On April 29th, 2014 Father Peter Jon Gillquist of the All Saints Orthodox Church in Bloomington, Indiana made a public announcement regarding Matthew Heimbach, an outspoken public figure associated with the website tradyouth.org. In a move supported by the local bishop, Matthew and possibly several other tradyouth members will be denied communion with the Church until they renounce their white nationalist positions and cease all public activity.
I do not consider myself a white nationalist, neither am I a particularly close friend to Mr. Heimbach. That said, reading Fr. Gillquist’s statements initially left me with a bad taste in my mouth. A man denied the medicine of immortality, for the heresy of really liking white people? I could hear the neo-pagans gloating through my internet connection.
I then witnessed others actually celebrating a man being turned away from the Church. This made me angry. I had, still have strong sympathy for Matthew’s situation. Placed outside the Church not even a month after being welcomed into it? I couldn’t imagine.
I was inclined to believe this holy man had overstepped his boundaries, that Fr. Gillquist was holding the Eucharist hostage to promote modernist ideology outside the Church. I did this because I paid more attention to “hate speech” than I did to “Phyletism.” I did this because I read secular egalitarianism into a very basic statement regarding a very old faith tradition.
Fortunately, I have a few Greek Orthodox friends that patiently dealt with my misplaced anger and corrected me on my misunderstandings above. I am very thankful for that. I now understand and have come to agree with Fr. Gillquist’s harsh ruling, regardless of the language used.
Two images came to my mind as I settled this matter, as I recognized Phyletism for the wickedness that it truly is:
This image comes from Matthew’s interview with ABC. In the interview he is shown praying in between snippets of his political ideology. You see in the picture above several distinctly Orthodox objects.
This is not to say that having a confederate flag near a cross is inherently heretical. This is not to say that Matthew had any control over ABC’s editing. What I will say is that this was not a surprise interview, that efforts were made on both sides to convey an image.
It does not matter if this violence was in defense or if Matthew sought out this confrontation. Neither is it important that the people getting their behinds whipped particularly deserved it; I would argue that attending a Slutwalk to do anything besides protest is reason enough for a bearded man to strike you.
What matters here and is especially damning to any argument against Fr. Gillquist’s ruling is the meme text and the celebratory tone of the commentary accompanying this picture, a picture of a man doing violence while holding the distinctive Orthodox cross. Commentary and meme text that Heimbach himself likely contributed. This does nothing to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, neither does this reflect well upon the faith tradition they represent.
Shortly after the announcement by Fr. Gillquist, a self-identified Orthodox and feminist by the name of Maria Gwyn McDowell posted an interesting challenge to Tradyouth, which was responded to by Matt Parrott. It is interesting because I think both of them have committed the same error I myself was inclined to commit. Maria reads modern western ideology into the Gospel, just as we all read our own selfish biases in the teachings of Christ and His disciples if we are not careful or humble.
No man can serve two masters. Our choice is paradoxically both simple and maddeningly complex: either we choose God, or the flesh/mammon/the world. You cannot be a Christian unless you pick the former over the latter, to be a Christian is to put God above all of tangible reality.
This is an incredibly difficult thing to do: to exist in a world we must ultimately forsake. We inevitably have opinions and values regarding society, which will always conflict with the teachings of Christ. We become invested in ideals and entrenched in identities, which we must be willing to ultimately abandon if we desire to be a Christian.
It does not matter how socially acceptable or unacceptable the politics are, being a creation of fallible and sinful man, it all will inevitably fall far short of the glory of God. If we are not honest with our own fallen state we will glorify the clay over the Potter. In trying to speak for God we risk forgetting God and instead erecting false idols. The pro-lifer is just as prone to this failure as the pro-choicer. Same goes for the feminist or the white nationalist… Tradyouth or womanintheology… Or TRS. And yes, even Father Gillquist can be guilty of this failing, which is why I am guessing Matthew and the others are appealing and waiting for those higher up in the Church to make a ruling on the issue. I don’t expect a higher authority’s ruling to deviate much from the original statement.
If one good thing comes from this sad situation, it’s that I personally will do my best in the future to keep my political musings separate from and subservient to my religious belief. I hope I can learn from Matthew Heimbach and Tradyouth.org’s mistakes, and not make the same in the future. I pray I will always have people like my Greek Orthodox friends to deal with my boorishness enough to help guide me when I am wrong. I apologize for that boorishness in advance, by the way.
I will conclude with an appeal to those who have misunderstood the situation to reappraise things, to open their hearts and accept that perhaps this had to be a hard lesson for a reason. As Christians we must accept and believe that whatever results from this unfortunate situation will ultimately work to glorify God.