Category Archives: Gender and Sexuality

Domestic Violence, Faith, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence

by Romina Istratii

Ethiopian men

As the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign takes off, it is an opportune time to revisit the role of faith and theology in addressing domestic violence.

The relationship between faith/spirituality and domestic violence is not a simple one, but it is definitely one that should be understood with the nuance it deserves to be leveraged effectively in responding to the problem. While religious language can be used in distorted ways to justify or continue harmful attitudes and behavior, faith and spiritual living can serve as a coping mechanism and a source of healing for victims and survivors and can potentially deter abusiveness among some prospective perpetrators. Moreover, clergy have an important documented role in influencing religious communities on issues of marriage and family life.  

A common reference for the scholarship that looks at faith-based interventions is the understanding that religious personnel, the discourses they use, and their responses to communities can both contribute to the continuation of the problem of domestic violence and serve as a positive influence in efforts to address the problem (Istratii and Ali, under review). While clergy are well-positioned to respond to domestic violence in religious communities, they often lack an understanding of how their own discourses and responses can unwittingly reinforce negative norms, attitudes, or situations, and how to support victims and perpetrators with awareness of safeguarding risks and due processes.

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The Paradigm of Compassionate Denial

by Inga Leonova | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Holding hands

To a casual reader of social media, it may appear that the culture war battles in the Orthodox circles around human sexuality have finally ceased, especially compared to the raging 2010s. I think that, rather, the lines have been drawn, and most of the combatants have retreated to their respective camps. Certainly the need for intellectual and spiritual freedom to continue the important anthropological and theological work in the Church is an issue that is much broader than the limits imposed by the nature of social media interactions. Yet I ponder what has emerged from the fray as the paradigm of “compassionate denial.” This position can be summarized along the lines of “My heart breaks for people in the Church who struggle with same-sex attraction, and we should counsel them and offer them support with love in their ascetic endeavor to carry the cross of chastity.”

It may be due to the temporary distance from this discourse that the pitfalls of the “compassionate” approach struck me anew. Of primary concern is that it provides the well-meaning “traditionalists” with a comfortable alternative to the toxic hatred propagated by a subset of Orthodox culture warriors. It allows the satisfaction of feeling loving and accepting while at the same time remaining within the comfortable confines of an officially prescribed position: we are fully accepting of our homosexual brothers and sisters as long as they satisfy the requirement to forsake their need for human companionship.

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Same-Sex Behavior and Genetics

by Gayle Woloschak  |  Ελληνικά  |  Русский

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

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