This essay responds to Fr. Robert Arida’s essay “
Never Changing Gospel; Ever Changing Culture” NOTE: Due to an outpouring of criticism, the OCA was forced to retract Arida’s article. You can read it on the WayBack Machine (internet archives).
By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse
A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional…values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process. C.S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man”Whenever you hear generalized sentiments about how the dominant culture is changing and that “fundamentalism” prevents the Church from changing along with it, then you can be sure that competing values lurk close behind. Sooner or later those values appear. It’s as predictable as the beetle boring into dung.
Archpriest Robert M. Arida doesn’t disappoint. In his recent essay “Never Changing Gospel; Ever Changing Culture”* Arida concocts a brew of disconnected statements to conclude that:
If the never changing Gospel who is Jesus Christ is to have a credible presence and role in our culture, then the Church can no longer ignore or condemn questions and issues that are presumed to contradict or challenge its living Tradition. Among the most controversial of these issues are those related to human sexuality, the configuration of the family, the beginning and ending of human life, the economy and the care and utilization of the environment including the care, dignity and quality of all human life.
These words sound so smooth and so reasonable. No wonder. Sentimental thinking produces brews that are easy to swallow. But how reasonable are they?
Not long ago the Episcopalian Church faced the dilemma that Arida wants to introduce into the Orthodox Church: Should moral legitimacy be granted to homosexual pairings that was previously reserved only for heterosexual, monogamous marriage?
Episcopalians fought each other for several decades over the question and the traditionalists lost. But why did they lose? How could a position so clearly outlined in the Christian moral tradition be jettisoned so quickly? How could the language of the tradition be so successfully manipulated to overturn what that same tradition disallowed?
To understand how this occurred we have to understand something about the Episcopalian Church. Episcopalian society is a polite society. Polite societies are civil. Those who wanted moral parity for homosexual pairings argued under the rubric of basic human fairness and decency. All discussion was reduced to the personal and Episcopalian traditionalists found it hard to rebut the liberal ideas without violating the rules of polite discourse.
Liberalism and reductionism work hand in hand. The reasoning goes like this: When the personal becomes political the more difficult questions are left unasked because asking them is offensive to homosexuals. These questions reach deep into religious and cultural assumptions, some that reach back over two millennia.
The unasked questions include: How do we address the shift in human anthropology that is at the center of the homosexual question (“I am what I feel”), the cultural ramification of homosexual adoptions, the redefinition of marriage from family to romantic unit, the legal ramifications of sexual orientation as a protected right, and more.
Orthodox culture is different. Unlike the Episcopalians, Orthodox liberals prefer appearances of gravitas over politeness. When the liberals have a point to make, they draw out the big guns like theologian Fr. Georges Florovsky, offer allusions to recent thinkers like Fr. Alexander Schmemann, provide the obligatory criticism or two of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, cite a relevant quote from the Fathers — all the elements necessary to enforce civility through presumptions of authority and erudition.
Episcopalian liberals won the debates but they lost their church. In their rush to become relevant they became a byword for irrelevancy. The same will happen to the Orthodox Church if it trades the teachings of the moral tradition for acceptance by the dominant culture. Appearances of gravitas are just that – appearances. Esau lost the inheritance for a bowl of pottage. So can the Orthodox.
Sentimentalism never replaces clear thinking. It merely seeks to shut down debate. Arida reveals as much when he writes:
If the Church is to engage culture, if it is to contribute to the culture and if it is to synthesize what is good, true and beautiful coming from the culture to further the Gospel then it will have to expose and ultimately expel the “new and alien spirits” that have weakened its authentic voice. Among these spirits are Biblical fundamentalism and the inability to critique and build upon the writings and vision of the Fathers. A tragic consequence of these spirits is a Christianity of ethical systems that usurp the voice of Christ and distort the beauty of his face. It is the saving and transfiguring voice and presence of Christ that we are expected to offer the ever-changing culture.
Contrary to Arida, the defense of the moral tradition is not an introduction of “new and alien spirits” and not the usurpation of the “voice of Christ” or the distortion of the “beauty of His face.” The opposite is true. Arida introduces the “new and alien spirit” because his attempt to legitimize homosexual pairings violates Orthodox self-understanding and practice. The Orthodox Church has always been tolerant of sinners because Christ is merciful, but it has never been tolerant of sin or redefined sin as righteousness.
This point is not lost on Arida who blames resistance to his Episcopalian impulse on the “converts”:
First, there is among Orthodox Christians the idea that nothing changes in the Church. In fact, we know that many adult converts have been lured to Orthodoxy by this misconception (emphasis Arida).
But is this really true? No one really believes that nothing changes. Arida’s real complaint is that the converts don’t embrace the change that he thinks they should.
So what is the endgame? Should we work to find favor with the dominant culture? Should we subject the Orthodox Church to the same risk of collapse that all mainstream Protestant denominations experienced when they went sexually liberal? Do we strut our Orthodox gravitas to hide the fact that we employ the language of the moral tradition in order to subvert it?
And what should we do about Arida and his enablers? Here’s an idea. Why not let those who want to Episcopalianize the Orthodox Church become Episcopalian? That way the liberals remain happy and the Orthodox don’t have to fight the culture wars that the liberals want to drag into the Church.
“Never Changing Gospel; Ever Changing Culture” by Fr. Robert Arida, OCA Wonder (http://wonder.oca.org/2014/11/01/never-changing-gospel-ever-changing-culture/)