Have you noticed that most media coverage about same-sex marriage doesn't concern legal or sociological arguments but focuses instead on feelings? The stories take a human-interest angle, chock full of emotional descriptions that tug at the heartstrings but leave aside any deeper analysis of this culture changing issue. We see homosexual couples who report their "deep sadness" at not being allowed to marry a member of the same-sex, and look forward to the "joy, happiness, and contentment" that legalized same-sex marriage would afford the "couple in love." We see recurring scenes of smiling and hugging same-sex couples.
Our children are bombarded with these images and it raises an important question for Christian parents: What do we tell our children about same-sex marriage? Alongside the obligations such as the material needs and safety that parents must provide for their children, they also need to educate their children in the faith and fear of God. Orthodox parents heard this exhortation when they wed: "Unite them in one mind and one flesh, and grant unto them fair children for education in the faith and fear of God " (God, we shall see, has something to say about same-sex marriage.)
Some parents ask if they should even talk to their children about same-sex marriage. Without question they should. To neglect the issue is to neglect the moral development of the child, and neglect is a very serious sin. Elder Paisios, a holy monk commenting on family life said, "Both father and mother will responsible for not looking after their children The parents, who do not look after their children, are not good parents and they will have to justify their actions to God" (Ageloglou, 1998).
Clearly the Elder chose a vocation that precluded family life. Nevertheless, the exhortation applies to parents and all others commissioned with the moral education of children - particularly in our age where so much moral confusion exists. In a previous paper I wrote that neglect is subtle and probably the most insidious and hardest sin to detect. Neglect is invisible. We see it only when we notice that something that should be there is not there; it involves the absence of proper action (Morelli, 2007).
To help parents deal with the difficult issue of same-sex marriage, I offer these instructions that, if studied and taken to heart, will help them respond with answers that may commend themselves to the child's conscience. Parents must understand these principles before they will be able to explain them to their children. Take the time to read and absorb this essay. You may find it helpful.
This essay is divided into three parts. The first deals with the responsibility of parents toward their children. The second examines theological ideas that inform the Orthodox understanding of calling and vocation. This is a lengthy but important section because it relates the scriptural and patristic understanding of the vocation of marriage and parenting to obedience to God. Our children have to learn why God created them and how they are to live. If they don't have this background, the secular values will overwhelm them. Their thinking will conform to the emotional appeals that justify arrangements like same-sex marriage. The third section deals with practical questions about same-sex marriage, many of which our children face.
I. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF PARENTS
Parents: Leaders of Christ's Army in the Domestic Church
When a person chooses to become a soldier of Christ, he must go through training. The first step is to learn and understand the teachings of Christ, particularly how they are applied and lived—including Christian marriage. Second, the person must learn how to engage in psycho-spiritual combat. The soldier must recognize the tactics of the enemy, in this case the Evil One who uses the subtle tools of emotional reasoning and sentiment that erode the personal and cultural levees that keep powerful human drives flowing in their proper channels.
Some may object to the military metaphor as too strong to describe Christian parenting. But St. Paul used it extensively in scripture, "Fight the good fight of the faith " he wrote (1 Timothy 6:12). In another passage he described himself and a disciple as a soldier, "I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need " St. Paul also instructed his fellow workers to instruct others, " as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:3).
Since these words of exhortation apply to the Church, then they also apply to the family - the mikree eclessia (Gr.) or small church. Readers should not take the metaphor out of context. To be a soldier of Christ means war is waged within the confines of Christian teaching properly understood. Yet Christians should never suspend reflection about ideas in the culture that neuter moral discernment and equate tolerance with the eradication of moral judgment.
Emotional Reasoning and Sentiment: The Weapon of the Evil One
If Christian parents are to engage the question of same-sex marriage with their children, then they have to understand how powerful the messages that promote the practice really are. Behavioral research on effective persuasion strategies with children (the way persuaders try to convince children that their position is the right one to hold) reveals that the best tactic is to associate the message with fun and happiness, rather than provide any factual content about the message (Barcus, 1980). We see the tactic employed consistently in the newscasts about same-sex marriage mentioned at the outset.
The tactic is similar to one employed by child abductors. The abductor attempts to seduce the child by playing on the emotions. They promise a fun or rewarding activity alongside a sentimental appeal that pulls the child into his grip. For example, predators lure children with questions like, "Can you help me find my lost puppy?" Another favorite is, "Do you want to see some cute kittens in my car?" Child protection sites warn parents about how powerful these appeals are to children (http://www.reallifesolutions.net/family/abductions.html).
Should we conclude that same-sex marriage advocates are child predators? Of course not. Neither are the reporters who use these appeals to advance the same-sex marriage agenda. Nevertheless, parents must be aware that a child not equipped to recognize these tactics is vulnerable to the appeal in ways that normalize aberrant behavior. Children can recognize manipulative behaviors but only when they first are taught how the manipulations function (think of the effectiveness of the "good touch, bad touch" programs that teach a child when adults cross acceptable boundaries).
Just Because Something Looks Good Does Not Make It Good
So where does a parent begin when talking to the child? The first step is to help your child understand that just because something looks good does not make it good. Keep in mind however, that your child will not understand this crucial insight unless you first validate his emotion. In other words, if your child says that the scene of say, the happy homosexual couple, makes him happy, acknowledge it. The feeling of happiness is a real experience and denying it will either confuse him or cause him to discount what you say.
The child may something like, "Boy, they sure seem happy." The parent could reply, "Yes, they sure do." The parent continues, "But Johnny, let me ask you a question, 'Because you are happy about something, does that mean it is good for you?'" He might answer yes, thus affirming that if something makes him happy it must be good.
Ask your next question as a game (older children and adolescents can be asked the questions straight up). Pick something the child really likes, their favorite food or toy for example. They should be emotionally excited about your choice; something they see as "really good." Then add some unforeseen and very unfavorable consequence that compels him to think a bit more deeply. For example, the parent could say, "Suppose the food were filled with poison and you would get very sick if you ate it, or suppose you were playing with your toy and an accident happened and you got hurt." Let the child discover through your questions that just because something looks good and makes you happy does not mean it is good for you.i
II. THE PURPOSE OF OUR LIVES IN MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
Orthodox Christian Parents: You Need to Become Theologiansii
Gone are the days when parents could defer the moral and religious instruction of their children to others. When Christian morality still guided the culture (even imperfectly), parents had some assurance that what their children learned in Church would be affirmed more or less in the larger culture. No more.
The responsibilities delegated to moral and religious teachers (priests, youth workers, teachers and others) belong to parents too. In fact, if the parents don't shoulder the responsibility as the primary teachers of their children in moral matters, chances are the others will never reach them.
This requires that parents not only be hearers of the Word, but also doers of the Word. They must learn the way of God, particularly His design for marriage and family through study, prayer and practice of the spiritual life. Here the discipline of the Church is extremely valuable because it gives us cycles and seasons around which a family can orient their spiritual life, and a child can learn the essentials of the Orthodox Christian faith in the critical years. This works however, only if the parents are first faithful and practicing Christians themselves. (Previous articles related to this topic include Morelli, 2005, 2006a,c, 2007, 2008. Also, see the Smart Marriage and Smart Parenting at http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/Indexes/Morellix.php).
Further, if parents understand that marriage and parenting is inextricably linked to the will of God for their lives—that a main purpose of their lives is raising their children right—then the child's awareness that not everything that looks good is good will be taught in deeper measure largely through parental example. In other words, the child will come to see that the proper moral context for marriage is one man and one woman by experiencing how their parents live and act.
Again, this occurs only if parents take their God-given vocation as parents seriously. The Apostle Paul taught,
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).
Earlier we spoke about the parental responsibility in the moral instruction of their children. This responsibility is grounded not only in the God-given vocation of parenting, but reaches even deeper, from His call to become "sons of God" (men and women alike). We are called out of this world and exhorted not to conform ourselves to the dominant cultural values that violate God's will for us. St. John wrote: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15).
This next section will look at these themes in more detail. We will look at why God created us, how we can respond to His call, and what this means for marriage and family. A gentle reminder: Parents, we must first understand what this means in our life before we can impart it to our children.
God is to be Known and His Will Followed
In the Holy Scripture we discover that God desires to know and guide us. He established a covenant with man (never to be broken by God) that promises man the life that flows from Him. The covenant also places an obligation on man. It began with Abraham. The scripture reads:
the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you" (Genesis 17:1,7).
The covenant established with Abraham reaches through the scripture and finds its final and complete expression in Christ Jesus, the Son of God who became man. Christ becoming man enables the life of God and obligations it imposes to be internalized in ways not possible before His resurrection. Christ imparts the Holy Spirit to us (given in baptism), and the Holy Spirit allows for an inner transformation of the spirit, mind, and soul of man that enables man to become more Christ-like - to become in a concrete and existential way a true "son of God."
The obligations are primarily moral. St. Paul wrote of them to his Colossian Church to whom he taught that knowing God is linked to obedience to Him:
we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1: 9-10).
The Great Commandment: Love God and Neighbor
But how do we know God? And how do we do His will? The answer is relatively simple. Christ taught that:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).
To put it another way, to love God and neighbor implies obedience to God. We do not love if we do not obey, and we do not obey if we do not love. Jesus told his disciples: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Where does the love begin? With your most immediate neighbor: your spouse and your children.
To Serve God we Must be Holy
Concrete love of the neighbor (a love that rises above mere feelings) cannot be given unless our inner orientation is towards wholeness and good. This too, is implied by the covenant that God made with man. The scripture reads: "I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44). In terms of the New Covenant (realized in Christ) this means that we are "called to be saints" (Romans 1:7).
This affirms the critical point made above and is worth repeating: If we want our children to rise above the secular thinking that justifies destructive behaviors, then parents must first become the models of Christ-like thinking and behavior before they can impart right-thinking and right-acting to their children. This orientation toward God directs a person towards goodness and truth. This will reveal important moral truths that can guide the child in ways that conform to his God-given purpose and destiny.
All Love, Holiness and Service Draw from the Relationship of the Persons Within the Holy Trinity
Why, we might ask, is there such an emphasis on love in the scriptures? Why is the greatest commandment the one about loving God and neighbor?
The answer is simple: God is love. God exhorts us to love because He loves. If we love our neighbor, then we abide in His love. Love flows from Him, and love returns to Him. Everything that God does is by and through love. St. John told us: "God is love" (1 John 4:8). St. Gregory Palamas, a Father of the Church amplified this teaching in theological terms:
(The Holy Spirit) is like a mysterious love of the Father toward the Word (the Son) mysteriously begotten; the Word and well-beloved Son of the Father makes use of this Love Himself toward the One who begot him If this is so, it means that the Spirit, overcoming the contrast of Father and Son in fullness of the Three, is a sovereign Person who comes forth from the Father conjointly with the Son on whom He rests the Word and well-beloved Son of the One who begot Him: He does so to the degree in which He comes forth from the Father conjointly with this love, and in which this love rests naturally on Him (Bobrinskoy, 1999).
God is love. He created us to love Him and each other. And here we turn to Genesis and same-sex marriage.
Mankind is Two Sexes Making up One Human Natureiii
A few short decades ago, the idea that homosexuals should be allowed to marry was almost inconceivable. We must remember that for two thousand years Christian civilization (and Judaism before it as well as most non-Christian cultures) prohibited it. It simply never appeared on the radar.
Culture draws from the well of religion. Religious precepts define and guide a culture, and as those precepts are developed and practiced they form a tradition. The moral tradition that shaped Western culture is Judeo/Christian, and the source and grounding of that tradition is Holy Scripture. We interpret the scripture through the lens of proven teachers, particularly the Fathers of the Church among others.
Marriage is first mention in scripture in the very beginning - in Genesis. Marriage is a relationship ordained by God between one man and one woman. The passage reads:
Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed (Genesis 2: 18-25).
Right from the beginning mankind was created as a complementarity—male and female in a union make up the whole. They are different sexually (physiologically, neuropsychologically, and psychologically); in gender (enculturation and cultural definition); and spiritually having different gifts, talents and ministries.
Participation in God's Creation
One essential aspect of marriage according to Church teaching is the potential to create new life. We see this in the scriptural instruction: "And God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth '" (Genesis 1:28). The directive was affirmed by Our Lord who told the inquiring Pharisees: " he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh'" (Matthew 19:4-6).
St. John Chrysostom explained the scriptural teaching:
Marriage is a bond, a bond ordained by God They come to be made into one body. See the mystery of love! If the two do not become one, they cannot increase; they can increase only by decreasing. How great is the strength of unity! God's ingenuity in the beginning divided one flesh into two; but He wanted to show that it remained one even after its division, so He made it impossible for either half to procreate without the other (Of Adam and Eve) He reunited these two into one, so that their children (emphasis mine) would be produced from a source husband and wife are not two but one (St. John Chrysostom, 2003).
St. John used the metaphor of gold as the value of the offspring of this union:
How do they become one flesh? As if she were gold receiving the purest of gold, the woman receives the man's seed with rich pleasure, and within her it is nourished, cherished and refined. It is mingled with her own substance and she then returns it as a child! The child is a bridge connecting mother to father, so the three become one flesh (St. John Chrysostom, 2003)
Any union between a man and woman in marriage then, presumes the potentiality for children. It is written into the material fabric of creation. Further, this union anticipates the creation of the child as a sacred event, even a sacred calling given that it was ordained by God.
Does this mean that opposite-sex married couples who do not have children are excluded from God's design and calling? St. John anticipated the question:
That is why Scripture does not say, "They shall be one flesh," but that they shall be joined together "into one flesh," namely the child (emphasis mine). But suppose there is no child; do they then remain two and not one? No; their intercourse effects the joining of their bodies, and they are made one, just as when perfume is mixed with ointment.
From St. John's teaching it can easily be adduced that such a mixture is impossible in same-sex coupling. Same-sex relationships are closed off from the creation of new life because same-sex coupling is naturally sterile. This too is by design, a law written into the material fabric of creation. A man coupling with a man, or a woman with a woman, cannot conceive a child. They do not partake of God's sacred design. It violates nature, the canon of scripture, and the moral tradition.
III. PRACTICAL ADVICE ABOUT TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
When is the Best Time to Talk with Your Child?
When should we talk to our child? My recommendation is that the best time to talk to children about this topic is when an event that is related to same-sex relationships or marriage is encountered. This may be after or during viewing a news report, television show, movie or DVD. It could also be after seeing same-sex couples displaying mutual affection in public. This may be common in certain communities, recreation spots or gay rights rallies or parades. It may also occur during a chance encounter with a gay couple during some everyday outdoor activity.
If a parent notices their child looking, or staring or, in some way, attending to the gay couple, it is a natural time to inquire what the child thinks about what they are seeing.iv Parents frequently ask questions of their children on different matters such as sports, school, friends and by God's grace spiritual matters related to life. Three caveats: 1) let the child speak; 2) don't answer your own questions; and 3) don't assume you know what the child knows or is going to say. (The word educare from which we get the English term educate means to "draw out" in Latin. This is the fundamental meaning of education.)
Use of Questions: The Socratic Method
Use of questions is actually related to a cognitive-educational model called the Socratic Method (Beck, 1995). Using this technique, an instructor or mentor does not give data, knowledge or wisdom directly. Instead, the student discovers it as a result of answering a series of questions posed by the teacher. When a child discovers something for himself, or makes appropriate connections between things, is far more meaningful than referencing authority. When a parent asks questions like "What do you think?" or, "How is this related to what we leaned in (scripture, reading the Church Fathers, a homily or church school etc.)," chances are much greater that the child will grasp and retain important points. Be ready to outline some of theological principles given above. Don't preach. Keep it simple. Use clear, focused, examples.
A Child's Values are Influenced by the Culture
A child easily picks up the secular relative morality of the day. They may answer, "The gay couple looks happy." Or they may say, "Everyone should be able to do what they want and be able to get married to whom they want to." Don't denigrate the child's answer. The child will feel "put down," and deflect his attention and shut down discussion.
Instead, in a pleasant voice first validate the child's response. For example, the parent may say "Yes! They do look happy." And then in a warm tone of voice say something like: "'Now let me ask you something: Is everything that looks good really good for you?' or 'Is everything that feels good really good for you?'"
In the beginning of this article I discussed emotional reasoning and sentiment. Use this material to pose meaningful questions the child can answer for herself and, most important, make the appropriate connections. After the child offers an example of something that may look or feel good but is not be good for them, pose another question: "Is it possible that just because the gay couple feels good about getting married or they look happy, that it is really not good for them?" Based on what the child answers, be ready to use the theological material above. Have a copy of the scriptures nearby. Print out this article. Be ready so that you and your child can read the relevant passages together.
Applying the Theological Concepts
The theological outline above is one complete, logical and interrelated sequence of theological concepts from our purpose in life to a blessed marriage. A child may be at any level of this conceptual sequence. Also, a child may be able to apply a principle to one area of life and not to another. Parents have to be ready to educate that is to say to lead their child in making these connections.
Parents, along with their parish priest, spiritual father or parish religious education teachers, may take the points in this article and apply them in family discussions. Above I mentioned that a child can be stuck on sentimental and emotional appearances. Considering the denial and pervasion of Christian values in our culture, this will probably be a common problem that will need to be addressed in most cases.
For example, say, a 12-year-old boy understands that stealing is wrong. He understands that stealing is self-centered and lacks respect (love) for the neighbor. Meanwhile in the kitchen before dinner a news program shows images of several newlywed gay couples, who are smiling and hugging, etc." The parent can approach the issue in this way:
- The initial inquiry. The boy's mom notices him glance at the TV and hesitate for a moment before moving on. She says "Hey Tim, I just saw you glance at the gay married couples. What do you think?" He pauses a moment and answers, "It's Ok. It's cool. We have a few gay guys in school. They love each other. They should be able to marry anyone they want, just like regular people."
- Steering the questions toward Christ-like values. Mom (Dad too, although not home from work yet) did their theological and psycho-educational (how to talk to children) homework. Tim's mom is ready for a response. "Tim, remember last week we were talking about stealing." "Yeah, Mom!" "Remember you were saying you understood it was against God's will; that stealing is against His commandment to love Him and others? Why don't we see what God has told us about marriage."
Some typical responses to expect are: "Oh Mom, not now, I have to finish homework." Or: "Come on Mom! We are just about to have dinner, then I have a ball game." If it is a reasonable response Tim's mom may respond: "Ok, Tim, but remember how we have spiritual reading on Thursday evening, why don't we talk about it then?" Tim shrugs his shoulders, matter of factly and says: "Ok, I guess."
- The family discussion. On Thursday evening Mom and Dad are prepared. They ask Tim to repeat what he said about gay couples getting married. Dad says in a pleasant voice: "Ok, you have a point. They have feelings. But is it good for them; is it God's will? You would like someone else's PDA, but, as you said, stealing it would not be good for you. Using it would feel good and it would be fun to use, but stealing is still wrong."
Mom chimes in, "Remember, we all agreed how we have to understand why God put us on earth, what our purpose in life is and how we should do God's will. Let's see what God says about marriage."
They take turns reading the relevant passages from Genesis and other parts of scripture. They could quote the Church Fathers. At each point they always ask Tim to make the connections.
A few examples that Tim is getting it would be: "You're right, we're made in God's image and have to be like Him." "Making kids is God's work." "Yeah! I know what having sex is all about, two girls or two guys can't 'do it' the same way as a girl and a guy can." "Wow! Two fleshes become one flesh, and the child is your flesh too, I never thought of it that way."v "So marriage has to be holy too!"
How Do We Think About God's Love Towards the Homosexual?
One of the stumbling blocks in any discussion of homosexuality and same-sex is the charge "Don't judge!" Secular moralists are libertine in most sexual matters but exceedingly stern towards those who dare challenge them. It's quite an inversion. The command not to judge comes from Holy Scripture, but in this case the secular moralists are using it to obliterate any distinctions between what the scripture says about right behavior and relationships.
Nevertheless, the charge stops many Christians in their tracks. It's also a powerful shaper of young minds. Children want to be fair. They may know homosexuals, or even children of same-sex couples. "Don't judge!" translates into "You've got to be fair!" It's a difficult charge to reconcile so let's take a closer look at what the scripture says.
Love Does not Judge Others as Persons
Often we hear the saying when dealing with homosexuality, "Hate the sin, but love the sinner." As a thumbnail sketch of scriptural teaching regarding judgment, it works, albeit incompletely. The command to love is difficult. It may even seem impossible at times. For example, Jesus taught that we are to " love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." This means that judging a person must be left only to God. No man has the authority to judge another.
But the commandment not to judge does not mean that we should make allowance for sin. Jesus sat with sinners, including the prostitutes and tax collectors. He was judged harshly for doing so. Recall St Luke's words, "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them'" (Luke 15: 1-2).
Ask yourself, do we see Jesus ever condoning prostitution or thievery? Of course not. At the same time, Jesus saw the prostitutes and tax collectors as more than their sin. He reproved the religious establishment, the people who thought that because they had a lock on religion they were guaranteed a place in the kingdom of God, with some harsh and unexpected words:
A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, "Son, go and work in the vineyard today." And he answered, "I will not;" but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, "I go, sir," but did not go. "Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you" (Matthew 21: 28-31).
The distinction between sin and sinner is important because it preserves the value and integrity of the person caught up in sin without denying the sin. It displays mercy because God is merciful. Consider Christ's parable of the Lost Sheep:
And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost" (Luke 15: 2-6).
Further, as the scripture warns us, we experience God's mercy towards us only if we first are merciful towards others. Jesus warned us:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Our judgment of others is the baseline on how God will judge us. Jesus taught, "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6: 37).
Yet, again, Jesus never condoned sin. Look at his response to the tax collectors who wanted to follow him, St. Luke wrote, "Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, 'Teacher, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Collect no more than is appointed you'" (Luke 3:12-13). Elsewhere Jesus told the paralytic he had healed, "Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you" (John 15:3). Jesus was kind, but never approved sin.
A parent may ask his child, "How could this be applied to gay people you might meet?" If the child knows someone who is homosexual, use the name of his acquaintance. More thought-provoking parental questions include: "How should we treat someone gay when we meet them?" "What should be our mood?" "How should we think about them?" "Should we pray for them?" "What did St. Paul say the purpose of God's kindness was?"
A Related Case
Some parents may wonder if my comments are unrealistic. However, permit me an example. In one sense we can compare homosexuality to ethnic discrimination, at least in terms of how we relate to the homosexual. In another sense however, we should be careful not equate gay rights activism with the Civil Rights Movement. Gay activism, and the struggle for Black equality are two different things.
Nevertheless, if we hold to the distinction between sin and sinner discussed above, it would be wrong to treat a homosexual based solely on his sexual behavior just as it was wrong to treat a Black person differently because of his skin color. This does not mean that homosexual relationships should be afforded moral parity with heterosexual marriage. It does mean, however, that we must see the homosexual as a child of God and worthy of the respect given to him by God (just as Jesus treated the tax-collectors, prostitutes, and others with respect).
A while back I had an eleven year old in counseling for family adaptation issues. She told me that a month earlier a student from England transferred into her class. The other girls mocked her accent and mannerisms and shunned her (especially my counselee's clique).
My patient immediately knew this was not right. She attended Church regularly with her parents (who were committed Christians) so she also knew the treatment the transfer student endured was not Christ-like. She resolved to get to know the new student and found her very pleasant and very nice. They became friends.
The girls in her clique didn't like it and confronted her. She responded with, "You don't make fun of someone because of the way they talk, it is not right; I am friends with her, I would like you to continue to be my friends too but, if not, that is your choice." The counselee "took some heat" for her decision but by the time she conveyed the episode to me, some were "coming around." Children can learn to be assertive and behave in a Christ-like way (cf. Morelli, 2006b).
Role-playing Christ-Centered Charitable Responses
Parents can help children role play different possible encounters. Here are a few possible response scripts for various situations (Tom and Jane are generic names for the script):
- Tom may be gay, but he is also a child of God.
- Jane is free to act the way she wants, she can choose to live the way God asks us to act according to His Will or 'do her own thing.' I will pray for her.
- Jesus has told us that only a man and woman can marry and be blessed by the church. Tom and his male friend cannot have a blessed marriage in Christ.
- If a male-female couple decided to just live together or get a "justice of the peace marriage," it would not be blessed either.
- All of us, male and female are asked by God to love and obey Him, but it is our choice.
- I cannot judge Tom, only God judges, but I can pray that we all do God's will.
- Jesus told us Jane cannot be married to her girlfriend, but God also gave us free will. I will pray for them. God told me to only look at myself—I sure know the sins I have done.
- Listen, I have chosen to live my life the way Jesus has told us. I may mess up, but I keep trying.
- Just because Tom and his friend, and Jane and her friend were "married in court" doesn't mean it is blessed by God. God only blesses a man and a women who marry in church.
Please note that the script models the essentials of a Christ-like response: kindness toward all; non-judgment of persons (judgment belongs to God only); and affirmation of the truth that only a blessed marriage between male and female is acceptable to God, and humility in that we are to judge ourselves, not our brother or sister.
A fitting close is the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian. It frames how we can deal with homosexuality and same-sex marriage in our increasingly Godless society:
O Lord and Master of my life, do not give me
lust of power
But rather give me the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to thy servant.
Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother (and sister),
For blessed art thou unto ages of ages. Amen
Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos. (1998). Elder Paisios of The Holy Mountain. Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain.
Barcus, F. E. (1980). The Nature of Television Advertising to Children. In E. Palmer & A. Dorr (Eds.), Children and the Faces of Television (pp. 273-285). New York: Academic Press.
Beck, J.S. (1995). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. The Guilford Press: New York.
Bobrinskoy, B. (1999). The Mystery of the Trinity: Trinitarian Experience and Vision in the Biblical and Patristic Tradition. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
Morelli, G. (2005, July 19) Sex is Holy: Psycho-Spiritual Reflections in a Secular World. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/MorelliSexIsHoly.php.
Morelli, G. (2006a, April, 03 ). "Sexual Addiction": An Orthodox and Scientific View. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliHypersexuality.php.
Morelli, G. (2006b, July 02). Assertiveness and Christian Charity. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliAssertiveness.php.
Morelli, G. (2006c November 20). Understanding Homosexuality: An Orthodox Christian Perspective. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliHomosexuality2.php.
Morelli, G. (2007, August 28). Smart Parenting VI: Talking to Your Children About Sex. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliSmartParentingVI.php.
Morelli, G. (2008, July 06). Smart Marriage XIII: The Theology of Marriage and Sexuality. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles8/Morelli-Smart%20Marriage-XIII-The-Theology-of-Marriage-and-Sexuality.php.
St. John Chrysostom. (2003). On Marriage and Family Life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
i It is very common for parents to answer the questions they ask a child. Let the child answer first. This is very important because the child learns better.
ii To speak of blessed marriage or the impossibility of same-sex marriage outside of the fullness of God's revelation of Himself to us, is ultimately meaningless without direct reference to God (who is love), the Holy Trinity, (the Persons who relate in love), creation, (out of love), and the self-emptying Son (who took on flesh out of love and who was crucified, died, buried, rose from the dead, ascended to the Father, and sent the Holy Spirit to sanctify us). God's love, and all He has done for us in love is the foundation of all discussion on marriage. To treat a prohibition on same-sex marriage outside of this context is easily interpreted as arbitrary and capricious. Some smart children and adolescents will sense and perceive this. Parents have to be able to answer the question their children's ultimate question: Why? Of course in their own education process, the parents, spiritual director and parish priest will be an invaluable resource.
iii One of the insidious attacks on the culture of the United States is the continuing misuse of the technical terms: sex and gender. In a previous article (Morelli, 2006b) I delineated the following distinctions:
- Sex: What a person is biologically.
- Sexual Orientation: The sex of the individual the person is sexually attracted to whether same-sex or opposite sex attraction.
- Sexual Desire or Strength: The degree of attraction, from weak to strong.
- Sex Partner Differences in Arousal:
Males: Multiple partners.
Females: A single bonded individual.
- Gender Identity: The sexual characteristics a person perceives himself as having that are socially defined, irrespective of their biological sex.
There is a deep (and, I argue, nefarious) confusion in the culture regarding the terms: sex and gender. Sex refers to biological differentiation between male and female; gender refers to the social, politcal, judicial, etc. constructs that define how we perceive and define male and female in cultural terms. If the term sex is replaced with the term gender, then biological concreteness is subsumed by cultural values leading to the confusion we see today: the denial of male-female distinctions, and the reformulation of human relationships in culturally relative terms. This is how a panel of judges on the California Supreme Court could overturn an enduring cultural institution with the stroke of their pen, for example. This term shift has infected the culture like a virus. Unfortunately this has also spread in the Orthodox Church. One editor of an article I wrote on "sex differences" for an Orthodox publication several years ago changed "sex" to "gender" in my entire text. I had no control. It was published before I was able to insist on a correction. This was a tragedy.
A note on my own "civil disobedience." In any forms I fill out if questioned about my gender: I cross out "gender" and write in "sex" or, if I cannot change the form, I randomly choose male or female or leave it blank. If questioned I always respond my "sex" is public information, my "gender" is private. I choose only to reveal my gender only to my Father Confessor or, if needed, to my health-care professional.
iv An exception would be if the family has regular scheduled bible study and spiritual reading time and marriage is the topic of discussion. This also would be true if done as part of the curriculum in religious education classes. It would seem normal and natural for such discussions to occur and different subjects discussed.
v Younger children may find it difficult to conceive of the meaning of "one flesh." St. Paul himself said: "This mystery is a profound one " (Ephesians 5:32). I have found it useful to use concrete objects that a child is familiar with to illustrate more abstract concepts. Most children play with blocks and have experience with various geometric forms in games such as pegboard etc.
The following can be used as illustrations. First the union of husband and wife, male and female in a blessed marriage:
The following objects show the impossibility of making a single figure (one flesh) out of the geometric forms as arranged below:
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
Fr. Morelli is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.
Fr. Morelli is a Senior Fellow at the Sophia Institute, an independent Orthodox Advanced Research Association and Philanthropic Foundation housed at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York City that serves as a gathering force for contemporary Orthodox scholars, theologians, spiritual teachers, and ethicists.
Fr. Morelli serves on the Executive Board of the San Diego Cognitive Behavior Therapy Consortium (SDCBTC)
Fr. Morelli serves as Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
Fr. Morelli is the author of: