Stances of Faiths on LGBTQ Issues: Oriental Orthodox Church

Background

Oriental Orthodoxy represents a communion of six churches hierarchically autonomous from each other; the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Indian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox churches. They are partly defined by a “non-Chalcedonian” theology, in contrast to Eastern Orthodoxy. Oriental Orthodox Churches trace their founding to the apostles and the apostles' earliest disciples, and to the teachings of St. Cyril the Great and his core theology of “One nature of the Word Incarnate.” While the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Church are not in in communion with another, they have made steps, both formal and informal, towards resolving a division that dates to 451 CE.

The tradition is known, in particular, for its monasticism, oriental spirituality, rich liturgy and mystical theology. The different churches of the Oriental Orthodox tradition, which number 60 million individual members worldwide, worked in isolation from each other until 1965, when they met for the first time. In the United States, Oriental Orthodox Churches collaborate through the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in America.

LGBTQ Equality

On Inclusion

While the different churches of Oriental Orthodoxy function as separate entities, there appears to be consensus on LGBTQ issues. The Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate’s report on the Church’s View on Homosexuality explains that the church, “takes a very firm stand against homosexuality.” It states that, “Homosexuality is a sin according to the Holy Bible, tradition, and our Church creed,” and further notes that homosexuality is “against” God, Christianity, humanity and society. In conclusion, the document states that, “A homosexual is deceiving himself if he thinks he can practice that lifestyle and still go to heaven.”

Similarly the Saints Joachim and Anne Armenian Apostolic Church in Chicago states, “While as Christians we are called to strive for a close relationship with all people, homosexual relationships are a sinful turn from the direction God has given us towards the fullness of life.”

The Oriental Orthodox Churches do not appear to address transgender issues specifically, but do closely follow scriptural teachings regarding God’s creation of man and woman with the implication that gender is biologically determined.

On Marriage Equality

The Coptic Church’s report on homosexuality, quoted above, states, “When  God created  the human being, He created a male and a female so that a man and a woman would live their lives together in marriage as one flesh.” It further states, “The church's tradition over the centuries has affirmed the heterosexual, monogamous, faithful marital union as normative for the divinely given meaning of the intimate sexual relationship,” and “homosexuality or sexual acts with a person of the same sex is against the meaning of marriage and what it stands for.”

On Ordination

The Oriental Orthodox Church does not ordain openly LGBTQ members, nor does it ordain women.

On Employment

The Oriental Orthodox Church has not taken a formal stance on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) or on non-discrimination in general.

Next Steps

While the Oriental Orthodox Church follows a strict reading of scripture and a subsequent rejection of LGBTQ people, individual congregations may vary greatly on how those policies are carried out. Being fully “out,” or having a marriage celebrated may not be possible, but a more general welcome and a “don’t ask – don’t tell” approach may be in effect. It should be noted, too, that scholarship has unearthed a tradition of marriage-like ceremonies for same-sex couples dating to ancient times (see John Boswell’s Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe).

For more information on finding your place as an LGBTQ congregant, or on finding your voice as a straight ally committed to creating an inclusive church community, download the HRC resource Coming Home: To Faith, To Spirit, to Self.

Resources for LGBTQ Orthodox Christians

  • Axios, an organization of Eastern & Near Eastern Orthodox, and Byzantine & Eastern-rite Catholic LGBTQ lay Christians.

  • Being Gay and Coptic, a blog about being LGBTQ in the Coptic Orthodox Church.

  • Gay & Lesbian Armenian Society, an organization that fosters a safe and supportive network for LGBTQ people of Armenian descent.

Contact Information

Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in America
150 Stratton Road
New Rochelle, NY 10804
Website: www.scooch.org

Last revised: 07/06/2015