I grew up in the Eastern Orthodox Church and continue to call her home so whenever I see her handling the topic of homosexuality poorly it grieves me. This has never been so true as with the continued debate in Russia over the rights of its LGBT citizens. I feel very strongly that there must be a better way to discuss family values and uphold the basic rights and safety of a country’s citizens than Russia has been demonstrating. The Russian Orthodox Church’s involvement in the current debate only adds additional hurt and only legitimizes the Russian government’s persecution of LGBT people.
It’s a subject that brings me a lot of pain, and every time I see the bloodied face of an LGBT Russian in the news my heart is grieved. The scapegoating of gay Russians for various demographic and political issues is shameful and the hypocritical eye that is turned to Russia’s divorce rate, abortion rate and alcohol/drug abuse is sinful. Too many still celebrate Vladimir Putin’s close connections with the Russian Orthodox Church instead of questioning the political and power based history this relationship has. I am thankful for the spiritual renewal Russia has undergone in recent years. However, when that results in anti-gay vigilantes roaming the streets in the name of Christ I struggle to celebrate.
I deeply wish that the Russian Church would take this opportunity to step out of the political arena and return to its God-given mission to pastorally direct and care for its people. Instead of saying that gay marriage is a sign of the apocalypse, speak about the Church’s long tradition of spiritual friendship, celibacy and community for all its members. Reacting out of fear and hate has never brought anyone to Christ. Help the Church become a haven for children struggling to understand their sexuality and show them Christ.
The current politically charged language only pushes a wedge between families and their LGBT children. When the “gays” are presented as the enemy there is no longer a place for them in the family and community. LGBT youth are forced to choose between their faith and family and honesty. There is no safety to admit that you have a gay orientation without imminent rejection and hate. When it is illegal to even speak about gay persons there are no possible role models or witnesses to a hopeful future.
Talking about homosexual desire as a disease that is contagious that we must save our children from is not only false it is also deeply corrosive. The Russian Church has the opportunity to positively influence how the rest of the Orthodox world speaks and wrestles with its gay children. I pray that they will take that opportunity to bring love and witness faithfulness rather than continue to only polarize and harm. Господи, помилуй (Lord have mercy).
Note: For a good example of the traditional Orthodox teaching on homosexuality presented in a pastorally sensitive way, see Fr. Thomas Hopko’s Christian Faith And Same Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections.