In the latest issue of The Wheel–an Orthodox publication which I’m not familiar with, but appears to publish a wide range of thought, not just conservative/traditional–is Andrew Louth’s essay “Being Human.”
Not only does it impress me by being thoughtful–questioning the usual response of the Church to homosexuality/same-sex marriage–but by bringing up the over-sexualization of our modern Western culture.
He compares the usual conservative response to the controversies we’ve seen before–such as evolution, ordaining women, the position of women in society. He notes that appeals to tradition are often a fear of change rather than a thoughtful response. He says the problems won’t go away, because they’re connected to a fundamental change in modern society and what we now know about the biological and cultural influences on sexuality and gender.
Then he notes that modern Western society–at least in his English experience, which sounds much like the American–has been over-sexualizing all human relationships. People look on all sorts of friendships and familial relationships with a suspicious eye if they get too “physical,” because even kisses on the cheek or hugs become somehow “sexual.” Or people see best friends of the same sex, especially if they live together, and think they MUST be lovers who need to “come out of the closet” and admit it.
I’ve complained about this several times over the years on this website, because this prudish idea of friendship and touch affected my own life as well. And yes, it’s tiresome to have your motives questioned because you have a close, opposite-sex friend, especially one who likes to hug.
Louth notes that it wasn’t always like this, and that it mostly seems to be the English (American) societies which are like this. He asks, is it because of Freud? or consumerism with its easy pleasures?
So you have here a more pastoral response to modern questions–How do you deal with someone who is devout but can’t stop feeling attracted to the same sex? And how many people aren’t actually sexually attracted to the same sex, but other people think they must be because of a close friendship? And how much damage do we do to all human relationships by reducing them to sexuality?
Louth’s essay is refreshing, not what I’ve been seeing and hearing so much lately from Orthodox sources. My summary doesn’t do it justice. Not only does he NOT condemn those who want to be allowed to marry someone of the same sex, or the transgendered–
but his words reassure me that I did nothing wrong in my friendship with Richard. I got so much condemnation over that, from his wife and even from people online, even though I have had and still have many friendships with guys, even close ones. That old-fashioned and sexist thinking that close opposite-sex friendships MUST be considered “inappropriate” until proven otherwise–that’s like Mike Pence refusing to be in a room alone with any woman. It’s ridiculous and reduces you to your genitals, rather than who you are as a person. And Tracy making me feel like I did something horrible and dirty because of HUGS–It’s taken me years to try to undo the mindscrew that put me through.
But here is an Orthodox archpriest saying that opposite-sex friendships (Samuel Johnson had them), same-sex friendships, hugs, a kiss on the cheek, being close to someone in any type of relationship, that there’s nothing wrong with it and we do great damage to ourselves if we reduce every relationship and touch to sex. It has harmed not only friendships, especially same-sex ones, but even familial relationships. Everything becomes suspicious, making us afraid to get close to each other. People see “incest” where none exists.
Quoted from Louth:
My sense is that human ways of being together are very varied, and that we are being seduced by the sexualization of modern Western society into thinking that the modes of human being-together are to be defined in sexual terms. This seems to me to be just as true of those who want to argue that the ideal form of human living is monogamous union.
He does not appear to say outright that Orthodox priests should start performing same-sex marriages, but just to say that Orthodoxy needs to stop knee-jerking reactions to it and actually think through a response instead of just holding on to tradition for tradition’s sake.
Orthodoxy in Dialogue writes about the Wheel issue here and in previous posts.