On July 1 of this year the above video was posted to the Facebook page of the Orthodox Church in America’s 19th All-American Council, which was held last year. In it the winsome Dima Rentel exuberantly announces the launch of his continent-wide listening tour on behalf of the OCA to talk “to priests, youth, young adults, parents, camp administrators, and everyone else in between, to hear what you guys want out of youth ministry.”
What the Orthodox Church’s LGBTQI kids and young adults—together with their moms and dads, brothers and sisters, grandmas and grandpas—want from youth ministry can be summed up in three short words: Stop. Hurting. Us.
It’s that simple.
Metropolitan Nathanael of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese gets it: our mother the Church is hurting her queer children every single day. The bishops of the OCA—indeed, all the bishops of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops—would do well to follow his lead…for the very lives of our kids.
Dima might begin by carefully studying Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s own virtual listening tour, which we conducted during Pride month, and then the whole Fifty Years after Stonewall and Sexuality and Gender sections in our Archives.
The main takeaway that Dima should bring back to the Synod of Bishops is this:
Nothing that any priest or parent says or does will have the slightest effect on a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Through a combination of genetic and social factors that have yet to be fully understood, a child’s sexual orientation and gender identity become “set” during infancy or toddlerhood, long before he or she has any awareness of them or can make any “choices.” Ask any gay or transgender person at what age he or she realized, or began to realize, that his or her orientation or identity was developing inexorably in that direction. You will be shocked by how young.
At a recent gathering of Orthodox kids between 13 and 18, one of them asked the priest how he would deal with a kid coming out to him as gay. He began:
I don’t care what science says…
Let that sink in: I don’t care what science says. (Metropolitan Nathanael cares what science says, by the way.)
…I’m not convinced that homosexuality can’t be fixed.
“Fixed.” (Father should really take the pastoral responsibility to read the countless horror stories about “conversion therapy.”) And then he continued very somberly:
I would tell him to repent of his homoexuality, and to devote himself to a life of chastity, purity, and repentance.
The problem is, when Johnny musters the courage to tell Father that he really, really likes Jimmy, Johnny and Jimmy might be 7 or 8 years old. What exactly are they supposed to repent of?
And if it’s Sally that Johnny likes, why does Father never launch into a dire warning about chastity, purity, and repentance then?
Another young person, among peers when no adults were around:
My dad’s a priest. He told me he’d disown me if I ever came out as gay.
Ew. If a boy is gay how do you know he wouldn’t try to f*ck his dad?
To which another objected:
Are you afraid that a straight boy would try to f*ck his mom?
What do you think this kind of talk from priests and peers does to the terrified queer kids in the group? It doesn’t change their orientation or identity one bit; but it does send them into a downward spiral of self-loathing that will end all too often in the tragedy of spiritual, emotional, and even physical suicide. How many 10-, 13-, 16-years olds are already agonizing over how much longer they can put off walking out the doors of the Church one last time, never to return?
You can share your concerns with Dima at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need to do so anonymously, send your email to us at email@example.com and we will be happy to forward it to him with all identifying markers removed.
We extend a heartfelt invitation to Dima to write an article for Orthodoxy in Dialogue on how he intends to advocate for the inclusion of LGBTQI kids in the OCA’s national youth ministry.
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