Saturday, August 27, 2005

Did You Forget about St. George?

The Bourgeois Wife pointed me here, where I found a statement from my church's annual convention denouncing

support for same-sex marriage, support for abortion, support for ordination of women to Holy Orders . . . , and the labeling of other faiths and their leaders with hateful terminology.

All fine and good. However, the part I elided was not so good:

support for the concept of war which is "pre-emptive" or "justifiable."

In the document, support for any of these things is unequivocally called an "extremist position," and any Christian group that supports them is un-Orthodox and promotes positions "contrary to the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Faith." (The RCC is extremist!?)

Why this clause is even included among the others is puzzling. To see why, consider the support from the Bible and tradition for (1) same-sex marriage, (2) abortion, (3) ordination of women, (4) pre-emptive and/or justifiable war, (5) calling others hateful names. I suggest that there is no evidence for (1), (2), and (5), and exeedingly scanty support for (3). (Though it seems that the ancient church had a role for the deaconess; so one would like some clarification on "Holy Orders." Note: in the Orthodox church, the position of deaconess is a good way down on the ladder. It is not the same as a deacon in a Baptist church where the deacon is responsible for a good deal of what goes on in the church and where the deacon board is often the final authority in the church, perhaps only beneath the self-rule of the people.)

The evidence of support for number (4) on the other hand is at worst ambiguous and at best supportive. As a case in point, St. Vladimir's Theological Journal (the premier journal of Orthodox theology in America) recently had an issue in which Orthodox theologians debated the concept of just war.

I can't imagine any Orthodox theologian even debating whether or not abortion or same-sex marriage is legitimate. Debate is beyond the pale. On the topic of just war, however, debate is not beyond the pale, and the convention should have noted this distinction instead of lumping just war in with abortion. Defense of just war, in any case, is certainly not an extremist position within the Orthodox church. My fellow Orthodox might disagree with it, but it is not extremist.

(To go on a bit more, how can it even be debated that pre-emptive war is not a defensible concept? Perhaps the pre-emptive war in Iraq was not justified, but that does not entail that the concept of pre-emptive war is indefensible. Pre-emptive strikes are first in temporal sequence, but defensive in nature.)

For a good rundown of the evidence that there is a concept of just war in the Orthodox church, see Alexander Webster's The Virtue of War.

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