by Glen Chancy — March 2, 2009
Globally, Orthodox Christianity is known to be highly conservative concerning what is frequently referred to as “traditional Christian morality.” In Europe, for example, more progressive and liberal elements of society spare no effort in attacking the Church as a bastion of traditionalist repression, especially concerning homosexuality.
Ironically, however, in the United States an image seems to be growing of the Orthodox Church as more liberal towards sexual sins than, for example, the Evangelical denominations. Quite a few people, judging by chatter on the Internet, are getting the impression that Orthodoxy is similar to the Episcopal Church in respect to moral issues.
Part of this confusion stems from the book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell. This book, published in 1994, asserted that certain Greek Orthodox medieval rituals were really ecclesiastical blessings of homosexual unions. Boswell especially singled out the Greek Orthodox Rite known as adelphopoiesis or “brother-making,” as one such example.
Since the book’s publication, Orthodox sources have roundly debunked Boswell. (One such effort can be found here.) Even so, a casual stroll through Google will find Boswell’s claims widely repeated on Websites associated with homosexual issues. (LGBT sites in the common parlance of today.) The fiction created by Boswell is useful for sexually active homosexuals, both within the Orthodox Church and without. Even those who don’t know much about the Orthodox Church, still understand its great antiquity and authority. By putting forward a claim that the ancient Christian faith celebrated homosexual unions, activists are attempting to invalidate any current opposition to their plans for forcing churches to fully recognize their lifestyle.
While this book has been useful to homosexual activists, its damage to the reputation of the Holy Orthodox Church has been largely contained. It’s an obscure book written by an academic and open to easy debunking, so the American mainstream has remained mostly unaware of its erroneous conclusions. Of far more concern is the current clique of Greek Orthodox bloggers centered around The Huffington Post.
There are three people to discuss, but let us begin with Michael Huffington. Michael Huffington is the son of Roy Michael Huffington, the founder of an oil and natural gas company. After completing his education, he served as vice chairman of the family-owned energy business called HUFFCO from 1976 to 1990. Needless to say, he is seriously rich.
Huffington met Arianna Stassinopoulos at a 1985 party hosted by Ann Getty in San Francisco. Born in Greece, Arianna had made a name for herself in the United States as a leftist. She had even been personally involved with uber leftist and California Governor Jerry Brown. Michael and Arianna married in 1986.
In 1992, Huffington was elected to the House of Representatives from California’s 22nd District (Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties). After one term in the House, Huffington used $28 million dollars of his own money in a bid for a seat in the United States Senate. At the time, Huffington’s was the most expensivecampaign in a non-presidential election in American history. Huffington lost in the general election by 1.9 percent of the vote to Dianne Feinstein.
Huffington divorced his wife in 1997. By that time, Huffington had joined the Orthodox Church. In 1998, he came out publicly as a bisexual. In an article on his ex-wife’s blog, The Huffington Post, he told of coming to terms with both his sexual orientation and his Orthodoxy:
During my marriage, I became an Orthodox Christian after having been Episcopalian for over a decade. Through the Orthodox faith, I came to realize for the first time in my life that God had created me in His image, and that His image encompassed bisexual and gay people. Two years after I became Orthodox, and one year after my divorce, I decided to come out to the public as bisexual. This was made into a big deal by the press because I had recently been in the national spotlight as a Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate race in California. I did it solely on my own volition. And I did it joyfully because I knew God loved me for who I was, and wanted me to live an open and truthful life.
Please understand this very clearly. Michael Huffington is not a man stricken with same-sex attraction who is quietly struggling, by the grace of God, to live a chaste life. Rather, Michael Huffington has decided that it is perfectly acceptable to remain a communing member of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church while having illicit sex not only with women, but also with men.
Huffington claims there are quite a few other Orthodox Christians that agree with him on this. From the same article, Huffington describes how his parish took the news of his bisexuality:
My experience with my own church had been gratifying. The article about my coming out was printed on the front page of the metro section of the Sunday Los Angeles Times. As I went to church that day, I was fully aware that most of my fellow parishioners and priests had read the story. To my utter amazement, not one person said anything negative to me or to our priests. Instead, I was patted on the back, and told by straight men how courageous I was. They congratulated me for being brave enough to tell the truth. This was Christianity at its best. Christ was indeed among us that day.
Following his own personal revelation from God about bisexuality, Huffington decided to devote his considerable fortune to producing movies to help convince others that an unrepentant homosexual lifestyle is perfectly acceptable to God. The most recent, and well-known of these films, is a documentary called For the Bible Tells Me So which was released in 2007.
Here is the summary of the movie from the Independent Movie Database:
We meet five Christian families, each with a gay or lesbian child. Parents talk about their marriages and church-going, their children’s childhood and coming out, their reactions, and changes over time. The stories told by these nine parents and four adult children alternate with talking heads – Protestant and Jewish theologians – and with film clips of fundamentalist preachers and pundits and news clips of people in the street. They discuss scripture and biblical scholarship. A thesis of the film is that much of Christianity’s homophobia represents a misreading of scripture, a denial of science, and an embrace of quack psychology. The families call for love.
This documentary is widely-known. The “gay” press covered it, as did the mainstream media. Interestingly, while Huffington’s film viciously attacks the Religious Right, it is silent concerning Orthodoxy. This gives the impression that Orthodoxy is not on the same page as Evangelicals concerning homosexuality.
When not funding films or blogging, Huffington is also busy using his checkbook to directly further his ideas. In 2007, Huffington gave $5 million to Loyola Marymount University to establish the Huffington Ecumenical Institute to promote Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and understanding.
As he said of the new institute, “I feel very passionate about this project, because my dream is that someday I’ll get to see members of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church be able to take Communion in each other’s churches.”
Loyola Marymount is a Jesuit institution with about 5,000 undergraduates and 3,000 graduate students. The institute that bears Huffington’s name has been busy sponsoring ecumenical dialogues and other encounters among Catholic and Orthodox theologians, religious leaders and church members. In January 2009, it facilitated the award of an honorary doctorate in humane letters to Archbishop Demetrios of America.
Michael Huffington was there to stand alongside the Archbishop at the award ceremony, and his name was featured prominently in the official press release. You can read the press release about the event on the Greek Archdiocese Website by clicking here.
Huffington seems to make quite an effort to keep reminding the world that he is Greek Orthodox. His religion is almost always mentioned in articles about him, even when focusing on secular topics such as his political advocacy.
It is difficult to believe that this is a coincidence. Constant repetition of his religious affiliation by Huffington, and his press enablers, seems designed to foster the impression that the Orthodox Church accepts him, his lifestyle of homosexual sex, and his Theological views. So far, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the United States seems to be reinforcing this impression through its silence.
Part of Huffington’s fortune went to his ex-wife Arianna in the divorce. She used this to found The Huffington Post, a leading leftist blogging site, where the Huffington article previously quoted appeared. Arianna herself is considered to be an intellectual light-weight, so her own views on religion and politics are discounted by most people. But starting in late 2006, she scored a huge coup when Frank Schaeffer started blogging for her.
Orthodox Christians know Frank Schaeffer as a former conservative Evangelical whose book Dancing Alone sold well and was very influential in bringing many people (including this writer) to Orthodoxy. The world knows Frank Schaeffer as the son of prominent religious leader and Protestant Theologian Francis Schaeffer.
Schaeffer began his blogging career on The Huffington Post by mostly excoriating the Bush Administration on its foreign policy. There were quite a number of conservatives and libertarians who felt similarly, so this was not really exceptional in itself. His disgust with the Bush record, and his anger at religious conservatives in general, eventually caused him to endorse Obama. This was a step most Theologically conservative Orthodox were unwilling to take. While I disagreed with him on his pro-Obama stance, in a blog written last November, I actually defended the purity of his intentions.
However, the longer Schaeffer has been blogging for The Huffington Post, the more belligerent his blogs have gotten concerning traditional Christian morality. He is now prone to introduce his blogs by stating, “I’m pro-Obama, pro-gay rights.”
Here is an example of his new attitude:
Let’s suppose for a nutty moment that the evangelical/Mormon/conservative Roman Catholic/ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Muslim view of such issues as abortion, homosexuality, marriage (gay or otherwise) is correct. For one crazy instant let’s even assume that God wants everyone in America to live as if all the injunctions of the Old Testament, New Testament, and Koran, when it comes to sexual moral behavior or not eating shellfish, are to be practiced literally, up and to including the stoning to death of homosexuals. How then to best get back to some sort of Promised Land of rectitude and God-pleasing ways?
Like Huffington, Schaeffer constantly reminds readers of his blog that he is Greek Orthodox. If you read his blogs, you will quickly notice that when singling out religious groups for abuse concerning their traditionalism, he omits the Orthodox. In the same blog in which the above passage was written, Schaeffer wrote the following:
Long after I left that evangelical/hard right subculture I converted to the Greek Orthodox Church (in 1990) and so I’m also getting to a few “how can you support the abortionist Obama” hate e-mails from some of the more right wing and politicized members of the Orthodox community. (Most of them are converts who brought their former evangelical and/or Roman Catholic right wing politics into their new church.)
I will be the first to agree that there is an element of truth to this statement. Some converts to Orthodoxy do, in fact, bring attitudes, ideas, and Theology into the Orthodox Church which are not appropriate. However, sexual morality is no different in Orthodoxy than in Roman Catholicism. Schaeffer knows this, but appears to be intentionally obscuring this point, pretending that the “real Orthodox” are somehow more tolerant of sexual sin than other traditional faith communities.
Michael Huffington and Frank Schaeffer, united by the blogsite of Ariana Huffington, are doing a great deal to undermine the witness of the Orthodox Faith in this country. The misimpression which their efforts is fostering among Americans simply must be corrected.
It must be corrected for the sake of men and women, laboring under the burden of same-sex attraction, who may feel validated in their sin. It must be corrected for the sake of the many millions who are seeking the true path of Christ, but may turn away if they believe the Orthodox Church is only the Episcopal Church with more ritual. And it must be corrected for the simple fact that it does an injustice to the Gospel.
The truth of Greek Orthodox teaching concerning human sexuality is summarized in the following passage from Pastoral Guidelines: Church Positions Regarding the Sanctity of Human Life by Rev. Dr. Stanley S. Harakas:
The Orthodox Church recognizes marriage as the only moral and spiritually appropriate context for sexual relations. Thus, all other forms of sexual activity such as fornication, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, pornography, all forms of prostitution, and similar forms of behavior are sins that are inappropriate for the Orthodox Christian. Marriage is only conducted and recognized in the Orthodox Church as taking place between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriages are a contradiction in terms. The Orthodox Church does not allow for same-sex marriages.
Individual members of the Greek Orthodox Church, such as Michael Huffington or Frank Schaeffer, may feel differently. This is regrettable, but irrelevant. The teaching of the Orthodox Christian Church is clear, explicit, and timeless. It is the same today as it was on the Day of Pentecost, and will be the same forever.
Nor is the Greek Orthodox teaching on this topic in any way different from that of the other Orthodox jurisdictions in the U.S. In a Statement on Moral Crisis in Our Nation, all the Orthodox Bishops in the United States made their position very clear:
The Orthodox Church cannot and will not bless same-sex unions. Whereas marriage between a man and a woman is a sacred institution ordained by God, homosexual union is not. Like adultery and fornication, homosexual acts are condemned by Scripture (Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:10). This being said, however, we must stress that persons with a homosexual orientation are to be cared for with the same mercy and love that is bestowed by our Lord Jesus Christ upon all of humanity. All persons are called by God to grow spiritually and morally toward holiness.
That statement was published in 2003. More recently, the Orthodox Bishops in California (where Michael Huffington lives) published a statement in support of Prop 8 which was intended to eliminate Same-sex marriage. Here is part of that statement:
Therefore, we, the Orthodox bishops of California, call upon the faithful, as responsible and concerned citizens of California, to overturn this ruling by the California Supreme Court by voting in favor of Proposition 8 this coming November. This proposition is a regrettably necessary measure to restore the true definition of marriage in the eyes of our state. A state that believes same-sex couplings constitute “marriage” implicitly – and sooner or later, explicitly – denies the role of the Church and all faiths that adhere to traditional values in public life. Please exercise your citizenship and vote in November. The passage of Proposition 8 is an imperative.
In his blog, Frank Schaeffer blasted “Religious Right” supporters of Prop 8, without ever once mentioning that the ruling bishops in California of his own Church firmly supported that very same voter initiative. I doubt it was because he was unaware of this fact.
Above all, one thing must be kept squarely in mind when looking at the teaching of the Orthodox Church on the nature of human sexuality and the nature of marriage. There is no controlling authority in the Orthodox Church which has the ability to alter the teaching of the Church concerning these matters. Revelation in the Orthodox Church is considered fixed and final – it can not change. There simply can not be a valid debate within Orthodoxy on the questions of what constitutes marriage or on the nature of human sexuality. You either accept the teaching of the Church, or you reject it. There is no one to lobby, no one to convince, no one to appeal to. This is in stark contrast to other religious bodies, such as the Episcopalians, who gather every so often to figure out what they believe now.
This does not mean, of course, that Orthodoxy is not vastly different in tone and focus from the Evangelical denominations that comprise the “Religious Right.” This fact is made clear by the following excerpt from Father Thomas Hopko’s book Orthodoxy and Same Sex Attraction:
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.
Read more by clicking here.
We are not to be labeled by our sin. We can and should rise above our sin, not wallow in it, while pretending that our sin is somehow a permanent part of our character defining us for all time. That is a powerful message of hope that is the true message of the Orthodox Church. That message has been somewhat clouded, but it is time to get that message out loudly and clearly.
Glen Chancy is a CIO of CorFun, Inc. an eServices company based in Orlando, Florida. He is a graduate of University of Florida, and has been a member of the Orthodox Church since 2000. More of his writing can be found at OrthodoxBiz.com.