The Christian Faith and Same Sex Attraction

Thomas Hopko is a respected Orthodox theologian and scholar. This books hammers in a lot of nails very straight and true, in my estimation. In the last three years, while I haven’t studied this issue in any real depth, over the last three years I’ve skimmed through a half-dozen or so books on this topic. This one, thus far, is the best I’ve seen. It is laid out in a manner that bloggers (and especially blog readers) might like. It is written as 27 short 2-4 page chapters, each centered about a central idea which is presented clearly and succinctly backed up by footnotes (the book variant of links?). Inasmuch as this is just a single blog post, I’m struggling with a way to summarize 27 separate blog posts into one, for although there is a central theme there is no simple summary I think possible. I’ll try to hit some highlights (and perhaps “the” controversy) below the fold.

The first three chapters summarize quickly the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, Jesus, the church, and crucial for what follows, a three-fold description of the world. Those three points being, God made everything good. Secondly that everything has been corrupted by (human) sin. And finally, everything has been redeemed, sanctified, and glorified by Christ. We receive this view of reality via the sacramental life of the Church.

All creatures, including humans, are good by nature. Evil is a “parasite” on the good in and among us. Specifically, when humans engage in sexual activity whether or not they acknowledge it, it is in fact part of that urge, longing for the divine nature, peace, comfort, and happiness in God. When humans misuse their sexual desire in sinful lust, porneia, it can be addictive and enslaving. Orthodox teaching is that passions (sexual) which are not associated with love is always sinful. When they are acted on, that leads to personal sin. He writes:

Orthodox Christian Scriptures and saints universally testify that when the attraction between persons of the same sex is godly, genital sexual activiy is precluded, because divine love cannot be expressed in sexual intercourse between  persons of the same sex. This is so because same sex intercourse … [ed: a bit trimmed here] … can never be complementary, unitive, life-creating, and life-enhancing in the ways that God intended sexual intercourse between a man and woman.


All this is not to say that all genital sexual activity between people of the same sex (as well as sexual acts between unmarried men and women, and even married men and women who have little or no relationship with God) are totally devoid of authentic elements of godly love. If that were the case, such actions would be totally demonic and totally destructive, which they obviously, by God’s grace and mercy, are not. But it is to say that while sexual intercourse between a man and a woman has the possibility of being a pure and proper actualization of divine love when enacted in a godly manner, homosexual intercourse does not.

This claim, which is amplified and supported in detail throughout the rest of the book, might be termed as half of the claims of the book.  The other, and perhaps more important, is to describe how those who feel a primary sexual attraction to those of the same sex, fit into God’s church as well as the larger world (from the Orthodox perspective).

I could continue, but I’m not sure in which direction. I could amplify what he said above, or continue with pastoral direction of how those who feel same-sex sexual attraction enter into the Church (or on his advice toward civic issues, i.e., civil unions or SSM … in brief on that latter bit, Fr Hopko approves of the former but, if the latter word “marriage” means sacramental union … he’s against that).

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  1. This is so because same sex intercourse … [ed: a bit trimmed here] … can never be complementary, unitive, life-creating, and life-enhancing in the ways that God intended sexual intercourse between a man and woman.

    Would the authors argue the same about an opposite-sex couple if one of them were infertile? What about post-menopause.

    The argument against homosexuality from lack-of-reproduction-capability strikes me as the result of casting about for a difference between opposite-sex and same-sex couples and, when finding it, seizing upon it as the reason same-sex couples are lesser, even when it turns out that many opposite-sex couples are on the same side of the difference as same-sex ones.

  2. Mark says:

    Author (singular), Fr John Hopko.

    You’re guilty of what you accuse, casting about the statement, seizing upon it for your objection.

    I think you miss Fr Hopko’s point. I will elaborate tonight, when I have the text.

  3. […] essay is a continuation of the discussion of the book advertised below (and continuing this post). In that post, in reading the sentence, “This is so because same sex intercourse … [ed: a […]

  4. jpe says:

    Sorry in advacne; this is a long one (this is your fault, Mark, for regularly having such neat topics and smart analyses. Clearly, you have no one to blame but yourself for my long-windedness)

    [He] wonders if opposite-sex (married) couples for which one is infertile can be what God intended.

    (quote from a later post on same topic)

    JA’s point, and the classic objection to arguments from procreative ability, is that the argument applies equally to all non-procreative sex, and a decision to shift the boundary elsewhere (to the identities of the practitioners as gay or straight, for example) is essentially arbitrary.

    The counter one typically sees is that non-procreative straight sex is a holism: while any given act (let’s say kissing) isn’t in and of itself procreative, it is part and parcel of a larger relationship which is procreative. In turn, the rejoinder is to point to people with their tubes tied (which seems to me to win the day, and that’s why Catholics weren’t allowed to do that – their sexuality had to revolve around getting knocked up or it defied natural law).

    All of that said, the natural law arguments strike me as strange (or queer, if you will). Ok, so I don’t have sex in line with the way poles and holes were designed. So what? I’m resting a cigarette on the lip of a coffee cup right now; should the designer of the coffee cup freak out if he knows I am adapting his creation to my own ends? Is the relationship between me and the coffee cup somehow destructive because I’ve altered our user-tool relationship?

    The above objections are the pretty stock responses to the NL argument against gays. In sum, I have a hard time seeing how the NL argument doesn’t reduce to God as our enraged coffee cup maker above: use the tools as he ordains, or he’ll get really, really mad.

    Fun topic, I gotta say.

  5. Mark says:

    Two comments on that, I don’t think he’s (Hopko) is making the natural law argument. First, I think JA’s objection to sex/marriage of elderly or knowingly infertile couples is that they very well as well aren’t engaging in sexual activity int he way God intended. Second and not unrelated, is that I think you have to realize he’s not just noting that same sex intercourse is not Godly, but that most married and all unmarried opposite sex intercourse is also not Godly.

    Also, the comment by Clark on my follow-up post is good and on the topic (He lent me the book).

  6. jpe says:

    What Hopkins is kickin’ is old-school natural law. His argument is virtually identical to Robert George or any of those other lions of NL.

    [Y]ou have to realize he’s…noting that…most married and all unmarried opposite sex intercourse is also not Godly.

    That’s interesting – most NL theorists I’ve seen risk obvious inconsistency in order to save deviant practice within marriage (in the language of epistemology, they trade coherence for correspondence [with the intuition that married couples can engage in non-procreative sex])

    With an argument that intense, he’s just gotta be a late-life convert to Catholicism.

  7. Mark says:

    Protopresbyter Hopko is cradle Orthodox, which is why the natural law connection is unlikely, follow the link above for more details on him.

    From Clark’s comment noted above:

    I see no reason to restrict “life-creating” to bio. I rather think the presumption should be that Fr. Thomas includes or is primarily concerned with zoe, and that restricting it to bio requires substantiation from the text.

    For a single-sentence defense of the presumption I note that in the liturgy we always use “life-creating” to refer to the holy mysteries or to one of the Trinity, usually the Holy Spirit, and never so far as I know do we use it in the sense of bio alone. Mark, feel free to correct me.

    Maybe bio isn’t the right rendering of the Greek for mere organic life. Zoe is the right rendering of the Greek for spiritual life. Outside Orthodoxy the two terms were used to differentiate between “biology” (life in general) and “zoology” (animals, i.e., things with anima, i.e., souls). Please pardon my poor Greek and Latin.

    That is, it is not the non-procreative nature of married some married intercourse that makes it unGodly. Even between married couples it is that sexual intercourse is contaminated with selfishness, lewdness, forgetfulness of the other, sheer carnal pleasure, etc.

    In another footnote, Fr Hopko notes that at an ecumenical conference (meeting with Buddhists and others), he was asked if according to Orthodoxy one might attain purity, peace, mindfulness, and enlightenment during sex. His reply was that Orthodoxy teaches at least twice in history was sex been so marked. The conception of John the Baptist by Zachariah and Elizabeth as well as the conception of Mary by Joachim and Anna are liturgical feasts celebrating those occasions of sexual intercourse. Orthodoxy, he notes, unlike Roman catholicism (with its NL leanings) has no need to invoke special works of God to purify these events to make them “immaculate”.

  8. […] a first response (see this post and this follow-up) the book reviewed there should be of interest as it is very good in my […]