enter onto a path that leads to death instead of life. God is merciful and has provided us the way out of the death into which our sins have led us. But what happens when sin is not called sin anymore? What happens when the guidepost is removed or the warning muted and the barrier taken down? Then we walk in darkness. The way to salvation is harder to find.

That’s one of the gravest threats the Listening group presents. If they succeed in removing the guidepost that names homosexual behavior as sin, then they also remove the hope that the person struggling with same-sex desire has for healing from God. In theological terms, the group preaches an incipient antinomianism; they stand against the law of God even though they cover their rebellion with the language of benevolence and compassion. (See: The Challenge of Antinomianism: You Mean the Gospel Isn’t All About Mercy?)

The Listening group needs to unplug their ears and hear this: When the moral prohibitions are discarded, then the anthropology to which they point is jettisoned along with them. The prohibitions do not exist in a theological vacuum. They draw from deep insight and knowledge about the human being that in some cases took centuries to comprehend and develop and serves today as the foundation to better understand homosexual pathology and how to deal with it.

Moreover, when the anthropology is jettisoned, something else has to take its place. If one really believes that the moral tradition has nothing to say about sexuality (the Church is “silent,” remember?), then ideas from popular culture will be solicited to fill the vacuum. But many of these ideas are false.

For example, one dominant assumption of the group is that homosexual identity is fixed. The jury is still out on this. The Center for Disease Control just released a study (.pdf) that only 1.7% of the population is homosexual and 35% of this number is bisexual. The study cites that only approximately 420,000 people in all of the United States are actually committed homosexuals. Many men move into homosexuality for a season and then move out. Homosexual self-identity is not as fixed as the gay lobby or the Listening group would have us believe. (See: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Study Says Only 1.4% of Population Homosexual.)

Another assumption is that if one criticizes the dominant homosexual apologetic, then one lacks the compassion to effectively deal with the person struggling with same-sex desire. This is perhaps the most pernicious misconception of all because it disqualifies the traditionalist a priori and thus excludes the anthropology that needs to be brought forward.

So Who Really Is The ‘Listening’ Group?

The point that must be understood is this: If the Listening group believes that the Church is “silent” on sexuality and that they have been called to “break” that silence, then the source of their thinking has to draw from something other than the moral tradition. Their purpose then is not dialogue. It can’t be. Rather they want to be the gate-keepers, the commissars of acceptable ideas and speech. It simply cannot be anything else.

Unfortunately many in the group display an immaturity and ignorance about the ideas that they champion. They are probably not aware of it, but they function as the religious arm of Gay Inc. – a term familiar to more discerning observers of the culture. (See: The Bad Faith of Michele Bachmann’s Gay Rights Inquisitors.)

They also enjoy berating converts (“American Orthodoxy has a convert problem” is a favorite refrain applied to their critics) but who really are the neophytes here? They collect the ideas of the dominant culture, swash them with a religious patina and call the enterprise Orthodox. But we aren’t interested in repeating the Episcopalian project in our Orthodox Church, thank you. Maybe they would be more comfortable in the new and improved Episcopalian communion.

The Listening group has to stop dragging the culture wars into the Church. The prohibition against homosexual behavior is a closed question. The moral tradition does not need to be retooled and there is no need for “dialogue.”

True compassion sees the person struggling with same-sex desire as a person first and not as a “homosexual.” That’s what our tradition teaches. False compassion redefines the person in terms of his passion. That’s what the homosexual lobby teaches. Throw out the prohibitions however, and this distinction is lost. The knowledge that informs them will be lost with it.

Webmasters, fell free to republish. Please include a link pointing back to this page. For you convenience, copy the html code and put it right into your site. All formatting is complete. We will feed the image to you.

Comments

  1. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top

    Well said Father! Thank you.

    In Christ,

    FrG

  2. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Eliot Ryan says:

    These people are either really confused or they are goats or wolves. Wolves are those who come in and drag sheep away into sin. They look and talk like sheep and they make themselves look holy… but by their fruit you will know them. Their fruit is false and destructive teachings. The Shepherd should call them what they are -evildoers- and call upon them to repent of their sin.

  3. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Rob says:

    How successful, generally, are these “reparative therapies” for those who are dedicated and seeking to change?

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Chris Jones says:

      There was no mention of “reparative therapies” in Fr Hans’s article. Why, then, are you asking about them?

      It is true that Fr Hans suggested that “homosexual identity” is not fixed. Whether Father is right about that, I do not know. But simply saying that homosexual identity is something that can change and does change is not the same thing as saying that it is something that can be changed by some sort of technique. And simply saying that it can change is not an endorsement of any particular sort of therapy. You are reading far too much into what Fr Hans wrote.

      I take Father’s point in that line to be simply that repentance is possible. Surely any Christian, and certainly any Orthodox Christian, would agree with that. If we are going to read something into what Father wrote, I should presume that he would say that the way to repentance for a Christian struggling with homosexuality is to use the traditional tools offered by the Church: the counsel of a wise spiritual father, prayer, fasting, and regular participation in the liturgical life and the sacraments (especially Confession) of the Church.

      That is not what is usually meant by “reparative therapy,” although if you think about it, the Church’s spiritual tools deserve the name of “therapy” better than do the techniques that usually go by that name.

  4. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Richard Kendall says:

    Excellent piece Father. I am posting it on the Orthodox Forum where it is desparately needed!

  5. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top

    Excellent article! Great work Fr. Hans!

  6. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top

    Good show Father.

    As for compassion, i was raised in the episcopal church. I watched it fall apart in the 1980′s and 90′s when the rot really set in. I watched thousands of people lose and leave everything they loved in more ways than one. Now I did not become Orthodox primarily because the TEC was going down the tubes, but how some “compassion” for the many thousands who have left the TEC and became Orthodox? What about their suffering? Wither shall we go?

    As far as I can tell, the active participants on that list are really, theologically speaking, episcopallians (code-Unitarians). There is nothing distinctly Orthodox about their outlook, let alone distinctly Christian.

  7. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top

    I think it is wrong to speak of this kind of attitude as moral relativism. It is moral absolutism. It is insisting that the Orthodox Church change its understanding of morality to fit in with another model, another pattern, another absolute.

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      I’ll buy that but it is still the absolutism of the relativist. “Do you believe that all morality is relative? Absolutely!”

  8. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Chaplain Dan Regan says:

    Thank you Father Jacobse, very well put. I will Keep you in my prayers Father… Pax

  9. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top

    Thank you Father. I have got a real delight observing your mastery of putting dots above ‘i’-s. Your argumentation is precise as in math.

  10. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top

    These “compassionate dialoguers”, who brought the culture wars inside the Orthodox Church, as Fr. Hans has rightly said, want to take the Narrow Road of the Christian faith and turn it into a eight (8) lane highway. They are oblivious to the fact that the type of “love” and “compassion” they preach is a secular and “worldly” love that is divorced from reality, Truth, from Christ, the Faith of the Apostles, and the moral teaching of the Church. It is a “love” that makes the speaker feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but sentences the person struggling with this passion to a life of confusion, despair, alienation, and darkness. It is a “love” that removes the only medicine that will help the patient from dealing with the affliction. They are offering band-aids to someone who needs a heart transplant.

  11. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Eliot Ryan says:

    Lately I’ve been listening to Fr. Thomas’ Hopko reflections on Ancient Faith Radio. He has a lot to say and his reflections reveal interesting insights about the world we live in. It is phenomenal how fast the world is changing, and it is a change for the worse.
    The New Year and the End of the Age is a powerful and prophetic talk!
    The emphasis I added myself.

    [...]
    And then it says, “Lead us not not into temptation” [which] means, “Let us stand in the trials and the testings and the temptations of the final tribulation of the Anti-Christs, the sons of perdition, the men of lawlessness, the demonic age when the devil is let loose. Let us stand in that age, because that’s the last age. And let us not apostatize. Let us be faithful to Christ as Christ is, to God as God really is. Let us be real Christians. Let us be real members of Christ’s body as his Church. Let us not be heretical, schismatical apostates and perverts and perverting the very Gospel of Christ himself and saying all kinds of things in the name of God and Christ that are simply not true.”

    “That’s the end of the world,” the professor said. And he said that he thought at that time, in the 1970s, it had not yet come.

    So the question I would raise today, for us, in our conversation now: has it come? Is it now here? And, boy, oh boy, I can tell you folks, I’m really tempted to think that it is. I’m really tempted to think that it is. As one Russian Orthodox priest said to me a few years ago; he said, “What the prison camps and the barbed wire and the forced labor and the machine guns and the murderers and the executions of Christians could not accomplish, Western secularization will. It’ll kill the souls of people. In the name of freedom, they will revolt against Christ and against God himself. And they will change the Gospel.”

    And so this priest told me; he said, “The Western investment, the computer chip, the drugs and alcohol, the discos, the porno—when that triumphs, and is even defended by Christians, when they kill their own kids in the womb, when they claim you should be free to marry anybody you want to, however many times and not even get married if you don’t want to, when bishops even, claiming to be bishops, could be married multiple times, and if they are married, they could be married to men if they’re men, and women if they’re women, and you have lesbian bishops and gay bishops and 13-times-married bishops, and people, sexually active and not-married bishops and all that, where you have the whole New Testament being [re-]written, where you have the divinity of Christ being denied, where you have the resurrection of Christ being denied, where the Church is nothing but an inclusive society where everybody can celebrate ‘life’ as they defined it—that’s going to be the end of the world. That’s the end of the age. That’s when you can know the end is really near.”

    [...]

    We should obey our Lord, who said, “When I come in glory, either at the moment of your personal death or at the end of the world, I want to find you repenting. I want to find you working. I want to find you weeping over the sins of the world and your own sins. I want to find you singing, ‘Alleluia’ to God.

  12. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    John of Memphis says:

    Why are the people of the listening group not corrected by there Bishops or Local Priests isnt teaching heresy openly through the church a heresy in itself ….. I was accused of being heterodox by these people.. Yet they openly push out real orthodox and are trying to replace congregations of episcoplians and left wing activists in hiding?

  13. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Luda says:

    thank you, well said, Father, “false compassion” indeed. I would add: self serving false compassion. ..and no, your previous reply to David O. was not harsh at all and I would say to them: read the Gospel, it does not get harsher than that…

Trackbacks

  1. [...] case any readers are wondering where I stand, this post pretty much sums up my thoughts, though Fr. Jacobse is much more polite than I am. I say throw the [...]

Care to comment?

*