“WHO AM I TO JUDGE?” – An Orthodox Understanding of Pope Francis’ remark
In answering a question from a journalist (July 29, 2013), the pope spoke impromptu about homosexual priests, but his words apply equally to everyone: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord…and has good will…who am I to judge such person?” These words reflect the personal conviction of the pope, and show compassion. What I read in them is: Don’t judge someone who, being a homosexual, struggles with this “tendency” (his term). I will comment on homosexuality and on judging others.
Sexual desire (lust) is a passion, as is anger, jealousy, pride, greed, and the like. Passions are powerful inclinations that take hold of our mind, will power, and senses. Passions control us. They’ve been with us since our birth. They are congenital. We spend a lifetime trying to bring them under control. And we fail. As Christians, however, but even as human beings, we are supposed to overcome our passions and bring them under our rational control. It’s a life-long struggle.
Christians are sinners like everybody else. The difference is that they are penitent sinners. I think this what the pope had in mind.
Sexual drive is innate in us; it is God-given. It is implanted in our fallen constitution for the purpose of the perpetuation of our species. Yet sexual acts and desires need to be harnessed when they tend to overpower us. Homosexual acts are sinful, as are any sexual acts outside of marriage (cf. Heb. 13:4). In 1 Cor 6:9, homosexuals (arsenokeitai) are listed after fornicators (pornoi), adulterers (moihoi), and effeminate (malakoi), while in 1 Tim 1:10 they are placed immediately after adulterers.
According to our Christian faith there is hardly anything orderly and dispassionate in man after the Fall. Everything in us—and in the entire creation—is “out of whack.” Our spiritual struggle is to exercise control over our passions, instead of the other way around. Thus one needs to bring under the control of his reason and willpower his natural but inordinate emotions and inclinations (vices), like overeating, drinking in excess, over-indulging in the pleasures of life, etc.
No matter what our passions are we need to control them. Christians do it with all the means the Church places at their disposal: holy eucharist, confession, prayer, practicing of the virtues, reading the holy scripture and the lives and writings of the Church Fathers, fasting, acts of charity and, most of all, with God’s grace. We need to be aware of our faults, seek spiritual guidance and reorient our life to obey God’s commandments and live a Christ-like life.
With me, controlling the “anger gene” that I inherited from my father has been a huge problem. I have to fight my passion, as a homosexual has to fight his. The Church welcomes and includes in her fold all repentant souls. The emphasis is on repentant, those who have made a commitment to change their life. Christians are sinners like everybody else. The difference is that they are penitent sinners. I think this what the pope had in mind.
As to, Who am I to judge?, if we understand to judge as to condemn then we do well if we judge no one. I think that what the pope meant to say is, “Do not judge by appearances” (Jn 7:24). One who in his past did homosexual acts may no longer do so, or one who displays a homosexual behavior may not commit homosexual acts. The pope could have suggested to do what the Lord did, who added to the above words, “but judge with right judgment.”
I think that what the pope meant to say is, “Do not judge by appearances” (Jn 7:24).
Indeed he who said, “Let us no more pass judgment on one another” (Rom. 14:13) also said, “is it not those inside the Church whom you are to judge?” (1 Cor 5:12). Judge here does not mean to condemn, to pass judgment, to find fault with, but to admonish, to reprove, to correct. And do so lovingly, not as a judge but as a brother. The Lord Himself set the standard on how to go about correcting our fellow Christian:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Mt 18:15:17).
St. Paul also provides a similar rule of how to correct a brother who is causing dissension in the church: “As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Tit 3:10). We do not ignore someone who stirs up the church, someone who scandalizes the brotherhood either with his life and behavior or with his erroneous beliefs. He needs to be checked and corrected for his own good and that of the Christian community.
Writes the Apostle Paul: “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people” (1 Cor 5:11). Even the Beloved Disciple who urges us to follow the commandment of love (cf. 2 Jn v. 6) admonishes us not to even greet someone who deviates from the faith (cf. 2 Jn vv. 10-11).
In order to maintain a healthy community that struggles to bring wellness to all its members, the Church, and particularly her leaders, are expected to exhibit some “tough love” with someone who is on the verge of losing his soul. In doing so, one does not act out of Pharisaism, but out of genuine Christian love. Again, the pope’s comments were delivered extemporaneously and were not meant to be an ex cathedra definition.