An honest story Pt 1

On a new (to me) site called “Spiritual Friendship”, Wesley Hill asks The is Church Homophobic – True or False?? There are a couple of begs there: define “Church” and define “Homophobic”. I’ll venture both of those questions will be just as cantankerous depending on where one stands. What I’m sure of is that if you’re inside the church (gay or not) your definition of both is theological. If you’re outside the church (gay or not) your definition of “church” is “all those Christians” without regard to stripe or denomination. Your definition of “homophobia” is probably some version of “saying that ‘gay is sinful’. If you’re in a more-liberal denomination such as ECUSA, your answer about homophobia may be the same, but your first answer will be “Not my church”. As in, Those churches are homophobic, but mine is not.

For the purposes of this response, I want to suggest that both answers are subjective: not a matter of “your truth but not mine” but, still, based on the person. While acknowledging that Wesley Hill is a Christian, I can not say he is in “the Church” because, as an Orthodox Christian, I believe in visible boundaries to that Church. Beyond them – although the Holy Spirit is ‘everywhere present and filling all things’ including Anglicans – I can only say “that’s God’s world not mine. Roman Catholics would say I belong to the “other lung” of the church, but I would eye them suspiciously were I conservative, and curiously were I a liberal: since Orthodox believe in neither lungs nor branches. At least as far as this world goes, one is in the Church (Orthodox, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic) or one is in God’s hands and maybe that’s all. For me, the visible Church is coterminous with the communion boundaries of Orthodoxy. Everyone else is in God’s grace and no one is saved outside of the Church: in other words, on Judgement day I pray God finds me in the Church and you too.

As “church” is entirely subjective, so, likewise, “homophobia”. There is a definition sited in the comments by Prof. Hill:

I had in mind Gabriel Blanchard’s definition: “I am defining homophobia as injustice against persons who are homosexually attracted, for no reason other than their being homosexually attracted. I propose to take the following for granted: that there are people who are, largely or exclusively, homosexually attracted; that there is such a thing as injustice; and that injustice can be directed towards them for that reason.” See here:

In common usage, it is subjective: I limit that injustice to “you can’t live/work/be here in the public space in the same way as a a straight person because you are same-sex attracted.” You can’t have this job.  You can’t hold hands. You can’t snuggle on the airplane when it’s cold.  You can’t designate your heir. Others label as “homophobia” theological discussions such as “is gay sex sinful?”; or social policy “can gay men adopt children?”

Christian teaching about sex is pretty clear: sex outside of a church-sanctioned, monogamous, heterosexual marriage is sinful.  Doesn’t matter about the plumbing, the choices, the biology, the nature or the nurture involved.  People who are same-sex attracted must follow the same rules for moral sex as people who are opposite-sex attracted is not homophobia in my book. For someone else it really is a horrid hate crime to suggest such a thing.  I’m being homophobic by some lights even to engage the question: it’s called “internalized homophobia”, a phrase that is used whenever any member of the community questions the wisdom of the Elders.

Just short of half-way through the article, the author says.

What we need are three-dimensional stories—stories that highlight the successes and the failures of our churches, without downplaying either one. The culture wars tempt us toward one-sidedness; if we’re on the conservative side, we want to deflect the charge of homophobia, and if we’re on the liberal side, we want to expose the dangers of fundamentalism. But the truest stories rarely lend themselves to such strategies, and defensiveness is never the best, or most effective, apologetic approach.

 And so I think it’s important to write an “honest story” about being gay in the Orthodox Church.  My “I was in Hell” essay was hugely popular for exactly the reasons described above: cultural warriors saw it as a one-sided slam against the other side.  It was a powerful slam, at that, using the words of a man many people consider a 20th Century saint (who also lived with same-sex attraction) and aimed at everyone that was “liberal” and BLT/GQ in the world.  But “Hell Reconsidered” didn’t do so well, even though it was a more-real confession of what was actually going on.

I think that’s where any “honest story” must begin for me: with an honest confession of what is really going on.  So, if this post is “Part 1” then Hell Reconsidered is Part II of this honest story.  (I was in Hell is the crazy convert initial attempt at saying something serious.)  But Part III may take us someplace important.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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