As many readers will have observed from the media, loud and violent clashes in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, broke out on Friday between supporters of a local LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transexual) advocacy group, Identoba, and large crowds of anti-homosexuality protestors, including many Orthodox Christians and some clergymen. Twenty-eight people were hospitalised including many police officers caught in the middle of the melee.
As a prelude to this incident, Identoba’s announcement that it was to hold a rally to commemorate the so-called “International Day Against Homophobia” was greeted with concern by the Patriarch of the Georgian Church, His Holiness Ilia II. The requested cancellation, on the basis that such a rally was confrontational and a direct challenge to Georgian culture and religion, was disregarded by the city government.
Following the clashes, the Patriarch called for all parties to leave the streets, return to their homes and pray for each other, deploring the violence.
Some Tbilisi residents were shocked by the clashes, and particularly distressed at seeing Christians and clergymen engaged in physical confrontations with unarmed protesters. However, given that identical clashes on a smaller scale had taken place last year, it is not entirely surprising.
For a western observer, even for some who have lived here for decades, the intensity of the loathing for homosexuality amongst most Georgians is hard to understand. Social research by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers’ Annual “Caucasus Barometer” survey is widely regarded as being amongst the most comprehensive in the region. In 2011, results indicated that 91 % of Tbilisi residents, and 87% of residents in the rest of the country, considered homosexuality to be completely unacceptable under all circumstances. Results are quite similar from ethnic group to ethnic group, with non-Georgian ethnic groups less tolerant of homosexuality than Georgians. Interestingly, there seems to be no significant difference between devout and irreligious people in Georgia in their attitude to this issue. It is possible this negative view of homosexuality pre-dates the entry of the Abrahamic religions into this region.
Yet, the involvement of Orthodox parish groups and clergymen in this riot has laid the blame entirely at the feet of the Church, which is unfortunate and possibly not accurate; to what extent people beating up gay activists are regular communicants at a parish, instead of irreligious opportunists taking advantage of a volatile situation, is as yet unknown as trials have yet to begin.
The position of the Orthodox Church worldwide on homosexuality is well known and a matter of public record. The Church teaches that the appropriate context for a sexual relationship is within a family, made up of a man and woman committed to each other for life through marriage. Sexual activities outside that context are seen as destructive to the individuals involved and damaging to the fabric of society. Certainly many heterosexual Orthodox Christians fall short of this “Gold Standard”, being fallen creatures, but the Church is not a Country Club for perfect people, it is a hospital for sick souls.
Practitioners of homosexual acts are not considered by the Church as a “sexual minority” as secular leftists are wont to label them; they are considered to be individuals exercising their free will to engage in conduct deemed sinful by the Church. As procreation is impossible as an outcome of a homosexual union, it is seen by the Church as being outside the natural order of the human condition and to be discouraged. Christian people attracted to others of the same gender who successfully resist temptation may take their place in normal Church activities, and those who reject their former homosexual lifestyle and engage in penance may be readmitted to the Church as laymen (but, according to Canon Law, not as clergy).
Unlike being born of a certain race or gender, upon which the individual has no control, the individual is viewed by the Church as having free will and hence control over whether they act upon sexual temptations placed in their path, or resist them. As a result the Church sees no parallel between the legitimate past civil rights struggles for women’s suffrage or voting rights for citizens of all ethnicities, and current campaigns to enshrine homosexuality as a legitimate and mainstream lifestyle. For individuals unremittingly engaging in sinful conduct to collectivise and demand group rights with group membership based upon conduct is generally not accepted by Orthodox Christians in Georgia. Analagously, people inclined towards adultery or theft collectivising and demanding state and public recognition of their “needs” to engage in that conduct, and conducting parades to demonstrate their pride in their propensity, would be greeted with ridicule in any Orthodox society. The very robust pushback against Tbilisi’s Gay Pride march has unfortunately taken that response too far, with violence an unacceptable outcome.
Most Georgians are opposed to homosexuality, but the long-standing decriminalisation of homosexuality amongst consenting adults is moderately well accepted; even quite devout Georgian Christians don’t particularly wish for the intrusive arm of the secular state to intrude upon their bedroom or anyone else’s.
While most Georgians are in favour of the country’s entry into the European Union, it is interesting to note that Georgian Europhiles are even more opposed to homosexuality than Euroskeptics. It is also interesting to note no significant difference in attitudes based on the level of education received. So the secular leftist narrative that Georgians opposed to homosexuality are religious zealots, poorly educated, pro-Kremlin and anti-European is not justified by the data.
Many Georgian Christians, including Europhiles, are concerned at how the so-called Human Rights apparatus in Europe is used to bludgeon middle-of-the-road Christians and secular conservatives into silence when they seek to query the “rights” of a tiny minority of people to redefine the building block of society that has served European civilisation well for over two millenia. The natural politeness, tolerance and passivity of most Christians in the West in the face of the Progressive hijacking of the Human Rights agenda has resulted in a state within the state being formed by the secular left to control the speech and actions of the masses through intimidation, lawfare and propaganda. As conservative humourist Mark Steyn reviews :
“Modern “liberalism” is strikingly illiberal; the high priests of “tolerance” are increasingly intolerant of even the mildest dissent; and those who profess to “celebrate diversity” coerce ever more ruthlessly a narrow homogeneity. Thus, the Obama administration’s insistence that Catholic institutions must be compelled to provide free contraception, sterilization and abortifacients. This has less to do with any utilitarian benefit a condomless janitor at a Catholic school might derive from Obamacare, and more to do with the liberal muscle of Big Tolerance enforcing one-size-fits-all diversity.
The bigger the Big Government, the smaller everything else: In Sweden, expressing a moral objection to homosexuality is illegal, even on religious grounds, even in church, and a pastor minded to cite the more robust verses of Leviticus would risk four years in jail. In Canada, the courts rule that Catholic schools must allow gay students to take their same-sex dates to the prom. The secular state’s Bureau of Compliance is merciless to apostates to a degree even your fire-breathing imams might marvel at.”
The shameful gassing and beating of Roman Catholic protestors in Paris this year, protesting against gay marriage legalisation by the Socialist French government, will surely only bolster the legitimacy of belligerent anti-EU groups here in Georgia and weaken Georgian people’s aspirations for EU admission.
As Orthodox Christians, it is important that we treat people with dignity regardless of what sinful conduct they may engage in, as all of us are sinners. We may vigourously oppose the lifestyle that some people choose, but courtesy, civility and acknowledgement of an opponent’s good attributes are important Christian values to aspire to, even if they are difficult to achieve.