Monday, April 23, 2012

Homosexuality, Part 2 of 2: The Christian Stance

As we saw by dozens of studies cited in Part 1, the homosexual lifestyle is not healthy; in fact, it is very dangerous to your health.

It is not happy for the majority of people in it, either, as evidenced by the disproportionately high rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide.  In one UK study, only 30% of gays rated themselves as fairly or very happy. (To be fair, only 40% of straights rated themselves as fairly or very happy. This world seems a generally unhappy place.)

The homosexual lifestyle is not natural, if "natural" has anything to do with genes. It is not genetically caused, even though genes do have some influence. Furthermore, the process of natural selection is obviously working overtime de-selecting homosexuality.

And homosexual activity is not normal, as a mere glimpse at human anatomy argues more eloquently than any words.

What should be the Christian response?

Christians are to be concerned above all with persons. The Church exists specifically to bring persons into a deifying relationship with Christ that will culminate in glorious, everlasting life and light and love. Whatever is not healthy, not conducive to happiness, not natural, or not normal is incompatible with this goal.

It ought to be obvious that homosexuals are far from the only ones who suffer from these things; all of us have things about us that are unhealthy, unhappy, unnatural, abnormal, and yes, pathological; and all of us are called to struggle against them, to grow out of them, to do everything we can to co-operate with God as He liberates us from them. As a matter of fact, if we consider just sexual sin alone, it’s perhaps not so easy to find anyone who has never fallen into any form of it.

We’re all in this together; as Orthowiki points out, persons with homosexuality are not considered as somehow “having lower value in the eyes of God”.  They are as precious as everyone else, as beloved as everyone else, bear the Image of God the same as everyone else. The Church does not believe God has given a person same-sex attraction, whether as a gift or as a punishment. God didn’t do it! Homosexuality is neither a curse nor a form of insanity. It isn’t even anybody’s identity, for people are much more than their mere sexual orientation; a Christian’s identity is Christ. No, orientation to the same sex is just a maladaptive adjustment to a deep inner wound.

In Orthodox Christian spirituality, a big deal is made of the “passions,” and a passion is simply an emotion or drive when it is disordered. Anger, for example, has proper uses and wrong uses. A few days ago, my daughter-in-law, a schoolteacher whom I greatly admire, wrote on FB about the death of a student, “Makes me angry that I even just had to write the sentence, "began his battle with cancer before he started 7th grade".” This is a beautiful illustration of anger as it ought to be. It’s when we turn anger upon one another that it becomes warped, becomes a "passion". Fear is another example; it can be good and useful if, for example, it keeps us from harm; but it is a passion when it gnaws at us day and night.  Homosexual orientation is among the passions.

A major consideration about our passions is that every time we capitulate to them, the wound in us that they express is carved deeper. The passion is reinforced. The hurt to our sense of self-worth, to our character, to our soul, even to our bodies, is deep. We therefore do not seek to embrace these encumbrances, but to set them aside; we do not seek to hallow these infirmities, but to heal them.

And yes, healing there is! Real help is available both from reputable professionals and from the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Christian Church. As for secular therapists, you have to be careful not to fall into the wrong hands. You probably don’t want “aversive therapy”, for example, in which you are given homosexual porn and then a little electric shock when your body responds to it. But for those who want it, enlightened psychotherapy is out there and it consists of steps from which anyone and everyone might benefit.

As for spiritual therapy, Fr. Thomas Hopko puts it well:
Like all temptations, passions and sins, including those deeply, and oftentimes seemingly indelibly embedded in our nature by our sorrowful inheritance, homosexual orientation can be cured and homosexual actions can cease. With God all things are possible. When homosexual Christians are willing to struggle, and when they receive patient, compassionate and authentically loving assistance from their families and friends - each of whom is struggling with his or her own temptations and sins; for no one is without this struggle in one form or another, and no one is without sin but God - the Lord guarantees victory in ways known to Himself. The victory, however, belongs only to the courageous souls who acknowledge their condition, face their resentments, express their angers, confess their sins, forgive their offenders (who always include their parents and members of their households), and reach out for help with the genuine desire to be healed. Jesus himself promises that the saintly heroes who "persevere to the end" along this "hard way which leads to life" will surely "be saved." (Matt. 7:13; 24:13)
There is no reason a person with homosexuality cannot become not only an Orthodox Christian but even a saint.

The catch, though, the part that may seem so difficult, is repentance. All of us need to approach Christ with repentance. But wait, wait!  Repentance is not what you probably think it is, if you grew up in the West. It has nothing to do with wallowing in guilt and remorse, or punishing ourselves, or with any other morbid thing. Repentance has to do with turning toward newness and hope and infinite, fathomless Love. And repentance turns out to be not nearly as difficult as continuing without it!  Repentance is laying down our burdens and taking up the Cross, a far, far lighter burden, and one that guides us home. Repentance is the way, and the only way, to meet God face-to-face, as it were. We know God is; everyone knows this in his deepest heart. We’ve heard of God. But the only way actually to encounter Him, firsthand, is repentance. We cannot experience His measureless tenderness toward us without acknowledging how much we need it. We are already brought into the forecourts of heaven when we are repenting, meaning we are already tasting its incomprehensible sweetness and joy; this is why we are taught that every Christian needs repentance, every moment of every day. Listen to what my friend Catherine has written about repentance:

I don’t measure up – this is undeniable – but why should I let this bring hopeless despair or utter coldness of heart? Why do I think I should earn Christ’s love? Don’t I realize that this is impossible? In this moment of realizing how very far away I am from Christ – right before the despair (in myself) and cool feelings of helplessness – lies the possibility for repentance, but only if I take it.
Through their recorded lives, we see that all these saints known especially for their repentance had these moments – and usually in extreme degrees. Feeling the utter weight of the truth (that they were very far from God) they acknowledged this fact and fell down beneath the weight of it. But at the very same moment, God permeates them (and us if we want it) with Himself, and overcomes this impossible divide. The harlot, so far away just moments before, accepts this reality and because of it leaps towards Christ: “A harlot knowing you, the Son of the Virgin, to be God, imploring you with weeping, for she had done things worthy of tears, said, ‘Loose my debt, as I unloose my hair; love one who loves, though justly hated, and along with tax-collectors I shall proclaim you, O Benefactor, who loves mankind’” (Holy Wednesday). To feel the weight of our nothingness before God, but then to cry out to Him – with hope and belief – because that’s what He’s told us to do! That’s what we see his Holy Ones do! And from this the distance is overcome, and we are raised high, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’” (Luke 14, 10).
It seems to me that the true weight of this word ‘repentance’ comes not from anything crushing, or overwhelming. St. Mary of Egypt tells us: “Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before — as if the same force which had hindered me cleared the way for me — I now entered without difficulty and found myself within the holy place. And so it was I saw the life-giving Cross. I saw too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance." Thus, repentance for her (and for us) was a key – an entrance into something otherwise closed. The true weight of this word ‘repentance’ lies in its incomprehensible power – and from this the demons tremble. By it, we are able to call down the divine; we empty ourselves but only to be filled. And in this – we are told – lies incredible sweetness. Have we surmounted our sins, fixed our problems, before this moment? Absolutely not! It seems to me, there’s no more powerful, dynamic, way of approaching God than this. It is not about being “good” or “bad” – of course we must strive to acquire the virtues – but it’s about the state of the heart. Let us become good! But let us first have repentance! And let us keep this repentance! “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15, 7)
 Christ offers, to all of us, straight or gay, not ease but inner peace surpassing understanding; not false comfort but challenge worthy of heroes; not flattery, but true love; not pleasure, but deep and abiding joy; not misery but endless mercy; not fun, but wholeness and heaven. May God grant us all also the courage to lay hold of these marvelous gifts!


Chris said...

I've been reading your recent posts with great interest, Anastasia. Keep it up. BTW, I added your friend's blog (lessons from a monastery) to my blog list.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Her blog is great, isn't it? That's Matushka Konstantina's blog; the piece on repentance is by her sister-in-law, Catherine. They're both wonderful people and so are their husbands. We had the great joy of an evening with them in Greece and God will grant us more time with them all.

s-p said...

While I can fundamentally agree with the research that homosexuals experience far more psychological issues and the notions of repentance and passions etc., I am not sure that I believe a "homosexual orientation" is either a "passion" nor can be repented of. I believe the lusts and act of homosexual sex are "passions" and can be avoided, repented of and wrestled with in the same manner as a heterosexual's passions and lusts etc. but the fundamental "orientation" to desire sexual and intimate relations with the same sex... I'm not convinced it is chosen or a product of nurture exclusively nor can be changed through therapy or "repentance". My three podcasts on homosexuality and Orthodoxy explicate my experience and views far better than I could in a comment box.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Christ is risen!

s-p, I will definitely take the time in the next couple of days to listen to all three of your podcasts before commenting further. For now, I'll just pass on this quote from NARTH, )National Association of Reparative Therapists):

Rather than pigeonholing homosexual sexual orientation change into categorical terms, NARTH believes that it is far more helpful and accurate to conceptualize such change as occurring on a continuum. This is in fact how sexual orientation is defined in most modern research, starting with the well known Kinsey scales, even as subsequent findings pertinent to change are often described in categorical terms. NARTH affirms that some individuals who seek care for unwanted same-sex attractions do report categorical change of sexual orientation. Moreover, NARTH acknowledges that others have reported no change. However, the experience of NARTH clinicians suggests that the majority of individuals who report unwanted same-sex attractions and pursue psychological care will be best served by conceptualizing change as occurring on a continuum, with many being able to achieve sustained shifts in the direction and intensity of their sexual attractions, fantasy, and arousal that they consider to be satisfying and meaningful. NARTH believes that a profound disservice is done to those with unwanted same-sex attractions by characterizing such shifts in sexual attractions as a denial of their authentic (and gay) personhood or a change in identity labeling alone. Attempts to invalidate all reports of such shifts by presuming they are not grounded in actual experience insults the integrity of these individuals and posits wishful thinking on an untenably massive scale.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dear s-p,

By now I’ve listened to two of your podcasts on this subject; am unable to find a third. (?) Anyway, I think I can see where some of your concerns lie, and I agree with them.

First, I agree that what needs to be labeled is the condition, not the person. Homosexuality is never a person’s identity. So, “persons with SSA” or “persons with homosexuality” work best.

I also agree that nobody ought to become involved in heterodox “support” groups. These religious amateurs can do a great deal of harm.

And yes, I can see how acceptance could be predicated upon resignation. But I do not think they are identical. Are heterosexuals – excuse me, persons with heterosexuality – simply resigned to all that is wrong with us? No! We accept that we are sinners, and Christ certainly accepts us where we are. But we still struggle; are aren’t *resigned* to it. And we don’t just struggle not to sin; we also struggle to grow, to get better, to become healed and whole. We never reach the target in this life, but if we never stop trying, we do come closer to it, and Christ will get us all there eventually. Meanwhile, we sorrowfully bring to Christ all our brokenness, whether it was of our own choosing or was thrust upon us. I believe it is the same for everybody, including persons with SSA.

Some of your discussion in the second podcast had to do with people with SSA feeling “doomed to celibacy” if they should become Orthodox Christians. What I want to affirm is: ’tain’t necessarily so. If ones sexual desires could be shifted enough, one could find fulfillment and commitment within a Christian marriage. IMO, it’s worth a try. At least some of the underlying issues could be dealt with in therapy; issues like sexual or physical or verbal abuse and/or whatever else. Assuming you find a reputable, qualified, compassionate therapist (I realize that’s a big assumption) it’s got to be for the better even if the homosexuality is never completely overcome. Neither is any other passion. I pray for patience, and think I’m doing much better than I used to do, and then comes a day or a moment when I lose it all and am right back to pre-kindergarten.

s-p said...

Hi Anastasia, I think there are two podcasts actually. I was thinking about a third, probably. :) I agree there is a difference between resignation and acceptance. I think the main point is that EVERYONE struggles with sexuality and its expression in lust and passions regardless of orientation. The sense of "doomed to celibacy" is, well... where people are who cannot believe or envision being able to change their orientation or tolerate the thought of a sexual relationship with the opposite sex. Of course everyone can point to people it has happened for and even "worked", however not everyone has that hope for themselves, so the alternative is to deal with the realities of what they believe they will face and put it in a bigger picture and perspective, which is what the second podcast was more about. And, yes a good therapist/spiritual director is necessary for overcoming ANY life encompassing passion. It seems that there just aren't many qualified or able to deal with homosexuality pastorally.