April 16, 2014

Fr. Thomas Hopko: The Homosexual Christian

Fr. Thomas Hopko

Source: OrthodoxyToday.org

Many gay men and lesbians claim that the Christian faith is the guiding rule of their lives. Some of them hold that their sexual orientation is given by God, that it is good, and that there is nothing wrong or sinful with their homosexual activities. These persons say that the Bible and Church Tradition do not condemn homosexual behaviour, but have been misinterpreted and misused, sometimes unknowingly and other times quite willfully, by prejudiced and hostile people who hate homosexuals. Those who believe in this way obviously want others to agree with them, and many are now working hard to have their views accepted, particularly by fellow Christians and Church leaders.

Other homosexual Christians hold that their sexual orientation is not from God – except providentially, since the Lord’s plan inevitably involves human freedom and sin but derives from human fault. While some of these people are not willing or able to identify the specific reasons for their sexual feelings, though still affirming that they are not good and are not to be indulged; others with the help of what they believe to be sound biblical interpretation and accurate psychological analysis, identify the source of their sexual orientation in faults and failures in their family experiences, particularly in early childhood, and perhaps even before that, which contribute to their sexual makeup. These people hold that they are called by God to struggle against their homosexual tendencies as all people are called to struggle against the sinful passions which they find within themselves, while they work to heal the causes of their disorientation and disease. Those who hold this position look to their fellow Christians, especially their Church leaders, for support and assistance in their spiritual struggle.

The Orthodox Position

Given the traditional Orthodox understanding of the Old and New Testament scriptures as expressed in the Church’s liturgical worship, sacramental rites, canonical regulations and lives and teachings of the saints, it is clear that the Orthodox Church identifies solidly with those Christians, homosexual and heterosexual, who consider homosexual orientation as a disorder and disease, and who therefore consider homosexual actions as sinful and destructive.

According to Orthodox Christian witness over the centuries, Biblical passages such as the following do not permit any other interpretation but that which is obvious.

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination . . . (Leviticus 20:13)

For this reason (i.e. their refusal to acknowledge, thank and glorify God) God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameful acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral (or fornicators), nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals (or sodomites; literally those who have coitus, or who sleep, with men), nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Unwilled Sins

According to the Orthodox Church not all sins are willful and voluntary, and not all acts of sin are the conscious fault of those who do them; at least not at first. In a word, sin is not always something for which the sinner himself or herself is necessarily culpable in a complete and conscious way. There are sins of ignorance and passion, sins which “work in our members,” as St. Paul says, even against our rational and conscious wills. (See Romans 6-8) These are the sins referred to in the Church’s prayers when the faithful beg God for forgiveness and pardon of sins which are not only conscious, but unconscious; not only voluntary, but involuntary.

There are sins which are involuntary, unwilled, unchosen; sins which overcome people and force them by irrational impulses and compulsions, by weaknesses of the flesh, emotional drives and misguided desires into actions which they themselves do not want, and often despise and abhor – even when they are engaging in them. These are known traditionally as the sins of passion. The fact that these sins are not freely chosen do not make them any less sinful. To sin means to miss the mark, to be off the track, to deviate, to defile, to transgress . . . whether or not the act is consciously willed and purposefully enacted; and whether or not the offender personally is freely and fully at fault.

Redeemed Sinners

According to Orthodox Church Tradition, Christians are redeemed sinners. They are human beings who have been saved from sickness and sin, delivered from the devil and death by God’s grace through faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit’s power: “and such were some of you.” (1 Cor. 6:10) They are baptized into Christ and sealed with the Spirit in order to live God’s life in the Church. They witness to their faith by regular participation in liturgical worship and eucharistic communion, accompanied by continual confession, repentance and the steadfast struggle against every form of sin, voluntary and involuntary, which attempts to destroy their lives in this world and in the age to come.

The homosexual Christian is called to a particularly rigorous battle. His or her struggle is an especially ferocious one. It is not made any easier by the mindless, truly demonic hatred of those who despise and ridicule those who carry this painful and burdensome cross; nor by the mindless, equally demonic affirmation of homosexual activity by its misguided advocates and enablers.

Like all temptations, passions and sins, including those deeply, and oftentimes seemingly indelibly embedded in our nature by our sorrowful inheritance, homosexual orientation can be cured and homosexual actions can cease. With God all things are possible. When homosexual Christians are willing to struggle, and when they receive patient, compassionate and authentically loving assistance from their families and friends – each of whom is struggling with his or her own temptations and sins; for no one is without this struggle in one form or another, and no one is without sin but God – the Lord guarantees victory in ways known to Himself. The victory, however, belongs only to the courageous souls who acknowledge their condition, face their resentments, express their angers, confess their sins, forgive their offenders (who always include their parents and members of their households), and reach out for help with the genuine desire to be healed. Jesus himself promises that the saintly heroes who “persevere to the end” along this “hard way which leads to life” will surely “be saved.” (Matt. 7:13; 24:13)

” . . . the Lord guarantees victory in ways known to Himself”


Bibliography on Sexuality

Barnhouse, Ruth Tiffany, Homosexuality: A Symbolic Confusion. The Seabury Press, New York, 1977.
Clark, Stephen B., Man and Woman in Christ: An Examination of the Roles of Men and Women in Light of Scripture and the Social Sciences. Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1980, 753 pp.
Gelpi, Donald J., S.J., Divine Mother, A Trinitarian Examination of the Holy Spirit. University Press of America, New York, 1984, 245 pp.
Groeschel, Benedict J. OFM Cap., The Courage to Be Chaste. Paulist Press, New York/Mahwah, 1985, 114 pp.
Johnson, Robert A, He: Understanding Masculine Psychology. Religious Publishing Company, 1974. Harper& Row, New York, 1977,89 pp.
Johnson, Robert A., She: Understanding Feminine Psychology. Religious Publishing Company, 1976. Harper& Row, New York, 1977, 77 pp.
Moberly, Elizabeth R., Psychogenesis: The Early Development of Gender Identity. Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited, London, Boston Melbourne and Henley, 1983, 111 pp.
Oddie, William, What Will Happen to God?: Feminism and the Reconstruction of Christian Belief. SPCK, London, 1984, 159 pp.
Payne, Leanne, Crisis in Masculinity. Crossway Books, Westchester, Illinois, 1985, 143 pp.
Broken Image, The: Restoring Personal Wholeness through Healing Prayer. Crossway . . . 1981, 187 pp.
Healing of the Homosexual. Crossway. . . 1985, 48 pp.
Quay, Paul J., S.J., Ph.D., Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality. A Credo House Book, Evanston, Illinois, 1985, 113 pp.
Stern, Karl, Flight From Woman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1965.
Trible, Phyllis, God and Rhetoric of Sexuality. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1978, 206 pp.
Vanier, Jean, Man and Woman, God Made Them. Foreword by Henri J. Nouwen, Paulist Press, Mahwah/New York, 1985, 177 pp.

V. Rev. Thomas Hopko is Dean Emritus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

From Word Magazine, a publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. January 1987.

Comments

  1. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Harry Coin says:

    I hope OCANews prints this welcome reflection as well, as it did with some of Fr. Hopko’s earlier writing.

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      gregd01 says:

      Somehow I doubt this one will make it onto that site.

      • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
        Harry Coin says:

        There was a time I would have been amazed that OCA News hadn’t printed it. But, now that the editor is now the chairman of the OCA’s governance committee, and printing articles advocating something else, well, I didn’t see it coming.

  2. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Fr George Elliott says:

    Very good and compassionate article! Thank You!

  3. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    John Panos says:

    The homosexual Christian is called to a particularly rigorous battle. His or her struggle is an especially ferocious one…

    I beg to differ. It is the same temptation that every ‘heterosexual Christian’ wages every day – the struggle to lead a chaste life. It is hard outside of marriage, sure, but ‘particularly rigorous’ and ‘especially ferocious’ ? Not a chance.

    This kind of statement still lends itself to the homosexual as the particular victim of Christianity – the ‘special’ case. Every single Christian must lead a chaste life – chaste meaning no sexual activity outside the boundaries of sacramental marriage. Everyone. No exceptions – even if you’re gay.

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Rob says:

      Rigorous because the expectation is a life of celibacy, not just chastity. Certainly, those who are attracted to their own gender can choose heterosexual marriage, but I’m not sure how many heterosexuals would knowingly marry a gay person. I’m not a pastor, but if I were, I’d advise a heterosexual against marrying a homosexual, no matter how dedicated either party professes to be. Celibacy is more than just committing to no sexual activity until one’s death, by the way: it’s a commitment to a life of perpetual bachelorhood and singleness … to be a “eunuch” for the sake of the Kingdom. “He one who can accept this should accept it.” – Matthew 19:12

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Hieromonk Mark says:

      I agree with Fr. George Elliott’s response: a good article. But I think that John and Rob are missing the mark, not through any fault of their own but because no one is addressing (i.e., challenging) the PC myth of ‘homosexuality’ as a ‘born that way, can’t change’ unalterable essential difference between ‘us’ and ‘them.’

      Objective (i.e., non-pro-gay) research and the increasing success people are having with healing therapies that address same sex attraction (i.e., SSA, which is the more useful term in describing the real issue) disprove the whole ‘gay’ ideology, which is rooted in Marxist theory and is being used by the ‘dark side’ to destroy Christian society, by dividing people into conflicting camps and fostering fear, hatred, alienation, suffering and class conflict based on false categories and distorted distinctions or differences among people. See Kirk & Madsen’s ‘After the Ball,’ a homosexual manifesto published by Plume Books in 1989.

      Life long celibacy (i.e., telling people with SSA just to tough it out with no hope of any satisfying and comforting human intimacy in their lives, while inwardly sighing a sigh of relief that one doesn’t have to take one’s own advice) just does not provide a satisfactory answer. Nor any credible answer at all.

      The good news that many people are discovering is the CHANGE IS POSSIBLE (start here: http://www.gaytostraight.org/home0.aspx)! That is the message that needs to be communicated with humility, compassion, love and acceptance, not acceptance of the affectual condition of SSA or of the behaviour it suggests to a person experiencing SSA, but honest and truth-based love, acceptance, support and nurturing of the person, the child of God, whose SSA no more distinguishes him or her from other persons than do any of the numerous other passions, wounds, pains and kinds of brokenness everyone experiences and with which we are all called to struggle, not that we may remain unchanged, just enduring our crosses (or, worse, exalting them as badges of honour or even superiority) but that we may be healed and brought to wholeness through our struggles with our crosses, our passions, our brokenness.

      Perhaps I sound like a broken record, but no one seems to get the point and move the discussion in a different direction. Until we break away from the Gramcian PC terms of argument and categories of thought and the unexamined and tacitly accepted false assumptions concealed behind them, I do not believe that this battle can be won.

      • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
        Eliot Ryan says:

        Indeed, the ex-gay perspective (change is possible) must be given equal time. We read about tolerance when we are actually facing an extremely slick gay propaganda. To those who don’t want to hear, the truth sounds like a broken record. Often people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want to quit sinning.

      • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
        Karen says:

        Hieromonk Mark and Eliot,

        I believe that change is possible for many, by God’s grace, and we do well to balance the worldly propaganda to the contrary, as you say. On the other hand, many Christians who experience SSA (perhaps the majority of them) will, despite their faithfulness, likely struggle for their lifetime on some level and may never experience heterosexual attraction.

        From my reading that seems to be the conclusion, at least, of many Christians who have tried to use the Exodus strategy to change their orientation with God’s help and not experienced the deliverance they sought. I’m not arguing any of us is solely subject to our genes. I’m no expert at what combination of (fallen) nature/nurture contributes to this deviation from the norm (SSA) in the small percentage of the population affected. What I am suggesting is that we allow that for perhaps the majority of those who struggle with SSA God will not necessarily grant the grace of deliverance from the struggle and transformation to heterosexual attraction, but as in the case of St. Paul with his “thorn” will make His grace sufficient, DESPITE the ongoing struggle, for transformation of character into the likeness of Christ, in His humility, compassion, and purity.

        I think this is the message of hope we can extend without qualification to our brothers and sisters who struggle with SSA. Hopefully, we can also extend real empathy, support, friendship and brotherly/sisterly affection, and, in so doing, stand in true solidarity with them as they face the onslaught from the enemy of souls.

        • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
          Eliot Ryan says:

          Karen:

          We’re all messed up because we live in a fallen world. Humanity, alienated from God, finds comfort in rotten things like worldly possessions, sinful pleasures and lust for power. Our nature, if not corrupted, would just naturally know God and long for God. Everything else would be secondary.

          If truly faithful, a person with SSA will struggle against the temptation to commit the sodomite sin, like any sinner struggling against his sinful nature. The focus should be on God and not in trying to experience heterosexual attraction.
          If God is the focus of our life, then slowly the order is restored.
          “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added onto you.”
          The Christian life is a warfare against our corrupted nature; it is a voluntary crucifixion of the body with all of its passion and self-will.

          Elder Anthony describes the world we live in as revealed in one of his visions:

          I see a huge crowd of people, streaming forward as if drawn by some unseen force. While in this constant motion, some people are feasting, some fornicating, others plotting evil against their fellow men. And all this – while they are moving forwards. [...] A greater part of the people are simply thrusting their way ahead, with no concern for others, while a minor part are moving calmly.

          An awning abyss lies ahead, leading into Hell. A majority of the people, upon reaching it, are plunged down. Moreover, not only the rich, but the people strained in means also hurtle down into Hell. For they share one common idol – the lusts of the world. There are others, who do not hurtle down, but descend slowly, only to be lifted up by certain luminous persons, who help them across. While still others calmly cross, or better still – fly across the abyss, their feet not touching the ground.

Care to comment?

*