"You can't ‘pray the gay away!"
That's a catchy tag-line, and it neatly encapsulates what our culture has come to believe about homosexuality — that some people are born gay and some people are born straight, that there's nothing wrong with either orientation, and that to suggest gay people can or should change is just absurd. Of course, that's not what the Holy Orthodox Church has historically taught. But since most people in this country don't know what Holy Orthodoxy teaches on this subject, I figured that this column would be a good opportunity to provide folks with that information.
To begin with, the Orthodox Church has no problem with the claim that some people are born gay and some people are born straight. Now, there are an awful lot of conservative folks who insist that homosexuality is a choice, and, in some cases, that may very well be true. But, ultimately, it really doesn't matter. And the reason it doesn't matter is because, in the end, we all have to change. Because what Orthodoxy teaches is that we are all of us, gay and straight, equally messed up.
Of course, in the traditional theological language of the Orthodox Church, you don't often hear the phrase ‘messed up'; what Orthodoxy has historically taught is that we are all sinners. But that doesn't mean that we are all moral deviants who deserve to be punished; it means we are all sick, and we need to be healed. And it's not that gay people need spiritual surgery and straight people only need some spiritual first aid — we all need to be completely rewired and reworked and renewed. Because, in the Christian life, the goal is not simply to become better people; the goal is not just improvement; the goal is transformation.
That transformation is made possible through Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity; He came to Earth, and, through His death, resurrection, and ascension, He made it possible for us to share in His divine life. We have access to the divine life of Christ Jesus in a variety of different ways - through the sacraments of the Church, through prayer, through fasting, through reading the Holy Scriptures and giving alms and performing acts of mercy. In the traditional theological language of the Orthodox Church, all those activities are called spiritual disciplines, and the more we participate in those activities, the more we become like Christ Jesus. And the more we become like Christ Jesus, the more we are transformed.
Now that transformation is not at all easy; it involves a life-time of hard work. And most people really struggle with that transformation; sadly, some people give up on it all together. But the people who stick with this work over the long haul do become different-in fact, they become completely different. In Holy Orthodoxy, we call those people saints. But, again, this sort of top-to-bottom change that we see in the saints is not only possible for all of us, it's the very heart of what Christianity is all about. So this transformation, this make-over, is something that each and every one of us, gay and straight, heterosexual and homosexual, are called to embrace.
That's what the Holy Orthodox Church teaches on this subject. But even if folks agree that this sort of transforming change is possible, a lot of them will argue that gay and lesbian people don't have to change. A lot of people insist that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love homosexuals just the way they are.
And, actually, that's absolutely true. The Most Holy Trinity loves gay and lesbian people just the way they are; in fact, it's not possible for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to somehow love homosexual people more than They already do. So why does the Orthodox Church call on gay and lesbian people to change?
For the same reason the Orthodox Church calls on all of us to change. We don't struggle in this process of transformation so that the Most Holy Trinity will love us more — as I just mentioned, that's not even possible. We embrace this transformation, we work towards healing, and we do it for years on end, so that we can experience more and more of the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So it's not about making any of us acceptable to the Most Holy Trinity; it's certainly not a matter of insisting that gay people need to change more than straight people. It's about getting all of us healed up to the point where we can fully experience the all-encompassing love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Father Aidan Wilcoxson is the pastor of St John Orthodox Church in Cedar Park
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org