This is an updating of an article originally published as a chapter in ‘Orthodox Christian Parenting, (2020 2nd ed), Dunlap, CA: Zoe Press
An Orthodox Theology of Sexuality
For Orthodox Christians, no discussion of sex whether it is autoerotic, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or the current polyamorous sex, can be divorced from an Orthodox theology of sexuality. All sexuality and sexual behavior is based on divine love; a love that is beyond any human feeling, empathy, or ethical standard, and even approaches the essence of God Himself. St John tells us “… for love is of God … God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
This love is also given to mankind to experience and apply in relationships with his humans. It is evident through the coming of God’s Son Jesus Christ, and actualized in the life of those committed to Christ through the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, because the love has its source and origin in God who is love, it can only be appropriated and applied in accordance with God’s will, which is to say in accordance with the commandments of God.
God’s love reflected in Genesis reveals that with the creation of Adam and Eve, man was made with two modes of being: male and female. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). (Male and female were created for communion with each other, thereby reflecting the intercommunion within the Persons of the Holy Trinity.) “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). God also commended them to participate in creation by procreation of children. “And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Gn 1: 28)
Contemporary Societal Mores
Sex researchers have delineated the following types of categories:
- Sex: What a person is biologically.
- Sexual Orientation: The sex of the individual the person is sexually attracted to whether same sex or opposite sex attraction. Categories;
- Heterosexual: attraction to persons of the opposite sex;
- Homosexual or gay/lesbian (the preferred terms): attraction to persons of the same sex;
- Bisexual: attraction to both men and women; or
- Asexual: not sexually attracted to either men or women.
- Pansexual: emotional, romantic or sexual attraction towards individuals regardless of their biological sex or gender identity.
- Polysexual: the sexual attraction to multiple, but not all, sex and/or genders.
- Polyamory: sexual-emotional relationships with multiple partners with the knowledge and consent of all involved.
- Sexual Desire or Strength: The degree of attraction, from weak to strong.
- Sex Partner Differences in Arousal
- Males: Multiple partners.
- Females: A single bonded individual.
- Gender Identity: The sexual characteristics a person perceives himself as having that are socially defined, irrespective of their biological sex.
- Transgender: Persons who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their sex. (e.g. cross dress: male in female dress; female in male dress)
- Transsexual: Persons who have a gender identity that is inconsistent with, or not culturally associated with, their sex. They want to permanently transition to the sex with which they identify. They seek medical assistance (including hormone replacement therapy and other sex reassignment therapies) to help them align their body with their self-perceived sex.
- Queer: a generic term for LBGTQ individuals adopted by some who consider the term radical and trendy but rejected by others who associate the term with its pejorative usage.
Medical and Psychological associations, who determine the categories of mental illness cite recent research that shows no relationship between any of the sexual categories just listed and psychological disorders and are not considered medical-psychological disorders themselves. I will use the term alternative sex (alt sex) for all categories except for a blessed heterosexual marriage.
Secular “Normal” v. Godly “Normal” = Confusion
The modern secular world (after the Fall) defines “normal” differently than the normal of what God has created us for (paradise). In the secular world it is what we see around us, what we see people actually doing, thus a standard, model or pattern regarded as typical for what we can do. [e.g.: drugs, gay marriage, ‘hooking up’] However, as we learn from Sacred Scripture, it is what mankind has done, is doing or can do ‘after the fall.” [e.g. our first parents recognizing their nakedness, Cain murdering Abel…. the countless, murders, robberies, fornications, adulteries etc. that have happened afterward] is what we see in person, movies, television programs news, etc.
God’s definition of normal is for us to be “like” Him. We are called not to the standard of broken mankind, (what we see around us, what we see people doing) but mankind as God originally intended it, before the fall of our first patents, for paradise.
The Church Fathers, not knowing the terminology of modern medicine and psychology, used the term “passions” to describe our bodily dispositions, and include both the object of the attraction (orientation) as well as the strength of the attraction itself in their definition. The varieties of gender identities, could also be added. Is it not possible also, to consider that the biology we possess is the material substrate of these passions? This is to say that the passions are inclinations of the mind (cognitive content) and body (feelings); and as such influence the nous (spiritual mind). We are, after all, created as composite creatures of mind and body and in leaving our natural state of interior harmony after the fall, both our minds and bodies are affected inclined toward disorder.
Christ told all of the original vocation of mankind before the fall and to be lived now. “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5: 48) Christ told his Apostles: “but when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth.” (Mt 16: 14). The consistent teaching of the Church, which reflects the Mind of Christ, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is that the only Godly sexual activity is that which occurs between a man and woman in a blessed marriage. Sexual orientation is not in of by itself ‘missing the mark’ or sinful matter, unless acted upon. Evaluating sinfulness also must always take into account the degree of reflection on and willfulness in the act.
Practical Suggestions for Parents on Contemporary Sexual Issues
One time to talk to children about alt-sex is when it is encountered. This may be after or during viewing a news report, television show, movie. It could also be after seeing alt sex couples or groups displaying mutual affection in public. This may be common in certain communities, recreation spots or LGBTQ rights rallies or parades. Children may also bring sex education material (with varying degrees of explicitness) home from their school. Note such material will be presented as normal defining normal in its secular not Godly sense as noted above.
First, always ask what the child thinks about the alt sex event. DO NOT even hint of your own emotional reaction, or viewpoint.
The Socratic Method
The child discovers it as a result of answering a series of questions posed by the parent. When a child discovers something for himself, or makes appropriate connections between things, is far more meaningful than referencing authority. When a parent asks questions like “What do you think?” or, “How is this related to what we learned in…(scripture, reading the Church Fathers, a homily or church school etc.),” chances are much greater that the child will grasp and retain important points. Be ready to pose questions based on the theological principles given above. Don’t preach. Keep it simple. Use clear, focused, examples at the level your child can understand.
A Child’s Values are Influenced by the Culture and Emotions
A child looking at a gay couple may say: “The two men kissing look happy.” Another frequent comment made by children (and adults) “Everyone should be able to do what they want and be able to get married to whom they want to; everyone deserves to be happy.” Don’t denigrate the child’s perspective. The child will feel “put down,” and deflect his attention and shut down discussion.
Instead, in a pleasant voice first validate the child’s response. For example, the parent may say “Yes! They do look happy.” And then in a warm tone of voice say something like: “‘Now let me ask you something: Is everything that looks good really good for you?’ or ‘Is everything that feels good really good for you?'” The parent may have to prompt the child to come up with something that may ‘look good or feel like fun’ but is ‘bad.’ (e.g. spoiled food, holding an exploding firecracker). Using the Socratic Method pose another question: “Is it possible that just because the gay couple feels good about getting married or they look happy, that it is really not good for them?” Based on what the child answers, be ready to use the theological material above.
A typical conversation may go this way: “Remember, we all agreed how we have to understand why God put us on earth, what our purpose in life is and how we should do God’s will. Let’s see what God says about marriage.”
They take turns reading the relevant passages from Genesis and other parts of scripture. They could quote the Church Fathers. At each point they always asking the child to make the connections.
A few examples that the child is getting it would be: “You’re right, we’re made in God’s image and have to be like Him.” “Making kids is God’s work.” “God uses us to help Him.” “Yeah! I know what having sex is all about, two girls or two guys can’t ‘do it’ the same way as a girl and a guy can.” “Wow! Two fleshes become one flesh, and the child is your flesh too, I never thought of it that way.” “So marriage has to be holy too!”
Parents can also help their children understand that just as God loves all of us, we too have to love all. It does mean, however, that we must see those who engage in alt-sex as a children of God and worthy of the respect given to them by God (just as Jesus treated the tax-collectors, prostitutes, and others with respect). However, we can see that the alt-sex behaviors go against His teaching.
Role-playing Christ-Centered Charitable Responses
Parents can help children role play different possible encounters. Here are a few possible response scripts for various situations (Tom and Jane are generic names for the script):
- Tom may be gay, but he is also a child of God.
- Jane is free to act the way she wants; she can choose to live the way God asks us to act according to His Will or ‘do her own thing.’ I will pray for her.
- Jesus has told us that only a man and woman can marry and be blessed by the church. Tom and his male friend cannot have a blessed marriage in Christ.
- If a male-female couple decided to just live together or get a “justice of the peace marriage,” it would not be blessed either.
- All of us, male and female are asked by God to love and obey Him, but it is our choice.
- I cannot judge Tom, only God judges, but I can pray that we all do God’s will.
- Jesus told us Jane cannot be married to her girlfriend, but God also gave us free will. I will pray for them. God told me to only look at myself—I sure know the sins I have done.
- Listen, I have chosen to live my life the way Jesus has told us. I may mess up, but I keep trying.
- Just because Tom and his friend, and Jane and her friend were “married in court” doesn’t mean it is blessed by God. God only blesses a man and a woman who marry in church.
Please note that the script models the essentials of a Christ-like response: kindness toward all; non-judgment of persons (judgment belongs to God only); and affirmation of the truth that only a blessed marriage between male and female is acceptable to God, and humility in that we are to judge ourselves, not our brother or sister. The ultimate identity of all, is that we are made in God’s image and called to be like Him.
Morelli, G. (2005, July 19) Sex is Holy: Psycho-Spiritual Reflections in a Secular World. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/MorelliSexIsHoly.php.
Morelli, G. (2006a, April, 03 ). “Sexual Addiction”: An Orthodox and Scientific View. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliHypersexuality.php.
Morelli, G. (2006c November 20). Understanding Homosexuality: An Orthodox Christian Perspective. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliHomosexuality2.php.
Morelli, G. (2007, August 28). Smart Parenting VI: Talking to Your Children About Sex. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliSmartParentingVI.php.
Morelli, G. (2008, July 06). Smart 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. (2008, September 19). Smart Parenting XIV. Talking To Children About Same-Sex “Marriage” http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/smart-parenting-xiv-talking-to-children-about-same-sex-marriage