Progressive Movement Within Orthodox Church

Fordham panel discusses Orthodox Christianity and sexuality

By George Kite

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On Tuesday, November 19th, experts on sexuality in the Eastern Orthodox Church came together and gave a panel in the Flor Auditorium of the library, talking for nearly two hours about the current state of affairs of LGBTQ+ in the Church. The panel touched on current dialogue, theology, states of affairs, challenges, and the future of Orthodoxy.

The panel was part of the Bridging Voices initiative, which is spearheaded by Fordham University, Exeter University, and the British Council, which aims for discussion on the Orthodox Church and increasing sexuality diversity in the modern world today. The panel was hosted by Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou, the co-director of Orthodox Christian Studies in the theology department. Dr. Papanikolaou started off by presenting the panels, which consisted of Fr. Brandon Gallaher, Rev. John Jillions, Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, and Gregory Tucker. He then presented a video summarizing a conference at Oxford University this August which discussed sexual diversity in the Orthodox Church.

Fr. Gallaher, a married Orthodox priest who specializes in research and dialogue between the Christian West and East in the modern world, began the panel by discussing the issues on LGBTQ+ and the Orthodox Church today, pertaining to the “thaw” Orthodoxy came out of after the fall of the Soviet Union. Because the Orthodox Church was underground and trying to survive, it wasn’t a part of modern movements of the 20th century that other faiths were able to tackle, and is still somewhat trapped in the past. Fr. Gallaher used the apt example of Han Solo frozen in carbonite in comparison to the Orthodox Church. LGBTQ+ issues, he stated, are the most notable of modernity that the Orthodox Church has struggled with, and is often unaddressed, ignored, or denied an issue at all within the stress. Fr. Gallaher went on to talk about how the Bridging Voices project is aiming to address that in the Orthodox world, with a diversity of voices in with lay, clergy, Catholic, Anglican, and LGBT perspectives.

Ms. Riccardi-Swartz, a NYU sociology graduate who works with the Orthodox Church in America, talked about her research in the U.S. with the relation with Orthodox converts and the right-wing political resurgence, and her interviews with Orthodox converts in the backlash against LGBTQ+ rights in relation to association with the Orthodox Church. She talked about the associate of Orthodoxy and traditionalism with it’s appeal to the new right in the Western world, and especially its association with Putin’s Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church.

The panel then went to Mr. Tucker, who discussed the dialogue that was going on in the Church and the progress being made, along with the difficulties faced along the way. He discussed some of the contents of the Oxford conference, the varying voices from liberal and conservative speakers and the respect and dialogue that came from it. The conference included a wide range of highly conservative clergymen to liberal LGBTQ+ rights activists. He noted that although there was a great divide on issues, great progress was made in fostering understanding. He made a point that conservative defenses against sexuality that relied on keeping with traditionalism became apparent that they did not work, insofar as there is no theological defense for it and that conservative clergy realized this.

Rev. Jillion put most of the discussion into a summarized point, harking home that the Orthodox Church cannot simply ignore modern understandings on sexuality or else it will become defunct in the Western world. He made it a point to state that being hostile towards LGBTQ+ is not a Christian attitude, and that the need for more vocality in the Orthodox Church is dire. Rev. Jillion is considered one of the leading members of the Church who advocates for LGBTQ+.

The panel ended with a few questions, ranging from the progress the panelists have had with other Orthodox clergy to how the Orthodox Church has been reacting to things like the Oxford conference. One notable question asked about the safety of LGBTQ+ people in environments where dialogue is needed in the Orthodox Church, to which the panelists responded that there was no effort being made for safety and how tragic that was, and more importantly, how much of a hindrance that is to future dialogue.

The Orthodox Church and traditionally Orthodox countries have had a great deal of strife with LGBTQ+, which has only intensified as the modern gay rights movement has gained huge victories around the globe. The panel is a sign that the Orthodox Church needs to face this, and come to terms that LGBTQ+ people can be a part of a faith community, and that they are not an offense to God, but rather a gift.

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