8 жніўня 2017

Religious Website Editor Natallia Vasilevich On The Church, Religion, And LGBT

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The existence of orthodox believers of homosexual orientation is not a farfetched theory about a possible but barely noticeable percentage from “any community of people”. They are living breathing people, my friends, absolutely specific individuals…
Изображение: Retabla Miguel Hernandez. Text:
© Retabla Miguel Hernandez. Text: "In the fight I met the love. Thank you, Holy Virgin "
As long as homosexuals remained faceless and virtual for me, I had an unambiguous opinion on homosexual relations as sinful. I believed the most appropriate option for people of homosexual orientation was “beating swords into ploughshares”, “changing” the orientation from homosexual to “natural” or at least maintaining strict celibacy and fighting their sexuality. Especially because the first homosexuals I met in the church environment belonged precisely to the “overcoming” bunch.

Among them were not just those who would simply come to the church to light a candle, but also people who participated actively in the church life, youth activists and just people who I deeply respected as true believers. And suddenly I learned about their “non-traditional” sexual orientation. But even those homosexuals who were overcoming or had overcome it mostly hid their true names behind usernames on the Internet and only opened up about their “sin” or “disease” to an extremely small circle of closest friends and to their confessor. They would conclude heterosexual marriages and have children, break down their sexuality in the best traditions of asceticism and “prevail” for a shorter or longer while.

According to Written Sources

The Belarusian Orthodox Church doesn’t have its own documents as to homosexual people’s church life but there is an official document for the whole Moscow Patriarchate. It is the Social Framework of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted in 2000. Part nine of the chapter twelve Issues of Bioethics unequivocally states: “The Scripture and the teachings of the Church unambiguously condemn homosexual relations, seeing them as a vicious perversion of human nature as created by God… The Orthodox Church… considers homosexualism a sinful defect of human nature that needs to be overcome in a spiritual effort which leads to recovery and personal growth. Just as other passions that tear up a corrupt person, homosexual inclinations are to be cured with Sacraments, prayer, fasting, penance, reading the Scripture and patristic writings, as well as with Christian communication with believers who are ready to provide spiritual support”.

Therefore, people of homosexual orientation are not only allowed to go to church, the church encourages them to come provided that they admit the perverted and sinful nature of their sexuality and are willing to “cure” it with abstinence or change of orientation. Metropolitan Kallistos, born Timothy Ware, one of the best known Orthodox theologians of the present time, offers a differentiated approach and considers it necessary to tolerate homosexual couples who remain faithful to each other, while at the same time demanding that they abstain from immediate sexual manifestations.

Whereas it is all unequivocal in the language of official documents, actual life in congregations is more complex, since much depends on the community of believers, on the priest and on the homosexual parishioners themselves. There are those who comply with the official documents and their own Christian understanding, and fight their homosexuality as a sin, as a manifestation of corruption. They say a firm “no” to their homosexuality and direct the strength of their bodies and souls at overcoming their inclinations and abstaining from sexual activities.

There are also those who take their homosexuality for granted and even have relationships with people of their own gender, but even among those not many dare to fully come out.

Even if the priest, the whole parish or a certain part of the congregation is LGBT friendly, it is rather like an underground network that’s not made public for safety reasons.

Most people who are personally willing to accept and support gays and lesbians who have come out of the closet, wouldn’t want to manifest such solidarity in public. Or they have the courage to accept a particular gay person or a homosexual couple based on canon liberalisation, which is called oeconomy in Orthodox church, but can’t find the strength to speak of homosexuality in general.

Sexuality and Power Within the Church Hierarchy

There is also a certain “grey area” in church where homosexual practices that don’t necessarily have to do with participants’ homosexual orientation neither are always voluntary or consciously chosen, are hidden behind celibacy and monkhood. Those practiсes result from the closed nature of all-male communities, closed corporations based on power relations. Often, they mean that those in power molest the subordinate. Paradoxically, church authorities legitimise those sexual practices in a certain sense because they ensure loyalty. It is the consequence of non-transparent power mechanisms and the vulnerability of the weak before the strong. Here homosexual practices are nothing more than a power manifestation.

As far as I know, the same is also relevant for the Catholic Church where there are official teachings and practice but the priest and community’s initiatives are more flexible. As to Protestant Churches, almost all Protestant communities I know treat LGBT people and those who support them very negatively, they call for penance and reparation. Maybe there are different opinions within Protestant communities too.

“The Path to God Is Never Easy”

Religious Website Editor Natallia Vasilevich On The Church, Religion, And LGBT
© Javier Mayoral

I can’t advise picking a confession based on secondary characteristics such as tolerance to LGBT people, servic in Belarusian language or a political position in general.

Although those secondary issues may reflect the central content of faith in one way or another. On top of that, they may be so important to someone that they would outweigh all the other aspects: as in “I’ll go to the synagogue, I’ll go the mosque if they speak Belarusian there”.

In search for God many may come to think that homosexuality stands in the way of their salvation. They may worry about their homosexuality being a sin and believe in the possibility of changing and becoming heterosexual. By the way, it happens quite often that a homosexual person who doesn’t want to accept their homosexuality and sees it as a perversion of their nature and as a problem, be it due to their own convictions or under pressure from society, parents or friends, comes to God as a final resort to change themselves, to recover, to amend their ways they perceive as wrongful.

A more pressing question is how gays and lesbians who are searching for God perceive their own sexual orientation in the context of their religion, whatever that may be. Thereon depends what strategy of being in a community they choose. To break onself for a higher truth? To lock yourself up in a deep closet, live a double life and never reveal your identity and relationship to anyone but a small circle? To try and change their community or their whole denomination’s attitude to homosexuality by using their own lives as an example of how living with a person of the same sex can be a devoted, self-sacrificing, responsible relationship, in no way worse than a marriage between a man and a woman? To be prepared to suffer their brothers and sisters’ mockery or to find a circle of friends or a priest who would support and stand up for them?

Everyone has their own way, and it depends on how heavy a burden one is prepared to take and on how they perceive the truth of God.

Religious Website Editor Natallia Vasilevich On The Church, Religion, And LGBT
© Hermanas Salazar

Church and Transsexuality

Looking into the church’s attitude towards transsexuality I must once again refer to an official document: the Social Framework of the Russian Orthodox Church that distinguishes transsexuality from incorrect gender identification in early childhood due to a doctor’s mistake caused by a sexual development pathology. In the latter case surgery is accepted because it is not considered sex reassignment.

As to transsexuality, the document treats it as a “perversion of human sexuality in the form of a morbid feeling of belonging to the opposite sex”. According to the Framework’s authors, “the desire to reject the sex given by the Creator can only have detrimental consequences for the further development of one’s personality”. The Church cannot approve of this “rebellion against the Maker” and acknowledge one sex if it has been artificially changed. If sex reassignment surgery took place before the christening, the person can be admitted to this sacrament like any other sinner, but the Church will baptise them as being of the sex they were born with. The ordination of such person is not allowed, neither can they be married in church.

Nevertheless, there are religious communities that will welcome a transsexual person and provide support and consolation to them as someone who has already gone through hardships and internal conflicts in their life.

His Grace Lazar Puhalo, a U.S. Orthodox bishop, writes a lot on transgender and transsexuality. His opinion is different from that of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to him, the Orthodox need to take a more careful and professional approach to the issue of transgender and consider scientific research when speaking on this matter.

In the Polish Orthodox Church there is a transsexual woman Ewa Gałuszka who is both famous and a public person. She went through sex reassignment in 2000. In 2006, after having transitioned, she received the second highest civilian award in Poland — the Order of Polonia Restituta. She is an active parishioner famous in the Orthodox circles where, depending on the community, she is perceived either with hostility or as a legitimate Orthodox believer.

The Sacrament of Confession

Religious Website Editor Natallia Vasilevich On The Church, Religion, And LGBT
© Hermanas Salazar.

In a confession three is always a crowd. I cannot know how trusting a relationship each believer has with their confessor and I won’t try to predict what will happen if one tries to talk with their priest about becoming aware of their homosexuality.

I don’t think that love is something that should be treated as a sin at all, nor that it is something that needs to be confessed as one.

On the other hand, if love causes an internal conflict and makes one unable to accept themselves, then a spiritual conversation can be very appropriate. The only thing I could do to help is sharing contact details of people who have already gone through this. For a balanced approach I would give both the contacts of those who chose to overcome their homosexuality and those who made the choice in favour of accepting themselves. In any case there is no way to escape a conflict, either internal or external. Any recommendation can only only be made to a particular individual, there are no universal patterns.

The Sacrament of Baptism

Because baptism is so common and widespread, no one in the Belarusian Orthodox Church is normally interested in the private lives of a child’s parents and doesn’t ask them about their sexuality. The godparents will be asked to fulfill formal requirements but the parents will never been asked about their marital status. Neither is anyone interested in who takes the child to the Sunday school: their mother, grandma, older sister or a neighbour.

As a rule, no one is required to be sincere or to have close contacts with other children’s parents but a child who is raised by same-sex parents will have it hard in every community. This has nothing to do with the denomination but rather with society’s attitude towards same-sex couples in general.

The Church and Feminism

Practically every confession is open to the issue of female equality, but to different degrees. In a number of Protestant confessions women can officiate at the church and preach. In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches women can take on leadership roles as well, including liturgical ones.

At the discussion level, there may be more or less gender-sensitive priests, preachers and theologians. Unfortunately, there are many who will exclusively preach the patriarchal order in terms of family or society, or even tolerate domestic violence.

I’m a feminist and an Orthodox Christian. I have no internal conflict.

Religious Website Editor Natallia Vasilevich On The Church, Religion, And LGBT
© Javier Mayoral. Подпіс на рэтабла: «Дзякуючы Святой Алене я граю некалькі песень Fleetwood Mac нашмат лепш за свайго мужа»

I don’t hide my views. Even if there are conflicts on this account, they are only external and reaching only as far as insults on the Internet, which are most often anonymous. My Orthodox Christian community, including priests, shares my feminist views to some extent or at least doesn’t see a ground for conflict in them.

Since feminism is quite a diverse movement, some of its forms may be acceptable to me, others seem too radical. The Church is still an organism that develops according to its own logic. The main thing here is the belief in God, in Christ, the desire to receive absolution and redemption, to live in accordance with God’s testaments and liberate oneself from the slavery of sin, to conform unto God in your love of your neighbour and in self-sacrifice, to obey the Gospel, to perform the deeds of mercy and truth. To the degree that feminism corresponds to the core of Christianity it is acceptable or even welcome at the church, as is every movement that aims at the restoration of human dignity, protection of the weak, eradication of injustice and violence.

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. Indeed, in Christ’s faith one can find consolation and rest regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or social background, or one’s past deeds. Many of those who come to Christ, to the Church, are in need of consolation.

Christians often repeat after their Teacher that they are the salt of the earth, and are afraid of losing their “saltiness” and being discarded into the proverbial dustbinю They consider tolerance towards LGBT people to be a concession to the world, and intolerance as a fight for God’s truth and God’s law. That is why they often rub salt in the wounds of those “that labor and are heavy laden”, those who are torn with internal conflicts, who are wounded, who hate themselves, who cannot build their lives in harmony and in accordance with their internal perception of themselves, who are often rejected by their families, friends and society. The salt eats away at the wound, while the Good Samaritan puts a bandage on it and washes it with oil and wine.

I don’t know what path or what life strategy every homosexual or transsexual searching for God will choose. I don’t know how the Church’s attitude towards homosexuality or transsexuality will change in five, ten, fifteen years. The fact that it is changing is apparent. For now I have only decided on my own strategy: to be by the side of those who seek help, those who are abused, those who suffer. And I am prepared to deal with the inevitable kicks and pokes from my more conservative, “saltier” brothers and sisters.
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