Commentary: Profiles in Moral Courage
The one who is not with Me is against Me; and the one who gathereth not with Me scattereth. (Mt. 12:30)
Whosoever then shall break one of the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whosoever shall do and teach them, this one shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. (Mt. 5:19)
Most of us are aware of the profound moral courage of Dan T. Cathy, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A who had the fortitude to say that marriage should only be between a male and female. It is unusual for me to write a commentary suited for an editorial page, but Cathy's words were so clear and the thousands of Christians who supported him so heartening that I decided to part from my usual practice. Please understand my sole purpose is to affirm the teachings of Christ and how Orthodox Christians should apply them.
This commentary is offered in the spirit of true Christian witness. We are called to model our commitment of Christ and His teachings. I have written frequently on this theme, especially about the necessity of this witness between parents and children. I have recommended using news media stories and open-ended Socratic questions in dialogue to explore the Mind of Christ and His Church on these kinds of issues (Morelli, 2010). Adults can do these between themselves as well.
The response by the mayors of two prominent American cities to the CEO's statement was an egregious over reach of their authority. When the mayors said that the restaurant chain was "not welcome in this city," they indirectly challenged both freedom of speech and religion. St Ephraim the Syrian (1997) instructs us that: "Blessed is he who does not defile his tongue with slander, for the heart of a slanderer is full of all manner of defilement." Frankly, if I were a resident of either city, I would be offended by the audaciousness of someone who claimed to speak for me while at the same time denying the freedom that allows me to speak. One Chick-Fil-a supporter noting the long lines of those supporting Chick-Fil-A, reported "The one comment I kept hearing from the crowd was 'I hope those people in Washington get the message.'" i
But speech was not the only freedom attacked. What about the sizable populations of these cities who belong to the orthodox Apostolic Churches (Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches) as well as traditional Protestants and Jews who by implication would also be considered unwelcome in these cities? Their freedom of religion was attacked too. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago Francis Cardinal George had some wise words to say about this:
I was born and raised here, and my understanding of being a Chicagoan never included submitting my value system to the government for approval. Must those whose personal values do not conform to those of the government of the day move from the city? Is the City Council going to set up a ‘Council Committee on Un-Chicagoan Activities’ and call those of us who are suspect to appear before it? I would have argued a few days ago that I believe such a move is, if I can borrow a phrase, ‘un-Chicagoan.’ Approval of state-sponsored homosexual unions has very quickly become a litmus test for bigotry; and espousing the understanding of marriage that has prevailed among all peoples throughout human history is now, supposedly, outside the American consensus…Marriage existed before Christ called together his first disciples two thousand years ago and well before the United States of America was formed two hundred and thirty six years ago. Neither Church nor state invented marriage, and neither can change its nature.ii
In previous articles I echoed the 2005 call of Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev for a moral alliance by the Apostolic Churches on such issues Morelli, 2010a, 2011). This is a perfect event and time to actualize this alliance by all who are true followers of Christ and His Church.
However, extreme humility is required for all Christians in this process. Recall the event in Our Lord's life recorded by St. Matthew:
And behold, one approached and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why callest thou Me good? No one is good, except One-God. But if thou art willing to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Mt. 19:16-17)
We know the commandments and that we are all called to obey them. God's gift to mankind of sexuality is that it is to emulate the relationship of agape love between the persons of the Holy Trinity and the kenotic self-emptying love Christ had for us by taking on our human nature and His crucifixion and death on the cross for our salvation. (Morelli, 2008) Regarding same sex relationships St. Paul make clear Christ's teachings to the Romans when he wrote:
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness in the desires of their hearts, that their bodies be dishonored among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and reverenced and worshipped the creature beyond Him Who created, Who is blessed to the ages. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to passions of dishonor. For both their females exchanged the natural use into that contrary to nature, and in like manner also the males left the natural use of the female, and were burned up in their lust one toward another, males with males working out that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was fitting of their error. And even as they did not approve to have God in full knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do things which are not fitting; having been filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, guile, malignity; being whisperers, slanderers, hateful to God, insolent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful; who, having fully known the ordinance of God that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do them, but also consent to those who practice them. (Rom. 1:24-32)
St. Paul has a similar message for the Galatians:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, use of drugs, potions or spells, enmities, strifes, jealousies, fits of anger, intrigues, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkennesses, revellings, and things like to these; of which I tell you beforehand, even as I also said previously, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)
So those who deny there is such a thing as sexual sin, (or illness or infirmity) (heterosexual or homosexual, are deluding themselves. However we must keep in mind that only God can judge and that God's mercy trumps His justice. St. Luke tells us these words of Jesus:
Therefore keep on becoming compassionate, even as your Father also is compassionate. And cease judging, and in no wise shall ye be judged; cease condemning, and in no wise shall ye be condemned; keep on acquitting, and ye shall be acquitted. (Lk. 6: 36-37)
And St. Isaac the Syrian (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011) tells us how to understand God's mercy: "As a handful of sand thrown into the great sea, so are the sins of all flesh in comparison with the mind of God".
Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity. (Ps 50: 1)
Alfeyev, H. (2005, April 24). Toward a Catholic-Orthodox Alliance. http://en.hilarion.orthodoxia.org/7_2
Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.). (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian(revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.
Morelli, G. (2008, July, 8). Good Marriage XIII: The Theology of Marriage and Sexuality.http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles8/Morelli-Smart%20Marriage-XIII-The-Theology-of-Marriage-and-Sexuality.php.
Morelli, G. (2010a, April 30). Toward healing Church schism: Overview and psycho-theological reflection.www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/toward-healing-church-schism-overview-and-psycho-theological-reflection.
Morelli, G. (2010b, November 25). The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis: The Mind of the Orthodox Church. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/view/morelli-the-ethos-of-orthodox-catechesis
Morelli, G. (2011). Moral Courage: Something the Apostolic Churches Can Do Now. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/moral-courage-something-the-apostolic-churches-can-do-now
St. Ephraim the Syrian (1997). The Spiritual Psalter. (Br. Isaac E. Lambertsen, trans.) Liberty, TN: St. John of Kronstadt Press.