FROM THE NETHERLANDS: RESPONDING TO FATHER AARON WARWICK AND FATHER SERAPHIM HOLLAND by Monica Spoor

Image result for men holding handsI’ve tried to keep out of the discussion on Orthodoxy in Dialogue the past week or two. Out of the Rod Dreher discussion [Rod Dreher’s Limited (and Theologically Meaningless) Vocabulary], out of the Father Aaron Warwick discussion [Pastoring LGBTQ Individuals in the Orthodox Church]. I am, after all, not homosexual and hardly qualified to comment.

What grew over the past weeks though, is a desire to share my perspective on this, and Father Seraphim Holland’s Open Letter to Father Aaron Warwick was, well, the last straw, if I can put it that way.

I was introduced to Christianity and theology through Evangelical schools of thought, so my exposure to any positive sounds regarding homosexuality was limited. I have known people who were and are homosexual since I was a child, people who were and are important to me in my life. Still, the movement—the “homosexualist (?!) rhetoric,” as Father Seraphim puts it—frequently made and still makes me raise my eyebrows.

I have autism, as becomes abundantly clear from my own articles on Orthodoxy in Dialogue [see Spoor, Monica in our Archives 2017-19], and the neurodiversity movement also makes me raise my eyebrows. It’s a tendency of people who feel abandoned and dismissed as second-class to create movements in response that go all the way to the other end of the pendulum. I agree that in these movements there is something unhealthy, because they are so extreme, and the rhetoric and ideas often put me off.

Yet I find myself moving closer and closer to becoming the + of the LGBTQ community—precisely because of letters such as Father Holland’s. Because I do know what it is like to be an outsider. And I do know the abuse Christianity often heaps upon people who are different, and the pain and desperation of being forced to conform.

I have been pondering how to continue my line of thought and find that I lack the skills to put this in measured and tactful words:

For too long, the Church has abused people through the loveless and cruel manner in which it can respond to people’s sins or even perceived shortcomings. And the moment those people push back, the very institution that has abused them rebukes them and calls down hellfire and brimstone upon them. There are terms in the world of psychology for this behaviour.

Yes, the pushback from those abused comes accompanied by unhealthy elements that will, in due course, need correction—but that correction will need to be done carefully, and most of all lovingly, by those who have earned the trust of the hurt and damaged people involved.

Father Warwick’s approach was doing exactly that. He did not deny the flaws of the movement, far from it. But by being understanding, and kind, and focused mainly on the pastoral instead of the hellfire and brimstone, he stood a chance of, one day, being in the position of pointing out those flaws by having proven himself to be safe and trustworthy. He could have anchored many to the Church until they felt safe enough to become introspective and to separate the wheat from the chaff in the thinking of the movement. That chance has now been destroyed. Because being outraged at the lack of hellfire and brimstone was more important to so many people than building love and trust.

And how am I to trust you now, Father Seraphim? How am I to trust any of you who responded in this way? I am not homosexual, but I am an outsider as well in the Church, I am different, and I have seen what you do to outsiders. Even if I did not care about those in the LGBTQ community—and I do—how can I trust you will not come for me in condemnation as well? How can I trust that you are safe?

I do not want to choose. I do not want to have to choose. I’d much rather see nuance, discussion, and most of all, love. But, on the one side, there are people with whom I would now never dare to be vulnerable. And on the other side, there are outsiders who are struggling just as much as, or even more than, myself to find their place in the world and in the Church, and are willing to do so together, understanding each other’s pain.

So I’ll be over here, with the other outsiders—where it is, at least, safe.

See the Warwick Files in our Archives 2020 for a catalogue of articles written in response to Father Warwick.
Also see the Fifty Years after Stonewall and Sexuality and Gender sections in our Archives 2017-19 and Archives 2020.

Monica Spoor is an Orthodox Christian and the author of Spirituality on the Spectrum: Having Autism in the Orthodox ChurchShe holds a Bachelor’s of Theology from the Evangelische Theologische Hogeschool in Ede. She also volunteers with special needs children, does translations, and serves as secretary of the regional advisory board for the department of welfare. She resides in Veenendaal, the Netherlands. She has written previously for Orthodoxy in Dialogue, blogs at Dark Side Monologues, and tweets @MonicaSpoor

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