On April 21, one of Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s readers visited the website of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. He hoped to find a statement on the Derek Chauvin conviction, the overt rise of white supremacy and white nationalism in the US, and the growing epidemic of lethal police brutality against African-American children, women, and men. There was nothing.
On the other hand, he found the Statement of the Executive Committee on the Proposed Equality Act, posted on March 26, 2021. The Executive Committee consists of the following eleven hierarchs:
- Archbishop Elpidophoros (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese)
- Metropolitan Joseph (Antiochian Archdiocese)
- Bishop Matthew (Moscow Patriarchate)
- Metropolitan Gregory (Carpatho-Russian Diocese)
- Archbishop Michael (Orthodox Church in America)
- Bishop Irinej (Serbian Patriarchate)
- Metropolitan Nicolae (Romanian Patriarchate)
- Metropolitan Joseph (Bulgarian Patriarchate)
- Bishop Saba (Georgian Patriarchate)
- Metropolitan Tikhon (Orthodox Church in America)
- Bishop Longin (Serbian Patriarchate)
Apparently unaware of the Pew Research Center’s findings that a substantial majority (62%) of their combined Orthodox flock supports full equality for gay people in American public life, and a smaller majority (54%) of Orthodox Americans favours civil same-sex marriage—and indifferent to the harsh reality that LGBTQ Americans continue to face significant discrimination in public accommodations and facilities, education, federally funded programs, employment, housing, credit, jury service, and other areas—the bishops write:
We, the Executive Committee of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America, affirm that all human beings should be treated with dignity and respect, as all are made in the image of God. Indeed, the principle of human equality has its origins in Christianity and is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, which rightly prescribes that every person must receive equal treatment under the law.
Consequently, we are deeply concerned about the proposed federal “Equality Act,” which would erode religious liberty for both individuals and organizations, including Orthodox Christian jurisdictions, parishes, and faithful. The supporters of this Act, in their desire to promote equality, ultimately infringe upon the religious liberty of Americans to live according to their faith – a right protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Throughout the United States, Orthodox jurisdictions and parishes have ministries, organizations, and facilities through which they provide many beneficial services to the public. All of these ministries, organizations, and facilities would be directly and negatively affected by the “Equality Act” as written. Furthermore, the expansive nature of the Act would affect the lives and careers of many thousands of religious people in America, including Orthodox faithful. All of this is in addition to the broader impact that the Act would have on American society, moving it further away from the traditional and normative moral and ethical foundations, as well as deepening painful divisions that already exist in the country.
As Orthodox Christian bishops, charged by our Savior Jesus Christ to shepherd His flock, we will continue to uphold and proclaim the moral teachings of the Church. We call upon all Orthodox Christians to remain firm in the Orthodox Faith. We also call upon our nation’s civic leaders to uphold, and not infringe upon, the religious freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and to continue to extend the protections afforded by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
While this is not the first time that the Assembly’s pastoral response to LGBTQ Americans is to attack their civil rights (see Response of Assembly of Bishops to Obergefell v. Hodges, July 2015), the current statement sinks to the new low of warning “religious people” and “Orthodox faithful” that LGBTQ people (many of whom are not only deeply religious, but Orthodox) pose a threat to their very lives and careers. These sorts of homophobic dog whistles issuing from the pens of our shepherds, under the guise of the image of the Good Shepherd, strike us as all the more egregious in a statement that begins by paying lip service to “dignity,” “respect,” “the image of God,” and “equality” for “all human persons.” The spiritual and psychic violence perpetuated by the rhetoric of ecclesiastical statements such as this one—all in the name of “Jesus Christ” and the “Gospel”—provides the ideological foundation for continued discrimination, danger, and often, too often lethal, bodily violence against LGBTQ children, women, and men in American society.
Meanwhile, our appeals to the Assembly to adopt a more affirmative pastoral stance toward LGBTQ Orthodox Christians (see Sexuality & Gender: Open Letter to the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America and LGBTQI Listening Tour: An Open Letter to Our Bishops in the USA and Canada) go unheeded.