[The following article appeared in The Word magazine, May 2004 (Vol.48;No.5).]
Students of the art of comedy know that for humour to work it must bear some semblance to the truth. One truth about humour: it’s usually at someone’s expense. Something you find funny, someone else finds offensive, and vice versa. The subject of sex is like that. Though not entirely humourous, it’s possible for any discussion of sex to be offensive. Ours is an overly-sexed, overly sensitive, age. And all of us – every man, woman, and child – struggle with our sexuality, our fallen body and its relationship to God and others.
I once heard of a priest who delivered a talk on sex in his church. He began by asking, “How many of you are not married?” After a showing of hands he asked, “How many of you are married?” He then pointed from the latter group to the former stating, “Alright, you can. You can’t.” This is true. God-pleasing sexual relations are between a man and a woman within the sacrament of holy matrimony. Period. Everything else is merely a footnote to that axiom.
It’s the belief of various Gnostic heresies that the soul alone is pure and the body is evil. We do not believe this. Sex is not a sin. Sexual desires and feelings are not, in and of themselves, sinful. Our bodies are not evil. Christ is the Saviour Who saves the whole of mankind – including the body. It is misuse of sex, the abuse of our bodies, that is sinful. Contrary to bumper stickers claiming otherwise, our bodies are not our own. Having been redeemed by Christ, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. That which defiles the body also damages the soul.
Americans have hastened happily down a perilously slippery slope over the past fifty years. The Kinsey Report of the 1950s, the introduction of the birth control pill in the 1960s, the sexual revolution and the drug/disco era of the 1970s, the spread of AIDS in the 1980s, the homosexual propaganda of the 1990s, and, in general, the wholesale discarding of self-control and moral standards over the past 20 years – has landed us within a cesspool of tangled bodies and confused minds. This perverse insanity has even infected many people claiming to be “Christians.”
I once had a conversation with a friend who’d converted to Orthodoxy. At the time I was an Episcopalian on my way to seminary. I asked, “How does Orthodoxy handle your homosexuality?” “A lot better than the Episcopal Church,” he replied. He said that when he’d confessed his struggles in the Episcopal church, the priest frowned on his “orientation.” Whereas others, heterosexual college-aged men struggling with continence, had their sins winked at by the priest. [My how times have changed!] He went on to state that within Orthodoxy, sex outside of heterosexual marriage is a sin. Period. Sin is sin. And he was right. Carnal relations outside the God-pleasing confines of monogamous heterosexual marriage is contrary to God’s will. It separates us from God and others.
You’ve probably heard the advertisements for a dating service called “E-Harmony.Com” on the radio. One day, while riding in the car with my two oldest (ages 9 & 5), we heard the ad but it was dragging. For those of you who remember, it sounded like a 45 record played at 33 1/3. The voices that were originally female now sounded deep and masculine: “ I met my husband through e-harmony.com”. My kids started laughing before I did. We all laughed. It was hilarious to hear a deep voiced man boasting of finding his “husband” through a dating service. In the natural order of things, my kids found such an idea preposterously funny. We still talk about that funny moment. Unfortunately, due to the courts and media, I will soon have to talk to them about why “natural order humour” is no longer funny.
Holy Matrimony means “Holy Mother-Making.” In other words, the Church blesses the union of husband and wife toward the procreation of children. Though a homosexual may pretend to be a “mother” and a lesbian a “father,” it is just that: pretend. There is no truth in it. Objections about barren couples, adoption, heterosexual divorce rates, and secular rights fall on deaf ears where truth and salvation are the goal. It is one thing to show compassion for another’s struggles. It is another to [pretend to] change the God-given natural order of life itself to accommodate a false pretense. This is bearing false witness.
In 1991 I participated in the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. I worked for two conservative groups, The Prayer Book Society and the Episcopal Synod of America. With a background in broadcasting, it was my job to conduct “man on the street” interviews and deliver newscasts each day at our media booth. What an eye opener! It was shocking and heartbreaking to hear teens – TEENS – saying that God only cared about love and was not concerned with what two consenting adults did in the privacy of their own home! Most shocking was the voting that happened between grown adults, delegates and bishops of that denomination, regarding the sacrament of marriage. When a bishop proposed a resolution stating that sex outside of marriage should be forbidden for priests and deacons, the homosexual lobby was prepared to support the measure. Why? Because they were proposing the blessing of same-sex unions. The conservative lobby refashioned the resolution to read “sex outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage” is forbidden for members of the clergy. Due to pressure from the homosexual lobby, the measure failed. The measure failed! That was the day my pilgrimage out of the Episcopal church began.
We, as Christians, members of the Body of Christ, do not get to vote on morality. The will of God on all matters pertaining to our relationship with our bodies and each other has been revealed. We must struggle, daily, to practice the precepts of our Faith. We fall, we get up. Fall down, back up. Fall again, up again. If we sin, through confession and repentance, we are reconciled through Christ to His Holy Church.
A priest once told about a man who came to see him about becoming Orthodox. The priest said, “Okay, we’ll need to discuss who Christ is, the Church, the Sacraments ….” The man interrupted him saying, “I’m gay.” The priest said, “Okay. But if you want to become Orthodox, we’ll need to discuss who Christ is, the Church, the Sacraments ….” “Dang it! Didn’t you hear me? I said, I’m gay!” “I heard you,” said the priest, “but if you want to become Orthodox, we’ll need to talk about who Christ is, the Church, the Sacraments ….” Crying, the man told the priest that other pastors had either told him it didn’t matter, or to get out! It took the man a couple years to become Orthodox, but another 10 years to become celibate. He claims he could never have made it without the benefit of Christ, the Church, and the Sacraments.
The Church – our Spiritual Hospital – must be open to all. We’re all sick with the disease of sin. We cannot be healed, really healed, without receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. We must never turn our backs on someone just because they’re a sinner or their sin’s not ours. God forbid! This is the mission of the Church, to save sinners! But, by the same token, it is not within our power to state that a sin is no longer a sin. God alone forgives. God alone is the judge. He has revealed Himself and His will to us in the Scriptures, within the Church.
Returning to the art of comedy, few spectacles are more unbearable to watch than a comedian failing. We’ve all seen it: Someone is trying to be funny and we’re just not able to laugh. It may be the performer’s delivery, his material, appearance, or the given context. Essentially, remembering the first axiom of comedy, there’s no truth in the presentation. To laugh at such an act would be a pretense. That, my brethren, is an image of sex outside of the God-pleasing marriage of man and woman. There is no truth in it. It is fake. It is a failure. It leads to death. This analogy also speaks clearly to recent events gaining national attention – the elevation of a practicing homosexual to the episcopacy in the Episcopal church and the blessing of so-called “same sex unions.” Viewed with the lense of the Church, it is no laughing matter.
As Orthodox Christians we bear a weighty burden in these troubled times. We must not only struggle to preserve our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, we must bear witness to the Life-giving precepts of the Body of Christ to those outside Her holy confines – even and especially to those calling themselves “Christians.” The Church has a host of Saints who’ve gone on before us, acquiring salvation through the mortification of the flesh and the passions (St Mary of Egypt comes immediately to mind.) And the same Revelation that teaches us to beware fornicators, false teachers, and wolves in sheep’s clothing also states:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1 John 1:8
And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
1 John 2:1b
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.
This Good News is offensive only to those living in darkness. Funny thing is, it is the same Good News that liberates the offended and leads to salvation in Christ. Let us place this light, the light of Truth, on a candle stand for all to see.