Author Archives: Public Orthodoxy

Same-Sex Behavior and Genetics

by Gayle Woloschak

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

Human Genes

The Orthodox Church is generally not opposed to scientific knowledge and scientific endeavors. In fact, many early theologians and saints of the Church (including St. Basil and Ss. Cosmas and Damian) considered themselves to be scientists exploring nature and using nature’s pharmaceuticals to treat disease. When the Orthodox Church finds itself opposing science, it should take a clear look at both the present and tradition precedents and be certain that the stand it is taking is correct.

This is not to say that science dictates theology, rather that theology is open to consider all things in the world, including nature and how it is described. Scientists (like members of the Church) are obviously influenced by their culture, prejudices of their time, and false understandings. In the not-so-distant past, for example, scientists agreed that since women had smaller brains than men, they should not be allowed the same education, and that education must in some way adversely affect their reproductive abilities.[1]

The Church should consider all perspectives when taking a position on any issue. Of course, theology is paramount, but the science of the day should also be reviewed as contributing to how we understand our world. Continue reading

Marcionism, Allegorical Exegesis, and the Question of Universal Salvation

by Roberto J. De La Noval

Origen of Alexandria

The publication of David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved has provoked no small amount of controversy since its release. Though Hart’s argument for universal salvation encompasses diverse arenas of thought—theological anthropology, the moral meaning of creatio ex nihilo, the phenomenology of human volition—it is his treatment of the Scriptures that has provoked some of the most interesting pushback. When he was challenged a few weeks ago by one critic to consider whether the violent actions of YHWH in the Old Testament might not make us question our moral certainties about the immorality of eternal torments, Hart provided a reading of the Old Testament depiction of God which not only surprised but even scandalized many. Based on the conclusions of scholarship on the development of ancient Israelite religion, Hart concludes that YHWH is depicted in the Old Testament as exhibiting signs of moral development up to the period of Second Temple Judaism, when the marriage of Hellenistic philosophy and Judaism gives us a picture of God as Goodness Itself. And so the violent actions of the developing God in the Old Testament cannot be taken as totally determinative for a Christian understanding of God’s character, which finds its definitive revelation instead in Christ.

For this Hart was immediately accused of being a Marcionite, despite the fact that he explicitly rejected Marcion’s attempt to separate the God of Israel form the Father of Jesus Christ. What explains this severe reaction? Continue reading

In Defense of Compassion

by His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias (Volos, Greece)

This piece was originally published in Greek in the newspaper “Τα Νέα” on Nov. 9, 2019. English translation courtesy of Soo Town. The Greek original is available here.

Migrants

History is filled with the abominations of humanity and the dismal fate of those peoples who embraced them. The Church has always, under all circumstances, stood in opposition, constantly proclaiming that, in the face of globalized problems, the only contribution which is consistent with its ideals is faith in the God of love and the directly proportional faith in and love for human beings, and especially the forgotten and discarded by the powerful of this world.

In the life of every organization there are fundamental values which enable it to endure over time and preserve its identity. The Church is a theanthropic organization, whose course through history is supported by the ethos and values revealed by God himself, through His incarnation in human form.

The uniqueness of the Christian faith lies in the fact that the central character in its worldview is not God, nor his desire to impose His authority and power on humanity. The central character in God’s historical activity is humankind, with the basic purpose of bringing out the value of human beings and the achievement of a life of high quality with fulfillment, emotional riches and the preconditions to enable them to release themselves from corruption and follow the founder of the Church, Jesus Christ, in eternity. Our people proceeded for centuries with these principles and values and it was this strong humanism—in essence “theohumanism”—which enabled them to survive against apparently superior worldly powers. Continue reading

Gender Essentialism in Contemporary Orthodox Conversations on Homosexuality

by Bryce E. Rich

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

Male and Female Symbols

When contemporary Orthodox discuss homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and gender more broadly, it’s normally not long before someone quotes texts from the Genesis creation narratives:

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Gn 1:27, 2:24; NRSV)

Removed from their biblical and subsequent historical contexts, these verses become proof texts in support of gender essentialism, the idea that human beings exist in two sexes (male/female), with two genders (masculine/feminine), that result in two gender identities (man/woman). Gender essentialism asserts that these two sexes are complementary and emphasizes procreation (Gn 1:28) as a key element of their relationship. Continue reading