Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bill Tammeus on Growing Movement for Gay Inclusion in Orthodox Churches: Whither Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue?

And as the issues of discrimination and non-discrimination about which I've just blogged play out in intra-ecclesial Catholic discussions, as Bill Tammeus points out in a recent posting at National Catholic Reporter, they also have implications for the ecumenical discussions of one Christian church with another.  Those implications have been highly publicized in the past year or so as Pope Benedict invites Anglicans fleeing the ordination of women and openly gay/lesbian clergy to cross the Tiber to Rome.

But, as Tammeus (who happens to be Presbyterian, by the way) notes, they're also entering into the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue as a movement for full equality of gay and lesbian persons emerges in some Orthodox churches.  Here's Tammeus's conclusion:

Within the last few weeks, for example, a book, Homosexuality in the Orthodox Church by Justin R. Cannon, has been published.

It gives voice to gay Orthodox Christians who seek full inclusion within the church and it offers a relatively brief but quite complete and compelling analysis of the passages of scripture often cited as reasons for continuing the official prejudicial behavior against gays and lesbians promulgated by the church.

That official prejudice is rooted in a long misreading of those biblical passages in much the same way that many Christians prior to the American Civil War based their support of slavery on various passages from the Bible. And this exegetical struggle is going on in Catholicism and Protestantism as well as now within Orthodoxy.

Well, let me clarify that. The struggle is going on at official levels and at -- how to put this? -- certain age levels of congregants and clergy. For the truth, in my experience, is that most people in the church under age 40 or so cannot imagine what the issue is. Partly because most of them have known, gone to school with, worked with and been related to gay people, they are far past the possibility of opposing either homosexuality or wanting to prohibit gays and lesbians from participating fully in the church.

So this issue, while not yet settled on the side of liberation by the Catholic or Orthodox churches, is simmering near the surface and will require some kind of resolution if those two branches mean to come together.

And although this may not be the most important issue on the church unity agenda, it will be indicative of the kind of unified church to be created.

As Justin Cannon writes in his new book: “Jesus befriended those who were marginalized because he knew it was only in the security of loving, unconditional relationships that hearts and lives are healed.”

If that’s not the Jesus a unified Catholic-Orthodox church intends to follow, who will want to belong?

This will be an interesting encounter to follow.  Up to now, the Orthodox churches have tended to be proud to be part of the heteronormative homophobic old boys' club that the leaders of the Catholic church seem intent on developing at this point in history, as their response (or so they claim) to secularization and modernity.  If groups within the Orthodox churches are now using the rich spiritual traditions of that stream of Christianity to challenge the heteronormative homophobic boys' club model of the church, where is that going to leave the Catholic church? 

Will the Catholic church stand proud and alone as the last defiant model of church-sanctioned anti-gay discrimination in the Christian world?  Not a place to which one would imagine a church  walking in Jesus's footsteps would want to walk with eyes wide open, is it?

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