SEXUALITY & GENDER: OPEN LETTER TO THE ASSEMBLY OF CANONICAL ORTHODOX BISHOPS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

One week from now, October 2-4, 2018, the ninth annual meeting of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America is scheduled to take place in Cleveland, Ohio. We put forward the following proposals for the Assembly’s consideration. 
If you wish to sign this Open Letter, send an email to editors@orthodoxyindialogue.com with your name and city, state/province, and country of residence. If you are a bishop, priest, or deacon, include your ecclesiastical title and the jurisdiction to which you belong.
Concerned individuals who are not members of the Orthodox Church are also welcome to add their names. 
Please disseminate this Letter widely on social media.
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To the Member Hierarchs of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America:

Masters, bless. 

As you gather in prayer and brotherhood during the first week of October, we the undersigned respectfully propose that the Assembly, its individual member bishops, and their respective jurisdictions and dioceses consider taking the following steps:

1). Cease issuing condemnations of abortion, participating in the March for Life, and advocating for the elimination of legal, accessible abortion. 

Instead, create a committee of clergy, laypersons, and especially women to explore options for a pan-Orthodox initiative to offer financial, material, emotional, spiritual, and social support to pregnant women in need and to their children after birth.

The reality of the world in which we live also requires the Church’s support for the surest means to reduce the incidence of abortion: universal access to contraception and to accurate, scientifically based sex education.

Finally, it is important to listen to women’s reasons for having an abortion and to work with them to mitigate those reasons when they are open to doing so. Judging, condemning, marching in parades, and attending Rose Dinners accomplish nothing and don’t save a single child’s or woman’s life.

2). Cease issuing condemnations of same-sex orientation.

These condemnations inflict lasting emotional and spiritual harm on Orthodox children, teens, and adults who regard their orientation as a good and natural part of their personal identity. They seek from their Church, not a cover for sexual permissiveness, but a profound and affirmative theological articulation of how their orientation reflects the divine image and participates in the acquisition of the divine likeness through the collaboration of human ascesis with uncreated grace.

Instead, create a committee of clergy, theologians, psychologists, therapists, laypersons, and especially Orthodox individuals who identify as same-sex oriented to study questions of sexual orientation in all their complexity.

The committee should be open to examining possibilities for blessing Orthodox same-sex couples who wish to make a monogamous, lifelong commitment to each other.

The committee should also be tasked with formulating pastoral guidelines to present for the Assembly’s consideration.

The blanket excommunication of Orthodox Christians who present as same-sex oriented must cease.

3). Remove from the websites of the Assembly, its member jurisdictions, and each jurisdiction’s individual dioceses all past condemnations of same-sex orientation.

Once again, these condemnations inflict lasting emotional and spiritual harm on those targeted by them.

4). Instruct the clergy to cease issuing condemnations of transgender identities.

Arguably these condemnations inflict even greater emotional and spiritual harm on those targeted than condemnations of same-sex orientation. It has been demonstrated statistically that transgender persons comprise one of society’s most vulnerable demographics.

We as Church have not even begun to examine—let alone understand—the complex interplay of emotional, spiritual, psychological, social, and even biological factors that lead a person to identify as transgender and then to commence his or her transition to the gender opposite the one assigned at birth. Indeed some persons experience themselves as having both genders or neither gender.

Others are born intersex, which means that their biological bodies possess some configuration of both male and female organs, whether externally, internally, or both.

Rather than deride them we must seek first to love them and to hear them.

Create a committee of clergy, theologians, psychologists, therapists, laypersons, and especially Orthodox individuals who identify as transgender or intersex to study questions of gender identity and its relationship to the body.

The committee should be open to examining possibilities for blessing Orthodox transgender and intersex persons to form a monogamous, lifelong commitment with the partner of their choice.

The committee should also be tasked with formulating pastoral guidelines to present for the Assembly’s consideration.

The blanket excommunication of Orthodox Christians who present as transgender or intersex must cease.

5). Authorize, endorse, and sponsor—as an official, permanent ministry of the Assembly—an international support organization for Orthodox Christians who identify anywhere along the LGBTQI spectrum.

Orthodoxy in Dialogue stands prepared to offer our services to the Assembly, and to our brothers and sisters everywhere, to bring together a small committee to reach out to LGBTQI Orthodox Christians and begin laying the groundwork for this important ministry.

You may wish to peruse Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s extensive list of articles on these questions. They are catalogued under Sexuality and Gender in the upper part of our Archives by Author.

Asking for your prayers and archpastoral blessings, your faithful servants in Christ,

  1. Deacon Basil Paul, Syrian Orthodox Church (Kerala, India)
  2. Giacomo Sanfilippo, Editor, Orthodoxy in Dialogue (Toronto, Ontario)
  3. Richard Cooper, PhD (Montreal, Quebec)
  4. Esther Robinson (Fond du Lac, Wisconsin)
  5. Cordell Maximus Shewell (Lakewood, Washington)
  6. Robert Walker (Toronto, Ontario)
  7. James Bouse (Detroit, Michigan)
  8. Helen Coats (West Lafayette, Indiana)
  9. John Burnett (San Anselmo, California)
  10. Jacob Stebly (Syracuse, New York)
  11. Eric Simpson (Phoenix, Oregon)
  12. Constantine Wright (Athens, Georgia)
  13. David Moore (Greenville, South Carolina)
  14. Yosef Lopez-Hineynu (Chicago, Illinois)
  15. Andrew Fedosov (Toronto, Ontario)
  16. Lydia Bringerud (San Diego, California)
  17. Gabrielle R. Royer (Flint, Michigan)
  18. Kevin Scott Mellis (Roseville, California)
  19. Emily Faidley (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  20. Janna Beecham (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  21. Anna Lee (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  22. Justin Avery (Plainfield, Indiana)
  23. Luke Beecham (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  24. Jonathan Murden (Durham, United Kingdom)
  25. Demetrios E. Eleutheros-Johns (Miami, Florida)
  26. Micah Faidley (Madison, Wisconsin)
  27. Erika Dobrzynski (Glen Spey, New York)
  28. Liz Hall (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  29. Ioanna Karounos (Toronto, Ontario)
  30. Kathleen Lehmkuhl (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  31. Jeff Davenport (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  32. Larry Topping (Elizabethtown, Kentucky)
  33. Michael Clemens (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  34. Lena Bandy (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  35. Howard Bandy (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  36. Abra Greene (Seattle, Washington)
  37. Melissa Frock (Wichita, Kansas)
  38. James Greene (Lansing, Michigan)
See also Open Letter Delivered to the Bishops.