A friend sent me an article from the Hellenic Voice titled, “Religious Right must not set agenda for Orthodox Church.” Well, reasonable enough. But the article got so many other things wrong that I was tempted to simply quit reading half way through. The author, Harry Katopodis, seemed not to understand the difference between religious doctrine and political activism (which was one of the main faults of the Religious Right). Amazingly, his article was aimed at those Orthodox brothers and sisters who have been received into the Church from other traditions. You know, converts. Their conversion, the author suggested, has been a Trojan horse that has allowed the Religious Right to stealthily creep into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
The Katopodis article begins with the assertion that “the Orthodox Churches in America are heading down two different paths over political involvement.” The article is much too long and repetitive to reprint so I’ll touch on just a few points here. You can read the whole thing, if you like, here.
The main problem with the article is that Katopodis identifies converts to Orthodoxy, and by association the Antiochian Orthodox Church (AOC) and Orthodox Church in America (OCA), with Protestant fundamentalism and the Religious Right. Katopodis compounds the error by ascribing to converts a belief in Dominionism, a fringe Protestant movement that advocates something like a modern day theocracy. Here’s how he understands it:
About 20 years ago several hundred converts from evangelical Christianity joined the Orthodox Church through the Antiochian Archdiocese. Evangelicals are still converting to Orthodoxy. Most converts end up in the Antiochian Archdiocese and OCA. They often bring their political beliefs with them and now claim to be the voice of true Orthodoxy in America when it comes to politics. The Christian Right focuses on one main issue, outlawing abortion; other issues are not as important to them.
The religious right in America started with the evangelical Protestants and a doctrine called dominion theology that says the Bible calls for Christians to take over governments because God gave man dominion over the earth in the Old Testament. They feel that the separation of church and state in American is a lie perpetuated by liberals and that America was meant to be a Christian nation.
But, of course, Katopodis doesn’t provide evidence of any hierarch or responsible Orthodox person in the AOC or OCA preaching dominionism. There’s a reason for that. It simply isn’t Orthodox. A dominionist is the sort of person who would look upon Orthodox Christians as not even Christian. What’s more, many converts from Protestantism come from denominations that would be suppressed by dominionists, once they “took over” the country. But by wielding the “dominionist” slur, Katopodis tries to assert that Orthodox converts are all captive to the Religious Right and fundamentalism, also projects with Protestant roots. He cites Metropolitan Kallistos Ware for support of his views:
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware weighed in on this issue, saying: “I have to say that I find the aggressive and authoritarian tone of ‘Orthodox dominionists’ to be unattractive, and I believe that it will prove in the long term to be counter-productive. I am fully in favor of Orthodox Christians, as individuals and on a personal basis, becoming wholeheartedly involved in the political and social questions of the day. At the same time, I doubt whether it is helpful for Orthodox Church leaders to make public pronouncements that have a strong political tone.”
No one is asking Metropolitan Ware or any other Orthodox hierarch to make partisan political endorsements or weigh on technical policy questions. That’s not what they’re trained to do. But they do have an obligation to articulate a moral vision and a social witness for the Church. And so do the laity. The Church belongs to us all, conservative and liberal alike.
Perhaps the most damning evidence of Orthodox converts’ enslavement to the Religious Right, according to Katopodis, is their activism in the pro-life movement. He cites the OCA for giving a “sympathetic ear” to the movement and notes that it has “designated a Sanctity of Life Sunday to coincide with the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion.” Katopodis seems to think that the destruction of 45 million unborn Americans since 1973 is an issue that Christians should consider politically out of bounds. He says that “many Christians of all denominations, including Orthodox, feel that Christians cannot legislate their doctrine and impose Christian teachings on those who do not believe in those teachings.” But this is not a case of forcing Orthodox doctrine down the throats of all Americans. It is a demand for clear Christian witness on one of the great moral calamities of our time. And if Christians are not to speak out on abortion in public life, what about other moral issues such as poverty, or war, or religious freedom? Do we shut up about these matters, too?
For years now, the Religious Left (yes, they’re out there too) has been working overtime to confuse the distinction between clear moral teaching on issues that are not in dispute by Orthodox Christians — such as abortion — and those issues that are debatable in the policy and political world. Of course, Orthodox Christians consider abortion to be a grave sin. Questions about, say, the financial bailout of Wall Street, or global warming, or whether or not a specific welfare program should be funded, are of a wholly different nature. They do not involve what are, for the most part, settled moral questions about some of the most important beliefs we hold, including the sanctity of life.
Rather than casting aspersions on the OCA for its courageous witness on the abortion issue, Katopodis should ask why the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOA) institutionally has been so silent. This silence is a scandal. Apparently, it’s OK for the GOA or the Ecumenical Patriarch to weigh in on political issues when it involves Turkish oppression of the Patriarchate, the accession of Turkey into the European Union, Cyprus, global warming, and the momentous question of whether or not Macedonia should be allowed to call itself Macedonia. Are these not “political” issues? Of course, they are.
Then Katopodis makes a strange claim:
It seems that the Orthodox “dominionists” have also hijacked the Orthodox unity movement in part to serve their political agenda. Since the rise of the religious right Orthodox there can be no doubt that a big reason many of them are pushing for one Orthodox Church in America is to give religious right Orthodox a stronger voice in Washington.
Exactly what is this “Orthodox unity” movement? I missed something here. Was the GOA in charge of the “movement” when the OCA hijacked it? Has our grip on unity become so tenuous that we’d rather abandon unity for fear that the “dominionists” would ride it into complete power over Orthodox Christians in the United States? I wasn’t aware that the threat was so grave.
Against these imagined dominionists in the bosom of the Orthodox Church, Katopodis sets the GOA, which is “wise” by comparison to other jurisdictions.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has not followed the religious right Christians into politics and remains committed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to preserving the Greek faith, language and culture. In hindsight this has proved to be a wise decision.
Katopodis ignores, or seems to be unaware, that the GOA is a member of the National Council of Churches, the primary institutional voice of the Religious Left in this country (the Antiochians have pulled out). Granted, the NCC is a dying organization and has little influence, compared with other voices of the Religious Left like Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo (both of whom are Protestants). Granted the GOA has “not followed the religious right” and that is to be commended. But why is it acceptable that the GOA continue its involvement with the partisan politics of the NCC, which promotes an agenda of class warfare, big government and economic collectivism almost indistinguishable from the Democratic Party?
Furthermore, what exactly is Katopodis referring to when he talks about preserving the “Greek faith, language and culture”? Is he talking about the marriage of Classical and Hellenistic Greek philosophy and Christian theology that the Cappadocians wrought? Is he talking about the cultural expression of Orthodoxy in a Greek context as opposed to that expression in Russian, Serb, Arab, Bulgarian and other cultures? Or, is he talking about modern day Greece and the life of the Church in that culture?
Where is the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this preservation project? The one delivered to all people, for all time, unto the ends of the earth? I quote Holy Scripture at risk of being branded a fundamentalist: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).
I suspect that Katopodis is talking about something else altogether: the Church as ethnic sect or enclave. His remarks in the Voice are all too common among the sort of ethnic Greek that confuses the Gospel with Greek ethnic pride. Ethnic pride has its place, but it’s pretty thin stuff on which to build a religious faith. In the future, we should be more careful of attributing bizarre doctrines to fellow Orthodox Christians, even though they may have come to us from the Protestant traditions. A better course would be to fall to our knees and thank God for sending the converts to the Orthodox Church. They just might save us cradle Orthodox from ourselves.