Reflection: Is This What the American Bishops Want?
(Editor’s note: This reflection was written in a timely manner, but delayed in publication by unavoidable personal circumstances these past three weeks. I apologize to Mr. Cromidas and my readers for the delay.)
The recent news that Mark Stokoe had been dismissed from the OCA Metropolitan Council and his Diocesan Council by Bishop Matthias is deplorable but not surprising, given the history and culture of the Church, and a pronouncement this spring from the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America.
Among their concerns, many laudable, the bishops pointed out that June was “internet safety month” and urged “priests and parishioners to raise awareness and secure appropriate protection for our children and communities from the many and diverse prevalent dangers, including pornography, cyberbullying, perils by predators, risks of geotagging, and **in particular dissension in the Church.”** (Emphasis added.)
Dissension in the Church is apparently more important than pornography for the bishops when it comes to the Internet. It is interesting that they coupled dissension with the Internet. Did they have Mr. Stokoe’s web-site in mind? A few years ago, in the Greek archdiocese, then-Archbishop Spyridon would have liked to have the web-site “Voithia” (“Help”) taken down, but Voithia was “speaking truth to power”, and it was the Archbishop who was removed by Patriarch Bartholomew, after the ground-swell from the faithful.
With the massive financial scandal alone that took place in the OCA (has it ever been resolved?) one would think that OCA bishops would want the Stokoe web-site, OCA News, to continue to be a Christian watch-dog about finances and other governance matters. Who else will point out wrong-doing? Who else will have the courage to speak out about transparency and accountability? If we follow Bishop Matthias’ logic, no lay person would have raised any questions about the financial scandal.
Other churches run by bishops also suppress dissent. Catholic bishops are relatively quick to dismiss a priest who advocates for a married priesthood, say, but they take years to dismiss, let alone defrock, a priest for child rape – if they ever do. Are the Orthodox bishops really telling us that what they call dissension is more important than Internet pornography or perils by predators? Of course, the Internet is not the only place that children ought to be protected from. Shouldn’t the bishops be pro-actively creating an up-to-date policy on sexual misconduct, for instance, now that SCOBA no longer exists?
If Bishop Matthias’ reasoning for removing Mr. Stokoe is representative of his fellow bishops, we need to be raising concerns about what kind of American Orthodox Church we would have under their leadership. I submit that trying to silence a Mark Stokoe is “old world” thinking and does not belong to a prospective American Orthodox Church where a more democratic governance should be the model.
Let’s grow beyond the stock answer that “the church is not a democracy”. James Carroll, a former Catholic priest and author of “Constantine’s Sword”, put it well when he said:
“The next time someone tells you the church is ‘not a democracy’, reply that that is exactly the problem. Checks and balances, due process, open procedures, elections, a fully educated community, freedom of conscience, the right to dissent, authority as service instead of domination – all of this must come into the church.”
I believe that Carroll’s words can be applied to Orthodoxy, as well. If we’re going to have a united Orthodox Church in America, it should be more democratic. Mr. Stokoe is to be applauded for answering the bishop that he will be continuing the web-site. Instead of trying to silence Mr. Stokoe and shut down OCA News, the Orthodox community should be awarding him the “Orthodox Pulitzer Prize” for his work over these past six years.