Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bishop Youssef And Throwing Stones

I feel I need to add a little pre-amble to this post, as it's gotten quite a reaction.   This is a commentary on some of the teachings of His Grace Bishop Youssef of the Southern Diocese, in regards to the nature of homosexual orientation, as well as how to treat gay people that you may know.   I found these teachings troubling.  Bishop Youssef is a well respected leader in the church, because of his service and his education, and he has done a lot to build up the Southern Diocese to what it is.   I write this post, not to bash him or everything he says, but I felt the need to make light of certain teachings.   These particular teachings are common in our culture, among common people, and it just shocked me that His Grace included such opinions in his Q&A section on his site.   These particular attitudes have justified some terrible behavior towards LGBT Coptic people in our community, and everyone just seems OK with it.   We forget who our neighbors are, and don't think how our words may be piercing the hearts of the person who may be sitting next to us.   I mean no offense to His Grace, personally, however, I had to speak up, because no one else is.  Take it for what it is, this is just a blog, and I'm just one person.  If you agree, wonderful, and if you don't, well that's OK too.   Dialogue is more important to me than being right or being wrong.   We're humans after all and we have much to learn.

"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.”


  1. This goes beyond intolerance. It reeks of willful ignorance, if not outright stupidity.

  2. Can u believe this is being taught?

    Unfortunately, I can; Hitler, Osama, Sudan. Seriously, what is the difference? When you catergoize humans and then you determine their value based on their affiliation or association; you have now joined that fraterinity of damned leaders.

    I ask do you know what leaderhip is?
    It is a responisblity of an indvidual that motivates others to achieve a common goal;
    not the goal of the leader or an individual within the group. The fourth word in the most important it is a responsibility. As a leader your only task is to keep the goal in sight and orchstrate things in a manner to reach that goal. When personal feelings distort that vision you have now lost your followers.

    Wouldn't u say by writing these things, bishop youssef is doing just that? orchestrating things in a manner to reach a goal

    No, he is there to reach the goal of God through his teachings; not that of his own. While there are a number of interpetations of the bible there is one common goal:

    That the nature of humans is in the image of the Lord; if your reject one human you reject the Lord himself. Therefore how can you reject the man the employs you? We may not have the divinity of the Lord but we do maintain his image.

  3. Mike,

    I like your style, well played. :)

    In all seriousness, Mike, I did not make this post for myself. I did not make this post to vent, because if I had a completely personal issue, I would take it up with the individual directly. We have something else going on here.

    You have to understand, not everyone has decided to take your road. And just because they have decided a different road, they still may love the church, and in my opinion, should be part of it. I wrote this for those people. There are enough Coptic resources out there, where people have to read that they are debased, that they have control over their sexual orientation, that they deserve to have no friends from within the church, etc. All completely false. How do you think it makes them feel? How do you think it affects their relationship with God? How do you think it affects people and how they decide to move forward with their lives?

    For someone who is gay and has accepted that part of themselves, there is nothing redemptive in the church's message, and it's as simple as, there is no grace if you decide to accept your homosexual orientation.

    I write this because I feel there needs to be a redemptive message out there, and just because His Grace has authority to teach, it doesn't mean he's right 100% of the time. No one is saying "hold up, there might be something wrong here." How many brothers and sisters need to leave the community, how many brothers and sisters need to be thrown out of their homes by their parents, and how many brothers and sisters need to be completely cut off by families and members of the church because these people feel justified to cut them off, because of teachings such as that of His Grace? Mike, it happens, it happens all the time, and I know many people personally who have experienced such things, and some are too far gone.

    Also, this post is not an exposé, on a private conversation between His Grace, and I. That is not my style, nor do I feel it is respectful to do such things. I am not against His Grace by any means, I am just concerned about the tangible effects on these teachings, not only by him, but by many clergy members. It is a commentary on something that he has posted publicly. If you had written a post on how you agree with His Grace, no one would tell you, maybe you should write him a letter and tell him in private. Why can't we also disagree?

  4. Mike,

    I also wanted to add, and I cannot stress this enough, being gay does not make me free from sin, the notion of sin, or the struggle with sin. Being gay is neutral to me. I struggle with many things "for the kingdom", as you say, and I rely on God's grace, and the fellowship of community to stay on the path of freedom. It is not an easy road, but no one is talking about the real life that one walks as a gay christian. It is not what H.G. Bishop Suriel says it is. It is not what H.G. Bishop Youssef says it is, and it isn't what you predict it might be based on what you've been taught.

  5. Nicely put Just A Dude. I see no problem with publicly discussing points of disagreement with someone's IDEAS, especially when those ideas have been publicly posted. It would be a different matter entirely, however, if you had a personal beef with the actual person stating the ideas. From your original post, that clearly does not seem to be the case.

    Let's not forget that Paul in several instances deals publicly with people in the Scriptures, particularly when a particular subject affected the entire community.

    Secondly, a note about what's "natural." Considering that we (as scientists) have now observed at least 200 species which engage in homosexual behavior (both in the wild and in captivity) - some even to the extent of forming same-sex pair bonds and raising young together - I find it quite a stretch to somehow suggest that homosexuality is not a natural variant. It clearly occurs in several mammalian species, and - I would submit - is therefore "natural".
    Whether it's moral or not is a different issue entirely, and we could debate that ad nauseum. But you cannot conclude that because it's not "natural" it is therefore immoral, since it is in fact natural. (Moreover, I'm not sure what it even means to discuss mammalian morality beyond the realm of conscious mammals, i.e., human beings).

  6. Mike,

    Please re-read my comment. I merely said that we cannot make claims about morality based upon what happens "naturally" or not. But I did NOT say that the reverse is true (i.e., that just because something occurs in nature that it is therefore moral.) So in that, it does sound like you and I agree on this: what is "natural" does not correspond to what is moral. And I thank you for clarifying that point.

    No need to get testy ;)

  7. Mike, at the end of the day people have the right to make up their own minds. I posted links to everything so people can read it for themselves. This is a blog, and an on a blog, people write, and share their thoughts. That's all this is: a blog. We share our thoughts and our stories. I do love His Grace, however, you disagree with some of these points yourself. There are enough voices out there saying how gay people are gross, and are twisted, and are willful sodomites, and should be ashamed of themselves, how their desires are debased and vile. How many voices are saying that "maybe this isn't correct in how gay people are being treated in the church?" Even if I'm the only one saying it, fine, but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone here.

  8. I have already said my piece but reading this dialouge I have but one question:

    When did we lose sight with the real issue?

    The point has be distorted by discussion on ettique,and the biological/psychological aspects of homosexuality.

    The church historically has been a safe haven,which it still remains. It is the site of spiritual and social guidance; a pillar in a unstable world. She is the mother of humanity and the Lord is her heart and soul. And we are her blood. Only one issue, our personal views, our discontent, our lack of understand causes her to slowly bleed. A new wound is inflicted every time we shun or turn away one of her children. However, God forbid she came to pass, the Lord would still live on.

    The issue is not you,or I or the church,but our loss of vision. There is too much going on that rips apart our community our church, and fighting amongst each other does not help its survival.

    Think of me a Utopian, think of me what you want. But if you remember nothing more then this:

    God gave man free will, it is him who will judge, not you and I. When that day comes we will all be equal,and equally judged according to our own actions. Therefore lets worry about our own survival and spirtuallity before we set on this quest to save others.

  9. His Grace posted this opinion on the internet for the world to see. I do not consider it disrespectful to the episcopate or the church to publicly reply to it, especially since the statement itself is so utterly lacking in compassion or charity. Vulnerable people read things like the Bishop's statement and it causes unnecessary pain and alienation. Even if you believe certain behaviors are sinful there are ways to communicate this teaching with care and diplomacy. I believe that H.G. failed on this occasion to communicate God's love and mercy to people who are desperate to hear it. The author of this blog was right to point this out and did so with tact and respect. The church (which includes all of her children) has no means at present for the faithful to dialogue with the hierarchy on matters such as these. Until such time as they do forums like this are often the only means the faithful have to articulate their feelings and needs.

  10. Hey, it could be worse. Apparently the new theory is that all you gays caused the mass deaths of hundreds of thousands birds and fish in Arkansas.

    It must be all that cologne or something...I duno.

    But you should still apologize for killing all those birds.

    It's not like pesticides could have done it or anything, the free market would never sacrifice he environment for money.

    Here's the report.

  11. A truly beautifully written and deeply reasoned post. I look forward to reading much more on your wonderful blog.

  12. Just to toss it out there. what is the greater sin, to squash one's sexuality and go along with a "normal" heterosexual marriage and make both of you miserable or to embrace the way God has made you feel, because He makes no mistakes, and proceed with an honest to yourself lifestyle in pursuit of happiness and love? To sum up, hurt another person or deal with God on judgement day and see what He thinks then versus taking the word of Man as a presumption for what is going on in His thought process?

  13. Watch what you say about God's servant, or suffer the consequences (Numbers 12). His Grace Bishop Youssef is God's steward, as St. Paul taught Titus, "a bishop" is "a steward of God" (1:7). Do not get me wrong, I do not always agree with His Grace, but I respect His Grace enough not to speak about his opinions and thoughts in such a derogatory manner. IT IS HYPOCRITICAL TO JUDGE A MAN FOR HIS OPINIONS BECAUSE THAT MAN REJECTS ANOTHER PERSON'S OPINIONS.

    Homosexuality is a sin. It is an open and shut case in the Bible. Our fear in this country and this world is that we repeat the same ignorant mistakes of the past, as we did with slavery and the severe discrimination suffered by African Americans for an inherent genetic disposition to have a different skin color. The Bible NEVER said "if you are black skinned, you are a sinner." But it EXPLICITLY states Homosexuality is a sin, and those who deny this deny God.

    I do not know whether there is a genetic inclination or not to homosexuality. I have a disposition to ANGER and SEX, but God told us that "sin lies at the door and its desire is for you, but you should rule over it" (Genesis 4:7).

    I am saddened for all of you who are supporters of the tolerance of HOMOSEXUALITY, as sad as I am for all those who are intolerant of HOMOSEXUALS.

    I pray God has mercy on me for my own sins, and has mercy on those who reject His judgment and commandments distinguishing what is right from what is wrong. If you want to pencil in your own commandments over God's, I fear you will be subject to God's condemnation: "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Rev. 22:18-19).

    I'm so sad for this world.

  14. The Orthodox Church and the Holy Bible is absolutely clear taht homosexual activity is an abomination, just like adultery, fornication, or any other sin.

    Regardless of the cause, whether psychosocial or biological, if one wants to be an Orthodox Christian, one must struggle against ANY sin or inclination. The man who has inclinations to lust after a woman or many women must carry his cross and deny himself and bend his will to God's will and fight these inclinations. Likewise the person who has inclinations to of ramantic or sexual attractions to persons of the same gender must carry his cross an deny himself and bend his will to God's will as revealed in Christ, the Scriptures, and the Church.

    One can NOT in anyway promose tolerance for homosexual activities or lifestyle (or any sin for that matter) and call himself Christian, because then one would not be followig Christ.

    The homosexual lifestyle, if that means tolerance or promotion of same-sex attraction, sexual activities or romantic or erotic affections between people of the same gender must alwasy be condemned, shunned, spoken-against, and avoided by anyone who wants to be a Christian.

    The same applies to any sin. If I am a man who is inclined to fornicate and to look with lust at women, I must not tolerate or promote lust or fornication or sexual activity outside of marriage or romantic or erotic affections without a woman to whom I am not married, all such activity must be condemned, shunned, spoken-against, and avoided by anyone who wants to be an Orthodox Christian.

  15. True love is telling others the truth, not condemning them by lying to them and telling them to accept the lie that sin and their sinful inlinations are acceptable to God. True love for others is to tell them to stay away from others who will cause them to accept sin and impurity.

    Groups who form "homosexual communities" should be communities focussed on repentance and living according to the will of God. They should be ashamed of their fallen nature, just as I am ashamed of mine, but in Christ, am being renewed day after day by Christ's grace. Such communities should not be forming formus, and communities to promote acceptance of the sodmoite or homosexual lifestyle. If they want to do a service, they should form groups to focus on Christ and living a pure life.

    One may not be able to have a solution to changing one's attraction to the opposite gender in order to live a normal life (at least not in the very short term), but one may certainly focus on carrying one's cross and focussing on Christ.

    It is also sad that people struggling against this sinful inclination define their self identity as "gay" or "homosexual". This ought not to be the case. A person who is inlcined to commit adultery does not define his identity as belonging to the "community of adulterers" but as a person who is a sinner, as are the rest of us who have fallen into various sins and in need of repentence. Rather the homosexual ought to define themselves as a person who is inclinded to have same-sex attraction and struggling to live a Christian life by focussing on Christ and avoiding sin, just like the rest of us.

    A person should not belong to a "homosexual" community or the so-called, "LGBT" community bcause such lables reinforce that this is somehow a legitimate community wiht legitimate needs of acceptance of suce a lifestyle that is justified, from a Christian perspective. A Christian tempted to belong to these communities is often misled into believing that it is O.K. to accept your sinfulness and not struggle against it. This is deception of the worst kind and that leads away from true focus on Christ and true repentence.
    It is not the same as the Black community. Being Black is not a sin. Engaging in Homosexual acts is a sin.

    1. Christianity has splintered into more than 100 demoninations. Why? Interpretation of the New Testament. Luthrer, John Knox, Calvin, Wesley, Morminism, and so many more. Old Catholics, New Catholics, Several sects of Orthodox, the list goes on. Point: they each have their own doctrine, which is their own "official" interpretation.

      If you read the Gospels on your own, pray, and trust in God through Jesus, you will receive answers. Ask and you shall receive.

      I don't have any answers about homosexuality, any more than I do about alcoholism, drug addiction, Islamic Jihadists (I suspect that is political more than religious, i.e. Northern Ireland), child pornography, crime, or the myriad of other behavioral manifestations besetting mankind. Everyone has a cross to bear of some sort.

      And, everyone has opinions about everyone else's affliction. Jesus taught "Get the mote out of your own eye before you accuse someone else" (not literal quote, just memory).

      If you approach God humbly, like a little child as Jesus taught, in spirit (prayer), He will answer. The Holy Spirit will lead you in the ways of righteousness. Find your peace through Jesus and the Gospel scriptures, not through church doctrine. Churches are groups of individual believers, and these groups have different beliefs and interpretations. If you determine that you are OK after prayer and supplication to God through Jesus, that is what matters.

      I have a blog also, Urantia Gospel Parallels. I'm 75 now, not gay, but a sinner that was saved by the very methods I'm espousing here. I am also a well educated lifetime musician, former drug addict, thrice married, ex-con who practices daily what I preach.

      You will find the answers in the Gospels and prayer.


  16. Church is the socialization of religion, and is not the heart of an individual. Faith is the river, the church is the riverbed. Belief is between you and God as Father. Church teachings are doctrine, and are not infallible. Forgive them.

    I suggest you read: Jesus: A New Revelation. Less than 10 bucks at Amazon. Tracks the Gospels perfectly, but in exquisite detail.

    We are all imperfect in our own ways, even when we want to be perfect in God's eyes. We all fall short of the glory, and that includes Priests.

    It would take me at least 2-300 pages to explain the above in detail, which I'm capable of, but suffice to say that God is the Judge, and He loves you. If you humble yourself before Him, like a little child, He will be with you. Read the Gospels carefully, especially the red parts. Paul is not Jesus, as Paul was a human lawyer. Jesus is God's son, and He supersedes Paul. Jesus did not condemn homosexuality. He forgave prostitutes, and all kinds of sinners. His life was all about love and mercy. He even forgave his killers.

    I'm not gay, but if I were that would be my lesser fault. Jesus came to save sinners, and that's me. May you all learn that God loves you. Get in the river, and you will be fine. You don't require the doctrine of the riverbed for salvation.


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