By Angelos Anastasiou
GAY RIGHTS’ activists have condemned Archbishop Chrysostomos’ latest tirade against homosexuality and said the church is irredeemably alienating itself from the real world.
Speaking at an Orthodox gathering in Istanbul on Friday, the Archbishop urged Orthodox churches to take a stand against homosexuality and accused secular Christian governments of “weakening moral integrity” through acknowledging equal rights to homosexuals.
“We should, in my opinion, position ourselves on issues of relaxation of morals increasingly promoted by secular, mostly Christian governments in what is considered the advanced world, and to which the Church’s reaction has been meagre thus far,” he told a meeting of hierarchs of the autocephalous Orthodox churches convened by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul. “When, for example, governments legalise not only plain civil partnership but ‘homosexual marriage’, the Church must be unequivocal in condemning homosexuality.”
In his speech, the Archbishop premised his argument with quotes from scripture, and proposed that “esteemed Christian scientists” be assigned with studying the issue and presenting their “scientific findings”, so that they can then be strengthened by “religious validation”.
His comments prompted a storm of protests on social media sites and condemnation from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) rights activist group ACCEPT-LGBT.
The group said that by adopting such positions the Church continued to “alienate itself further” from the real world, and warned that the Church’s position unwittingly encourages the marginalisation of vulnerable groups.
“Christian churches the world over have realised that excommunication and alienation are not the right way to promote God’s message,” a statement from the group said, and went on to quote Pope Francis who recently positioned himself on the issue of homosexuality by asking “who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?”
The organisation said that its demands relate exclusively to political rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations and ratified by all member states, including Cyprus.
“We seek to secure only what is legally granted to all citizens – nothing more and nothing less,” the activist group argued.
“ACCEPT-LGBTCyprus considers a given that the government’s stance will reflect its obligations with regard to securing equal rights for all of its citizens. With no exceptions,” the statement concluded.
Ombudswoman Eliza Savvides said the Archbishop’s latest comments as “archaic and outdated”, saying that institutions responsible for ensuring rights equality cannot afford to consider backward attitudes.
“The Archbishop’s public remarks carry some weight with public opinion, but apparently not that much,” she said. “Our society has seen a significant improvement in its attitudes towards LGBTs in the last few years.”
Savvides noted that significant steps have been made in ensuring rights equality, and that the government policy is to proceed with enacting the civil partnership bill, planned to be submitted to the House for discussion in April.
ACCEPT-LGBT’s statement argues that significant progress has been observed in societal attitudes towards LGBTs, citing research conducted in February 2014 suggesting that “53.3 per cent of Cypriot citizens accept civil partnership legislation.”
“The Church’s position against homosexuality is an old one. We need to move forward, we can’t look back”, said Savvides.
Meanwhile, on Friday the health ministry presented the findings of a nationwide survey regarding AIDS awareness and attitudes, in which over 10 per cent of respondents said that they had had a homosexual experience.
Asked to comment on the significance of the stat in light of the fact that the previous similar survey – from 2006 – showed roughly 6 per cent of respondents reporting homosexual activity, University of Cyprus vice-rector Constantinos Fellas distinguished between sexual identity and sexual behaviour, but acknowledged that societal attitudes are evolving.
“The survey in general, and the question in particular, seeks to record respondents’ sexual behavior, not sexual identity – however, things are changing, society is changing,” he said.