Mr. Beecham’s article attests to a troubling pattern in contemporary American Orthodoxy, where Father Josiah Trenham and Father John Parker send out dog whistles for violence against LGBTQI people without ecclesiastical censure, Father Aaron Warwick has his elevation to archpriest cancelled for proposing a more compassionate pastoral ministry to LGBTQI people, a simple subdeacon is deposed after a lifetime of selfless service to the Church for a blog post expressing his support of LGBTQI people, Archbishop Mark (Maymon) can’t be bothered about LGBTQI people, and the Assembly of Bishops continues to ignore Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s repeated appeals for a better pastoral response to sexual and gender diversity in human nature and ecclesial life.
Subdeacon Luke and Janna Beecham. May 2005. St. John the Forerunner Church (OCA), Indianapolis IN.
(Photo from St. John’s Camp removed by request of several parents.)
This article has been a long time coming, and while it’s unfortunate that I even have to write it, I find it necessary to share my heart and my experience in hopes that it will speak to others.
Where to begin? I am 42 years old and have served the Church my entire life. Born a PK (pastor’s kid) in the Evangelical Orthodox Church, I started serving in the altar around age 10 and started leading music around 13. I moved to Indianapolis for school in 1996, and immediately began helping with the youth group at my local parish. By 21 I was the Director of St. John’s Camp Programs and running the youth group at St. John’s parish in Indianapolis, as well as singing and serving as administrative assistant to the parish.
We joined the OCA in 2002 shortly after my wife and I married, and I took a job as a computer support tech while continuing to work with the church youth.
Fast forward a few years: I was tonsured a reader and subsequently ordained a subdeacon by Archbishop Job of blessed memory. I was lead cantor and/or served in the altar every week in two different parishes over the next fifteen years, delivered homilies, taught catechism, and worked to build parish life.
My wife and I fostered three children during this time, and I served as the National Youth, Young Adult, & Campus Ministries Director for the OCA and continued to serve as director of St. John’s Camp.
Four years ago, I quit my lucrative IT job to become the local FOCUS Indianapolis director. Eventually, I helped start our own nonprofit called Raise & Restore to feed and clothe our homeless and under-served neighbors around our parish. I retired as Camp Director in 2016 after seventeen years of scandal-free service and nearly tripling our number of campers over the years.
I don’t mention any of the above out of pride, but simply to tell the story of what is currently happening to me.
During Pride month of 2018, I wrote a blog post entitled To Love & Be-Loved…, which stated that I was an ally of LGBTQ+ people and thought the Church could do better in how we treat our brothers and sisters, as well as calling for monogamy and fidelity in all relationships as a start.
Shortly thereafter my bishop, Archbishop Paul (Gassios) of Chicago and the Midwest (OCA), called to discuss the blog post, and subsequently suspended me for refusing to remove the post or to post something else to “clarify” that I didn’t disagree with church teaching. I stated that I could not, out of solidarity and love for my LGBTQ+ friends, and that I didn’t think the questions were unfounded. Since that time, I have been the target of much libel and slander, and had more than one clergyman speak against me without ever speaking to me. Pastoral care has been mostly absent from then until now. It has been a difficult time.
Last Thursday—June 18, 2020—almost two years to the day and fittingly during Pride month, I received a call from Archbishop Paul and was told that I would be deposed. I had requested being reinstated as a subdeacon because of my love for serving and desire to continue in that capacity, and because I thought enough time had passed and others were asking similar questions. However, he declined, saying that because of my views I couldn’t serve in what is a “very visible leadership role” in the Church.
While I am grateful for the closure after two long years in limbo, my heart is broken. Since I was a little boy all I wanted to do was to “be a doorkeeper in Your fold” and serve the Church. Despite nearly twenty years of exemplary service and being awarded a Synodal Gramota for my work with youth and camps, I am considered unfit for leadership in the Orthodox Church…because I asked questions. Because I said I love people who are created in the image of God and are not “intrinsically disordered.” Because I believe in and have seen faithful, monogamous, same-sex relationships and marriages. For this I was bullied and ostracized, and eaten alive by the institutional church.
This has to stop. Which brings me to the point of all of this, and the title of this article.
A dear friend who shall remain nameless actually came up with this phrase, so I can’t claim it. However, I find it brilliant, and perfect for describing my experience in the Orthodox Church the past twenty years. He said, “There is such a fine line between Orthodoxy and Orthodouchey….” I nearly spit my drink out, I laughed so hard.
However, it is true. There seems to be a growing trend within American Orthodoxy towards fundamentalist legalism, and truly, Orthodoxy is becoming Orthodouchey. When we slander and ostracize people for asking questions, and try to hold on tightly to some ideal of what Orthodoxy is or should be, we lose sight of the Gospels and start building our storehouses. Precisely what Jesus said we shouldn’t do. Many new converts and clergy have become more and more this way, with many lauding such horrific teachings like those of Father Josiah Trenham as “Orthodox,” or even claiming some “good points made” by Matthew Heimbach, a white nationalist who was excommunicated for preaching hate and assaulting someone with a cross. Little traditions have become confused with Tradition, and obedience has been skewed to mean blind devotion.
This is madness. This is Orthodouchey. I didn’t sign up for this. I joined the Orthodox Church because I found it to be the way of balance and the pursuit of a deeper love and truth, not a set of rules to be followed blindly. I found God here. More and more I don’t recognize the religion I see growing around me. It is becoming a social club filled with religious fanatics who believe they are “right” about what it means to be Orthodox, and God help you if you don’t conform to the mold. If you dare question teaching or authority, you are swiftly silenced and sent packing.
As much as my heart is broken, I still love the Church. I love Orthodoxy and want to live the Gospels with my life. I was under the impression that that was the entire point. Perhaps I am wrong, and Orthodouchey is all that folks want. I hope not. I believe in the Church. I believe in the Gospels. I believe that love wins. I hope I’m standing where Jesus is standing as well—with the marginalized and outcast.
I’ll end with the lyrics from one of my most favorite songs, So Will I. I think it says precisely what I hope we’re all striving for and what the Church is all about. Perhaps, Orthodoxy will start to listen to the cries of the people, and Orthoduchey will be no more. Lord, have mercy. May it be so. Christ is risen and love wins!
And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done
Every part designed in a work of art called love
If You gladly chose surrender so will I
I can see Your heart
Eight billion different ways
Every precious one
A child You died to save
If You gave Your life to love them so will I
Like You would again a hundred billion times
But what measure could amount to Your desire
You’re the One who never leaves the one behind
See the Bridging Voices, Fifty Years after Stonewall, Josiah Trenham: The Scandal, Sexuality and Gender, and Warwick Files sections in our Archives 2017-19 and/or Archives 2020.
Luke Beecham is an Orthodox Christian, author, musician, and IT wizard who resides in Indianapolis with his wife Janna and goddaughter Tessa. He publishes his personal reflections on faith and life on his blog, Chanting Down Babylon, and tweets @RealLukeBeecham.