On 5 July 2018, Misha Cherniak, Programme Officer and coordinator of the Orthodoxy Working Group, and Wielie Elhorst, Co-President and coordinator of the Political Advocacy Working Group, were present at a unique event, a one-day conference on homosexuality and contemporary Christianity, organized by the SOGI Unit of the Council of Europe. Effectively, mostly Orthodox academics and church representatives took the floor to share their vision on homosexuality and Orthodox anthropology and ecclesiology (programme).
The European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups was granted the participatory status at the Council of Europe and became a member of its International NGOs Conference in July 2016. Since 2014, a relationship with the SOGI Unit has been built up to make clear what the role of churches and religion in the struggle for LGBT+ right as human rights is and can be. The Unit is well aware of that and invited the European Forum to assist in putting together a programme for a dialogue on homosexuality and Christianity. The European Forum was also allowed to participate in the event itself. Misha Cherniak delivered a personal testimony about his life as a gay man and faithful Orthodox believer. The testimony was well received. Wielie Elhorst was invited to share recommendations of the European Forum regarding the public and internal responsibility of churches in promoting tolerance and non-discrimination.
Wielie shared his recommendations together with Rev. Dr. Vasileos Thermos of the Higher Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens. Thermos made clear that it is not possible to find easy answers. His recommendations were quite clear, though, and coincided partially with the recommendations of the European Forum. He called for a broad dialogue with the scientific community, not only to look at the topic of Christianity and homosexuality from a theological point of view. He shared his perception of natural-law theology (the theology of the Roman Catholic Church that supports the moral teachings of this church) as problematic. As he stated, it can no longer be seen in line with modern anthropology. He called on Orthodox theologians and church leaders to stop repeating slogans and to seriously enter the aforementioned dialogue. The Orthodox should give up their defensive attitude in questions of morality. This should coincide with a dialogue with mental health professionals and their vision on homosexuality from the perspective of the practice with their clients. The churches should distinctively address the problem of androcentrism (i.e., the practice, conscious or otherwise, of placing a masculine point of view at the center of one’s world view, culture, and history, thereby culturally marginalizing femininity) in society. Talking about homosexuality is also talking about gender roles. He generally called for a critical reflection on when LGBT-phobia should be called a “phobia” or discrimination. Can church leaders and theologians say anything if they have to fear constant accusation?
The European Forum is very grateful to the Council of Europe for facilitating this one-day conference. It created a free and safe space for debate that is highly necessary and most certainly has to be repeated. To the European Forum it is very clear that conferences like these can be places for critical debate as well as opportunities to invite theologians and churches to be allies in a better understanding of human rights and the protection of LGBT+ persons against discrimination and exclusion. The European Forum shares the hope manifesting in these first steps taken by Orthodox theologians and church representatives.