"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, I would ask you to come down and I would ask to stay at your house, however I do not want to appear like I approve of tax collecting, I do not want my reputation to be ruined by associating with you, nor do I, or would I ever want to be mistaken for a tax collector."Wait, is that how the passage went? According to certain things I've read on the internet, this passage may as well have been written as such. More on this later.
There should be something made absolutely clear in regards to the Coptic Church's view on homosexuality: it is uninformed and very extreme. In comparison with even other Orthodox churches, there is something missing within the Coptic Church. The church has an official stance that does not take into account any of what studies have taught us about human sexuality, and results in a very inhumane and stubborn approach to not only the topic of homosexuality, but in the way it deals with people who identify themselves as LGBT.
One resource of particular interest to me, was that of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, where H.G. Bishop Youssef has a section on Frequently Asked Questions organized by topic, one of which is that of Homosexuality. Most of the questions receive the same answers, but at the same time, some of these answers were very troublesome to me, not just because I'm gay, but there seems to be something inherently wrong in the way that His Grace answers these questions, and I dare say, it is quite dangerous.
It is no wonder gay and lesbian people live in such fear: fear of humiliation, fear of rejection by family, priests, and of course, by God. Even other Orthodox Churches do not take such a backwards approach in teaching this subject. There are many reasons, that I can objectively respect, why a Church may feel that practiced homosexuality is not something that God desires for His people. While I do not agree with these reasons, and there is plenty in the Bible that shows why this approach is flawed, I can understand why an individual or community may come to that conclusion. However, there are beliefs being taught that are not only just flat out wrong, in their essence, they debase the message of the gospel. It is a message that leads to the further marginalization of gays and lesbians within the community, to the point where we do not even exist, not because we're not alive, but because we CANnot exist. It just saddens me to know that a representative body of Jesus could really care less about a certain group of people. I want to touch on these things being taught within the Coptic Church and explain why such beliefs are damaging to the community at large.
One such question given to His Grace, is regarding the Ukranian Orthodox Church in Canada's official statement on homosexuality which goes as follows:
"Orthodoxy distinguishes between a homosexual orientation and a homosexual expression of one's sexuality. While denouncing same sex sexual relations, we affirm the basic human dignity and rights of the person with a homosexual orientation. In short, homosexual acts are condemned, not homosexual people. The homosexual man or woman, then, is faced with a particular struggle with his/her sexuality that, by the grace of God and guidance of His Church, he or she can find a healthy, Christ-centered means of life."His Grace responds as follows:
"You may find the church's complete formal statement regarding homosexual practices and persons at the link below. A term you used in your statement requires caution: "...but does not condemn someone for being naturally oriented in such a way so as to be attracted to the same sex?" We do not hold the notion that one is "naturally oriented" towards homosexuality, but rather the individual has consciously or unconsciously submitted to this desire (see Romans 1:18-32; Genesis 1:27). The church invites all people to repentance and agrees to baptize repentant persons (if baptized as adults) who adhere to all the teachings of the Coptic Orthodox faith."So the Coptic Church as represented by His Grace believes this premise about human sexuality: that that no one can be naturally oriented towards homosexuality, but rather the individual has submitted to these desires. I'm not sure if His Grace understands that the book of Romans is not a manifesto on human psychology, any more than John 2:1-11 is a cookbook recipe on how to turn water into wine. In fact, 14 verses in the Bible should not be enough to explain the complexity of what human sexuality is. If the Orthodox Church at large recognizes that human sexuality is more complex than we have previously realized it to be, why is the Coptic Church so stubborn? There are countless sources and research that indicate that sexuality is something that is absolutely not chosen. It is no wonder, that the church's stance has become so oppressive and its dealings on the matter have not helped but harmed so many people, it's because the premise it's based on is a bold faced lie. To make such a bold statement, His Grace needs to back up such a statement, rather than flippantly throwing a verse out there that explains why human sexuality is indeed a choice.
There are plenty of people who are gay and lesbian within the church, and even those who have decided to live a life of celibacy, who can tell you, they have not chosen this. It's such a slap in the face to the scores of thousands of gay christians out there (and among whom I know hundreds) who I believe have prayed, fasted, and cried tears of desperation asking God to change them. To say it's a choice, even subconsciously, is to say the power of God is not as powerful as our psyche. It is to say that our subconscious, 100% of the time, trumps God's grace. It is to say that "ask and you shall receive", is nothing more than an submission of a request form into heavenly beauracracy and politics, hopefully if you know the right people, miracles can happen. For those who have been "healed" from homosexuality, I do not know of a single documented case where the "healed" person no longer is attracted to the same sex. Even those who have managed to move onto possibly being married to the opposite gender, all claim to still wrestle with homosexual attraction. With such little understanding of human sexuality, how is the church even equipped to dive into this issue and teach on it, without fear that they might be marginalizing God's own children, and turning the minds of the rest of the congregation in a way that teaches them to be less-Christ like.
Another question is posed:
"I do believe that homosexuality is a sin, but I feel that homosexuals are some of the kindest people I have ever met, and I fairly enjoy being around them (homosexual men in particular). Is this wrong?"Minus the "homosexuality is a sin" part, this question could easily have been submitted by Grace Adler. He goes on to answering the question:
"Homosexuality is a sin and Christianity invites us to hate sin not the sinners. However, being around homosexuals and befriending them is wrong for the following reasons:
1. St. Paul's teaching about homosexuals is clear: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10). God considers all those mentioned in these verses ungodly; and do not deserve to inherit the kingdom of God. The Holy Bible tells us "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful" (Ps 1:1). It is a blessing not to be associated with such a crowd nor stand in their path, nor go their way.
2. By associating with them you will make them feel accepted and that there is nothing wrong with their behavior. This feeling would encourage them to live the life they are leading without considering changing it."And my favorite:
"3. Your own reputation could get affected. When people see you around homosexuals; they might label you as one of them."
Do I need to comment on this? I think it speaks for itself. To be part of a faith that has for generations, tested the bounds of societal norms, whose very Leader lead a life of example where it was the workings of the heart, not social status or personal wealth, that determined the worth of a person, how can such nonsense be taught, let alone tolerated by its members. What is the point of being Christian, if the very essence of the Christian life is traded in for that which is saturated in fear and paranoia? I'm certain Bishop Youssef does not teach this way of approaching love and friendship for other people all the time, what makes it ok this time?
I have a few theories: One may be the fact that, he assumes that there aren't gay people in the church who are reading this. Another may be the fact that, gays are expendable members of the church, and their absence is of more value than their presence. If all of us are equal in the eyes of God, then who else should not be tolerated in the church? Have you ever asked: what makes this sort of marginalization permissible in this one case?
What is unfortunate, is that the words and statements made by higher clergy such as Bishop Youssef carry a lot of weight and power. People decide to turn their brains off when a Bishop speaks, and all is absorbed, and recorded, and not tested in the way we're called to test all things with discernment. Your Grace, if you happen to read this, whatever happened to compassion? Whatever happened to trying to understand those you disagree with? If Christ is the Good Shepherd, why allow your children to wander so far?
While we have leaders who may be spreading messages of intolerance and misunderstanding, we also have bishops and priests who are teaching messages of love and compassion, I just wish they'd raise their voices. The people can choose to follow the example of the Church's true founder and leader, and learn from the good news, as we see in the true conclusion to the story of Zacchaeus:
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”