“Orthodox” Moral Reasoning

There is an interesting conversation developing in response to one of my earlier posts, “Throne and Altar making A Comeback in Russian? (And not just there?).” You can read the comments either at the bottom of the post, or by clicking here (a new window will open in either case).

Thinking about this conversation as well as several others I have had in recent weeks (both online and face to face), there is in me a growing concern that most Orthodox Christians—both clergy and laity—don’t seem to have a well formed conscience. Let me be clear, I am not suggesting rampant immorality here among the laity much less the clergy. What I am suggesting is that, in the main, Orthodox Christians tend to make moral and ethical decisions based not on who we are and are called to be in Christ. Rather, and this is something that is only a guess on my part and needs further study, as with most American, most Orthodox Christians implicitly subscribed to a type Consequentialism rather than an ethic based in Christian virtue. Moral reasoning then tends as well to be frankly utilitarian.

Saying this all I am saying is that, like most Catholics and Protestants, Orthodox not only hold moral positions contrary to the Gospel, they do so without a trace of concern and even justify their views by an appeal to the Gospel. This requires some explanation. Let me look, in this post at the first part and in my next post the later point.

The Pew Charitable Trust U.S. Religious Landscape Survey is helpful in demonstrating the widespread adherence among Orthodox Christians to a moral code drawn not from the Gospel but the values of the larger American society.

For example when asked by survey takers: “On another subject, do you think abortion should be (READ CATEGORIES IN ORDER TO HALF SAMPLE, IN REVERSE ORDER TO OTHER HALF OF SAMPLE) legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases, or illegal in all cases?” the majority of American think that abortion should be legal in all or at least most cases.

Where the findings are troublesome is that Orthodox Christians are even significantly more pro-choice than the general American population. Indeed, we are more inclined to support legalized abortion than either Evangelical Christians (33%) or Catholics (48%).

But this doesn’t tell the whole story. Not only are we more inclined to be Pro-Choice than the general American population, Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics, we are also less supportive of the Pro-Life position.

While 43% of the general American population would see abortion illegal in all (27%), or at least most cases (16%), only 30% of Orthodox Christians are Pro-Life. And even here the more moderate Pro-Life position (illegal in most cases) is held by twice as many of us as the more stringent position (20% say abortion should be illegal in most cases compared to only 10% who say it should be illegal in all cases).

And again, this make us more “liberal” than not only the general American population but also Evangelical Christians (51% of whom are Pro-life, 36% saying abortion should be illegal in most cases, 25% saying it should be illegal in all cases) and Catholics (45% of whom are Pro-life, 27% saying abortion should be illegal in most cases, 18% saying it should be illegal in all cases). On abortion, Orthodox Christians hold a position more similar to mainline Protestants than our own tradition.

Tradition

% US Pop

% Evangelical

% Mainline

% Catholics

% Orthodox

Legal in all cases

18%

9%

20%

16%

24%

Legal in most cases

33%

24%

42%

32%

38%

Pro-Choice:

51%

33%

62%

48%

62%

Illegal in most cases

27%

36%

25%

27%

20%

Illegal in all cases

16%

25%

7%

18%

10%

Pro-Life:

43%

51%

32%

45%

30%

Don’t Know/refused

6%

9%

7%

7%

8%

We see a similar finding on homosexuality.

When asked: “Now I’m going to read you a few pairs of statements. For each pair, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views — even if neither is exactly right. 1 – Homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society, OR 2 – Homosexuality is a way of life that should be discouraged by society,” most Orthodox Christians answered in a manner not compatible with our own moral tradition.

Tradition

US Pop

Evangelical Christians

Mainline Protestants

Catholics

Orthodox

Should be accepted

65%

26%

56%

58%

48%

Should be discouraged

40%

64%

34%

30%

37%

Neither/Both equally

5%

5%

6%

5%

7%

Don’t Know/refused

5%

5%

5%

7v

8%

While there is not majority support for homosexuality among the surveyed Orthodox Christians, a significant number are supportive of homosexuality (48%) rather than not (37%). Somewhat more of a concern to me is that another 15% seemed either indifferent or ignorant of the Church’s teaching (7% answered “Neither/Both equally, 8% said that they “don’t know” or simply refused to answer the question).

While we need to careful about reading too much into these findings, when taken with other survey data about what many Orthodox Christians believe relative to the Creed, a picture begins to come into focus.

For now though, let me simply say that the Pew Trust survey suggest to me that something needs to change in Orthodox pastoral praxis. In my next post, I will suggest a possible solution.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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