On the heels of World Vision USA reversing its decision to employ Christians in legally recognized same sex marriages, bloggers Tony Jones and Rachel Held Evans make the bold claim that the Evangelical churches in America have alienated an entire generation of young people from Christianity. Why? Because supposedly all young people are not going to hear the Gospel unless it lines up with their belief that homosexual relationships are not different ethically from monogamous heterosexual marriage. By their account, Christians who stick to traditional sexual ethics are leaving young people no other choice but to become “nones,” the rising demographic of people who identify with no particular religion.
Though I myself was a “none” for most of my life and I have found safe haven in the Orthodox Church — a church that affirms that marriage can only be between one man and one woman for life — my existence does not speak necessarily of a larger trend. However, there seems to be some indication of a trend towards High Church traditions whether they are Anglican, Catholic, or Orthodox. Instead of millennials leaving the church because the Church isn’t keeping up fast enough, a significant number of young people are leaving superficial and shallow worship and wishy-washy teaching for spiritual nourishment that has fed Christians for centuries in the forms of the liturgy and the sacraments. In their view, many American churches, even those relatively conservative in theology, are moving too fast and capitulating too easily to the culture in the ways in which they worship.
The crisis of worship and the crisis on moral teaching in churches today are not separate issues. I do not think it is an accident that the churches that have preserved forms of worship that can be traced back over 2000 years are also the ones that have kept the same teachings on sexual ethics. I will only speak for myself, but what drew me to the Orthodox Church was its sense of having preserved something that can be traced all the way back to the Apostles. If I’m willing to accept the beauty of the Liturgy and trust in the wisdom of the Church and her keepers of the faith (bishops, priests, deacons, other orders of clergy), is it really my place to think they erred on sexual ethics? If I believe the canon of Scripture is correct, is it really reasonable to believe that the opinions of all those men were merely subject to their time and place? Wouldn’t that open the Bible up to the same judgment?
In addition to Tradition, another significant feature of high church worship is the importance of our bodies. In the Orthodox church our bodies are constantly involved. When we aren’t eating the Body and Blood of Christ, we are crossing ourselves, smelling incense, kissing icons, and prostrating. The Church in her wisdom realizes that we human beings are embodied and that our spiritual lives are not separate and distinct from our material existence. That I am made of matter, matters!
Implicit in this then is the idea that my biological sex matters. My being male is not inconsequential. Male and femaleness are part of what it means to be human, and to be human is to reflect the image and likeness of God. Our complementary nature is a reflection of the interpersonal personal relations of the Triune God. To say that our biological sex does not determine our “gender” then is to deny the significance of our bodies. Being biologically male, in the eyes of the proponents of the normativity of homosexuality, is of no consequence to who I “really” am. I find this to be an unacceptable divorce of spiritual and material faculties in man. Of course, in the fallen world, we find people with our material and spiritual qualities all mixed up and in contradiction. But that does not mean that is the way it ought to be.
Those are my reasons World Vision and the ongoing battle in many American denominations over same sex marriage are not going to affect my decision to stay put. The traditional worship in the Orthodox Church, reflective of God’s unchanging will for us and of embodied nature, is the reason I came to her in the first place and it will be the reason I stay.