by Nancy Agabian
On November 16, several AGLA NY members attended a lecture by Vigen Guroian, Prof. of Theology at Loyola College (MD), entitled, “Homosexuality & Same-Sex Union” at the Armenian Prelacy, 138 East 39th Street, New York, as part of their series on ethics and values, sponsored by the Armenian Religious Education Council (AREC). It included a book presentation, Q&A, discussion and reception. Archbishop Choloyan was in attendance, as well as forty to fifty community members.
The main point of Professor Guroian’s talk was that same sex union goes against one of the Armenian Apostolic church’s sacraments, that of a marriage between a man and a woman, as stated in the bible.
The situation needed to be addressed by the church, he claimed, because of the law in Massachusetts which grants civil unions to gay and lesbian couples. American culture was now creating a situation in which priests would be pressured to perform same sex wedding ceremonies. He cited an Armenian church in St. Petersburg which performed a marriage between two gay men and was thus stripped of its certification or status as a church.
Professor Guroian unconvincingly tried to claim that he didn’t begrudge “homosexuals” the same rights as straight people, and that he wasn’t at war with them, and that he even had a family member who was one. (Some of my best friends are…) But a same- sex marriage law, he claimed, would harm the sanctity of marriage. He even went so far as to use the example of same sex couples who aren’t gay getting married. He mentioned the example of two (straight) widows living together in order to benefit from reduced tax burdens and heath care costs as a legally married couple.
Guroian also discussed whether homosexuality was genetically chosen. He claimed that his point wasn’t to devalue homosexuality, but to simply state that homosexuals are sinners, “just like the rest of us”, and that they are still classified as a psychological disorder by the APA—which is actually blatantly false-it was de-listed in 1973!!
Discussion during the Q & A was heated. The first question came from Anoush, who cited an instance in an Armenian church of a lesbian who was being turned away by a church member, but was then defended by a former Archbishop, and that she has married lesbians as a member of the Universalist clergy.
AGLA NY President Chris Atamian pointed out the ridiculous speculation that thousands of fake gay couples would storm town halls demanding civil marriages and corrected Guroian on his false statement about the APA. He also stated that since Armenians have suffered in so many instances, in various ways throughout the ages, it seemed wrong for the church to openly discriminate against others.
Karen Hakobian mocked the proceedings by suggesting that if gayness were indeed genetic, all gay people could be prevented from existing by geneic manipulation at birth. Guroian was offended, claiming that he wasn’t suggesting such an idea.
Nancy Agabian made the statement that since the church does have an influence in society and its views, that it should protect its members, gay or not. She used the example of the ways in which racism towards Armenians spread in mosques in the Ottoman Empire, leading to the genocide. She defended gay couples who deserve the same rights and respect as straight couples. She also asked him about churches in the South who revised their views on racist laws against Blacks, which were also buttressed by Bible texts. In both instances, Guroian pointed to the supposed inviolability of marriage’s sacramental nature, as his only defense.
Chris Atamian questioned why Armenians would allow an issue like this to possibly cause division in the church, giving the examples of theological splintering throughout the centuries of Christianity.
Next, some non-AGLA affiliated audience members commented on the topics at hand and posed questions to the guest lecturer. A deacon noted that many straight couples have already had sex before marriage, so why not punish them as well?
At the very end of the session an older woman asked, “Is it all right for gay people to come to church? Because I don’t mind, I don’t think it’s a problem.” Guroian was flabbergasted. “They’re sinners! I’m a sinner! All sinners belong in church! I didn’t say they shouldn’t come!”
“Yes you did!” she responded. “You said they were immoral!” She therefore suggested that Guroian was approaching the issue from a discriminatory place – this is what people were gleaning from his “scholarship”, anyway. (He acknowledged a few times that no academic theological society would have him speak on the matter.)
Though Guroian was often defensive and raised his voice, all members of our group remained calm and composed and pointed out the fallacy of his arguments. The event wasn’t openly hostile towards gays and lesbians; rather, people seemed interested to listen and talk to teach other about the issue. This represents real progress, especially for those who remember when the word gay wouldn’t have even been understood within an Armenian religious context. Our queer Armenian voices were heard in connection with the church, and on the issue of gay marriage, which affects many of us.