Friday, September 08, 2006

Orthodoxy and Same Sex Attraction

This is an article I wrote that was published in AGAIN as a companion article to an excerpt from Fr. Tom Hopko's new book on same sex attraction. I won't belabor you with a long introduction. The article speaks for itself.

CLICK THIS for a podcast version of this article below.

I did a follow up podcast on the article with some of the listener reactions and questions clarified and answered.  CLICK HERE for Part Two.  I have also included the transcript of the podcast below.

I Am Not My Sin

Becky had become a born-again Christian only months before at an emotionally charged youth rally. She sat at my dining room table and poured out her past. Gay bars, her “butch” persona, her last relationship that she broke off. Now, like Lot’s wife, she was looking back longingly to that past, because she wasn’t finding emotional fulfillment and support in the church’s fellowship.
Paul was popular, a fraternity leader, a seminarian. He was found with another young man in his dorm room. He poured out his heart as the college’s administration met to decide what to do with him. He felt his life was over; he was contemplating suicide.
William was a leader in the youth group. He and another young man in the youth group were discovered in bed together at a retreat. As the associate pastor in charge of youth, I chaired the meeting with the parents and their kids to discuss the issue.
I hired Joe as a drywall helper and we quickly became best friends. He began to confide in me about his past of horrific sexual abuse by his adoptive family, and his life in Hollywood as a male prostitute for drug money. I eventually baptized him in my former Protestant church. Three years later he died of a drug overdose.
These are a few stories from homosexuals I have counseled over the past 35 years, first as a Protestant Christian and now as an Orthodox Christian. The Orthodox Church’s spirituality both affirmed and challenged my thinking about homosexuality over the years. This article is based on these experiences. As part of my exploration of how Orthodoxy has actually affected the lives of people living with same-sex attraction issues, several converts to Orthodoxy agreed to participate anonymously in interviews about their struggles with same-sex attraction (SSA) for this article.

What’s in a Name?

When I met Joe, his very first words to me were, “I hate Jesus Christ and I hate Christians.” After learning what he had endured in the minister’s family that adopted him, I could not blame him. After becoming a Christian, he wrestled with his identity in Christ. He said he had a hard time with the Christian attitude that, “If you have sex with several people of the opposite sex you simply sinned, but if you give oral sex to one man you are a fag forever.” He never escaped the label, even in Christ, and I believe he died a “fag” in his own mind.
What do we call people who are attracted to the same sex? What we call ourselves or someone else can define the human being in a way that denies basic Christian dogma about our personhood. Carol succinctly summed up the Orthodox view in our interview: “I am not my sin.”
The Christian faith teaches us that we are all created in the image of God. The Fathers teach that the image may be marred, corroded, covered, but it is never lost. While those in the world may lay claim to their sin as a label or a badge, those who are Christians are not labeled with their sin, but are merely Christ-ians: in the image of Christ. We either bear the name of Christ, or we bear the name of our sins. St. Paul says no “fornicators, idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God, and such were some of you but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11 NASV).
When we enter the arena of the Church and the struggle against sin, we are no longer labeled with our sin. This is true of heterosexual sin, homosexual sin, or any other sin. We are not defined by the gender of the person for whom we have a sexual desire, but by Christ. The Church is only concerned with who you are becoming in Christ through the practice of the virtues, regardless of your besetting sin.
Almost all the people interviewed commented that this revelation was one of the most comforting aspects of the Orthodox faith. Their struggle is against sin, not against their humanity. Andrew said, “Being gay is not a ‘struggle’. It’s a struggle to see yourself as worthy of love and respect; from yourself, from other people, and especially from the church. And it’s a struggle to decide how to live your life. My struggles arise from this — how to appropriately express, or not express, my sexuality.” He said these are the same “struggles” all people have, no matter what their sexual orientation, and in this sense being “gay” or “straight” makes no difference.
Many Orthodox Christians prefer to call the issue “same-sex attraction” (SSA), which defines the temptation and not the person.

The Origins of SSA

Joe was sexually abused by foster parents, then by his adoptive mother, his brothers, his cousins, and physically abused by his adoptive father. Carol was physically abused from infancy, then repeatedly raped from age seven. Gregory’s father traveled a lot on business. He was raised by his mother, who let him dress in women’s clothes and collect Barbie dolls, which upset his father. Gregory’s mother was raised by a father who she discovered was homosexual when she was about forty years old; her mother had died as an alcoholic. The pieces of her own family dysfunctions fell into place long after she had realized Gregory was “gay.” Michael’s family was a “normal” Christian family, but he knew there were several members of his extended family who were gay.
These stories are classic scenarios for producing people with SSA issues. However, research has shown that no childhood events are infallible predictors of SSA. Because of this, some propose that SSA is a genetic predisposition or irresistible trait. All of the respondents to my survey were aware of their SSA early in life, but there was not unanimity among them regarding the “nature/nurture” question. Some believe it is nature, some nurture, some think it is a little of both.
The Christian faith does not give us a definitive answer in the “nature/nurture” debate on any human frailty. Genetically caused disabilities are as much a trait of the fallen world as weaknesses visited upon us by lack of nurture and love. The issue for the Christian is the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). What is the “glory of God”? It is living in perfect love and communion with God and other human beings.
But we don’t live in perfect love; we are born into corruption, futility, and death. We are conceived by fallen flesh and born into a fallen world. We are dealt a set of fallen DNA from conception. The moment we leave the womb, we are placed in the arms of a broken person, then taken home to a place where broken people are working out their salvation with fear and trembling at best, or with no fear of God at worst. From our first interactions, we are mishandled, neglected, and broken in ways we did not choose and often cannot consciously identify. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the following generations, not as punishment but as inevitable consequence. We are all broken.
What does this mean in terms of SSA? We all grow up fractured and broken. We grow up with a warfare within us that we did not choose, but which was given to us. We do not get to choose our parents and their limitations. We do not choose our physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual broken places any more than we get to choose being born with a big nose, an aptitude for math, a susceptibility to heart disease, or a gross deformity. We don’t get to pick a lot of our struggles. Ultimately, we work out our salvation with and through our unique array of genetic traits, attributes, and emotionally and spiritually damaged humanity.

What Do You Want Me to Do for You?

“What do you want Me to do for you?” Jesus asked blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51). This is a simple question: What do we want from relationships? Joe learned to equate sex with connection or “communion” with other human beings. Gregory is attracted to strong men. He knows he is filling his father’s void in his heart. Carol was abused by men and just says, “Is it any wonder I find emotional and physical connections with women more comfortable?”
People with SSA are seeking the same thing every human being is desperate for: intimacy, unconditional acceptance, to love and be loved. This is not only about SSA. The loneliness and despair of the rejected, ugly, shy, socially inept, and sick are as hellish as the loneliness of the person with SSA. The more introspective people I’ve talked to about SSA say it is not about the sex; it is about emotional attachment, the feeling of being connected intimately to another human being. I’ve heard the same thing from heterosexual people who have committed adultery and fornication. The intense emotions of a relationship are like drugs. They are powerfully addicting. Relationships often become obsessions, and people will sacrifice everything they have for them. As important as the emotional aspects are, sex always enters the relationship. Why do potentially intimate and godly friendships between any genders often get sexualized?
First, we must remember that sex in and of itself is not evil. While it is a God-given, powerful, and unitive act between two human beings, it is neither necessary for human wholeness and intimate relationships, nor is it a “God-given right.” Our sexuality is natural to our human bodies, like eating and drinking. What is not natural is for us to wantonly use gratification of our fleshly desires to try to fill a spiritual void. Indeed, people can degenerate into a sexual life that is at the level of the animal passions, where human beings become mere objects of lust. Fasting teaches us we are not ruled by our bellies. Abstinence teaches us we are not ruled by our genitals, in spite of what our culture says.
Obsession with sex is the signpost for our culture’s existential descent into loneliness, isolation, and despair. We settle for pleasure over joy, emotion over intimacy, feelings over love, and copulation over union. The delusion is powerful. To paraphrase a Woody Allen quip, “Sex without love is an empty and hollow experience, but as empty, hollow experiences go, it’s one of the best.”
When damaged human beings are incapable of godly intimacy and joy with another human being, we often resort to sexual pleasure with another at best, or at the expense of another at worst, as a way to connect. The issue for the Christian is that we exchange our personhood, as defined by the image of God who is Love, for an identity as a biological creature, defined by whom we have an orgasm with in order to feel good. It is “exchanging the truth of God for the lie, and worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).

To Change or Not to Change

When I asked, “Do you think homosexuals can change?” all but one of the people interviewed said, “No.” The sole dissenter said, “I don’t know, God knows.” This was not the response I was anticipating.
All of these people related having problems with how SSA was approached in their former traditions, whether it was “God made you this way, so it is OK, just go with it”; or “all fags are going to hell”; or “homosexuals need to change into heterosexuals.” There was a wholesale rejection of their former traditions and current Protestant approaches.
Regarding the Christian organizations that promote “change therapies,” Michael said the Protestant group he was in was “counterproductive, actually. For the promise was to ‘change,’ which didn’t happen — not even close, which only added to the general hopelessness.” He said that the “drop-dead gorgeous” leader of the group eventually ran off with one of the members and is now living an openly gay lifestyle, a danger Carol noted about “support groups.”
Andrew vehemently stated, “Those organizations are dangerous. . . . Anyone who would send their children to those people should be ashamed of themselves, churches included. They should have the millstones put around their necks and be thrown into the sea.”
One might think this notion of inability to change is a sign of hopelessness and resignation. To the contrary, it was unanimously a comfort and hope to all the people I interviewed, because it placed the battle where it really belongs: against the sin, and not against themselves. And the warfare against sin is indeed a battle. Joseph said, “The discipline of Orthodoxy is essential. In time, old patterns of behavior fade, and new patterns become normative. But then you run into an old temptation face-to-face and the struggle seems as fresh as ever.”
George, an 80-year-old man who has not had a relationship in over 50 years, still has thoughts and desires that assault him. Andrew mentioned an icon of St. Anthony that said, “Expect temptation until your last breath.” As with all sin, constant vigilance is needed to escape falling.

The Beauty of Virginity

I was talking with a young man one day about SSA and the Orthodox view of celibacy and virginity. He said, “So what you are saying is, if I become Orthodox I am doomed to celibacy.” Of course the answer is yes, but the “yes” is not a bitter pill if we understand the nature of the medicine.
First, love does not require sex. As godly as it is, sex and sexuality are not the foundations for any relationship. There is a higher union between human beings than mutual orgasms. Sex may fulfill and enhance a particular relationship, but it is not essential for any relationship. Personhood ultimately revolves around who we are in godly union with another human being of any gender. The joy of Trinitarian intimacy comes when we struggle against sin in order to define ourselves in Christ rather than in another human being’s arms, no matter how comfortable and affirming the experience feels to our deluded and shattered hearts.
Second, “doomed” is a strong word. It implies a living hell, torment and despair. As flippant as this may sound, living without sex is not doom. People with SSA are not the only people in the world “doomed” to abstinence as a lifestyle against their choice and desires. Having the possibility of a committed monogamous relationship because one is heterosexual is not a guarantee that one will actually have such a relationship. And having a heterosexual monogamous relationship is not a guaranteed wall against temptation, lust, and overt sin. Choices still exist, ungodly desires still run rampant, and one can wither away in loneliness and despair even in the context of a God-ordained heterosexual marriage.
Third, neither is celibacy hell. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 7 it is set forth as the “Cadillac” of vehicles to virtue and service to God. In Protestant churches, the singles ministries attest to the prevailing attitude that there is something “wrong” with a Christian who embraces the single life. But biblically, celibacy does not imply living without deep friendships, intimacy, and love. In fact, it implies learning to be intimate and to love as Christ Himself loved — as a celibate human being. It may not be a spiritual discipline we would have chosen from the cosmic menu if given the choice, but it is indeed one that all Christians may, at one time or another or even permanently, have to embrace for the sake of the Kingdom.
Carol observed that even married people are called to self-control. Andrew stated that living without sex may be difficult to accept, hard to do, a bleak prospect, an unfulfilled desire, but it is possible and it is far from “doom.” Monasticism is an option all have considered, but they know that it is not a “cure” for SSA any more than for any other sin.

The Role of the Clergy

Gregory said he would never confess to a priest he heard using the pulpit to “rant” about homosexuals. Andrew does confession with his parish priest, but not about his SSA issues. He sees a nun for that. He said if his priest asked, he would admit it, but he is not going to volunteer it. In spite of the discomfort and fears, all of the people I interviewed had a trusted spiritual director. Some were parish priests, some nuns, some lay spiritual directors. Establishing this relationship is a risky step for the person with SSA, and one that is understandably fearful.
It is clear that all priests are not created equal, and some may not be able to deal with SSA issues due to their own weaknesses. Clergy must assume that if someone with SSA issues is attending their parish, they are there to be saved; otherwise they would be going somewhere else. As Andrew said, “I don’t plan to march around church waving rainbow banners or anything. I’m not here to make political statements or change social policy. I just want to be a respected member of the parish.” The person with SSA is wary and discerning, and clergy who assume a pastoral stance regarding SSA in private conversations and sermons are trusted. None of the people interviewed cared whether their spiritual director had SSA or not. The only thing that mattered was their acceptance of them as persons and their spiritual advice.

The Church

I asked if anyone felt it necessary to “come out” to their church. No one I interviewed felt the need to or saw any wisdom in “coming out” to their entire parish, and in fact saw that as unwise and ill-advised. On the other hand, when I asked if they feared being “outed,” none of them were concerned about it.
I asked, “How can the church help people with SSA?” because ultimately the burden for healing SSA does not fall only on the clergy, but on the whole church. Andrew stated, “I really haven’t thought about how the parish could ‘help’ a gay person. I’d just want my fellow parishioners to not think any differently of me. Treat me the same as when you thought I was straight. They have known me for ten years. I am active in serving my parish. What could they say to me at this point?”
Gregory issued this challenge: “In our pre-communion prayers we all confess that we are ‘the chief of sinners.’ No one should look at another person as if they stand on moral high ground.”
I believe the message is clear. We need to adopt the attitude that we all stand at the foot of the cross in need of mercy. The Church is the Body of Christ and should be the place where the pure love of God that knows no respect of persons is found. No matter what passion someone is struggling with, we need to be the Church, the hospital for sinners, the place where we can be healed, find acceptance and relationships that draw us closer to God through love and compassion.
When all is said and done, the basic human issue we all face is loneliness and alienation. Loneliness is not a function of sexuality, but of sin. The cure for our alienation is in Christ, in His Body, the Church. The Church needs to be the Church: the place where humble love embraces the sick, the suffering, the emotionally, spiritually, and physically deformed, the outcast, the least, the lost and the lonely. In this embrace it teaches the meaning of God’s love, which transcends and heals all the ravages of sin visited on the human being, including same-sex attraction.
(Names and historical details have been changed in order to protect the identity of the people mentioned in this article.)

AGAIN Magazine Vol.28 No. 1

PART TWO, Q and A, CLARIFICATIONS
 I finally compiled and edited months of email exchanges since the last podcast, and this is what I’ve come up with. This is not intended to be THE last word on the issue, but it will probably be MY last words on it.  So without further introduction, I’ll just jump into the questions and answers.
Q:  SSA: Sounds like a “Syndrome”, can we discuss the topic without labeling people?
A:  After talking with the people who participated in the creation of the original they preferred SSA to “homosexual” or “gay” or “lesbian”. SSA defines the condition, not the person like the other labels do. It is not a pejorative nor a “label”, it is merely a way to describe what people are struggling with without stigmatizing the person. For the sake of communication it had to be called something, and this was the “label of choice” that we landed on for the article.
Q:  Steve, clearly you have a heart for those struggling with homosexuality, but I fear you are clinging to theological notions of homosexuality that are inconsistent with reality. In effect, you are requiring 100% of gay men to do something that fewer than 1% of heterosexual men are able to do successfully: live a celibate life. That is a recipe for failure for gay men everywhere, who are doomed by your very precept to fail.
“You are not your sin” is not a comfort to those of us who know that our sexuality is indeed an integral part of our humanity, just as it is with heterosexuals. The Church may be authoritative in matters of faith, but matters of science, psychology, and diagnoses are not her bailiwick. As a gay man who has cried and prayed and struggled for half my life, I know that I will not change. And I finally have come to accept myself, whether the church does or not.
A:  I can’t presume to say I can live inside your pain, but I can say I know suffering related to sexuality pretty well both personally and through my years of counseling. That said, I feel I must take issue with several of your theological and propositional statements, in all kindness and compassion for your personal struggles.
First, it is not only 1% of heterosexual men that are called to or able to live celibate lives. I don’t have statistics but I’d guess at least 30% or more of heterosexual men are unmarried. All of them are called to celibacy by God. Whether or not they or a homosexual IS or CAN be celibate is another issue entirely.  Theological notions are often inconsistent with our “personal realities”, but the point of theology is to define reality not accommodate everyone’s individual issues with it. 
The “recipe for failure” is the same for hetero and homosexuals if you are assuming that because you have a biological desire it therefore demands or therefore is a right to fulfillment. Theologically the reality is that all “diagnoses, psychologies and sciences” are of the fallen order: all of them merely define or identify ways in which we fail.  However, because the DSM-IV does not identify something as a disorder does not necessarily make it so. The Church is indeed involved in diagnosis of human issues because that is what the Eastern spirituality is about: the healing of the human being in the image of God. The issue as I see it is that sexuality is indeed PART of our humanity but not the overarching definition of it under which all other aspects of our being function. Sexuality is subsumed to the created human image of Trintarian love which trancends sex. The Agape of the Trinity is what heals the human being, not mutual orgasms, no matter how pleasant or powerful they might be to our psyche.

So, dogma is not merely propositional theology or a concept that can be tweaked according to “what is true for you according to your personal issues”, it is ultimately an objective definition of the human being created in the image of God. And therefore, dogma defines the possibility of the return of the human being to the life of Love in the image of the Trinitarian God. All psychology does is diagnose the ways we fall short of that glory, but only the Church offers the true and final cure. It is not a matter of the Church “accepting you”... the Church does accept you because Christ accepts ALL fallen human beings no matter what they are attracted to that damages them. As I said in the first podcast, we ALL live with some consequence of the fall, whether it is premature baldness, a fat butt, a predisposition to alcohol, heroin or men. We all work out our salvation within our specific spiritual arenas. For God to ask someone to struggle against a self destructive tendency in order to attain a higher spiritual state is not “rejection”, it is a prescription for healing. It is destructive to “accept ourselves” if by that we mean we redefine our humanity so that the tail wags the dog… by this I mean that we cannot let our attractions and desires rule our emotions and define our self worth rather than our “true worth” in the image of God defining and limiting what desires and feelings we act on and define ourselves by. There are many parts of my own personal being that I know will “never change”, believe me. But I do not look at them as “gifts of God” or something to be celebrated or a license to “be what I am”. If I did that God knows what a bigger wake of destruction I would leave behind me than I already have.
At the risk of sounding cold, years of tears are not the permission for us to redefine our humanity in order to stop crying. If anything they are an existential and spiritual badge that you are indeed human because you are struggling. Only human beings have the capacity to self examine and assess and weep over a self definition. And many of us will spend a lifetime as a human being that weeps over facing personal limitations and issues we did not ask for, things that we cannot control or change, and whose consequences we must confront and deal with whether we feel like it or not. 
All that said, I hope no one thinks I’m saying any of this flippantly or lightly. This is indeed “the arena” and the struggle is great, and there is no platitude that will make it go way or lighten it for any of us who choose to enter the fight.
Q: The Church condones marriage by declaring it a sacrament—something that helps individuals journey closer to God. So it is OK for a man and a woman to be sexually intimate within the bounds of that marriage and sexual intimacy outside of those bounds is not a good thing.  Now take a same-sex couple who are just as devoted to one another as a committed opposite-sex couple. Why is it OK for the OS couple to have sex and it’s not OK for the SS couple to have sex? 
A:  Let me try to unpack some of my thoughts, hopefully in an orderly manner. Your question regarding marriage and “committed relationships” is a fundamental issue when discussing this topic. There are several facets to this issue in my mind. Here’s my thinking in no particular order of importance.
I think the Western Christian world has corrupted marriage in the sense that since the 60’s sexual revolution (and probably way before actually), marriage is seen as a Church issued “license to have sex”. Cloak it any way you like, but the gist of the arguments regarding “committed relationships” is about the religious or civil legitimacy of the ability to have orgasms with someone of your choice. Yes, it is “OK” for heterosexual couples to have sex within marriage, but even that does not guarantee that once you are married you WILL always have the ability or circumstance to actually have sex. The issue in my mind is not how many people can or cannot have sex with whom and how often, but it is even more basic than that: what is the legitimate place of genital contact within the theological definition of a “committed loving relationship”.
The arguments FOR sex within ANY committed relationship I think views sex as a “right” and sexual attraction as a desire that, if left unfulfilled somehow leaves a facet of our humanity wanting. What I am saying is that the desire to have sex (with anyone) is human. The fulfillment of that desire (with anyone) is not a “right” that can be fulfilled willy nilly or in just any context I decide is right for me simply because I desire it and think it is what I must have to be fulfilled as a human being. Sexual fulfillment is neither a “right” nor is it central to the definition of the human being. It is gender defines the created human being, not sexuality. Millions of people have lived and do live without sex and the definition of them as complete human beings is not compromised. The fact that SOME people can fulfill sexual desires within a certain theological framework of marriage and the definition of the human person does not legitimize sexual intimacy for all people in any circumstance.
But not all committed intimacy boils down to sexual intimacy, and I would submit that the Church legitimizes ALL committed relationships. A monastery is a group of same sex people who live in committed relationship. They do not have sex with the Church’s blessing, but they live in an intimacy with one another that rivals that of a marriage. Intimacy is what the human being is created for. Sexuality is subsumed to that and CAN be an aspect of intimacy and yes, it feels good and makes us feel close, but it does not define intimacy, and in fact often is a barrier to true intimacy even within heterosexual relationships. That fact is well documented within psychological research of marital and psycho-sexual issues. We are ALL looking for “love” and often settle for sex. And as Woody Allen once said, “Sex without love is an empty hollow experience, but as far as empty hollow experiences go, it’s one of the best.”
Q:  But as far as relationships go, heterosexuals at least have the opportunity to have a loving partner in life. I believe that the sexual aspect is the culmination of a deep intimate relationship. It is the ultimate expression of love in intimacy.  The scripture speaks of celibacy as gift, but it is not for all. Again the scripture reminds us “it is not good for man to be alone”. The homosexual person is left no alternative.
A:  It is always with great fear that I address “intimacy/sex” issues because they come off sounding callous, uncompassionate and patronizing, especially because I am married and heterosexual and of course anything I say can be dismissed because well,  “that’s easy for ME to say…”  That said, I think both homosexuals and heterosexuals are victims of our Western romanticized and sexualized culture. While sex CAN be AN expression of intimacy, I will have to differ with you… it is not the highest or deepest or best. I think everyone would agree that the highest expression of love and intimacy was Christ on the Cross in His self sacrifice for the human race. Sex or even physical contact is not a necessity for intimacy, though I’ll be honest, personally I’d rather have intimacy with sex than intimacy without it.
That said, the opportunity and desire for marriage to heterosexuals does not guarantee an intimate sexual partner to anyone.  I can say I have counseled as many heterosexual men who wept because they could not find wives as homosexual men who had to forgo “lovers” for the sake of their faith.  The pain of loneliness and unfulfilled desires is the same for both.
So, just because sex in marriage for heterosexuals is “biblically legitimate” does not make the struggle any less intense for someone who cannot fulfill a desire for marriage and sex because of some physical issue, psychological problem or genetic defect. It was news to a homosexual man I was having a discussion with that heterosexuals incapable of having a “legitimate heterosexual relationship” feel just as strongly and have to fight just as hard against lust, fornication and passions as a homosexual. Involuntary or voluntary celibacy is a curse to anyone who cannot do what their biology is screaming for because of their “religion”. It is not only the homosexual that MUST chose to be “a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom” in spite of not feeling like they have the “gift of celibacy The Scriptures teach that all have the same calling, regardless of orientation, regardless of reasons for inability to have sex within a heterosexual marriage: celibacy. As with ANY besetting sin, orientation, inclination and habit, the promise by God is the same: The thorn may never be removed but His grace is sufficient. Forgive me if I have sounded uncaring, that is the furthest thing from the truth.  The fact is that none of us can live in another person’s skin totally, so we all usually assume our existential pain is greater than the next person’s, but that is ultimately narcissism, the plague of us all when it comes to our own peculiar faults and fallenness.
Q: Gee, just what I needed to hear: “Eunuch”.  This is why I struggle and have doubts in regards to the whole - Homosexual=bad, Heterosexual=good - thing. I know that I am simplifying things but in reality, that’s what it is. I hear one side debate scriptural interpretation and context, then the other side is always reminding homosexuals that they will not inherit the kingdom if they act on their feelings.
But what it comes down for me is this: If I have to deny what feels natural for me it means more then a life without sex. It means a life without a very important type of intimacy, more than a good friend or buddy. It means not having a partner to share and walk through life with. It means no dates. It limits my life and leaves me feeling less than human. When I hear Eunuch, I envision someone whose manhood has been denied by force or by choice. I know for me, that it is not something that I have been given a gift for. For me to deny my personhood is for me a curse. The question that always comes to mind for me, is why? It is not like we are choosing to lie or be disobedient, we’re just a person, seeking companionship and Love. As we grow older, friends are more fleeting, people have families and lives to lead. The person that doesn’t have these things is not left with a lot.
A:  I don’t think in Orthodoxy it is “Homosexual=bad, Hetero=good”. Perhaps in some Christian circles that is preached. In the grand scheme of the Orthodox view of salvation, ANYONE who “acts on their feelings” risks not inheriting the kingdom. Our feelings are not the guide for life and godliness. What “feels natural” or even brings us comfort or happiness may in fact be ungodly and in fact ultimately a denial of our true personhood. No where in Scripture or the teachings of the Church are we commanded to deny friendship, intimacy, love, or deep commitment to another human being. In fact, those are what make us human. The challenge for both the heterosexual and homosexual is how to do that in a godly way that does not involve the flesh, passions and violate our own and others’ bodies. “Eunuch” in the context of the Gospel is not an involuntary castration, but a voluntary walk for the sake of the “beauty of virginity” which is a phrase one NEVER hears in our modern culture. We are not asked to deny our personhood, but our flesh. We are not asked to deny the image of God in which we are created, we are told to deny our passions. This is not just for homosexuals, it is for all people regardless of how natural or passionately they feel about any relationship. Homosexuals are not singled out in the sin of fornication or adultery. Any sexual sin by any person is a violation of an aspect of our true personhood. Marriage is prescribed by God as ONE path to salvation. Marriage is one, virginity is another. Both have their benefits and problems. Heterosexual marriage is more than just sexual intimacy, and anyone who has been married for any length of time will tell you, sex is the first thing to go when spiritual and emotional intimacy is lost or violated. The grass is not greener with a “license to have sex” if that is what marriage is seen as. As I mentioned earlier, marriage may appear on the outside to be “God’s license to have sex”, but even within marriage that aspect can and often does become through no fault of the partners due to sickness, handicaps or mental illness, unavailable or impossible. I know several people who are married and cannot have sexual relations. What then? Marriage does not survive on sex, nor is sex necessary for marriage and all of its “non-physical” intimacies to thrive and deepen. As I’ve mentioned before, homosexuals are not the only class of human beings who are denied the “right to sex” by the Christian faith. Sexual intimacy is not a human right. While the culture might guarantee us the “pursuit of sexual happiness” the Gospel does not. The Gospel guarantees us the pursuit of full personhood and gives us the prescription for it. As strong an instinct and feeling it may be in the human being, sexual intimacy is not a necessity to the realization of personhood nor is it necessary for the attainment of deep communion and intimacy with another human being, male or female regardless of orientations.
That said, I hear the loneliness and despair in your voice. Homosexuals are not the only people on earth who are alone, wanting friendship, intimacy and connection. The world is full of desperate and lonely people who do not know how to connect with another human being, to have intimacy that is not defined by sexuality and physicality. I meet them every day. In that sense we are victims of our culture that force feeds us “sex-as-intimacy” and fulfillment as a human being through sex and romance. We have bought a false definition and then despair that our lives will never look like that definition. But again, this is all easy to talk about on the internet. It is desperately hard to come to terms with in the middle of the night when we have no one to share a bed with and every cell in our body wants a warm body next to us no matter what our orientation is. That is the struggle. And no pontification on theology will make it easy. Forgive me if I have sounded like I have minimized your pain. That is the furthest thing from my intention.
Q:  We are more than monastics and ascetics. We are people who need Love and crave relationships and human touch. We also need families and adult relationships. “It is not good for man to be alone”…
A:  I need to speak to your statement that: “we are more than monastics and ascetics” because it implies a juxtaposition of the ascetical life with “wholeness, intimacy, family, relationships, etc.”.  The word “asceticism” in Orthodox terms applies to everyone, it is not only for monks, the radically committed or goofy zealots. It is the definition of the painful and long process of the healing of the soul of the human being ravaged by corruption, death and the futility of this fallen order. To the degree that someone engages the process is the degree to which one will experience the healing of the soul. In that sense everyone is called to ascesis, the denial of the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life. These are manifest in manifold ways and every person has predispositions, issues and inclinations brought on through genetics, nature and nurture. The reality is that asceticism properly understood in the context of an Orthodox anthropology encompasses and enhances the possibility of relationships being MORE authentic to our human nature. Wholeness, intimacy and deep relationships are in fact the GOAL of asceticism, not only in the arena of SSA, but in every aspect of our lives no matter what our sexual orientations are.
The definition of “wholeness” is not the “permission” to live according to our passions or feelings or perceived needs. Fulfillment of desires is not necessarily fulfillment of our personhood. No asceticism is pleasant or easy.  The outcomes and goals of self denial are usually not apprehended while we are engaged in the combat. The spiritual disciplines of an ascetical life in an Orthodox framework encompasses the entirety of human existence, not just sexual orientation.  In the final analysis, the roots of human despair and lack of intimacy and authentic relationships all boil down to a core of issues that are manifested in a multitude of human failure and weaknesses, and SSA is merely one of those issues. That is why the Orthodox Church does not make homosexuality the unforgivable sin or demonize it, OR hold out false promises of healing and change. The glutton, the womanizer, the egoist, the narcissist, the miserly, the wrathful, the disobedient, the lazy, etc. etc. ALL face the same hard path to shedding their besetting weaknesses and finding healing and wholeness through arduous and prolonged struggle.
So, I am not minimizing the anguish of homosexuals, I am informing them that they are not alone in the difficult and gut wrenching struggles they face.  It is in that sense that I believe that homosexuals, like all human beings who are suffering, often are narcissistic in their insistence that they experience despondency and despair to a greater depth than other people, and that no one except other homosexuals can understand their feelings.
I recall a gay man telling me that I HAD to watch “Brokeback Mountain” because it defined the gay experience. I told him I watched “Brokeback Mountain” and to me it was just a gay “Bridges of Madison County”. He eventually responded, “I see what you mean”. Homosexuals are not the only people on earth who struggle with relationships, sexual desires and are broken deeply because of them. Perhaps it is because of my intense involvement in broken people’s lives that I see everyone is in a great battle and no one’s struggle is truly greater than another’s.
So nothing in this podcast is intended to minimize the truth of anyone’s struggles, but to level the field of what it means to wrestle with ourselves and God. The reality is, all human beings are diseased, all are afflicted and all who choose to enter the arena are engaged in a desperate spiritual warfare. And the cure for all is the ascetical path of self denial within the context of a community of love and intimacy. 
As a final note, one of the things I’ve consciously avoided in the podcast is giving specific spiritual counsel and advice.  I’ve had several long email exchanges with people who are having difficulty with their spiritual director’s advice and disciplines.  As I said in the previous podcast, all spiritual fathers are not created equal and it is not a sin to not confess or take spiritual direction from someone you believe is not equipped to work with your issues.  The only advice I can give in a podcast is that both finding and leaving a spiritual director should be undertaken extremely carefully and soberly.
And I as I said in the introduction, these podcasts are not the final word or even the “Church’s word” on same sex attraction. These are my thoughts and those of a few who have agreed to participate in a discussion of the issue in the context of living the Christian life in the context of the Orthodox faith.  I pray that these podcasts have been helpful and I beg the forgiveness of any whom I have offended and marginalized inadvertently.
 

34 comments:

David Bryan said...

Wonderful. I'm linking to this.

Rhology said...

True that SSA (which sounds like a syndrome, like AIDS or SIDS or MS or something; I'm not too fond of the association, but oh well) is too much of a stigma in Western Xtian society, and particularly in Evangelical churches. It's always had that stigma, I should think, and recent homosexual activism makes Evs even more sensitive to it. It's too bad that we let ourselves get so reactionary.
I liked what the article said about the single life and celibacy; not all Ev churches are so neglectful as the article said, however. Other than that, a strong article.

s-p said...

Hi Rhology, after talking with many people who are attracted to the same sex who actually struggle with the attaction they preferred SSA to "homosexual" or "gay" or "lesbian". SSA defines the condition, not the person like the other labels do. It is not a pejorative nor a "label", it is merely a way to describe what people are struggling with without stigmatizing the person. Unfortunately for the sake of communication it has to be called something, and this is the "label of choice" that we landed on for the article. That said, I do see a "bunker mentality" forming in the evangelical church at large who feel assaulted by the "homosexual agenda". It is true that not ALL evangelicals nor ALL evangelical churches demonize people with SSA, however across the board I think the conservative evangelical will have more difficulty dealing with the issue personally and theologically than a conservative Orthodox person might all things being equal. This is a tough issue that I think the evangelical world needs to think a little more deeply about even if it challenges some of their theological foundations in regard to the views of human nature, the fall, sin and repentance.

Tully said...

s-p, clearly you have a heart for those struggling with homosexuality, but I fear you are clinging to theological notions of homosexuality that are inconsistent with reality. In effect, you are requiring 100% of gay men to to do something that fewer than 1% of heterosexual men are able to do succesfully: live a celibate life. That is a recipe for failure for gay men everywhere, who are doomed by your very precept to fail.

"You are not your sin" is not a comfort to those of us who know that our sexuality is indeed an integral part of our humanity, just as it is with heterosexuals. The Church may be authoritative in matters of faith, but matters of science, psychology, and diagnoses are not her bailiwick.

As a gay man who has cried and prayed and struggled for half my life, I know that I will not change. And I finally have come to accept myself, whether the church does or not.

s-p said...

Hi Tulley, I can't presume to say I can live inside your pain, I can say I know suffering related to sexuality pretty well. That said, I feel I must take issue with several of your statements, in all kindness and compassion for your struggles.

First, it is not only 1% of heterosexual men that are called to or able to live celibate lives. I don't have statistics but I'd guess at least 30% or more of heterosexual men are unmarried. All of them are called to celibacy by God. The DESIRE for marriage does not guarantee a partner to anyone. I can say I have counseled as many heterosexual men who wept because they could not find wives as homosexual men who had to forgo "lovers" for the sake of their faith. The "recipe for failure" is the same for SSA and OSA people if you are assuming that "desire demands fulfillment". The theological reality is that all "diagnoses, psychologies and sciences" are of the fallen order: all of them identify ways in which we fail. The Church is indeed involved in that intimately because that is what the Eastern spirituality is about: the healing of the human being in the image of God. Sexuality in that sense is indeed PART of our humanity but not the overarching definition of it under which all other aspects of our being function. Sexuality is subsumed to "love" which trancends sex. The Agape of the Trinity is what heals the human being, not mutual orgasms, no matter how pleasant or powerful they might be to our psyche. Faith and dogma are not merely propositional theology, it is ultimately the definition of the human being created in the image of God. Dogma defines the possibility of the return of the human being to the life of Love in the image of the Trinitarian God. All psychology does is diagnose the ways we fall short of that glory, only the Church offers the true cure. It is not a matter of the Church "accepting you"... the Church does because Christ does just as the Church accepts ALL fallen human beings. We ALL live with some consequence of the fall, whether it is premature baldness, a fat butt, a predisposition to heroin or men. We all work out our salvation within our specific spiritual arenas. To ask someone to struggle against a self destructive tendency to attain a higher spiritual state is not "rejection", it is a prescription for healing. It is destructive to "accept ourselves" if by that we mean we redefine our humanity so that the tail wags the dog...by this I mean that our attractions and desires and passions rule our emotions and feelings and self worth rather than our "true worth" in the image of God defining and limiting what feelings we act on and define ourselves by. There are many parts of my being that I know will "never change", believe me. But I do not look at them as "gifts of God" or something to be celebrated or a license to "be what I am". If I did that God knows what wake of destruction I would leave behind me. Years of tears are not the permission for us to redefine our humanity in order to stop crying. If anything they are an existential badge that you are indeed human because you did struggle. Only human beings have the capacity to self examine and assess and weep over a self definition. And many of us will spend a lifetime as a human being that weeps for what we know we did not ask for, what we cannot control or change within us, and whose consequences we must confront and deal with whether we feel like it or not. None of us can live in another person's skin totally, so we assume our existential pain is greater than the next person's, but that is ultimately narcissism, the plague of us all when it comes to our own peculiar faults and fallenness.
All that said, I hope no one thinks I'm saying any of this flippantly or lightly. This is indeed "the arena" and the struggle is great, and there is no platitude that will make it go way or lighten it for any of us who choose to enter the fight.

Anonymous said...

Hello...I came across this fascinating discussion and thought I'd add my 2cents...

So...replace the 1% Tully said with the 30% you said S-P...does it change the thrust of his opinion?

The Church condones marriage by declaring it a sacrament--something that helps individuals journey closer to God. So is it OK for a man and a woman to be sexually intimate within the bounds of that marriage? (yes) Sexual intimacy outside of those bounds is not a good thing.

Now take a same-sex couple who are just as devoted to one another as a committed opposite-sex couple. It's OK for the OS couple to have sex and it's not OK for the SS couple to have sex.

Why?

A little bit about myself: I don't have a blog or myspace page or anything like that, so I'm posting as 'anon'. At heart I struggle with agnosticism. I'm too much of a scientist to say without a doubt that God doesn't exist as well as to admit that I don't know all the answers. Hey, conduct a reproducible experiment proving the existence of God and I'm there. I fear, though, that is easier said than done since we are dealing with faith and not reproducible results.

I look forward to your (or anyone else's) comments.

s-p said...

Hi Anon, Thank you for your comments. Let me try to unpack some of my thoughts, hopefully in an orderly manner. Your question regarding marriage and "committed relationships" is a fundamental issue when discussing this topic. There are several facets to this issue in my mind. Here's my thinking in no particular order of importance.

I think the Western Christian world has corrupted marriage in the sense that since the 60's sexual revolution (and probably way before actually), marriage is seen as a Church issued "license to have sex". Cloak it any way you like, but the gist of the arguments regarding "committed relationships" is about the legitimacy of the ability to have orgasms with someone. Yes, it is "OK" for OSA couples to have sex within marriage, but even that does not guarantee that once you are married you WILL always have the ability or circumstance to actually have sex. The issue in my mind is not how many people can or cannot have sex with whom and how often, but it is even more basic than that: what is the legitimate place of genital contact within the definition of a "committed loving relationship"? The arguments FOR sex within ANY committed relationship I think views sex as a "right" and sexual attraction as a desire that, if left unfulfilled somehow leaves a facet of our humanity wanting. What I am saying is that the desire to have sex (with anyone) is human. The fulfillment of that desire (with anyone) is not a "right" that can be fulfilled willy nilly or in just any context I decide is right for me simply because I desire it and think it is what I must have to be fulfilled as a human being. Sexual fulfillment is neither a "right" nor is it central to the definition of the human being. (Ultimately, gender defines the human being, not sexuality.) Millions of people have and do live without it and the definition of them as complete human beings is not compromised. The fact that SOME people can fulfill that desire within a certain theological framework of the definition of the human person does not legitimize it for all people in any circumstance. I would submit that the Church legitimizes ALL committed relationships. A monastery is a group of same sex people who live in committed relationship. They do not have sex with the Church's blessing, but they live in an intimacy with one another that rivals that of a marriage. Intimacy is what the human being is created for. Sexuality is subsumed to that and CAN be an aspect of intimacy and yes, it feels good and makes us feel close, but it does not define intimacy, and in fact often is a barrier to true intimacy even within OSA relationships. That fact is well documented within psychological research of marital issues. We are ALL looking for "love" and often settle for sex. And as Woody Allen once said, "Sex without love is an empty hollow experience, but as far as empty hollow experiences go, it's one of the best."

JGurrea said...

S-P,

Its me, Julio from the Orthodox Convert list on Yahoo. I've added this post as one of the items on my list of "Resources for Purity" on the right hand side of my page. My blog is at

http://hispaniasancta.blogspot.com

You've touched an issue near to my heart. My first sets of posts were actually devoted to sexuality. I'm enjoying your blog immensely.

-Julio

Rhology said...

Whoops... I know it's been a while since this was up and running, but I thought I'd ask you what you meant when you said that O-dox can deal w/ the issue of "SSA" (whatever) better than can evangelicals, specifically, on the theological level.
Could you elaborate?
Thanks!

s-p said...

Hi Rhology,
Hmmmm... good question and one that could end up being a book. I think I'd probably distill the differences down to a few issues. One would be a theology of "personhood" (see Vlachos "The Person in Orthodox Thought". I don't think the modern evangelical has a theology of personhood that encompasses and deals with sexuality and gender very well. The second area would be sin and its consequences, both original sin and personal sin. A third area would be "theosis" or even sanctification as the Protestants understand it (or don't understand it). What is the meaning of ascesis, virtue and forgiveness and how do they intersect within our humanity in our relationship with God? The fourth area would be both theological/practical and that is monasticism as a valid expression of the Christian life, (and not just for homosexual issues). These are huge areas and issues, and I think in many ways the "works-o-phobia" of modern evangelicalism has prevented them from looking seriously at what it takes for a human being to be healed of sin. A mantra like repetition of "unconditional forgiveness", a reliance on the possibility of miraculous "change", and a nod at living a "Christian life as a consequence of our salvation by faith" doesn't adequately cover the territory in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Love your article, I've passed it on to others. As a former evangelical, I've come to the same conclusion about the Theology of Man and the lack of it in evangelical circles resulting in compartmentalizing sin into a variety of "ministries" and "para church" organizations, problems are sometimes regarded as something that shouldn't be happening to a "saved" person. So their psychological care must be found somewhere else. What would you say to an evangelical about what it takes to be healed from sin? I think you're so right that there is an incomplete understanding of the human condition. I wish i could better explain it to my friends:(

s-p said...

Hi Anon,
I think just the phrase "healing from sin" is a concept that is off the radar screen for most evangelicals. Juridical forgiveness is top of the list of "human necessity in relationship with God". From my perspective juridical forgiveness is a subset of the bigger picture of "what does it take for the human being to realize his ontological goal?" Being conformed to the image of Christ is far more than merely being absolved of juridical consequences/guilt. It is pressing (conforming) our humanity (ALL of it that Christ assumed, body, soul and spirit) into His image and likeness as a human being. It is not only about saving our "souls", otherwise Christ would only have needed to assume a human soul and not a body. So, that is kind of where I'd start with the evangelical. Bodily ascesis (crucifying the passions) and adding godly virtue are not merely nice trimmings on the tree, they ARE the tree, because that is what we are called to in our flesh.
Anything short of that falls short of Christ Himself as a man.

Rhology said...

s-p,

Hi there. Sorry for delaying so long. In response:
--theology of personhood
>>Afraid I've not studied any theology of personhood per se, so I'm not sure what to say to this. But in terms of "encompassing sexuality and gender", I don't know to what you might refer, but I think my own worldview on the subject encompasses such questions quite well.
It occurs to me that your comment might be related to your later comment about the "Protestant" doctrine of sanctification. I'll say "Evangelical" since "Prot" is so much broader (though even the term "Evangelical" has been stretched all out of shape today).
At any rate, it is a common and mistaken complaint by O-dox and RCs against Ev doctrine that it treads light on sanctification. I just don't see it, sorry. I do see a TON of cultural O-dox who don't care for anythg as long as they get to the DL once/month or so. I know of several who claim to be serious about their faith and yet use profanity, drink beyond moderation, and show other lapses in good judgment. When I consider that O-dox DLs have very little in terms of teaching the Word of God compared to a 50-minute expository sermon by my pastor (for example, to say nothing of Bible studies and other training classes outside of the "Sunday morning servce"), and when I look at so many of my fellow church mbrs living sanctified godly lives, it's no contest.

--The second area would be sin and its consequences, both original sin and personal sin.
>>Wasn't aware that O-doxy held to original sin, so again, I guess I missed you. And in what way is Ev doctrine inferior to O-dox doctrine of personal sin?

--The fourth area would be both theological/practical and that is monasticism as a valid expression of the Christian life
>>I don't see how this relates to SSA, to be honest.

--the "works-o-phobia" of modern evangelicalism has prevented them from looking seriously at what it takes for a human being to be healed of sin
>>On the contrary, the doctrine of justification by grace alone thru faith alone is under serious attack in Ev-ism today. It's only by HOLDING TO that doctrine and clearly distinguishing it from sanctification that we can arrive at the biblical model and walk God's path.
However, sadly, the O-dox position is on the wrong end of that exchange, so I don't see how it creates a better scenario.

--A mantra like repetition of "unconditional forgiveness", a reliance on the possibility of miraculous "change", and a nod at living a "Christian life as a consequence of our salvation by faith" doesn't adequately cover the territory in my mind.
>>"Unconditional forgiveness" = Romans 8:1, 1 John 1:9
"Reliance on the possibility" = certainly it's POSSIBLE and has happened. Never heard of that being the only option put forth, though.

--Juridical forgiveness is top of the list of "human necessity in relationship with God".
>>Precisely b/c, w/o it, we have NO righteousness. Romans 3-5. Nothing else matters if I stand condemned.

--juridical forgiveness is a subset of the bigger picture
>>certainly it is (indeed, it's the primary subset), but O-dox doctrine doesn't even take it into acct. "Subset" means it's a part, but that's not true of O-doxy.

--Being conformed to the image of Christ is far more than merely being absolved of juridical consequences/guilt.
>>Indeed, but you can't be conformed w/o it. Why? B/c you don't have the Holy Spirit w/o it.

--Bodily ascesis (crucifying the passions) and adding godly virtue are not merely nice trimmings on the tree, they ARE the tree, because that is what we are called to in our flesh.
>>No, rather, they are the tree becoming what it already is by virtue of its transformation from darkness to light, from enemy of God to child of God, from old man to new man, from old things to new creation. As Eph 2:8-10 says, we are saved (ie, justified) UNTO good works. Not BY them.


You said it might take a book to cover it and I think that might be true. But if you want to take a stab at it and help me understand what you mean, that would be great.

Peace,
ALAN

s-p said...

Hi Alan,
I can honestly concur with many of your points regarding the lifestyle of many nominal Orthodox and their attitude toward the DL. That said, I've been around enough Ev's to know there's plenty of nominalism to go around there too, so I don't think we'll get far comparing the bottoms of our respective barrels and judging the theologies of holiness of each tradition by their responses to it, nor is it helpful to compare the relative benefit of the length of time someone exposits a scripture passage...the benefit depends on the content, not length of time, yes? We both have holy people in our respective traditions, so each tradition is fully capable of generating love for God and personal holiness, and each can produce arrogant, nominal and deceived people. We agree perfectly on that, yes? :)

Regarding the rest of your post, at the risk of sounding like I am brushing off the discussion and/or am incapable or not interested in pursuing it, each of the issues you (actually, that I) brought up would in fact be a book to reply to and I just don't have time to write those books on my blog. However I can refer you to a few resources for Orthodox views on "original sin" (not in the RC sense), personhood, holiness/monastisticm, theosis, etc. I'd begin with all the books by Heirotheos Nafpaktos Vlachos, "Deification in Christ" by Panyiotis Nellas, "The Mountain of Silence", "Ancestral Sin" by Romanides, and "Orthodox Spirituality" by Dimitru Staniloae to start. I wish I had time to hash all this out for you, but I just don't. I took the time to read Protestant books for about 30 years of my life (I still have most of the books I've read), and I've been reading Orthodox books for the last 14 years. You just gotta do the work if you want to know stuff. I commend you for your inquisitive and sincere spirit of conversation and kindness in your inquiry and responses. May the Spirit of God continue to give you wisdom and peace in your walk in Christ.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reading list, I'm starting with The Person In The Orthodox Tradition.(Metropolitan Nafpaktos Hierotheos) The challenge is gathering a list of his books under his different names!

Anonymous #2

A-G said...

wow. How well written. Probably the most thorough article I've ever read on the subject. You not only touched on the common points of the subject in a Biblical manner, you touched on the root of sin in each of our lives. Fantastic. I currently serve as the youth pastor @ a pentecostal church. I wish more people from our church thought like that. Truth is truth. Thanks.

s-p said...

Hi A-G
Thanks, I'm glad the article helped you. If you are interested in more "thinking like this" visit the link from my blog "My Radio Show". There's a lot of stuff there that you might find interesting and challenging and it all forms the foundations for this approach to the human condition and our relationship to God. Email me privately if I can be of any other help.

Anonymous said...

I do not like the term SSA myself. It reminds me of a particular Conservative Christian forum, that will not allow the term homosexual. They insist on SSA. It sounds almost like it is a disease.

But as far as relationships go. heterosexuals, at least have the opportunity to have a loving partner in life. I believe the continued use of the term orgasm, reduces an intimate partnership to one that is primarily sexual. I would say NO. I believe that the sexual aspect, is the culmination of a deep intimate relationship. It is the ultimate expression of Love in intimacy.
But again, the person that is Homosexual, is expected to deny that fact. The idea of an intimate relationship, in which one might share a kiss or hold hands,is deemed, off limits. This is the part,in which I think suppression of thse feelings, leads to undesired results.Such as the priest scandals, or annonymous sex.

The scripture speaks of celibacy as gift, but it is not for all. Again the scripture reminds us "it is not good for man to be alone. The Homosexual person is left no alternative.

s-p said...

Hi Anonymous,
It is always with great fear that I address "intimacy/sex" issues because they come off sounding callous, uncompassionate and patronizing. I think both homosexuals and heterosexuals are victims of our Western romanticized and sexualized culture. While sex CAN be AN expression of intimacy, it is not the highest or deepest or best. I think everyone would agree that the highest expression of love and intimacy was Christ on the Cross in His self sacrifice for the human race. Sex or even physical contact is not a necessity for intimacy. Availability of sexual expression for a "class" of people does not really mean anything to the individual person who it is denied to because of physical, psychological or some personal other defect that keeps them from being able to have a partner. It was news to a homosexual man I was having a discussion with that heterosexuals incapable of having a "legitimate heterosexual relationship" feel just as strongly and have to fight just as hard against lust, fornication and passions as a homosexual. Just because it is "biblically legitimate" does not make the struggle any less intense if it cannot be had. It is not only the homosexual that MUST chose to be "eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom" in spite of not having the "gift". Perhaps the gift is being offered but not being engaged in and the recipients are looking for the other "gifts" of sex and passion. The counsel for all, regardless of orientation, reasons for inability to have a heterosexual marriage is the same: celibacy. As with ANY besetting sin, orientation, inclination and habit, the promise by God is the same: The thorn may never be removed but His grace is sufficient. Forgive me if I have sounded uncaring, that is the furthest from the truth. May God bless you in your struggle.

Anonymous said...

Gee just what I needed to hear "Eunuch" This is why I struggle and have doubts in regards to the Whole, Homosexual=bad Heterosexual=good thing. I know that I am simplifying things, but in reality, thats what it is. I hear one side debate scriptural interpetation and context, then the other side is always reminding Homosexuals that they will not inheret the kingdom if they act on their feelings.

But what it comes down for me, is. If I have to deny what feels natural for me. it means more then a life without sex. It means a life without a very important type of intimacy. more than a good friend or buddy. It means not having a partner to share and walk through life with. It means no dates. It for me, limits my life and leaves me feeling less than Human. When I hear Eunuch, I envision someone who's manhood has been denied by force or by choice. I know for me, that it is not something that I have beeb gifted. For me to deny my personhood, is for me a curse.

I am the type that needs to see the big picture. the question that always comes to mind for me, is why? It is not like we are choosing to lie or be disobedient. it is a person, seeking companionship and Love.

As we grow older, friends are more fleeting. people have families and Lives to lead. The person that has not this, is not left with a lot. Just some random thoughts that I have.

s-p said...

Dear Anonymous,
I don’t think in Orthodoxy it is “Homosexual=bad, Hetero=good”. Perhaps in some Christian circles that is preached. In the grand scheme of the Orthodox view of salvation, ANYONE who “acts on their feelings” risks not inheriting the kingdom. Our feelings are not the guide for life and godliness. What “feels natural” or often brings us comfort or happiness may in fact be ungodly and in fact ultimately a denial of our true personhood. No where are we commanded to deny friendship, intimacy, love, or deep commitment to another human being. In fact, those are what makes us human. The challenge for both the heterosexual and homosexual is how to do that in a godly way that does not involve the flesh, passions and violate our own bodies. “Eunuch” in the context of the Gospel is not an involuntary castration, but a voluntary walk for the sake of the “beauty of virginity” which is a phrase one NEVER hears in our modern culture. We are not asked to deny our personhood, but our flesh. We are not asked to deny the image of God in which we are created, we are to deny our passions. This is not just for homosexuals, it is for all people regardless of how natural or passionately they feel about any relationship. Homosexuals are not singled out in the sin of fornication or adultery. Any sexual sin by any person is a violation of an aspect of our true personhood. Marriage is prescribed by God as ONE path to salvation. Marriage is one, virginity is another. Both have their benefits and problems. Heterosexual marriage is more than just sexual intimacy, and anyone who has been married for any length of time will tell you sex is the first thing to go when emotional intimacy is lost or violated. The grass is not greener with a “license to have sex” if that is what marriage is seen as. As I mentioned, marriage may appear on the outside to be “God’s license for sex” to some, but even within marriage that aspect can and often does become through no fault of the partners, unavailable and impossible. What then? Marriage does not survive on sex, nor is sex necessary for marriage and all of its “non-physical” intimacies to thrive and deepen. As I’ve mentioned before, homosexuals are not the only class of human beings who are denied the “right to sex” by the Christian faith. Sexual intimacy is not a human right. While the culture might guarantee us the “pursuit of happiness” the Gospel does not. The Gospel guarantees us the pursuit of full personhood and gives us the prescription for it. As strong an instinct and feeling it may be in the human being, sexual intimacy is not a necessity to the realization of personhood nor is it necessary for the attainment of deep communion and intimacy with another human being, male or female regardless of orientations.

I hear the loneliness and despair in your “voice”. Homosexuals are not the only people on earth who are alone, wanting friendship, intimacy and connection. The world is full of desperate and lonely people who do not know how to connect with another human being, to have intimacy that is not defined by sexuality and physicality. I meet them every day. In that sense we are victims of our culture that force feeds us sex-as-intimacy and fulfillment as a human being through sex and romance. We have bought a false definition and then despair that our lives will never look like that definition. But again, this is all easy to talk about on the internet. It is desperately hard to come to terms with in the middle of the night when we have no one to share a bed with and every cell in our body wants a warm body next to us no matter what our orientation is. That is the struggle. And no pontification on theology will make it easy. Forgive me if I have sounded like I have minimized the pain. That is the furthest thing from my intention.
May God grant you love,
s-p

Anonymous said...

For those who feel that it isn't fair for heterosexuals to have a legitimate way of finding sexual fulfillment, that isn't there for homosexuals... life isn't fair. Get used to it. I am married. But I live a celibate life, because my husband has SSA (yes, it is a disease, just like gluttony and anger and lust... a sickness of our souls that we need to be healed from). The only way for me to find sexual fulfillment would be outside of marriage, which is adultery. So I am 'stuck', as if I have SSA myself. In the words of a pervious poster: 'The idea of an intimate relationship, in which one might share a kiss or hold hands,is deemed, off limits.'

I'm learning about intimacy without sex. S-P is right. Greater intimacy can be achieved without sex. I find myself envying monastics. They have each other. Most of the time, I have no one. I'm not even single anymore, so I can't hang out with singles. I have kids, so I have responsibilities, that I feel I'm terribly underqualified for. Everyday, I wonder how much more I've damaged my kids, because they are growing up in an unhealthy home. A home in which their mother cringes like she's been whipped, whenever someone calls her Mrs or says 'wife'. Hopefully, it passes unnoticed behind my mask. I long to yell out: "I'm nobody's wife. I'm not really married. Don't call me Mrs, I've got my own name!" I shudder to think of what they're learning about marriage.

But you know what, I've learned that however painful my own life can be at times, I still haven't had to suffer to the point of shedding blood. There are many who live in more painful conditions that I do. Sexual fulfillment is the last thing on their minds. They are struggling to stay alive. They are struggling to find relief from pain. They're struggling for breath. I could go on... but who am I to speak? I do not know what true suffering means.

I need a friend. I don't need sex. I need someone who can listen to me without judging me. God knows my list of sins outweighs anybody's SSA. I need someone who will always be there for me, no matter what. I need someone who can be kind to me. I need someone who is strong enough to let me cry. And when I'm too tired to think, I need someone I can trust enough to think for me. Do you suppose it's possible for us to just befriend each other? Most people, especially in the West, have no one to talk to. People are lonely and misunderstood everywhere. Couldn't we... shouldn't we... just be friends and start caring for each other? Isn't everyone hurting?

Nathan said...

Hi, My name is Nathan, and I want to state very emphatically that change for someone with same sex attractions is possible. I have spent the last 4-5 years working on "becoming straight" and I will say that the change has been awesome and often times feels miraculous. I won't say that it wasn't hard. It has been one of the hardest things I have ever done and probably ever will do, but it has been totally worth it. If you would like info on the leading specialists in the SSA world, I would suggest looking up Exodus-International. It is a protestant organization, but they do have a lot of good material on the subject.

With that said, I do agree with your views of intimacy/sex. I do agree that intimacy of all levels can be achienved without some kind of sexual relationship. With all my experience with sexual relationships and research into human sexuality, I have to say that one of primary life desires is to have an intimate male friend with whom I can share my every day life. It is basically what the previous poster was talking about. Yes, sex is a great thing, and I would still like to have a wife someday, but there is still something very appealing about just having a good healthy same gender friendship where you can be totaly open, honest, and real with each other.

Now, even though I agree with your view on sex/intimacy, when it comes to SSA, I think it is incomplete. It seems that your view of ssa is that it is just another natural type of deprivation of man, like murder or stealing, due to sin. Coming from personal experience and doing various reading/research, that is not the case. I would like to preface my comments by saying that since my personal experience is in male ssa most of what I say will be primarily male ssa relevent. Ok, so your understanding of sex/intimacy explains why people want to have sex with each other, but it does not answer the question as to the object of sexual desire. From my experience, an understanding of human nature and how God made us as human beings, in all aspects i.e. emotionally, psychologically, sexually, etc., helps us put that into perspective. As far as male ssa goes, it is rooted in a gender identity issue. For someone who has ssa, there was a problem that occured during their natural psychological/sexual/emotional development and they became detached from their own gender. Most ssa men will say that they experienced such a detachment at a young age, which is why most of them feel like it is inborn, but for me it didn't happen until my pre-teen to early teen years. The point is that men need to feel connected and a part of their own gender group and if they don't develop that connection before puberty, that need to same gender emotional love, acceptance, and identification becomes eroticized. To put it simply, all a ssa man is doing is trying to feel like he is a man and part of the masculine crowd so to speak. I sincerely hope this helps with your undesrstanding of ssa, and I would be interested in exchanging emails if you have any questions.

Also I would like to thank you for your understanding and love for those who deal with ssa. It is not very often that people like me come across someone who can truely love them without fear or judgment while not understanding the problem.

I look forward to your response.

s-p said...

Hi Nathan,
Thank you for sharing your experience with everyone. I have read quite a bit of material on SSA, and the article was not meant to be a complete exposition of all psychological/theological theories and treatment modalities, so your experience and viewpoint is appreciated to represent an aspect that was not among the experiences of those who participated in the interviews I conducted. (In fact some of them had experienced failures in similar treatment programs). While change is held out as the "Holy Grail" of SSA treatment programs, the reality is not everyone agrees with the theoretical psychological and theological frameworks that make change to hetereosexual desire the end game for the Christian with SSA. For those people, Christian Orthodoxy offers a framework and Christian life that deals with the issue without minimizing the struggle, demonizing the person or casting the person into despondency and delusion for not changing. This is not to say that change is not desireable and hoped for by many, but it is not a shoe that fits all. Again, thank you for your input. I pray you find the intimacy and love you desire in godly relationships of both genders.

Anonymous said...

To start. I feel compassion for the woman who spoke of the her Husband being gay. It must be such a conflict for both. I guess only the ones involved can decide whether the marriage is valid and one that should be sustained. I can only say that I am sorry for your grief.

As for the gentleman Nathan, I would not classify Exodus the leading group or thinkers on Homosexuality. If you read the subtext below most of their marketing, they now state that complete change is quite rare and they have employed cliches such as 'Its not heterosexuality, its Holiness" All well and good, but that does not for me cut to the center and core of deeper issues.

I wrote several posts up, regarding the feeling that Gays are expected to deny a whole aspect of who they are. Which ultimately relegates one to an existence of lonliness and dispair. I often believe that a lot of church scandals and scandals in our own personal lives, are in fact caused by denying ourselves a wholness. We are more than Monastics and asetics. We are people who need Love and crave relationships and Human touch. We also need famiies andd adult relationships. "It is not good for man to be alone"

s-p said...

Hi Anonymous,
I agree with your "assessment" of Exodus and their bottom line. It is a disclaimer that, after years of working with homosexuals it is a reality it is impossible to avoid: "Change" is not always possible and holding out the promise or even the hope of complete change is in fact a recipe for despair and rejection of Christianity altogether. However it is not enough to just say "it is about holiness" without some kind of deep foundations for a theology of the human being that encompasses ALL deeply rooted issues, not ONLY SSA. I think this is where I take issue with your position: "we are more than monastics and ascetics" and juxtaposes an ascetical life with "wholeness, intimacy, family, relationships, etc.". The reality is that asceticism properly understood in the context of an Orthodox anthropology encompasses and enhances the possibility of relationships being MORE authentic to our nature, and wholeness, intimacy etc. are in fact the GOAL of asceticism, not only in the arena of SSA, but in every aspect of our lives no matter what our sexual orientations are. The definition of "wholeness" is not the "permission" to live according to our passions or feelings or perceived needs. No asceticism is pleasant or easy, nor is its outcomes and goals apprehended while we are engaged in them. The spiritual disciplines of ascetical praxis in an Orthodox framework encompasses the entirety of human existence, not just sexual orientations and in the final analysis, the roots of human despair and lack of intimacy and authentic relationships all boil down to a core of issues that are manifested in a multitude of human failure and weaknesses and SSA is merely one of those issues. That is why the Orthodox Church does not make homosexuality the unforgivable sin or demonize it, OR hold out false promises of healing and change because the glutton, the womanizer, the egoist, the narcissist, the miserly, the wrathful, the disobedient, the lazy, etc. etc. ALL face the same hard path to shedding their besetting weaknesses and finding healing and wholeness through arduous and prolonged struggle. At the risk of being offensive, I believe it is pretty narcissistic of SSA people who think they are a special case who have a more difficult burden to bear than other people who struggle with other life besetting issues. That does not minimize my appreciation for the great struggle SSA folks DO in fact have, but in the end we ALL struggle, and for those who take the spiritual life with any seriousness, it is a great struggle for us all.

Anonymous said...

I used the word ascetic with this definition in mind
"a person who dedicates his or her life to a pursuit of contemplative ideals and practices extreme self-denial or self-mortification for religious reasons. "

It may be a very simplistic and narrow definition, but it fits the idea that I assigned to the word.

You speak of Gays or SSA's a term that sounds like a disease, of being somewhat selfish. But the issue I have with that, is that here in the US or the Western world that we live in, it is expected that we grow up, maybe attend secondary and Post secondary school, we get married and we raise children and try to have some kind of life for ourselves. But for some, they spend there years starting soemwhere around puberty, of having to make the very difficult decision of deciding whether they go with the program and live a life of pretending that they too are heterosexual and go forward with the above described life timeline. the other choice is to choose the 'Gay" lifrstyle and decide that hey we want the same hopes, dreams and life that we see others have. It is not always the SEX componet that keeps being afixed to anyone that feels different, but we would like family, friends and to enjoy the usual gatherings and traditions we see others enjoy.

So we are often left with bad choices. 1. we fake it through life. 2. We come out and then immediatly we are shunned by the church and society in general.

Often it is said that being SSa or Gay is no different than (insert litany) of other life issues. But i feel it is a little more encompassing sometimes. Because in this society , life is based on becoming an adult and finding a companion and or having a family. If sexual attraction is the variable X for marriage, companionship, family and ultimatly community, then where does the "SSA" person fit in ?

s-p said...

Dear Anonymous,
The word “asceticism” in Orthodox terms applies to everyone, it is not for monks, radically committed or zealots. It is the painful and long process of the healing of the soul of the human being ravaged by corruption, death and the futility of this fallen created order. To the degree that someone engages the process is the degree to which one will experience the healing of the soul. In that sense everyone is called to ascesis, the denial of the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life. These are manifest in manifold ways and every person has predispositions, issues and inclinations brought on through genetics, nature and nurture. The simple “need for approval” can be just as life encompassing, destructive and difficult to overcome than crack cocaine or any other addiction or psychological/emotional issue. It is in that sense that I say every human being has a depth of issues to overcome that are as difficult or more so than those who are dealing with SSA. In this sense I am not (as I’ve said many times on the blog) minimizing the struggle of homosexuals, I am informing homosexuals that they are not alone in the depths of despondency and despair that they face in trying to deal with the issues they face. It is in that sense that I believe that homosexuals often are “self centered” or narcissistic in their insistence that they are a group privileged to experience depths of despondency and despair to a depth that no one except other struggling homosexuals can understand. Again, not to minimize the truth of your struggles, but to level the field. I do not speak of it “as a disease” if you imply that I am addressing the issues in a condescending or accusatory manner, but the reality is, all human beings are diseased, all are afflicted and all struggle. The cure is the ascetic path. (For a somewhat deep wade into the Orthodox view of ascetic praxis’ role in the healing of the human being, I recommend 3 books by Heirotheos Nafpaktos Vlachos “Introduction to Orthodox Spirituality”, “Orthodox Psychotherapy”, “Illness and Cure of the Soul”).

If you read my blog, you see that I find the modern human being assaulted at all fronts by society, the culture and the world. The person who succumbs to Vogue, GQ, Toyota advertisements, Cosmo, or even ketchup bottles is immersed in an addiction and struggle within his soul that is real, debilitating, dangerous and can and will result in the loss of his true humanity. To “overcome the world” is to overcome ourselves and not succumb to it in any manifestation or temptation even as a heterosexual, married-with-kids poster child of societal propriety.

That said, yes, it is difficult to find true friendship, companionship and intimacy without sexual overtones and temptation… even for heterosexuals. Not every man is homophobic, I am certainly not. I have had friends who are homosexual. The problem with not having intimacy with me was not on my end. I would even venture to say that perhaps the reason there was not a deeper “male to male” relationship was because there ultimately would not be a sexual option. It is in this sense that I constantly critique the modern culture for its sexualized view of human relationships to males and females of any orientation. True intimacy begins with “me” and my views, expectations, desires and abilities to BE intimate…all of which are compromised by our sinfulness and our conscious and unconscious acceptance of the catechism of the culture of our age.

There are indeed pockets of homophobic culture within Churches. There are Churches that have no options for homosexuals. But there are options and relationships within Orthodoxy because of its more compassionate and I believe correct view of the nature of the issue.

Command0-182 said...

Couple thoughts...firstly,

"Ultimately, gender defines the human being, not sexuality."
0.o
and secondly,
"Sexuality is subsumed to that and CAN be an aspect of intimacy and yes, it feels good and makes us feel close, but it does not define intimacy, and in fact often is a barrier to true intimacy even within OSA relationships."
Which evokes more, 0.o

You need to check out jn1034.blogspot.com
They are an Eastern Orthodox human rights blog. They preach acceptance of homosexuality all the time along with equal rights among all people, regardless.

Best of jn1034

http://jn1034.blogspot.com/2007/07/terrorist-induced-self-hatred-and.html

http://jn1034.blogspot.com/2007/09/bed-as-church-at-home-sleeping-together.html

http://jn1034.blogspot.com/2007/06/mystery-of-touch-and-no-physical.html


However, I would like to thanks for your some of your insight. You were smart not sweep homosexuality under the rug as a disease that can be cured with drugs as so many "ex-gay" ministries would have you believe. As we both know, a lesbian isn't going to transform into a heterosexual if you teach her how to cook (besides, what if she already knows how to cook and be a stay at home mom? Oh dear...that fouls up the game plan big time). Your acknowledgment that protestants have a long way to go in understanding sexuality and even celibacy is a welcome insight from the usual advice given out by so many.

However, your portrayals of homosexuals, was..lacking in fairness, to be blunt. Not all homosexuals were abused. Many are gay because that's just who they are. Also, "the gay lifestyle" that I hear so much about, what is it? Are gay people suddenly addicted to "gay-fashion"? How about "gay-malls", "gay-online trading sites", "gay bars" the list goes on and on. But consider this...if I go to a stripper club, am I suddenly living the fullness of the "heterosexual-lifestyle"? What if I had "heterosexual car-insurance" can't be without that if your heterosexual.

Whole point short, there is no "gay-lifestyle", they pay their bills...some of 'em vote, most of 'em pay taxes and no...their not all promiscuous. You see that a lot in, "conversion stories of ex-gays", they say they were miserable and on meth and drugs. Well, yeah...I'll bet...meth alone could make anybody miserable, except they go on the package drug abuse as synonymous with homosexuality. Not a very good portrayal, but...hey...I guess if it sells to the homophobic crowd...(shrug).

Hopefully you will find the above articles to be of great interest. I'd be happy to hear what you think of them.

Anonymous said...

I am a slightly infrequent blogger. I use public computers. This is a great page and discussion and has cheered me up alot.

It is often assumed that all people who experience same sex attraction all want the possibility of gay sex but this not the case. This is generally assumed to be the case in secular circles and in some intellectual parts of the Orthodox community. There are many ssa folk who want fellowship and support in living appropriately as a single person. This is not easy to do. The social issues can be challenging. There are also ssa folk who are in Orthodox marriages and they need support as well. We are mostly left to fend for ourselves. This is inevitable to some extent and we must be strong. The Trinity and the Church are with us.
What is needed is good explanation of traditional teaching that includes various scenarios. Fr Hopko's book on ssa is good. We need to talk about the issue including the social issues to do with ssa. There also needs to be the chance of time with priests that have some empathy in dealing with people and who put things in a merciful, truthful way way. There needs to be trust between clergy of different dioceses and even different national backgrounds. Simply having that would be enormously helpful. But if we don't have these things, the truth will still be the truth.

Alone and wingy in England.

s-p said...

Anon,alone and wingy in England, Thank you for your comments. SSA folks are really looking for what every human being is looking for: a community that will surround them with care and compassion. Perhaps it is because of my intense involvement in people's lives that I see everyone is in a great struggle and no one's is truly greater than another's. What is different is how the Church (or more precisely, individual Christians) reacts to certain people's issues. People can be cast aside or marginalized for many flaws and not only sexual ones, and the loneliness and desperation are just as deep.
May you find someone who is an icon of Christ within your fellowship.

English 1 said...

Yes, hopefully so. There are very few clergy in the whole of London and the south east that will give time to someone who only speaks English. Even getting time for confession is very difficult, but it is not impossible. There is a very small window of opportunity that I will make use of even though such an opportunity is only occasional.

I will share a bit more. I am bisexual and am intensely fond of women but have no way of expressing it. I pray for them and support pro life things. Bisexual people get neither gender. Single people need good management. Your writings describe life as it is. It really is that tough but we get through it.

s-p said...

English 1, May God bless your struggles. Yes, life is hard and each of us has a special demon that assaults us. We cannot trivialize nor aggrandize each other's temptations and passions even if they are not our own. Our only option in Christ is to co-struggle, and like the 4 friends in the Gospel, carry our crippled brother to Christ, tear down the roof and lower him to His feet for healing. It is the work of mercy.

English1 said...

Hello,
thanks for your very supportive comments. Since my last post one priest is looking out for a therapist for me who is Orthodox, another priest heard my confession at the Vigil and a good friend of mine is now a priest. All three are in different dioceses (jurisdictions); so things can suddenly look up. I have found Fr George Morelli's articles on the Antiochian US website.

There have over the years been various Orthodox blogs similar to Courage Online such as SSA2Theosis and Orthodox Christian Men Struggling with SSA. They all seem to go dormant and get ceased. It might be good to have one that is well run and that has experienced people running it. It should, of course, be multi diocesan.