Monday, June 30, 2008

Orthodoxy: A Fertile Faith?

A 6th century mosaic of :en:Jesus at Church San Apollinare Nuovo in :en:Ravenna, :en:Italy. (Originally taken from here.Image via WikipediaJohn Couretas at the American Orthodox Institute blog (a most excellent blog, might I add--do take a look at it!) raises the question of Orthodox Christian witness in the political realm:

When a recent coffee hour conversation turned, unexpectedly, to politics and what if anything the Church has to say about public issues and then all of the “God talk” in the current presidential contest, a friend said, “Oh, that’s politics. The Orthodox Church shouldn’t get involved in politics. Nothing good can come of it.”
Well, yes and no.
He continues by explaining that "If we’re talking about partisan politics then yes, of course, the Church must stay out of it. The Church was not founded to endorse candidates for office or advance a political ideology. But if we’re talking about the political dimensions of important moral issues, then yes, of course, the Church may quite properly speak to these."While I agree with the basic thrust behind his comments, I think the example he offers, the 2003 "Statement on Moral Crisis on Our Nation" issued by Standing Conference Orthodox Bishops of America is an unfortunate one.I read the statement by SCOBA, both when it came out and again in response to the post on AOI. Both the first time and now again, I found it lacking in how well in responded to the actual argument made by the proponents of same sex marriage.Yes certainly, "Moral Crisis," accurately summarized the Orthodox understanding of marriage but it fails to address the central question: Should the state sanction same sex marriages or not? As written the statement is not even clear as to the answer to this most fundamental question.
Yes the bishops express their "deep concern over recent developments." And yes, they tell us that they "pray fervently that the traditional form of marriage, as an enduring and committed union only between a man and a woman, will be honored." But they fail to say what the state should do in response to the desire for some to extend marriage to same sex couples. Given that the recent Pew Charitable Trust survey suggest, many Orthodox Christians do not think with the Church on this question, it becomes not only politically, but pastorally imperative, that the Church respond more clearly to those who would challenge and even reject, the "divine purpose" of marriage.
The statement also fails in my reading of it to respond to the fact that in the eyes of many, the "normalize, legalize and even sanctify same-sex unions" is no way a betrayal of marriage as either a religious or civil institution. The rhetoric is quite the opposite; for those who advocate same sex marriage,extending marriage to a new class of citizens through its legalization is presented as a strengthening of marriage as a cultural, and indeed religious and specifically Christian, institution.Appealing to the Constitutional separation of church and state, advocates of smae-sex marriage argue that (as with abortion rights) changes in the law will in no way infringe on either the rights of those who oppose same-sex marriage or represents an assault on the traditional understanding of marriage. They simply wish to extend a legal right to the disenfranchised. The bishops' statement, appealing as it does simply to Orthodox faith and practice, fails to respond to the actually argument that the legalization of same-sex marriage is matter of social justice.In failing to respond, the statement concedes the issue and leaves the reader with the impression that the Church has nothing to contribute to the debate past that which pertains to our own narrowly defined interests.The bishops' statement leaves a number of issues unaddressed, it is in it conclusion that it fails most. By not engaging the arguments made by the advocates of same-sex, the statement does nothing to change the terms of the debate.While there is a laudable attempt to reach out pastorally to homosexuals ("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.) it does so in language that it could used, and in fact is often used, by any advocate of same sex marriage.I agree with your thesis that Orthodox social witness is lacking.
But when, as with the SOCBA statement you referenced, we do make a statement it is hard for me to shake the thought that (however inadvertently) we are presenting ourselves as merely one pressure among others. While there is nothing dogmatically or ethically unsound in the statement, as a whole it reads (to me at least) more as a pro forma sectarian statement then a prophetic witness to the Gospel.Save for the fact that I am an Orthodox Christian who takes his faith and the teaching office of the bishops seriously–the statement offers me no reason to take seriously the teaching it is putting forward.If we are to speak to the ethical concerns of the day, we must learn to do so in a idiom that can touch the hearts and minds of men and women of good will. Truth be told, we probably would do well to begin with making sure that our own faithful, and especially our lay leaders and clergy are themselves committed to the Church's moral witness. We have not done the former, and I suspect we have also left undone the latter.In Christ,
+Fr Gregory
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