On July 5 it was announced that “[t]he Board of Trustees of Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Canaan, PA, has named the Very Rev. Archpriest John E. Parker III, D.Min., as the new Dean of the school.” The announcement (available here) mentions that he wrote a ThM thesis at St. Vladimir’s Seminary entitled “The Sanctity of Chastity: An Orthodox Approach to Homosexuality” and that his parish — “well-known for its warm, southern hospitality” — hosts the meetings of Sexaholics Anonymous, “especially devoted to freeing men from slavery to pornography.” Three paragraphs later we read, “He has given talks and retreats… internationally in Finland and Greece.”
This appointment raises a number of concerns and questions which Orthodoxy in Dialogue finds necessary to share with our several tens of thousands of readers around the planet.
The first and perhaps most obvious question is this: Why did St. Tikhon’s not conduct a public search for such an important position as that of dean? The second is related: What qualifications of Father Parker’s make him such an overwhelmingly compelling choice as to make a proper search superfluous? The third question: Why is the outgoing dean said to despair that he doesn’t even recognize the Church anymore?
Of all the worthwhile extra-ecclesial organizations to which a parish church might rent or lend its meeting space, why Sexaholics Anonymous in Father Parker’s case? Have a look at the website: a “sexaholic” is defined as anyone who masturbates or has sex with someone other than his or her spouse. The word itself and its astonishingly broad meaning imply a psychological or psychiatric disorder — rather than a focus of Christian ascesis — for which there appears to be no support from the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, or the Center for Disease Control. The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t even recognize the word.
Father Parker took the fast track to ordination following his fast track conversion to Orthodoxy:
- 2001 – discovery of the Orthodox faith
- July 2002 – conversion to the Orthodox faith
- November 2002 – ordination to the diaconate
- April 2003 – ordination to the priesthood
Let these dates sink in: Father John E. Parker III was Orthodox a mere nine months when he was ordained a priest. Nine months. Less than a year later he submitted a thesis expounding on “an Orthodox approach to homosexuality.” His official biography suggests that he had not even heard of the Orthodox Church — or certainly knew nothing about it — until a year or less before his conversion.
In 2004 Father Parker obtained his ThM from St. Vladimir’s Seminary with the thesis named above. His publishing history from then until now seems to be limited to the local newspaper in Charleston SC.
The first thing that strikes a reader about his ThM thesis is the oversize faux Greek or Slavonic font for the title. We have never seen an academic paper — even at the undergraduate level! — that did not use a standard font on the title page. Was this typographical conceit meant to lend the thesis an “authoritative” Orthodox aura, such as when Father Joseph Gleason adds “Rostov the Great, Russia” after his signature on his misogynistic blog posts?
The thesis — written with the intellectual sophistication of an 8th-grade essay — runs to 98 pages. It begins with a criticism of using proof texts as something that only fundamentalist Protestants do…and then proceeds to do little more than string together proof texts for almost 100 pages. It devotes an unexplained amount of energy to debating non-theologian Andrew Sullivan, but does not engage with or cite a single source from medicine, psychology, psychiatry, or even postmodern social theory on the topic of sexual orientation. The bibliography occupies less than two and a half pages.
In short, Father Parker begins, not with a question, but an answer: Same-sex love is bad, always bad. He then sets out to prove it. His preoccupation with the mechanics of same-sex erotic intimacy — (his thesis finally comes around to naming anal and oral sex explicitly) — blinds him to the question of same-sex companionship, a shared life and home, mutual devotion to one another’s well-being and to that of the couple’s extended family, and committed monogamy as a form of Christian chastity and asceticism. Only a person familiar with gay porn or who has an overactive fantasy life imagines that all same-sex couples express their intimacy through the same “acts.” Indeed — and this fact is often overlooked even by those who favour a more positive theological exploration of the meaning of same-sex love — some Christian same-sex couples choose a sexually abstinent union for reasons known only to themselves and God. We also know from history distant and recent that some Orthodox opposite-sex couples have lived this way — with or without the consent of both spouses.
(Anyone wishing to obtain a copy of Father Parker’s thesis may contact us at our editorial email address.)
Less than two weeks before St. Tikhon’s announcement of Father Parker’s appointment, he presented at the second International Conference on Digital Media and Orthodox Pastoral Care at the Orthodox Academy of Crete. (See Richard Barrett’s summary of the conference on Public Orthodoxy.) The video posted by Corinth’s Ηλέκτρα Ραδιοτηλεοπτικός Σταθμός (Electra Radio Station) on its Facebook page begins with Father Parker mocking the book “For I Am Wonderfully Made” — its cover projected on the large screen to his left — and then the journal The Wheel. Next he proceeds to characterize Public Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy in Dialogue as dangerous sites of “anti-catechism,” wolves in sheep’s clothing. He suggests that it would be better for us who produce these three publications to be cast into the sea with millstones tied around our necks. For added dramatic effect he projects onto the screen a drawing of a man sinking headlong to the bottom of the sea with his millstone, a toothy shark in close pursuit. He also shows a photograph of two wolves — presumably Public Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy in Dialogue — standing over a sheep’s bloodied fleece.
Father Parker also manages, before his international audience, to misrepresent and condemn the “radical” Father James Martin, SJ.
He concludes by appealing to the episcopate of the Orthodox Church to adopt practices similar to the Roman Church’s Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur, Imprimi Potest, and Index of Forbidden Books with respect to Orthodox websites and blogs.
(Incidentally one wonders if, in his gushing praise of Ancient Faith Ministries as an unwaveringly reliable source of True Orthodoxy, Father Parker has in mind Father John Guy Winfrey’s bizarre ideas on assault rifle ownership, John Wayne, and Steve McQueen as models of Orthodox Christian masculinity.)
We do not use the epithet homophobe lightly. Yet it seems to us that a priest who travels halfway around the world to vilify Orthodox Christians who fall somewhere other than strict heteronormativity along the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity — and who agitates proactively to silence their voices — fully deserves the name in the public forum.
Father Parker’s appointment as dean of St. Tikhon’s Seminary does not bode well for the near future of robust theological dialogue in the Orthodox Church of North America and beyond. What can the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Tikhon, Archbishop Michael, and the seminary Board of Trustees intend to signal by this unfortunate choice?