We all have questions about moral and ethical issues, especially when things are simply not “black and white”. We wonder which side to take, which position to support. Objectively speaking, the Church holds what modern society would call “controversial opinions”. Therefore, being Christian brings with it societal risk. But this is no surprise to us (cf. John 15:19). We must remember that our “controversial opinions” are the teachings of Christ. As Christians, we must always understand which side we are on, and take care not to surrender our beliefs, no matter the cost.
Current Moral and Ethical Issues
- Birth Control/Contraception
- Capital Punishment
- Divorce and Remarriage
- Organ Donation
- Premarital Sex
Among all moral issues in our society today, abortion takes one of the top spots for the Orthodox. Every year, approximately 40 million abortions occur. That translates to about 125,000 abortions per day. Such a number should break the heart of every Christian, Orthodox or not.
Orthodoxy considers abortion premeditated murder, which is a grave sin. Even in rare circumstances (e.g. rape), we denounce abortion and council other alternatives like adoption or keeping the child. However, this doesn’t mean the Church condemns anyone who has had an abortion. Rather, she approaches with love and understanding to help them on their path to repentance and salvation.
Read More >> The Orthodox Church’s Understanding of Abortion
Closely linked to abortion is the ethical issue of birth control and contraception. In general, most methods of artificial contraception are not acceptable. However, birth control (i.e. Natural Family Planning) is okay with the blessing and guidance of a spiritual father. A few Orthodox insist that any form of birth control or contraception other than abstinence is sinful, but such an opinion is more common in Roman Catholicism.
Another moral issue many Christians face is whether or not they should support capital punishment. While the answer here from the Orthodox Church is nuanced, it is not difficult. In Orthodoxy, all human life is sacred. We are all created according to the image and likeness of God. Therefore, the Church prefers mercy, compassion, and repentance instead of violence. At the same time, the Church also understands the need for the state to have a system of capital punishment in place to protect its people and maintain societal order.
Read More: Capital Punishment: The Orthodox Take
The Orthodox Church does not allow cremation. It destroys the body, which is a temple of God that will be reunited with the soul when Christ comes again. Cremation was also used by those who denied Orthodox doctrine to express their rejection of said beliefs. If an Orthodox Christian has his body cremated, he will not receive an Orthodox funeral.
Divorce and Remarriage
Out of mercy and understanding of human weakness, the Church grants divorces in certain situations. In those cases, she also typically allows remarriage (up to three times). However, the Church views any divorce and remarriage with deep sadness, because a blessed union established by God has been effectively dissolved. Before getting a divorce, couples should try to reconcile to the best of their ability.
Read More: Remarriage after Divorce
Many people struggle with the ethical question of organ donation. As an Orthodox Christian, should you (or can you) donate your organs to others in need of them? Can you donate before death? After?
There are no concrete answers to these questions. Some Orthodox think organ donation is a wonderful way of showing love for God and neighbor. Others see it as desecrating our bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit. When weighing this heavy decision, please consult a spiritual father and pray on the matter.
Yes. Any sexual relations that happen outside of a healthy heterosexual Christian marriage are sinful. In the proper context of marriage, which is blessed by God, our sexuality is beautiful. It allows those joined by God to become intimate and experience oneness in body and soul. Those who are unmarried are expected to abstain from all sexual activity.
God tells us certain actions taken by members of the LGBT community (e.g. engaging in homosexual acts, transitioning) are sinful, because they go against the order of Creation established by God (Genesis 1:27; 2:24). However, the Orthodox Church loves and welcomes all who come to her. We all have the same value in the eyes of God. And we are all called to reject sin and live according to God’s will.
Taking one’s own life is considered a grave sin. It is the ultimate rejection of God and His love for us. And it is perhaps the one sin after which there is no possibility of repentance. This does not mean the Church judges anyone who has committed or attempted to commit suicide. Rather, the Church approaches all who have suffered or are suffering with the utmost compassion.
Yes, and no. As human beings with free will, we can marry whomever we decide to marry. However, that does not mean the Church will bless the marriage. The Orthodox Church will not bless a marriage:
1) between two non-Christians
2) between an Orthodox and a non-Christian (Jewish, Muslim, etc.)
The Church will still recognize the marriage in civil terms but will not consider it true sacramental Christian marriage. Marriage in Jesus Christ presumes that one accepts Him and believes in Him. Thus, unity of faith is a formal condition of Orthodox marriage. If the non-Orthodox partner is willing to explore the Orthodox faith and become part of the Church, the marriage may then be blessed. However, those who explore the Faith should do so out of a genuine desire to know God in the fullness of the Truth. Not just so they can have a blessed marriage in an Orthodox church.
Euthanasia is the practice which holds it morally correct to take the life of a person who has an incurable illness, in order to eliminate their suffering.
The Orthodox Church firmly believes that we must not take direct action to shorten a person’s life for any reason. To do this is to usurp the authority of God, and is therefore seen as a form of murder in the eyes of the Church.
The teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ tell us to live in harmony with God and with one another. They instruct us to return good for evil, leave retribution to God, and “turn the other cheek.” Despite our reluctance, Jesus would much rather we suffer injustice ourselves than be the cause of it. We must deal with injustice righteously and seek ways to peacefully influence the enemy to change and repent. If we cannot, the most we can do is defend ourselves, without seeking to harm the enemy beyond what is necessary to stop the attack.
Read More: The Orthodox Church’s Teachings On War
In conclusion, the Orthodox Church holds what many may consider politically incorrect opinions on many of these controversial topics. However, God made himself quite clear when it comes to His expectations of us. We cannot compromise in areas that may affect our salvation and the salvation of others.