Scripture, the LGBT Community, and Same-Sex Marriage - Conversation With a Ukrainian Catholic Priest
In this interview originally published by Section magazine, Fr. Nazar Zatorsky, a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priest, discusses sexual orientation as it’s understood scripturally, as well as how the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) treats Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people. In doing so, he hopes people with different views will find a common language. The interview was conducted by Hanna Belovolchenko in 2018 and was translated with her permission for the St. Mary of Egypt Social Justice Fellowship.
What does the bible say about LGBT people?
Even though this question is anachronous, many people today obsess over this. The fact is that there was no language to describe sexual orientation during biblical times. This question is like asking what the bible teaches about solar eclipses. Of course these concepts both existed and were familiar to the bible’s authors, but their causes weren’t understood, and were interpreted in accordance with the ideas of the time. Yes, we have the example of the Apostle Paul (Romans 1: 23-27), who claimed same-sex attraction is a result of pagan inclination. This attempt at explaining homosexuality reminds me of how modern-day Muslim Imams describe it: a phenomenon characteristic of non-believers and consumers of pork. But both of these examples pose the question, why are there people with same-sex attraction who are Jews, Christians, and Muslims?
It’s obvious that St. Paul’s descriptions are contemporary to his time—a historical understanding of nature and even a broader worldview. People today would never, for example, seriously accept that the sun, moon, and stars, are literally fixed in their place in the sky as though they were lanterns hanging from a ceiling. The oft-repeated claims about LGBT people are no-less outdated.
What about the story of Sodom?
It absolutely does not have anything to do with homosexuality. One of the lessons comes from Abraham’s sacred law on hospitality, which many adhered to in the Middle East. This second lesson was violated by the people of Sodom who raped strangers (God’s messengers) at their gates instead of welcoming them into the city. In scripture, homosexual rape does not belie homosexual attraction, and serves the same purpose—humiliation—as does heterosexual rape (also common in the bible), which is also not contingent on heterosexual attraction.
So it’s not so cut-and-dry that gay people, lesbians, transgender people are inherently sinners?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly delineates people from their actions. The reason for this is that homosexuality is not fully understood, and therefore people who have those inclinations cannot be blamed for them. Instead, we do advise people to abstain from sexual acts, since those are actions of free choice that a person can be responsible for.
But what does the UGCC say about LGBT people?
The Catechism of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church condemns any sexual activity outside of marriage: “any selfish exploitation of another person as a means for obtaining sexual pleasure contradicts God's gift of love, deforms the essence of sexuality, and deeply wounds the person. It opposes the sixth and ninth commandments. Therefore, sexual activity outside the Mystery of Matrimony, marital infidelity, the destruction of marital fruitfulness through abortion or contraception, polygamy and polyandry, homosexual acts, and autoeroticism—all of these demean human dignity and are grave sins.” (Christ, Our Pascha, § 863)
The issue here is that there are two sides that have unequal circumstances: heterosexual people have the privilege of exploring and living out their sexuality within marriage, an option that homosexually-oriented people don’t have, and therefore their only choice is abstinence from sex. This sets off a whole series of questions that we don’t yet have the answers to. For example, does this prevent any sort of affection between people of the same sex? Because LGBT people will say that the issue isn’t ultimately about sexual intercourse, it’s about the entire array of feelings people hold. If yes, can love be fully expressed outside of a gendered sexual context? After all, this is one of the signs of complete love in the context of marriage. This is why many Catholic theologians, and even some bishops, have proposed placing LGBT people on the same plane as heterosexual couples, thus allowing for some form of blessing for same-sex life. Of course, if that case, it would mean that gay Christians would be held to the same standards as their heterosexual kin: no sex until marriage or outside of marriage.
So what would you recommend to people who identify as gay or transgender, but also believe in God and would like to remain true to His commandments?
I would recommend that they continue to believe in God and to continue to remain true to His commandments. God does not reject anybody—we are all His children and He loves us all. The nonsense we hear from some protestant groups (for example writing “God Hates Fags” on placards) is simply heresy that is often thoughtlessly adopted by Catholics and Orthodox riding a wave of homophobic hysteria. God does not hate anybody. If God began to hate anybody, then our entire universe would cease to exist in an instance. God loves us all and wants to see everybody saved—this is the Truth that Jesus taught, for which He died, and resurrected.
If someone considers themselves to be Christian, then they should make every attempt to love, not hate. Hatred is the poisonous stalk which the devil sows. The problem is that sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a poisonous seed and a wheat stalk. This is how hatred often masquerades as piety. But the harvest of these different stalks yields different results: love yields salvation, while hatred yields death.
During your work within the UGCC, have you ever met LGBT people?
Of course I have. One’s orientation does not depend on their Church. Nobody knows which orientation a child will take on at the time they are baptized.
How do you discuss LGBT issues with the faithful? How do you avoid getting into fights, rooting your arguments in the context of religion?
Personally I feel that any conversation, whether it be with a faithful or a non-faithful person, should start from the same place: with love and respect. This is precisely what Jesus taught: love your neighbor, notwithstanding whether they share your views or don’t. Now, in order to have the proper arguments, one must also be acquainted with the texts your interlocutors read, and be aware of their discourse. First and foremost, this means reading Holy Scripture, which many faithful people root their homophobia in, despite being unaware of the full text and context of the Bible. However, even a reasonable and charitable position does not always invite the same attitude in return. Unfortunately, Ukraine generally has a toxic discourse culture.
Do people in Switzerland, where you live, harbor different attitudes to LGBT people?
Christians of many denominations interact with LGBT communities without reservation or animus—not only in Switzerland, but in many democratic countries and societies. I’m not only talking about particular Catholic or ecumenical groups that specifically cater to LGBT communities, but the attitudes of Christians in these countries generally. For example, most Swiss self-identify as Christian (the country is about evenly split between Catholics and Protestants), yet they passed a national referendum legalizing same-sex partnership (58% voted “for”). The same goes for Catholic-majority countries like Ireland, where 62% of the population not only declared their support for same-sex partnerships, but for marriage too. Same with a referendum in Christian Australia (in which there was a 79.5% turnout), where the majority (61.6%) voted for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
And it’s not just that people in countries with longstanding democratic traditions are better equipped to accept people who are different than they are. Despite the Ukrainian myth that Christians in Western countries don’t take the Bible seriously (owing in large part to Russian propaganda), there is widespread interest in the Bible, and people really do take it seriously. Their beliefs do generally come from an understanding of scripture, not from ignorance.