Coming out… Orthodox

It has been far too long since my last post. I apologize for my absence and am hoping that in the next few months I can make up for it. First off I have a confession to make: On Homosexuality As a Choice, and the One Choice We Are All Called to Make was in fact my own. After my first two posts on my experience with a homosexual orientation (here & here), I decided to lay low for a while. Pete was kind enough to post that short reflection for me so that I could lay low on the Internet for my senior year at college. Since it was posted, I have been overwhelmed at the over 800 views it has received. This, among other things, has made me realize how important it is to break my silence. My voice as an Eastern Orthodox Christian with a gay orientation is something that the world desperately needs to hear. It is a very difficult subject to understand and I’ve spent the last several years reading, listening, and discussing this subject. Out of my own experience and the experiences of others, I have begun to more deeply understand this divisive subject. For a while I had hoped that maybe someone else older and wiser than myself might take up this call, but I’ve recently been convicted that if I don’t speak, no one will. The topic of homosexuality and the Church’s approach to ministering to LGBT/SSA (SSA=same-sex attracted) persons has to be addressed. I pray that God uses my voice and the voices of my brothers and sisters in Christ to help increase understanding and build a deeper community within the Eastern Orthodox Church and Christendom as a whole. In the future I hope to write about why I believe the Church’s approach to LGBT/SSA individuals is so important, reorientation therapy and current psychological research, language and labels, gay-marriage, and why I’m unconvinced by “affirming” views of scripture. For now I want to share just a few reflections with you.

The topic of language and identity increasingly has been in the spotlight within the gay Christian community, particularly over the use of the word gay. When I first began sharing my same-sex orientation, I avoided all use of the label “gay” out of other’s fear that I would be placing my identity in my sexuality. I was afraid of being seen as one of “them,” if I was merely an SSA struggler then I was safe, but as soon as I would mention the word gay everything seemed to change. Over the last year, I have grown in my own use of the label gay to describe an aspect of myself to others. This has not come about because my belief that I am a person created in the image and likeness of God has changed. That conviction is still at the very core of who I am, but I increasingly found language that avoided the word gay was often off-putting. Especially when I interact with other gay men and women my refusal to share language that described our mutual same-sex orientation created barriers to our relationship and to understanding. These were barriers I now see as unnecessary and a matter of linguistics rather than identity.

The phrase “I am gay” means no more than simply, “I am someone who experiences a same-sex orientation.” My gay orientation, I believe, is the result of the fall but in and of itself it is not something sinful, rather it is a morally neutral inclination. Lust is the sin and gay is merely the flavor of that lust. All sexual behavior outside of the context of sacramental marriage falls outside of God’s intent for His creation. The fact that the Christian church has traditionally believed that marriage is only between a man and a woman means that for me, there is no hallowed outlet for my desire for deep, physical intimacy with another man. Where my gay orientation can be damaging to my relationship with Christ is when my thoughts stray, and lust comes into play. Being gay merely changes the flavor of that lust and does not add an additional weight of sin to it. My fight against the passion of lust is the same as any other persons, gay or straight. My unique vocation is however deeply connected with my gay orientation. By following the traditional understanding of the Orthodox Church, I am accepting that there is a high likely hood that I will be single throughout my life. This will have unique challenges and hurdles but none that the Church is not prepared to tackle. My deepest struggle is that when I look to the Church as a body of people representing Christ I am greatly discouraged.

I am discouraged because I find a deep lack of understanding and of compassion. For many, same-sex marriage is something to fight politically , often creating the impression that the Church’s only discussion of homosexuality is entirely negative. Instead the Church can offer an understanding of each individual’s vocation that is deeply influenced and impacted by their individual trials, orientation, upbringing, history, etc… Vocation is a positive thing, and for many who struggle to live faithfully to the Church’s teachings on homosexual behavior it will be connected with their singleness. Single persons both gay and straight look to the Church to offer community, guidance, safety, and most importantly love. Parishes that become a real family for their members will inevitably be places of honesty, compassion, and intimacy, anchored in the sacramental life of the Church. Every person desires intimacy and the Church has always had the potential to offer the chance to be deeply known and deeply loved. Too often I’ve seen that potential blocked by countless complications related to ethnicity, pride, bigotry and selfishness. When our parishes function as real places of honesty and openness, gay individuals will be free to be known and loved by their parish for the unique person that they are. Their talents, gifts, and abilities will find their unique place within the parish. By being honest about my own gay orientation I have witnessed the deep power that can come from being loved for who I uniquely am.

In conclusion, I encourage each of you readers to pursue deeper relationships with those around you. Strive to be a person who is approachable and compassionate. Foster honest community by growing to a place where you can share some of your own struggles and others can feel safe sharing theirs. Seek to go beyond the surface in relationships and strive to understand the unique person behind the labels and stereotypes. Whether gay or straight we can each benefit from a deeper understanding of the Church as family and working towards a place of greater intimacy. We can each come before God together in worship and know that we are known and loved by God as well as by our brothers and sisters. Together we can all journey together with “fear of God, faith, and with love.”

-Gregg

You can follow my writing and other thoughts on my Twitter www.twitter.com/orthodoxandgay where I post frequently with links and articles on this topic.

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19 responses

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. “Instead the Church can offer an understanding of each individual’s vocation that is deeply influenced and impacted by their individual trials, orientation, upbringing, history, etc… Vocation is a positive thing, and for many who struggle to live faithfully to the Church’s teachings on homosexual behavior it will be connected with their singleness.”

    This is utterly brilliant and is a sorely needed angle to this issue.

    08.04.12 at 7:02pm

  3. Ray

    Gregg,

    You speak with wisdom, courage, and Spirit – exactly what the Church needs now. May your words open minds and hearts everywhere!

    Thank you and God bless,
    Ray

    08.04.12 at 10:37pm

  4. Kyle Keating

    Well spoken.

    08.05.12 at 9:09pm

  5. Gregg, I am so happy that there is someone else who is dedicated for a deeper understanding, compassion and pastoral approach to LGBTQ people in the Orthodox church. I would welcome a contact from you.

    08.06.12 at 10:42am

  6. Suzanna

    Thank you for putting the confusion of not recognizing “lust” as the real issue within the same sex attraction community… or the heterosexual community for that matter. You properly identified that lust is the real sin. What one decides on how to respond to it, is the Christian struggle. The angelic choice is to to not give into at all and transcend that feeling into something holy, such as prayer, reading scripture or speaking to a priest/counselor. There is a double standard in Christian society, especially in the modern era, that lust is acceptable between a man and woman, because it is considered “natural” AND encouraged on TV and books. Why are not Christians just as vocal about not reading “50 Shades of Grey” or other popular material that is essentially, “pop” erotica? Lust, is NOT natural. Lust came about after the fall. Lusting after another person (regardless of gender) is not a sign of affection or love. I wish the church would do more on discussing the difference, rather than using people who “lust differently” as examples to judge. Thank you for your discernment on this matter and I hope your article will reach to others who struggle with it.

    08.06.12 at 1:59pm

  7. I think you are brilliant and very brave.

    08.06.12 at 11:24pm

  8. Thank you all for your great comments and for reading!

    08.07.12 at 12:24am

  9. Gregg,
    I had shared your first anonymous blog entry with many people. It was the best perspective on homosexuality I’d ever read, and now your latest entry tops it. I am grateful for your obedience and courage…for such a time as this. The church needs you.

    08.07.12 at 11:53pm

  10. Paphnutios

    Gregg,

    I appreciate your efforts and you make a few good points about showing love all people, whatever their situation, however…

    The word “gay” connotes an entire “movement,” political and social, which is incompatible with the Holy Orthodox Church. One cannot call themselves “gay” without being identified what that movement.

    Please show where in the writings of the Church Fathers it is recommended that we “share” our sinful inclinations (of any sort) with others? The de jour act of “coming out,” comes directly from an idea self-validation, something completely contradictory to the pursuit of humility, apatheia and theosis.

    I think you need to give this a little more thought and become much more familiar with the God-inspired writings of the Fathers of the Church.

    P.

    08.08.12 at 1:05pm

  11. Paphnutios, thank you for reading and your comments. Regarding your first comment I would disagree that the word gay automatically implies a particular social group. Increasingly it is used to simply mean, someone with a homosexual orientation. For me, any confusion that might be created by using it, regarding behavior, is addressed by my use of the word celibate, as well as by simply getting to know me. I agree that at times the word has meant more than merely someone with a same-sex orientation and did imply a broader culture, but this has changed. This is also something I hope to address in greater detail in future posts.

    Regarding your comment about sharing personal sin struggles, as I expressed in my post I don’t believe a gay orientation, while being a result of the fall, is in and of itself sinful. So I don’t view sharing that with friends and family, and with a broader community as sharing a sin struggle. The whole topic of coming out is something I plan on discussing in my next post. It is also a term that in today’s understanding simply means sharing with another person an individual’s non-heterosexual orientation. It is about being honest and not merely about self-validation. Again, I hope to speak in greater detail about this in my next post. Thanks for your comments and thoughts!

    08.09.12 at 12:34am

  12. You have chosen a difficult road, with many pitfalls. You may find this, which I posted on my blog, helpful Notes from underground: Are you homophobic?

    08.10.12 at 1:00am

  13. Good post, thanks for the recommendation Steve!

    08.10.12 at 1:10am

  14. Paphnutios

    Gregg,

    >>I agree that at times the word has meant more than merely someone with a same-sex orientation and did imply a broader culture, but this has changed.<>I don’t believe a gay orientation, while being a result of the fall, is in and of itself sinful.<<

    How did you come to this conclusion? Please use Holy Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers to back up your argument. Simply saying it is the case does not make it so — unless you are a Protestant — you need to prove your point. Scripture is clear that we are to be judged not only by our actions but our thoughts. It is also clear that homosexuality is disordered, disallowed and condemnable.

    Just to be clear, are you saying that your "interest" in other men is not a sin because you have not acted on that interest? Are you claiming that Christ cannot heal you from this disordered passion from which you are suffering? Do you want to be healed of it?

    P.

    08.10.12 at 11:54pm

  15. Paphnutios,

    I think Gregg recognizes that “thinking” is indeed a sin in this instance when he allows his thinking to become “lusting”: the two cannot be equated. And I doubt Gregg is claiming Christ cannot heal him or anyone else of anything; that would be absurd. But I would hope that an Orthodox Christian identifying as gay should, rather than beg God to take away his homosexuality, be thankful for his affliction and pray rather to endure it without falling into any sin. I only say this, because it seems that is the teaching of the Church regarding all of our struggles.

    I pray for the healing of others, yes, but we know of some Saints that–while in persecution–did not pray for persecutions to end, but prayed that they themselves and even their own children might be made worthy to suffer and/or die for the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Being released from a cross isn’t true healing. It may look like healing in this world, but I don’t think it is. It may have looked more like victory for Jesus if angels would have released Him from the Cross. But we know what the true victory had to look like. True healing–it seems to me–is willingly offering yourself up on your cross for God, dying for Him since He died for us. Shouldn’t someone who identifies as “being gay” desire to endure through the strength given him by God?

    08.17.12 at 12:58pm

  16. I’ve been following you on twitter for a bit, and I really appreciate what you have to say. Looking forward to hearing more.

    I really liked what Dr. Mamalakis had to say on AFR talk: Mortification of the passions… is not the rejection of our desires but the transformation of them out of love of God and neighbor.

    08.21.12 at 5:49pm

  17. Well done! This is very good. I am glad people out there are thinking deeply about this. Glory to God! However, I do have some questions/concerns. Could we perhaps get in touch by email?

    08.29.12 at 2:42pm

  18. Ashley-Veronika Zappe

    Gregg, Thank you so much for taking up your vocation! I am inspired by you, and, as a continuously struggling heterosexual, your writing also encourages me. You might consider writing a book. If Frederika Mathews-Green helped so many by explaining her past with Feminism, your experience with SSA must be equally helpful. Your perspective and clear explanation is needed in the conversation– especially in cross-denominational conversations. Glory to God for your gifts; may you be continually blessed in sharing them.

    Your sister in Christ,
    Veronika

    08.30.12 at 10:23am

  19. You Rock. I am so grateful for your writing and your courage.

    03.06.13 at 3:02pm

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