Thursday, July 05, 2018

Unitarian Morality With a Little "Theosis" Sprinkled on Top


Back in the 70's,  there was a song that expressed the ethic of the sexual revolution: "Love the one you're with," by Stephen Stills (of Crosby, Stills, & Nash), which was based on a saying coined by Billy Preston: "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." The logic being that you can't expect a man to remain faithful to his wife (or "main squeeze," as the case may be), if she isn't around. It's "unrealistic" to expect such a man to be celibate, when circumstances separate him from her. Take this logic into the contemporary period of homosexual advocacy, and you also have to conclude that if someone wants to have homosexual sex, it is unreasonable to expect them to refrain from it, simply because the Scriptures and 2000 years of Christian Tradition say that they should. But who would expect that similar logic might be advanced by an "Orthodox Theologian"? Well if you can't imagine that being possible, you probably are not familiar with the folks at the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University.

In his essay, "Sex, Marriage, & Theosis," which is part of the latest issue of The Wheel (which deals with issues related to homosexuality in several of its articles), Aristotle Papanikolaou makes various observations regarding the Church's understanding of marriage and sex, and uses lots of contemporary buzzwords before he gets to his real point in his last two paragraphs:
"Forced celibacy can actually unleash the potentially objectifying force of sexual desire, albeit in a repressed form. In other words, forced celibacy is a recipe for an anti-theotic state of being, especially since it may incite fear, anger, and hatred. If that is the case, then long-term committed relationships, or marriages, are also spaces for working through the objectifying potential of sexual desire ascetically, such that it contributes toward and does not mitigate against sacramentality. A Christian tradition with theosis at its core, and, as a result, with attention to the dynamics of the various constitutive aspects of the human condition, recognizes that when it comes to sexual desire, simply to say “struggle” can be spiritually harmful and, thus, not ascetically discerning. Sexual desire just does not stop when we struggle; in fact, the struggle may even incite it more intensely.
It is unrealistic, as Saint Paul I think insightfully recognized, to expect someone simply to deny or turn off such desire; it is spiritually discerning to allow such a desire to be expressed rather than “to be aflame with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9), in long-term committed relationships or marriages, whose aim is presencing God through the virtues, which, in the end, are manifest when the various constitutive parts of the human condition are configured so that one can be agapeic toward the other, and one can increase in eros for the divine" (The Wheel 13/14, Spring/Summer 2018, p. 97)
Note the use of the phrase "long-term committed relationships, or marriages..." The Fordham folks are not yet ready to argue that the Church should give a sacramental blessing to gay marriages, but they are arguing that we should accept "long term committed relationships" that are homosexual as being compatible with the Christian life.

And if we accept that "forced celibacy" is "unrealistic" and "unhealthy," what should the Church say to a husband who is separated from his wife for years at a time, by circumstances beyond his control? This is not some unusual circumstance in the history of the world. In World War II, for example, many husbands did not see their wives for years at a time. Many a married couple in the Soviet Union were separated by the war, and in some cases never knew the fate of their spouse. Even in our current circumstances, military deployments still separate spouses for very long periods of time. Even non-military employment can require lengthy separations. Should the Church tell the husband and wife in such cases, "If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with"? If not, we are telling them that they should be celibate, which Aristotle Papanikolaou takes to be "forced celibacy."

And if we can't expect celibacy from adults, when they are either not married, or separated from their spouses, on what basis would we expect it from 15 year olds? It's not even legal in most states for 15 year olds to get married, even with their parents' permission, and so either we are asking them to remain celibate -- which is "unrealistic," and "unhealthy," (we have been told), or we are left to let them have sex outside of marriage in some form or another.

Aristotle Papanikolaou is espousing a position on sex and celibacy that you will find expressed in precisely 0% of the Fathers and Saints of the Church, and nowhere in all of Scripture. Nowhere in the Christian Tradition do you find the idea that sex of any kind outside of marriage (between a man and a woman) is acceptable. The only remotely historical connection such views would have in Church history would be found among certain gnostic groups in the early Church period, which were absolutely condemned by the Church. And yet this is apparently where these folks want to take the Church. How is it possible that the bishops of the Greek Archdiocese tolerate this nonsense?

You can use Trinitarian language, and you can talk about theosis all you want, but when you end up with a morality that is identical to that of the Unitarian Universalist Church, you are not Orthodox, no matter what you might call yourself. And from a purely practical standpoint the Greek Archdiocese might want to study up on the rapid decline the Unitarian Universalists have experienced since they threw out any semblance of adherence to Christian morality. In fact, the same pattern has been repeated in most of the mainline Protestant denominations, and there is no reason to think the pattern won't be repeated in the Greek Archdiocese as well.

Now some will probably suggest that I am reading too much into this essay, but I don't think so, for three reasons: 1) I asked the author directly to explain his use of "long-term committed relationships, or marriages...", and he declined; 2) this is the same person who stated that while dogma was not up for debate, morality was ( see The Living Church 2.0); and 3) I was told by a former student of his that the promotion of gay marriage was a frequent topic pushed by both Aristotle Papanikolaou and George Demacopoulos at Fordham. If they want to deny that I am reading their intentions accurately, they should say what they really do mean, and say so clearly.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Response to Giacomo Sanfilippo


Giacomo Sanfilippo

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

Giacomo Sanfilippo, of Orthodoxy in Dialogue, began by focusing on an erroneous statement I made in the original version of the article "The Living Church 2.0":
"My response begins by exposing an outright lie by Father Whiteford when he writes, “The most recent issue of ‘The Wheel,’ a journal whose general editor is a lesbian….”*"
The asterisk is there to note that when it was pointed out that I was mistaken, I corrected the article, and added an apology to it. So on the point of whether or not my original statement was correct, I concede that it was not, and I sincerely apologize to Inga Leonova for the error -- I have done so privately, and publicly -- I have no desire to misrepresent anyone.

Making an erroneous statement, and telling a lie are not exactly identical things. For something to be a lie, it has to be not only false, but it has to be intentionally false. This is not the case. In his note at the end, he chides me for  "seem[ing] to have no hesitation to broadcast others’ sins such as he imagines them and potentially to ruin reputations in the process." To begin with, lying is also a sin, and were I indeed guilty of it, Giacomo would now be guilty of hypocrisy, because he would be broadcasting my sins. However, I think there are occasions in which calling people out in public is very appropriate, and if someone publicly posts a lie, I think calling them on it is  justified... just like I believe that a person should be called out in public if they publicly deny that the moral tradition of the Church is true and should be followed, and yet claims to be an Orthodox Christian.

First let me explain where my I got the mistaken idea in the first place. Inga Leonova has been pushing the LGBT agenda in the Orthodox Church for a very long time. Back in 2011, there was an irenic article by an Orthodox priest  on the subject of those struggling with homosexuality, which nevertheless did not give any ground on the principle that homosexual sex is a sin that needs to be repented of, and that an Orthodox Christian is obliged to not indulge in that sin. Inga had a pro-homosexual Orthodox Facebook group (which I believe she started) that discussed this article, and most of the posters thought it was positive, but she took issue with it, and wrote:
"I think the point of the article is crystal clear even though the author is very careful in actually NOT spelling it out. He addresses the perception that gay people are "persecuted" by the Church in being required to live celibate lives by saying that everyone is called to transform their lives by the ascetic ordeal of Christian life. This is yet again a very clever way of dismissing the question of gay companionship." 
Then a poster asked her to clarify what she really meant:
"?"gay companionship"? What is that, may I humbly ask? Like David and Jonathan? Not sexual? Why call it "gay"? I get so confused on what people are saying in these groups. Forgive me." 
Inga never responded, because to clarify would be to state something that apparently she was not yet prepared to say in public, in no uncertain terms (the latest issue of the Wheel crosses that line, however, if she has not crossed it previously).

I wrote about this in an article entitled  "The bottom line in the current debate," which pointed this out, and ended by referencing an article that suggested the problem of "gay companionship" could be dealt with by men and women who are struggling with homosexuality, but who desire to overcome it, marrying someone of the opposite sex, who is likewise struggling. My recollection is that Inga responded to that post by saying "Watch out folks! They are trying to marry us off".  Unfortunately, I did not save that post, and so cannot cite it verbatim. In any case, these comments combined with her relentless advocacy of the homosexual agenda led me to my conclusion, but I have been assured by several people that it is not true, and so I accept that must have misread her at some point.

Now Giacomo is free to believe that I intentionally made this statement, knowing it to be false, but I think a reasonable person would know that you don't have to be a genius to realize it is a bad strategy  to make a point that is easily refuted, and allows your opponents to focus on that one error, and ignore most of what you actually did say.

Furthermore, the point I was making is not really changed by this correction. My point is that the Wheel's general editor has a clear pro-homosexual bias, and she clearly does. That is easily documented. Also, I don't think anyone who is familiar with her position on homosexuality is likely to have a better or worse opinion of her based her either being or not being a lesbian. In fact, were she a lesbian who accepted the teachings of the Church as they were, that would be far better. Personal sins are still sins, but sins that involve other people in your sin are worse -- but heresy by far, much worse than either of those kinds of sins. Teaching that a sin is not really a sin is a heresy, and it is a heresy that closes off the possibility of repentance for those who believe it. You can't repent of a sin that you don't believe to be a sin. And Inga does not believe that homosexual sex is inherently sinful, and she is spreading that view now through the Wheel.



The Benedict Arnold Option

Giacomo then goes off on a weird tangent:
"Speaking of lies, Father Whiteford, are you aware that Rod Dreher’s unrepented lies about an African-American professor have endangered the man’s life to the point where he needs police protection? Have a look at the addendum at the top of this article. In fact, as the husband in an interracial marriage, you might want to read the whole article. I mention this because your blog post seems to suggest that you admire or at least make common cause with Mr. Dreher. We should choose our bedfellows a little more carefully."
I am not sure where this comes from. Prior to my most recent article, I find only two posts since 2004 that mention him. I certainly have no personal animosity towards Rod Dreher, and I am sure we agree on most matters of the Orthodox Faith. When it comes to his political commentary, I probably disagree with him as often as I agree with him. I do not regularly read his articles (which I am not criticizing, I just have only so much time). I have not read any of his books. Most of his opinions I only see in snippets on Twitter. What perhaps sparked this comment is that in my recent article, his name came up, only because I quoted a comment that mentioned him by Aristotle Papanikolaou. Apparently Rod Dreher made the comment that the moral teachings of the Church are not up for debate, and Aristotle Papanikolaou denied that this was so. On that point, I agree with Rod Dreher without any hesitation. It is a betrayal of the Orthodox Faith to suggest that our moral tradition is on a different footing than the dogmatic tradition of the Church.

If Giacomo wants to dispute that, he needs to make an argument, and provide something like evidence to back it up.

Context

Giacomo made the following assertion, which either means he only quickly scanned my article, or he is willing to misrepresent his opponents:
"In response to Metropolitan Kallistos’ Foreword in The Wheel you suggest that “his comments are due to the weakness of old age.” Shame on you, Father Whiteford."
I actually made no such assertion. He might as well have quoted me as saying I hoped the Metropolitan was kidnapped. In fact, I mentioned several possible mitigating circumstances that might excuse the text of the article in question, but then said that only God knows the truth of that, and only God can judge his heart -- but that we have an obligation to judge whether what he wrote was right or wrong.

Appealing to Homophobia

Giacomo closed with a suggestion of what he thinks is my real motivation:
"...you may be dealing with unresolved, perhaps unacknowledged inner conflicts of your own."
This is a common tactic of homosexual apologists. They suggest that anyone who stands for traditional morality in the face of the push for the acceptance of the homosexual agenda is probably a closeted homosexual himself. This, they hope will cause someone who does not want be thought of as a homosexual to shut up. It has been tried by others on me, and sorry, but it's a ploy that I am not going to be intimidated by.

You might just as well argue that those who oppose pedophilia are motivated by their own pedophile tendencies. If the day comes when pedophilia is being promoted by some in the Church, I will speak out against that too, and if someone makes a similar suggestion then, it won't work then either.

As an Orthodox Christian and as priest, I have an obligation to stand for the teachings of the Church. If I were making up a religion of my own, it would look very different, but if we want to be part of the Church that Christ founded, we don't get to make things up according to our own wishes. We have to take what the Church teaches as it is, and on this issue, the Scriptures, the Canons, the Fathers, and the Saints are all perfectly clear. If you want a Church that says homosexual sex is OK, you need to look elsewhere.