Orthodoxy and Phyletism (Ethnicity): Revisited

Orthodoxy and Phyletism (Ethnicity): Revisited

I grew up in the South. In the South that I grew up in, one of the most segregated times of the week was Sunday morning. People in many white churches would be (and were) aghast if someone from another race showed up on Sunday morning. It was made plain to them that someone from their race was not welcome. My own father (a Baptist minister) ended up having to leave his pastorate because he integrated the church kindergarten. It seemed that some of the deacons were afraid of a 4 year old black girl. My father and I were the rare white folks who would go across the lines. Fortunately people in the local black church were more welcoming. My uncle (also a Baptist minister) was forced to leave two different churches because he did not allow his daughters to go to the segregated white private schools that were set up to get around desegregation. What my baptist fathers taught me was that if someone were not welcome to a church because of his race, that Jesus was not welcome there either.

At the first Orthodox Church I walked into after graduating college I was asked why I was there; I was neither Greek nor Russian. It probably delayed me becoming Orthodox by many years. I was the wrong ethnicity.

Now I have been Orthodox for almost half my life now. I have noticed that this is not just a problem that inquirers face. It saddens me when even faithful Orthodox people are treated like Rats and discarded by clergy. These are people for whom Christ was Incarnate and gave Himself up; these are people who have been faithful through adversity, people who have endured much. Excluding them because of their ethnicity (or lack thereof) is no better than how I was treated when I walked into that Church.

A clergyman is responsible to God for all the souls he has been privilege to lead. He cannot divide between this ethnic or that ethnic or no ethnic. He must minister to all of them. He must minister without regard to race or ethnicity. If he excludes based on race or ethnicity, he excludes Christ who comes to them in the “least of these”

To exclude based on Race or ethnicity, or lack thereof is to wound. And after the racial or ethnic cleansing has occurred, the wound does not just go away because we pretend not to see; for by wounding, the wounder is also wounded. But it is not just for race and ethnicity that people are wounded. People who speak the truth, who sound the alarm, who hammer out “DANGER” are also wounded. This is nothing new. Killing the messenger is a time honoured solution to pretending it is the messenger’s fault and thus we don’t have to do anything. But the wounding wounds the wounder. Jeremiah had plenty of experience with this:

For from the least to the greatest of them, every one is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest every one deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly , saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not ashamed; they did not know how to blush. (Jeremiah 8:13-15)

People are excluded, wounded and left to wither; or worse, they are thrown under the bus. The indefensible is defended; the wounded are told they are not wounded. And we wonder why some are leaving the Church.

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