The Amsterdam Symposium: An Abuse of Authority?

By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

The recent meeting in Amsterdam by various academics, one bishop, seminary faculty, priests and others (names listed below) to “to reflect on a wide range of matters concerning human sexuality” was ostensibly “not monolithic” in opinions about sexuality according to one participant. No doubt that is true given the range of participants but it is far from informative.

More instructive is that only a few of the participants have any substantive experience or training in pastoral theology. Why is this important? Because many of the ideas most likely bandied about in the symposium have grave pastoral ramifications. Ideas are one thing. The effects that the ideas have once they are adopted are another thing altogether.

So why did they meet? It’s a fair question to ask because some of the participants draw their ideas from the left wing of the dominant political culture rather than Orthodox tradition (more on this below). Secondly, since the participants listed the institutions with which they are affiliated, those institutions lent their authority to the symposium whether they intended to or not.

Academics are free to call any symposium they want to but are they are not free to invoke the imprimatur of the institutions they represent, particularly as an afterthought and especially when they lack expertise in the subjects discussed. They abuse their authority when they do.

Many of the academics are associated with St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVS). They include:

  • Fr. Michael Bakker
  • Fr. John Behr
  • Fr. John Jillions (adjunct, Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America)
  • Fr. Philip LeMasters (adjunct)
  • Gayle Woloschak (adjunct)

This is a strong showing by SVS faculty, some of whom work with organizations that hold views on sexuality inimical to Orthodox moral teaching. Gayle Woloschak for example serves on the advisory board of The Wheel, an online journal populated with homosexual apologists, gay “marriage” activists, and more. Woloschak is free to associate with anyone she pleases and The Wheel is free to publish anything it wants. SVS however, is not free to associate its name and reputation with the the self-styled “reformers” at The Wheel and their social justice activism.

Other participants included Aristotle Papanikolaou who along with George E. Demacopoulos edits Public Orthodoxy, another online journal that publishes occasional articles that undermine Orthodox moral teaching. In a recent issue Public Orthodoxy published “Conjugal Friendship” by defrocked priest and homosexual Peter J. (Giacomo) Sanfilippo that argued that the Orthodox moral tradition implicitly sanctions sanctions homosexual activity and homosexual “marriage.”

Like The Wheel, the editors of Public Orthodoxy are free to publish anything they want. They are not free to represent the journal as Orthodox when it publishes essays such as Sanfilippo’s. St. Vladimir’s Seminary has a close association with Papanikolaou and Democopoulos through the work of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University where both men teach.

Fr. John Jillions’ participation is dicier because even though he is the Chancellor of the OCA, he represented himself as a member of the SVS faculty. He is also on the record as sympathetic to secular political definitions of homosexuality. This is one reason why he failed to anticipate the outcry over Fr. Robert Arida’s essay “Never Changing Gospel, Ever Changing Culture” a few years back on the OCA youth blog that made a (laborious) case for sanctioning sodomy. Reaction was swift especially by priests and the essay was quickly removed but he offered no explanation why it was posted in the first place.

Not all participants at the symposium hold to a secular reading of the homosexual condition of course, but it should be clear to any informed observer that the long-term ramifications of homosexual behavior for both the individual and the Church are more than what The Wheel or Public Orthodoxy think that they are. The folks at The Wheel draw their ideas exclusively from the secular left. They argue using the language of identity politics. The folks at Public Orthodoxy take a different approach. They teach that only the dogma of the Church (theological statements about the nature and character of the Trinity and Jesus Christ) is unchangeable. The moral teachings on the other hand are culturally conditioned and therefore relative.

The homosexual issue arises in Orthodoxy because folks at publications like The Wheel and Public Orthodoxy make it one. They have a very poor grasp of why the the moral tradition prohibits the behaviors in the first place. They lack pastoral training and concrete pastoral experience and either don’t see or refuse to see that homosexuality distorts authentic manhood. Men are not created to engage sexually with other men. Doing so retards the development and can even destroy the masculine self-identity necessary for healthy and mature manhood.

The activists are captive to the primary moral assertion of identity politics that states if a person has been abused for being homosexual, then we must submit to the claim that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable without any criticism or dissent. The Orthodox moral tradition makes no such claim. No one should be abused for being homosexual but homosexual behavior is nonetheless prohibited because it inflicts harm to the soul of the person engaged in it.

There is also a deeper anthropological shift taking place. Homosexual ideology argues that homosexual desire is innate, part of a person’s created being. Put simply, if a person experiences homosexual desire, that desire ought to considered good and true and given by God. Homosexual desire is seen as part of our human identity, and not as a passion or sinful desire, or an occasion for struggle as all other sinful desires are. If homosexual desire is part of created identity (“God made me gay”), then there is no reason to help the person struggling with same-sex desire and ultimately no rationale by which he can be helped.

On a Church wide level the shift is more ominous. If we sanction homosexual behavior in the Church as normative (as blessed by God), then the Church becomes emasculated. Healthy men don’t want anything to do with it and they will leave. This is why the mainstream Protestant and Episcopalian churches collapsed after they became homosexualized.

Does SVS President Fr. Chad Hatfield understand that when seminary professors lend their credentials to views inimical to the moral tradition that they confer the moral authority of the seminary to those views? Does the SVS Board of Directors? Do Metropolitan ZACHARIAH Mar Nicholovos, or His Grace, The Right Reverend DAVID, or Metropolitan JOSEPH who serve on that board? Certainly they must because they are men of the tradition. Do they want the seminary associated with the kind of social justice activism that The Wheel and Public Orthodoxy promote? Are they aware that the seminary appears to be complicit, even unwittingly, with attempts to drag the American culture wars into American Orthodoxy?

Orthodox polity is conciliar and the locus of conciliarity is the Synod of Bishops. The OCA bishops appear reluctant to address the growing conflict about homosexuality (Fr. Arida for example has never been publicly reprimanded). If they do not assert their leadership, then the issue will be decided for them. The secular juggernaut is powerful and it will swallow emasculated Orthodox men as easily as it swallowed emasculated Protestants and Episcopalians.

Orthodox practice is local and occurs in each parish. Priests are the people who deal with the real problems caused by the deleterious ideas that some participants in the conference hold and promote. Priests who understand the dynamics behind homosexual desire and who comprehend human anthropology as it is handed to us, can instruct and guide a person struggling with same-sex desire. We don’t need or want the fanciful locutions of those who market ideas but have no real experience with the ramifications that their ideas unleash.

Given the consternation and confusion promulgated by the Amsterdam Symposium, several things need to happen.

  1. SVS President Fr. Chad Hatfield needs to clarify if the seminary knew about the meeting and condoned participation in it. Is he aware of the symposium’s content, aims and objectives?
  2. Given Fr. John Behr’s prominence at the seminary and his international reputation, he should publish a record of his participation in the symposium and clarify its purpose and goals.
  3. The SVS Board of Directors should publish a statement to clarify the seminary’s position on Orthodox anthropology and marriage givens the strong representation of SVS faculty at the symposium.
  4. The bishops of the participants attending the symposium should clarify if they gave their blessing to hold and attend the meeting.
  5. Met. Tikhon of the OCA should clarify if the participation of the OCA Chancellor Fr. John Jillions met with his approval and blessing.

When academics swim in waters outside of their specialty, others are enticed to swim with them and the weaker drown. That’s why the Church needs to correct these abuses of authority.

The participants included:

  • Bishop Maxim (Vasiljevic) of Western America (Serbian Orthodox Church)
  • Nikolaos Asproulis (Volos Academy)
  • Fr. Michael Bakker (ACOT)
  • Fr. John Behr (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, ACOT)
  • Brandon Gallaher (University of Exeter)
  • Edith Humphrey (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)
  • Fr. John Jillions (SVOTS)
  • Pantelis Kalaitzidis, (Volos Academy)
  • Fr. Philip LeMasters (McMurry University, SVOTS)
  • Fr. Joan Lena (ACOT)
  • Fr. Andrew Louth (Emeritus Durham University, ACOT)
  • Fr. Nicolae Mosoiu (Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu)
  • Aristotle Papanikolaou (Fordham University)
  • Fr. Vasileios Thermos (University of Athens)
  • Gayle Woloschak (Northwestern University, SVOTS)

Comments

  1. If one looks at the American Psychological Association, and its various equivalents, one also must question an organization that no longer argues the “innate” nature of homosexuality, as much, when it is now trying to politically uphold the validity of fluidity in its defence of the transgendered.

    • The APA’s declassification of homosexuality as a disorder in 1973 was purely a political move, not backed by any science whatsoever. It was done under the threats of the lavender mafia. At the time, their mantra was that they needed to conquer 3 realms to have full American public acceptance of homosexual behavior as normal: medicine, the law, and religion/faith. Medicine fell first (and quite easily), the law fell next over the past few decades. Much of religion has fallen too. The only “holdouts” are the Orthodox, traditionalist Catholics, and “conservative” evangelical Protestants. That’s it.

      Men who struggle with SSA have at the heart a sense of masculine inferiority. This almost always comes from wounds sustained as an infant, toddler, child, and/or adolescent. Through usually no fault of their own, they never bonded with a salient male figure (usually the father) and are subconsciously constantly driven to seek this male affirmation. As sexual adults though, some feel compelled to seek it through sex with other men. The problem is that men who have sex with men all have a deep sense of masculine inferiority, so they can never “satisfy” what they need. As many a homosexual man has said, “what I want is a real man and his masculinity, but a real man doesn’t want me because he wants a woman.”

      The key to healing these disorders is attacking the shame from whence this stems, through a therapist who is trained in shame work and healing childhood masculine wounds. I highly recommend the work of the recently deceased eminent psychologist Dr Joseph Nicolosi (himself a traditionalist Catholic) — his work and courage in speaking out on this issue against the APA has helped save and heal countless men. May God remember him in His kingdom!

      • James Bradshaw :

        NF writes: “Men who struggle with SSA have at the heart a sense of masculine inferiority”.

        Isn’t that a problem with heterosexual men, too, though? Why else would they enter sporting competitions that are often violent and result in serious injuries unless they needed to affirm their sense of manhood over and over again? Why would any sane man participate in something like the UFC unless he needed to prove something?

        To me, the problem isn’t primarily the object of one’s sexual attractions. The issue is how one relates to other human beings. There are many heterosexual men who see women as dumpsters. Go to any college campus and ask how many young women have been taken advantage of at frat parties.

        I guess I would prefer to see reparative therapy practitioners focus on their patients’ dysfunctional use of sex in general instead of trying to change one’s attractions. You’re not “fixing” a gay man if they become a womanizer who would rather pay for an abortion than raise their own offspring.

        • Michael Bauman :

          UFC is disgusting. It has nothing to do with masculinity. IMO it smacks of homeoerotic sado-masochism.

          However men do engage each other in contests all the time. Challenging each other to be better and stronger.

          Something no woman I have ever known gets is that men can physically and verbally fight with each other then when it is done go out and have a beer together in friendship.

  2. James Bradshaw :

    “Men are not created to engage sexually with other men. Doing so retards the development and can even destroy the masculine self-identity necessary for healthy and mature manhood.”

    You’re looking at the stereotype of homosexuals as being effeminate and weak. Scott Lively of the American Family Association wrote that “homosexuals were recruited into Hitler’s brown shirts because they were “a proud and arrogant lot” who could “kill and slaughter for the hell of it”.

    Which is it? Gays are weak and overly soft, or hard, aggressive and malicious? I don’t think it can be both.

    As a gay man, my critique of the gay community would be that sex is too often seen as a means of self-affirmation. “I’m desired, therefore I am”.

    It seems to me that it’s this deep sense of self-hatred and unworthiness that needs to be addressed. I just doubt that changing the object of their sexual attraction is alone going to be of any help.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      James, I am not looking at any stereotype. The truncation of masculine self-identity doesn’t deal with roles. It deals with self-knowledge.

      You are right about the gay community behavior though. Homosexual desire when expressed erotically is about possession and being possessed. The self-contempt (which you describe as self-hatred) however, cannot be transcended because it is rooted in the behavior. That’s why overcoming it remains elusive. Two men could develop authentic communion if they cut off erotic activity. The activity is what thwarts it. Gays who stay together a long time are generally not sexual with each other as I am sure you know. For a deeper healing to occur the behavior has to stop completely.

  3. Ronda Wintheiser :

    Years ago I was married for awhile to a man who very early on in our marriage became physically abusive toward me.

    As time went by I realized that he was also compulsively involved in the use of pornography, cross dressing, and visiting prostitutes.

    He had shared with me that as a young boy he had been molested by a male family member.

    I believe his behaviors arose out of the deep sense of self-hatred and unworthiness created by his early experience of being molested, and that his aggression was a reflection of weakness — real weakness due to the damage done to his psyche, as well as his own sense of himself as being weak.

    I think that is what Fr. Hans is describing as the “truncation of masculine self-identity”. My ex-husband’s knowledge of himself was distorted by the experience of being molested, and his activities were expressions of self-contempt. They prevented us from developing real communion as a married couple.

    James, you wrote: “Gays are weak and overly soft, or hard, aggressive and malicious? I don’t think it can be both. ”

    I think it actually *is* both. Weakness and aggression are two sides of the same coin. They necessarily co-exist in a human being who is not psychologically and spiritually healthy — someone who has been wounded or damaged, either by someone else, or by his or her own behavior.

  4. “For instance, in the case of in vitro fertilization, there remains a tendency to equate non-implanted embryos with post-natal babies. Yet, as in the case of the different treatment decisions that might be made for different cancer patients, there are vast and obvious ethical and theological differences between fertilized embryos in a laboratory and children who have been gestated and born into the world. ” Gayle Woloschak from:
    https://www.wheeljournal.com/blog/2016/1/15/gayle-e-woloschak-editorial-have-we-traded-the-holy-spirit-for-theology

    In the context of her essay, including all the lamenting over a lost “dialogue”, it is apparent that there is a conflicting anthropology underlying it all. Gayle does not have a Christian understanding of who and what man (anthropos) is, rather she gets her underlying presuppositions from Francis Bacon and the Enlightenment. Is this because she is a scientist and a scholar? Not really, as plenty of scientists and scholars hold to Christian anthropology. I suspect that what she is really after is an Enlightenment anthropology so that homosexualism can be wedged into the sacramental life of the Church.

    What do the Gayle Woloschak’s of the world have to offer the Church and scholarly symposiums such as this one? At best, a negative example in that perhaps Faithful attendees can sharpen their theological and rhetorical skills on the anvil of her modern anthropology.

    Now that a critical eye has been turned to this symposium, I hope Fr. Jacobse that there is some follow through by the hierarchy and lay leadership as you suggest but I think we both know there will not be. I suspect that a significant minority this leadership has in fact been seduced by Baconian anthropology or at the very least is confused as to the truth of the matter. They also have a reflexive “tolerant” stance toward the spirit of the age and the effect this has on the flock in general it appears. It is not by accident that a book like “The Benedict Option” (no matter what you think of the details) was written not by a hierarch, clergy member, or a scholar who works at one of our seminary’s, but by a laymen and an outsider to these circles. What is it about the culture of our institutions that has lead to this situation?

  5. Norman Hugh Redington :

    As a theologically conservative subscriber and occasional contributor to The Wheel, I am rather disturbed by the inaccurate way that Fr. Johannes characterises that ambitious though frequently disappointing publication; anyone reading this article would have the impression it was the newsletter of “Axios”. I can’t think offhand of any article in The Wheel that either condoned or condemned homosexuality, although there have been some that seemed regrettably in favour of extreme ecumenism and catastrophically bad bioethics. Whatever views the editors may hold privately (or indeed publicly) on the issue of gay rights, they don’t thus far seem to be using The Wheel to express them. Neither can I think of many examples of The Wheel advocating “social justice activism”: fewer examples, in fact, than can be found in an average volume of the works of St. John Chrysostom.

    With regard to the Amsterdam symposium itself, Father Johannes claims that “only a few of the participants have any substantive experience or training in pastoral theology”. Given that the fifteen listed participants include eight priests and a bishop, he must have a rather low opinion of the experience and training available to the clergy. Perhaps the symposium aired some questionable views (I haven’t seen the proceedings), but without strong evidence to the contrary I refuse to believe that Fr. Andrew Louth or Fr. Philip LeMasters, much less Bishop Maxim, is now busy promulgating heresy. It is interesting that Fr. Johannes devotes his entire piece to ad hominem attacks, but cites not a single word uttered at the symposium itself.

    • Christopher :

      Norman,

      Is that not sort of the point? The secrecy (the “Chatham Rules” I believe is what they used) is used to cover the actual intentions. Certainly as a culture (i.e. western civilization), but also as a Church in this culture, are we not past the naivety of a kind of “blind trust” when it comes to this subject?

      Also, I am curious as to your opinion of what you mean by “bioethics”? Are questions of abortion, homosexualism, and the like questions of ethics for you, and if so from who or what are these ethics derived?

  6. I fought this battle in the Episcopal Church for 15 yrs, before taking refuge in Orthodoxy. It appears that controversy has followed me here! The culmination of my struggle with the Episcopal Church and its hierarchy was a 15 page guide which succinctly lays out the Scriptural and traditional case against sexual immorality: “Sex, Christians, and the Church: An Outline Guide Based on Scripture and Christian Tradition” @ http://scienceetcetera.blogspot.com/p/religion.html

    • Christopher :

      See Rod’s Ben Op – there is no “refuge”. Of course, this is itself a New Testament teaching (which is everywhere in it) but we have been a bit too comfortable as Christians in the west for too long to readily remember this truth…

  7. Michael Bauman :

    Pastoral experience is gained by on the job training. No other way. It is about the triad of Jesus, Sacraments and participant.

    The Benedict Option was written by a lay person because the hierarchy and scholars are above all that don’t you know busy becoming tidy scholastics with worldly credentials and approval.

    The Church is messy, always has been messy and always partaking of the Cross in someway.

    Ronda, you are spot on. Men who abuse others are weak men. Men who cannot learn chastity are weak men. Men who denigrate women ate weak men. A Christian man must always be giving his life (literally at times) for the sake of others. Especially their wives and children. That is the way the “curse” given Adam is turned into a blessing.

    Honestly loving other men is also a part of that. We are not meant to be the lonesome cowboy.
    But there is nothing sexual about that love.

    There is actually a pretty public display of what such love might look like(not perfect) on the Kansas City Royals baseball team. Two of their stars, with their own families are fast friends and display there affection for each other all over social media. Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain. They love each other.

    When the men on the team play for each other, they win a lot of games their talent alone would not win. They won the World Series that way.

    If we Christian men would do as well, a lot of the craziness would disapate.
    Lord forgive me.

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