By John Sanidopoulos
There is much talk and debate these days among Christians about homosexuality and gender, and though I have little interest in the debate as it does not personally affect me, its difficult if not impossible to avoid being exposed to it and talking about it, because the honest truth is that most people are very confused and they have questions, especially the youth. This is because a primary aspect of these discussions is that they are not so much focused on facts but emotions. When it comes to homosexual marriage, for example, one side will argue how everyone has the right to be happy and to love freely and we should not prevent someone who is different from the majority of people from experiencing what others experience. The other side argues that such arguments open up a can of worms that threatens to not only destroy traditional family values but also society as we know it. To support their arguments both sides will present scientific "facts", and if they are Christians they will even present biblical verses and patristic quotations. At this point discussions enter into a complex vortex that only leaves us divided and without resolution.
My observations of these discussions has been that both sides present many things that are true and many things that are false, and the reason we can't come to any agreements is because we focus on each others many logical fallacies. But even deeper still is that essentially these are emotional issues for both sides, and self-sympathy is a difficult if not impossible bond to break. And yes, it always comes down to how we apply these things to ourselves, rather than focusing on the subjects directly; of course most will deny this fact.
I believe that the way to avoid entering the complex vortex of this debate that ends up without resolution, and to actually deal with the subject directly, is three ways: 1) Separating the discussion from any emotional connection we have to it; 2) Understanding the complexity of sexuality; and 3) Dividing the scientific arguments from the ecclesiastical arguments.
1) Separating the discussion from any emotional connection we have to it
The driving force behind this entire debate is our emotional connection to it. For example, a vocal homosexual activist, who is not necessarily a homosexual themselves (which would add another dimension to the emotional connection), will say that the homosexuals they know are good people, or they may be very close friends with a homosexual, or a close family member is a homosexual, and not only will they sympathize with their struggles, but on top of everything, in extreme cases, the homosexual they sympathize with may have been murdered or committed suicide because of their homosexuality. On the opposite end, someone who is vocal about the immorality of homosexuality may have personally struggled with it themselves and understood it to be something sinful and twisted and dark, or they see society changing from values they were never exposed to while growing up to what has become very foreign to who they are and they don't want to raise their children in an environment that celebrates what they view as immoral, or they don't want families and children or even their church affected negatively by these changing trends in society that they find to be obscene. Whatever the emotional connection may be, it reflects how we enter this debate, and how we view the information presented before us. But there can be no progress in this debate unless we separate ourselves from our emotional connection. If we can't do this, we will not be serving truth and facts, but merely our own ego and sentimentalism.
2) Understanding the complexity of sexuality
Sexuality is complex, without a doubt. Anyone who denies this, is living in a bubble. However, a double standard can be observed by both sides when it comes to the complexity of sexuality. A homosexual activist will acknowledge the normality of heterosexuality, but they also acknowledge that equally normal are lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and transgenders (LGBT). Some will go beyond this, though some don't, and even acknowledge the normality of adultery, fornication, prostitution, polygamy, polyamory and even pedophilia/pedastry. But the complexity of sexuality goes much deeper than even these. This is when you enter into the deeper and "darker" territory of extreme fetishes, and can include such "strange" things as incest, extreme sado-masochism, haematophilia, scatophilia, emetophilia and objectophilia, to name a few (I'll leave it up to the reader to look these up if they want). Those who oppose the normality or naturalness of homosexual behavior will ask: when homosexual behavior is considered normal or natural just like heterosexual behavior within the marital union, what can be considered abnormal or even strange, if anything at all? Is there even such a thing as sexual immorality? The point is, sexuality is complex, whether we believe we are born with what preference we grow into or not, and this is a fact. We may not choose it, but it certainly is a part of us, in whatever form it takes. And even those with the most extreme fetishes can be just as nice, pleasant and friendly as anyone else.
3) Dividing the scientific arguments from the ecclesiastical arguments
Christians who are strongly in favor of homosexual rights will often champion the scientific "facts" about sexuality and gender, and interpret what they read in the Bible or ecclesiastical documents as either outdated, unscientific or irrelevant, or they may even view the Bible as being in favor of the normality of homosexual behavior and relationships. Christians not in favor of certain homosexual rights such as marriage, or who view homosexual behavior in general negatively, will champion the condemnation of homosexuality primarily based on the Bible and the values it presents, and how the Church has condemned such practices throughout the centuries, and they view the science behind such behavior as supporting this teaching or irrelevant compared to the timeless truths of God's Law. I find it odd that when most Christians talk about sexual sins like fornication or adultery or incest, they do so on moralistic terms, but when the same Christian supports homosexual behavior and relationships they immediately appeal to science and the Bible verses and patristic quotations that only talk about not judging others. It is equally odd when a Christian focuses on the immorality of homosexual behavior more than other sins, including that of condemnation and judgmentalism, while also trying to support their arguments on science. The truth of the matter is that science can say nothing about the morality or immorality of any type of sexual behavior, and religion shouldn't interfere with objective scientific findings, which no matter what the conclusion will say nothing that contradicts its standards. If there is going to be a scientific debate on these issues, it should focus on the science, but by doing so it should be acknowledged that science makes no judgement on it, rather it is our philosophical predispositions that we bring to it that make the judgement. And if there is going to be an ecclesiastical debate, it should focus on the tradition of the Church. To mix the two will only invite unnecessary division and contradiction. Science can never prove what God's will is, and God's will can't be observed through a microscope. People who don't care about God's Law will always claim to be on the side of science, but since science really says nothing about the morality or immorality of this issue, then they will merely appeal to what emotional argument they mostly connect with.
The Basic Position of the Orthodox Church
Ultimately the Church is a spiritual hospital for those who are trying to transform their passions into virtues to purify their hearts of all uncleanness in order to receive God's illumination and become temples of the Holy Spirit. This is the foundation and purpose of the Christian life. Science should never interfere in this sacred mission, whether one accepts it or not, and all Christians must struggle with their passions, which manifest in each individual in various ways, and can only be overcome through the prescription of the Church which is basically asceticism, living the ecclesiastical life, studying the teachings of the Church, and participating in its sacramental life, preferably under the direction of an experienced spiritual father. Just because we have sexual desires, lawful or unlawful, moral or immoral, doesn't mean we have to give into them, as if we are slaves to our own desires. In the Orthodox Church we have a strong tradition proving this to be true. In fact, the Church teaches that even those who are lawfully married should strive to overcome their sexual desires, otherwise they too will remain enslaved to their passions. Some people are forced to suppress their desires based on circumstance, like a soldier or widower or someone abandoned by their adulterous spouse, or even someone born with some handicap or disfigurement that makes it difficult if not impossible for them to find a spouse. We shouldn't pity ourselves too much, or else we will fall into the greater sin of despair. We have plenty of saints of all these types and more who should serve as our models, most especially Christ and the Theotokos who never gave into the temptations of the flesh. Within the Church we have the option of focusing our lives and our love on Christ to help us overcome everything, for as Christians "we are not our own" (1 Cor. 6:19-20). As for those outside the Church, they are free to live as slaves to their passions and desires if they so choose, and Christians are to reserve any judgment towards them, but lead them towards the fiery love of Christ, which extinguishes any fire of the passions or desires, first and foremost by our example. Sexuality and gender are complex issues that people have to deal with, and each case needs to be looked at by spiritual leaders and fathers on an individual basis with much patience, compassion and love and with an aim towards spiritual healing and wholeness.
Much more can be said on this issue, but the intent of this article isn't necessarily to enter into the complexities of this debate, but to present some helpful thoughts on how to approach these issues in the most objective and Christian way possible. Ultimately we have to choose a side, and most have already chosen their side, but most if not all are still confused or have a distorted understanding of certain facts. Hopefully what has been presented will help clear away some confusion and bring the Church to greater unity on the subject and not be stuck in false ideologies.