The 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia, has cast a spotlight on a string of anti-gays laws.
- Banning the adoption of Russian-born children by gay couples as well as all couples or single parents living in countries where marriage equality exists.
- Subjecting to arrest those accused of promoting “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” and to arrest anyone who argues for lesbian and gay equality, including judges, lawyers and lawmakers.
- Significant fines for holding gay pride rallies or providing information to minors about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
- Permits police officers to arrest and detain, for up to two weeks, any foreign nationals or tourists whom they suspect to be gay, lesbian, or “pro-gay.”
What, Christians may wonder, is the position being taken by the Russian Orthodox Church? Two relevant premises to an answer to this question should be mentioned.
The first is that Eastern Orthodox Churches are highly adverse to any change in form and substance. Their perspective is that the church became defined by and large during the fourth century, and change is something to be done with far more care than is appreciated in the Western churches.
The second is the tendency of Orthodox churches to be identified with their ethnic and national roots: Greek Orthodox for ethnic Greeks, Russian Orthodox for ethnic Russians, Armenian Orthodox for ethnic Armenians, etc. This is such that the relationship between national secular authorities and the church is much more dominated by the former than has often been the case in the Western churches. It is reported that Putin has been strengthening his alliances with the Russian Orthodox Church in the past few years, and if so this is consonant with Orthodox tradition.
Given these two factors, we should not be surprised to find that the Russian Orthodox Church is strongly backing the laws and Putin’s enforcement of it. Russian Orthodox Christians are likely taking their cue from their leader, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill.
The patriarch believes that the recognition of same-sex unions by Western countries is a harbinger of impending of doom. Speaking at Red Square’s Kazan Cathedral, Kirill has said of homosexuality, “This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything in our powers to ensure that sin is never sanctioned in Russia by state law because that would mean that the nation has embarked on a path of self-destruction.” Kirill called on Russians to “fight for freedom from sins,” saying, “Where sin is elected through freedom, there comes death, terror and dictatorship.”
A 2010 poll by the independent Levada Center in Moscow found that 74 percent of Russians regard homosexuality as a result of bad moral choices, or think of it as a “disease.” Only 15 percent thought it is just another sexual orientation that “has the same right to existence” as heterosexual lifestyles, 5 percent fewer than in a similar survey five years earlier.
“The church is not the initiator of [these laws], but many believers have been waiting for such legislation to appear,” says Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department of cooperation with society. “The propaganda of [homosexual lifestyles] should not take place where minors can feel its influence; the same is true about heterosexual lechery…. Public manifestations of this way of life are unacceptable for the majority of official statements by the Orthodox hierarchy, which continue to be consistent in terms of the traditional position that homosexual behavior is sinful and thus damaging to the human person, and that homosexual temptation is a subject for ascetic struggle.
While some Orthodox theologians and jurisdictions have championed the traditional view, they have also engaged in scientific conversation and in dialogue with the increasing number of societies that view homosexuality far differently. After affirming the import and meaning of the Scriptures that address homosexual activity, calling it sin, the Orthodox Church in America offered the following advice at its 10th All-American Council in 1992:
Men and women with homosexual feelings and emotions are to be treated with the understanding, acceptance, love, justice and mercy due to all human beings…Persons struggling with homosexuality who accept the Orthodox faith and strive to fulfill the Orthodox way of life may be communicants of the Church with everyone else who believes and struggles. Those instructed and counselled in Orthodox Christian doctrine and ascetical life who still want to justify their behavior may not participate in the Church’s sacramental mysteries, since to do so would not help, but harm them.
Within the Orthodox churches, there is a minority advocating a change in the view of homosexuality; one such group is Axios.
We invite our readers who are familiar with Orthodoxy to offer your insights and help us all understand this massive branch of the Church and this particular issue.