Category Archives: Gender and Sexuality

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

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

“Orthodox Morality” on Sex or an Ethics of Sex? Part Two: A Theology of the Erotic

by Aristotle Papanikolaou

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.

Kiss

Read Part One: Dogmas v. Canons and Beliefs v. Ethics

If there is to be consistency in the Orthodox Tradition between theology and ethics, dogma and canon, an ethics of sex must be a theotic ethics; that is, it must be such that the performance of sexual eros is potentially sacramental in the sense that the experience of God is possible through eros, as with all of material creation (St. Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names). God’s material creation is not the enemy of God; it is that which God has made in order for us to experience God. That materiality includes eros. No less than St. Maximus the Confessor has affirmed that eros is the driving engine of nature, the fuel that propels us to union with God when all cognitive functions have ceased as a result of encountering the saturated phenomenon of the divine light. As he says, “When in full ardor of its love (eros) for God the mind goes out of itself . . . through love the mind is ravished by divine knowledge and in going outside of creatures has a perception of divine transcendence” (Four Hundred Centuries on Love 1.10 and 1.12; also 1.19, and 1.100, among many other references). In fact, when speaking about love for God, St. Maximus only uses the word eros. Eros in itself is good, as all creation is good, but it can be misdirected. Continue reading

“Orthodox Morality” on Sex or an Ethics of Sex? Part One: Dogmas v. Canons and Beliefs v. Ethics

by Aristotle Papanikolaou

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.

Heretic

Perhaps my point is best illustrated through a story: During the fall 1999 semester, I taught at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, a course on Ethics. We were discussing St. Maximus the Confessor on virtues and how the development of virtues enables relations, and in so doing, makes space for the presence of God. I then asked the students that if two people (I did not mention gender) were living together in friendship for fifty years and manifesting the virtues, would this be an example of communion and participation in God. They all said yes. I then asked whether the fact that they had sex would negate the good resulting from their virtuous friendship:  half said it would, while the other half got the point that I will try to articulate in this short, two-part essay.

As this story illustrates, ecclesial ethics on sexuality have been primarily about sex and the criteria for establishing a morally right sex act.

From the start, someone might argue that there is nothing to talk about, as the Church’s teaching on sex has been clear and succinct from the beginning. It must be admitted that the overwhelming body of shared authoritative sources of the Orthodox Tradition—Scripture, Councils, Writings/Sayings of Saints, Canons, Liturgy—does limit sexual activity to marriage, with some even restricting the performance of the sexual act for procreation. This raises the question of what can or cannot be talked about in the Church; it is a question of how we should interpret these shared authoritative sources. Continue reading