Orthodoxy and Obama’s conscience clause

A friend sent me an email earlier today. Search Google, he said, with the terms conscience rule obama catholic bishops and conscience rule obama orthodox bishops and then compare the two.

Not very impressive. (Actually, the AOI blog article on Abp. Demetrios’ awkward praise of Pres. Obama ranks first in Google, but that’s beside the point.) It got me to thinking.

If there is ever a need for Orthodox unity, the time is now. The authority of the Orthodox moral tradition far exceeds our numbers, but that authority has to be exercised. As long as we remain disunited our voice is muted and the culture does not receive the direction it needs. The Catholic Bishops understand this, just as they understand that the life issues are a matter of not only personal life and death, but cultural life and death. That is why they are ready to use their authority to clarify these issues and, if necessary, offer moral resistance. It is time for us to step up too.

Apart from the GOA, the Orthodox jurisdictions are consistent in their defense of life. We certainly could — and need — to do more, but there is really no confusion about what the tradition teaches. Met. Jonah, like all the OCA primates before him is a leader at the March for Life. The AOA published a stellar essay in The Word (Orthodoxy and the Unborn Child .pdf), a few months back with clear teaching on abortion. The cover featured an icon of the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth with Jesus and John the Forerunner in-utero. Powerful stuff. I have to assume all the other jurisdictions teach the same thing although they don’t have the public prominence of the “Big 3.” The GOA, as we know, stays silent on these issues for fear of offending the liberal politicians they need to cultivate; an odorous off-shoot of the Hellenism-Orthodoxy confusion that afflicts the leadership.

Imagine if we had a functioning synod of Bishops who understood the workings of American culture and who could speak to these issues with the clarity that the Orthodox moral tradition provides. We might actually make a difference. We certainly would be lighting a candle for those looking for light.


  1. Chris Banescu :

    The conscience clause reversal issue is still on Obama’s agenda and yet another related restriction has been included in the latest legislation. According to a July 17, 2009 article from the Washington Times:

    the president’s $635 billion off-budget reserve fund for remaking American health care includes eight principles that deny both consumers’ freedom to choose their health care provider and health care providers’ freedom to choose not to kill unborn babies through abortion. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jul/17/rejected-conscience-clause/

    That same article also mentions that:

    In February, Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, tried to remedy this situation by attaching a conscience clause to the budget. This ninth principle — although nonbinding — was defeated 56 to 41 along mostly party lines. Three Republican senators — Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (now a Democrat), Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine voted against; three Democrat senators — Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania voted for the provision.

    On Monday, Mr. Coburn reintroduced his amendment in the key Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pension, where it was again promptly voted down along party lines

    What’s disheartening is that Greek Orthodox Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) was among those who voted against attaching a conscience clause to the budget. She is the same Olympia Snowe who together with Greek Orthodox Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) also voted against a ban on partial birth abortions a few years ago.

    You can read the full details of that betrayal of the Orthodox moral tradition here:
    Senators Sarbanes and Snowe Betray the Moral Heritage of the Orthodox Christian Faith

    We’re waiting to see if and when the GOA actually takes a stand with regards to this moral issue and whether they have the courage to admonish Senator Snowe. They did nothing back in 2003 when the two Greek Orthodox Senators defended partial birth abortion so odds are they may choose to keep silent this time around also.

  2. cynthia curran :

    I think that we should approach this carefully. I was listening to a homily online by a father Theodosius who is on the other side. He told a story of a protestant pastor that opposed aboration and call these women murderers. While there is truth to this, he also mention about another incident of a woman who stopped coming to church because she saw herself of a murderess. She was later on convince to come back to church. I agree that Orthodox politicans should vote diffently but we need to avoid the sterotypes of some conservative protestants or catholics on this issue. Granted, the far left will always view such people in a negative way.

  3. George Michalopulos :

    Cynthia, you have touched on a cogent point. Pastors need to measure their words carefully. However, in defense of many non-Orthodox pastors who are vocal in their opposition to abortion, I must say that stereotypes about them that abound are so far off the mark as to be laughable. I have found firsthand that these –usually false–stereotypes are aided and abetted by the MSM. I used to believe them myself, however in getting to be involved in the pro-life movement, I’ve first hand that these pastors are far from the Bible-thumping bigots that are portrayed in the typical Lifetime, Norman Lear-sponsored, NARAL, etc., movies/documentaries/films.

    Are there hypocrites in the pro-life movement? You bet. Are the people involved in said movement moved by compassion for the woman in question? Undoubtedly. A lot of the leaders have had abortions or performed these procedures themselves. They know what it does to a woman.

    You are correct: pastors should think long and hard before calling a woman a “murderess,” as this may further embitter her towards God and repentance, but they should think longer and harder about totally ignoring this great evil. And they should never reward “Christian” legislators who encourage the maintenance of the present regime. That’s not a lot to ask for.

  4. Re 1: still holding my breath . . . holding . . . waiting . . .
    This is shameful. This issue presents, I believe, a clear choice between principle and privilege, between moral integrity and the public validation and political advantages of a Senate seat. When presented with the choice between God and Caesar, our leadership is choosing . . . Caesar?
    If they believe that Christ is truly present in “the least of these,” how can they then condemn the Sadducees for their politically expedient choice of crucifixion during Holy Week? Such silence virtually endorses it.

    This is one area in which the Roman Catholic Church has done a superb job of making the stakes clear, of differentiating between prudential and essential issues. (Not that their Bishops have been all that much better than ours. They have a number of outstanding examples, but that may simply reflect much greater numbers. We have a few such examples, but have fewer to begin with.)
    Though I have only a limited understanding of Catholic moral theology, it seems to offer a helpful guide in assessing issues that are integral to the claims of faith and issues that permit differences of opinion between reasonable people. While issues such as a particular economic policy or military action might be open to dispute, abortion is not. The tradition of the Church is clear and compelling on the sanctity of innocent life. (It has been much less clear, though it demonstrates an evident bias, in the matter of guilty life.) For those who are interested, I recommend Archbishop Charles Chaput’s book, Render Unto Caesar. I hope it finds wide readership among our leadership.

    In the end, moral clarity is the fruit of moral courage. It is very difficult to “speak truth to power” when you are enthralled by it. (Embarrassing flattery on the other hand . . . )

  5. Jolynn Ruggerio :

    I would take considerable issue that the GOA stays silent on these issues and further issue with raising other jurisdictions to stellar status given the full context of their response.

    1. On the GOA web site it clearly states in its document
    The Stand of the Orthodox Church on Controversial Issues
    “In some cases the controversial issues can be addressed from long-standing doctrinal, ethical and canonical traditions. Where this is the case, there is little or no debate in the Church. One example is the Church’s position on the legalization of abortion on demand. Since the Church went through the same debate in the early fourth century, it is not difficult to determine “the mind of the Church” on this issue, and to apply it to the current discussion.”

    It goes on further to state, “the Orthodox Church, in the words of 1976 Christmas encyclical of former Archbishop Iakovos, considers “euthanasia and abortion, along with homosexuality … a … moral alienation.”

    It spells out explicitly, “The Orthodox Church has a definite, formal and intended attitude toward abortion. It condemns all procedures purporting to abort the embryo or fetus, whether by surgical or chemical means. The Orthodox Church brands abortion as murder; that is, as a premeditated termination of the life of a human being.”

    2. Zoe for life is an endorsed program of SCOBA of which Archbp. Demetrious is president.

    3. Archbp. Soterios of Canada statememt RE the appointment of Dr. Henry Morgentaler to the order of Canada, it states,
    “The Greek Orthodox Church has soundly condemned abortion as murder from the very beginning of the Church’s existence. Abortion can never be accepted as being solely considered as a woman’s right, without reference to the rights of the unborn child. It is a pity that there is no law for or against abortion in Canada.” Is the Metropolitan acting in Defiance of the Patriarch?

    4. Here in Chicago the “Pan-Orthodox organization” Orthodox Christians for Life has a Greek Orthodox Priest as its spiritual advisor. Is he acting in defiance of his heirarchs?
    The president of the youth arm of OC for Life is the daughter of a Greek Orthodox priest. Is she acting in defiance of her father?

    5. The “Pan-Orthodox clergy-lay organization Orthodox Christian Synergy has a Greek Orthodox priest as its spritual adivsor. Each year they sponsor a theolgical symposium. Several years ago the topic was Sanctity of Life with 200 in attendance. As a follow up Synergy conducted a fundraiser to send youth to the March for Life. Is that priest who attends the March nearly every year acting in defiance of his heirarchs? Among the largest donors were Greek Orthodox parishes and Greek Orthodox priests from their own pockets. Were they acting in defiance as well?

    6. The “Pan-Orthodox Clergy Assocation of Greater Chicago whose president is Greek Orthodox held its first Pan-Orthodox service for the Sanctity of life on the most bitterly cold Chicago nights. Over a 100 people were in attendance with several heirarchs that included Metro. Iakovos and Bp. Demetious an ardent spokesperson throughout the state of Illinois on Sanctity of Life issues, Who also BTW ,has attended the March for Life. The aforementioned young women was the keynote speaker at that event.

    7. In March, Metro. Iakovos of Chicago sent forth an encyclical to be read from all parish pulpits calling for the defeat of the Illinois HB 2354, The Repoductive Health and Access Act, Which would forbid conscientious objection to preforming abortions by health care workers. In it he states, “Let us unite as Christians to put and end to our lawmakers bowing before the powers opposed to life.”

    The “Stellar articles” as you put it are to a limited readership and are a direct response to Metro. Philip being questioned as to why he forbids his faithful to attend the March for Life. A busload of faith antiochians from Chicago were prepared did not have the blessing from their Metropolitan to proveed. His Emenince sees participating in the March as politacally radical and prefers to “educate the faithful” Not one Antiochian form the DC area attends the March for Life. If they are the do so in defiance of their bishop. Is the Metropolitan fearful of raising negative attention from politicians that he needs for other agenda items?

    At the end of the day, it really is about what each Orthodox Christian is doing in his own community to further the cause of Sanctity of Life and ease the suffering of children and their mothers.

  6. George Michalopulos :

    Amen, Chrys, amen.

  7. cynthia curran :

    Well, you are right Geroge Michalopulos, if the Byzantines wrote laws against aboration centuries ago and against prostitution and child exposure then We should try to do something in the modern world.

  8. George Michalopulos :

    Cynthia, in many ways the role of the Christians in ancient Rome was harder than in ours. They had to evangelize against a pagan world view that was all-encompassing: abortion, infanticide, misogyny, homosexuality, fornication, and its apotheosis –paganism.

    We at least have had almost two millenia of the Christian world view and have been living off of its accumulated social capital. That’s why we’ll be judged more harshly because the job should have been much easier for us.

    p.s. call me George

  9. Michael Bauman :

    George, what we have is worse that paganism. We have an entrenched Christian heresy called secularism which denies the reality of God while at the same time attempting to ape His power.

    Paganism at least had a sense of the sacred (or at least some of it).

  10. George Michalopulos :

    Michael, I see your point, but my observation is that we fell from Christianity to the present secularist regime. We didn’t have to fall. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy but the “Christ consciousness” is still there. But I’m at a loss to tell whether we can recapture the Christian worldview. perhaps a revived paganism is indeed our future. I dunno.

    I just think that all Christian confessions have long ago dropped the ball. I blame the WCC and the liberalism of the Protestant seminaries going back 100 years. (Not to say that we Orthodox don’t have our share of the blame; we’re far too worried about jurisdictional claims than we are about holiness.)

  11. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Note #27. Jolynn, yes, Chicago is a bright spot on sanctity of life issues largely through the work of Fr. Nick Jonas and others, as well as the work and support of Bp. Demetrios. They do good work and have been consistent for many years.

  12. Michael Bauman :

    George, it is nihilism against which we fight, not any alternative spirituality. It is the denial of all goodness and the arrogation of our own will to the level of the divine.

    Are we, as St. Luke implies theo-phillic beings or are we the monstrous entities envisaged by Nietzche and others, creatures of the passions only. Our freedom/power measured by our ability to indulge those passions and to rule over others.

    Genuine paganism cannot return. The Incarnation abolished it once and for all. The only recourse of Satan is to entice us into enthrallment to the dark nothing of his existence. It is a battle that is fought on a battlefield closer than hands and feet. What goes on it the culture is determined there as well.

    If we concentrate of changing the culture more than we do on submitting to the love of Christ in all that we do, the battle will be lost.

    Several of the Desert Fathers foretold that the final Christians we be greater than they simply because they were able to maintain belief in the face of the darkness to come.

  13. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    A religion will be built around the incipient nihilism in the future fed by an increasing narcissism I think. Secularism is untenable; people cannot psychologically bear it. False religions are easier to endure. Yes, it cannot be pagan in the ancient sense of the word; Nazism tried that and it was pulverized to bits (neo-Nazis notwithstanding). I think we see the emergence of that nascent religion in extreme environmentalism; it posits a kind of pseudo-sacramentality that elevates nature’s prowess and deems it holy.

  14. cynthia curran :

    I agree on the extreme enviromental movement making nature almost a goddenss-Gaina. The nazis were interested in neo-paganism for different reasons since to them it led them back to their old germanic roots. As a kid I like hearing the stories of the greco-roman gods. However, that much different than trying to create neo-pagan religions that clean up old paganism by getting rid of animal sacrifice.

  15. George Michalopulos :

    Michael, thanks for the clarification. I do agree with the recent postings re Gaia-worship as per Fr Hans, Cynthia, etc, that nihilism will be subsumed into or replaced by Gaia-worship for the same reason Fr says: people have to believe in something, even a false religion. Marxism is pretty much kaput, the neo-paganism of the Nazis was shattered, so it looks like the only game in town is environmentalism. I dunno, I could be wrong.

    This however puzzles me even more:

    1) given that we’ve have 2000 years of Christian cultural capital to work on, how did we get to this unholy place? (Unlike our Christian ancestors who fought hard to replace the dominant pagan worldview.) And

    2) given that the Orthodox Church is the deposit of the faith, “delivered once unto the saints,” how can we (or some of of) fall prey to this buncombe? Shouldn’t we of all people be showing our Christian brothers and others that the earth will be saved when man is saved?

  16. Michael Bauman :

    George, hubris, persecution, akedia which gives us the delusion of progress, allowing the Adamic spirit to rule and drive us into the arms of Satan.

    When salavation became of little or no concern, we began to prosper materially and scientifically. Spiritually, we opened our veins and allowed the life to be drained away into the dirt.

    Now, we are looking into the abyss of our own making, the nothingness we have been courting all along. Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the only antidote. Not the pale imitation Christ of the pietists and the Scholastics, but the real one who “will come again and judge the living and the dead and whose kingdom will have no end..before whose dread judgement seat we will stand.”

  17. George Michalopulos :

    that’s a bleak picture Michael. Unfortunately, I believe you are correct. As such, we should think long and hard about our trumpeting of secondary and tertiary issues. I feel we Orthodox have “lost our first love.”

  18. Michael Bauman :

    George, I don’t actually think of it as bleak because you are right–all of the non-essentials will have to be dropped.

    I guarantee you that in an Islamic state it does not matter what ‘denomination’ or ‘jurisdiction’ you belong to. If you are a Chrisitan believer who continues to profess our Lord Jesus Christ, God and savior, risen from the dead, you are an infidel whether you are Greek, Syrian, Roman, or Protestant.

    Shoot, we can’t even love each other as repeated posts by myself and others on this site prove. Right now, we are not one, not Holy, not Catholic and increasingly not apostolic.

    Given our lack of cohesion, the lack of spiritual formation and evangelism, each of us is left to our own devices. I choose the way of love and mercy. How else are we to find the Church? I can tell you right now, I have zero interest in anyone proclaiming that they are the genuine, really, absolutely pure and holy one Orthodox Church and everybody else is going to hell. Fact is, we’ve all got it messed up–just in different ways.

    I ask for those who say that the only way to salvation is through the Orthodox Church, would Jesus really deny any chance of salvation to 90% of humanity who have no clue about the Church because we are so arrogant, lazy and incompetent that we cannot even retain our own children in the Church, when we cannot even decide how to order ourselves in accordance with the Holy Tradition, when we routinely and capriciously ‘inforce’ the cannons only against those who have no power, money or authority, when we routinely ridicule one another for being too worldly or too (fill in the blank with your favorite slur) or not enough of something else. When it is clear that all we really care about is ourselves–how we look and feel…”I thank you Lord that I am not like other men……”

    The ‘hetrodox’ Protestants will enter the Kingdom before we do. We are spitting on all that God has given us–locking up the Kingdom to others and refusing to enter ourselves.

    Lord, come quickly or we perish.

  19. George Michalopulos :

    Michael, you are correct. We Orthodox will be judged far more harshly because of our arrogance and ethnic hubris. I think atheists have a better chance at heaven than most of us do. And I refuse to continue to blame our bishops any more. (Not that they’re not guilty.) Why? Because they’re doing what we, the laity, want them to do. Old Russian saying: “the people get the priests they deserve.”

    They’re not holy because we’re not holy. That’s why I weep tears of repentance for all the terrible things I said about +Demetrius when he grovelled before Obama. He wasn’t doing anything different that any layman in the GOA wouldn’t do. I was just to humiliated at the time to see that he was no different than any other Archon.

    Lord have mercy.

  20. Re George (17) & Michael (18): Amen! Exactly right!

  21. cynthia curran :

    I notice that the GOA might be more politcally liberal since liberalism is more critical of western societies. This might go back to the fact that the Byzantine Empire suffered a great blow from the fourth crusade. And some Greeks see American society as descendants of crusaders, maybe not literally but most likely culturely. Some comments I have read on the internet by Greeks show that they regard people of German descendant as inferior to Greeks. Maybe, some Greeks are jealious that the former barbarians have more politcal and ecnomonic influence in the world than they do. I know that is a far out theory to explain members of the GOA politics and there are probably a lot of other factors why they tend to be liberal democratics.

  22. George Michalopulos :

    Cynthia, that’s an interesting take, but the reality is that most immigrants to America belonged to the political party that welcomed them to these shores. That would be the Democrat Party. For many of the old-timers, they wistfully tell stories about FDR and how he “put them back to work,” etc. and how the Republicans were the party of the white establishment, “fat cats,” etc.

    Plus, the GOP was traditionally a very isolationist party, they really didn’t give a rat’s behind about the “Old Country,” whereas the Democrat Party, beginning with Wilson, was hyper-interventionist. Hence, some residual attentiveness to the Democratic Party on behalf of many ethnic elites. It’s really that simple.

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