“The Holy Church of God is an image of God because it realizes the same union of the faithful with God. As different as they [we] are by language, place, and custom, they [we] are made one by it [in the Church] through faith. God realizes this union among the natures of things without confusing them but in bringing together their distinction… in a relationship and union with Himself as cause, principle, and end.”
St. Maximus the Confessor
On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the New Mexico State Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to deny a marriage license to same-sex couples, thereby making New Mexico the latest of 17 states to legalize gay marriage. I will leave the ethicists and moralists to argue the finer points of this growing, moral concern. What I hope to meditate on here is the concept of diversity – true diversity – and give a Faith framework to this and other similar debates.
I am amazed again and again by the narrowness of modern thought coming from our institutions of government, law and higher education, often defining and distributing “one-size fits all” standards of rights and responsibilities to the public, while at the same time waving the banner of “diversity.”
How are we as Christians to understand the proclamations of the “enlightened” who at this time in world history have, for example, been given virtual free-reign to re-define marriage, the most fundamental human relationship outside of man’s relationship with God? How are we as Orthodox Christians to understand our Church’s teaching concerning this morality when there are tremendous influences, even from those who call themselves Christian, sanctioning the belief that homosexual “marriage” is somehow the same as heterosexual marriage? How will we as Orthodox Christians be able to find the courage to face the accusations of hate and discrimination when we simply and lovingly defend what we’ve always known to be true?
These kinds questions may reflect only the tip of the iceberg of issues that will arise both in the immediate and long-term futures. I am not confident that Orthodoxy (Right-Belief) will any more be able to influence public debate (if it even has up to this point). First of all, Orthodox Christian believers are small in number. Second of all, there is a growing number of this already small number who are abandoning their Orthodoxy to the persuasive pressures of modern thought. Finally, and maybe most importantly, is what appears to be a dulling and erosion – for whatever reason – of prayer in the Church: both public and private. It is here that I will turn the corner of thought to the topic of diversity and how we as Orthodox Christians can ever have hope for true discernment… and TRUE diversity.
If I could sum up St. Maximus the Confessor’s thoughts from above I would simply say this: “Union without confusion, distinction without division.” I am sure we all agree that gay marriage and other such issues are delicate matters involving the lives of real human beings. Thus their importance demands that we as Orthodox Christians address them only under the guidance of the active rudders of our Faith: prayer, fasting and the practice of virtue – especially humility and obedience. How are we to understand a word such as “diversity” when our main influences come from the 24 hour news cycle, entertainment media, and bumper sticker slogans? Interestingly enough, slogans such as “Celebrate Diversity” and “Coexist” do not advance diversity but rather tyrannize it. This type of “diversity” is outside our knowledge and experience of God. Yes, God wants people of mercy, justice, equality, but He also wants people of Truth and conviction. Amalgamating society by espousing as equal any moral or theological ideology – the hallmarks of relativism and the image of the world – is exactly the opposite of the image of God and His Church!
The problem comes for us is when we have to address the issue of sin as an exclusionary principle of the Church. The focus of God’s Church is His altar and the Eucharist (Holy Communion) which comes from it. It is not anyone’s place but the Bishop’s to determine who and who is not blessed to receive the Eucharist from God’s Holy Altar; and the Bishop’s authority is determined by the teachings of the Church. [This is why we pray so often for our bishops, especially in the Divine Liturgy, “to rightly divide the word of truth.”] We can have no part in advocating for diversity if it means advocating for sin (and any bishop or priest who does so will lose his position pretty quick!). Diversity can only have meaning when it leads to union with God – and union with His Church!
I say with full confidence and conviction that God loves diversity, true diversity, which celebrates distinction – first between His nature and ours, and secondly among men in gender, age, race, interest, talent, education, “language, place, and custom.” I also say with full confidence and conviction that God will not bless any diversity which sanctions sin or any evil. The beauty of God’s Church is revealed in the strength of the union between God and man, between heaven and earth – without confusion – as THE place to find freedom from sin and entrance into Life—the life of the Holy Trinity. The Church is union with God: “as cause, principle and end.” The Church is where men find the place to offer their lives – not affirm their inclinations. The Church is the place where we learn to pray, to fast, and what it means to love, truly love, not as a means of self-validation in making God after our own image, but rather as a means of divine forgiveness and reconciliation where through metonia (repentance) men turn towards God with the hope of making their lives after His image. The Church is the place where we learn discernment, unconfused discernment, for the clear preservation of the Truth, and the Way which leads to eternity with God.