The recent online uproar over Matthew Heimbach, once featured on national TV as a rising white supremacist, led to some discussions concerning phyletism and whether that applied here. This is an important question. What happened back then and does it at all provide a basis for combating racism when found within Orthodoxy today? To get a snapshot of the ruling from 1872, I would recommend this link at orthodoxhistory.org, a site I was once directly affiliated with, when we were starting it up, and a site that has some helpful materials. In 1872, a confrontation occurred between Greeks and Bulgarians and the Ecumenical Patriarch and Bishop Anthim. Matthew Namee provided a six part series on this, using the Methodist Quarterly Review but the reason I have linked to the fourth part in the series is because Matthew provided the translation from the Quarterly in his post. There are some notable things in that 1872 ruling. First, it does not get into tit-for-tat politically but seeks to focus specifically upon racial differentiation. That makes the synod’s statement more useful in future settings. The main concern is the establishing of churches on the basis of race. That is slightly narrower than simply making racial judgments and remarks. So, does it at all help when encountering people who believe the Orthodox faith supports a racist view (whether “pro-white” or otherwise)? I think it can and does. For although the ruling itself may have referred to the establishing of a church on the basis of race and/or nationality, it seems to me that one cannot even seek to establish a church in this manner if one hasn’t already concluded that racial lines are worthy of excluding people, a priori.
The kicker in all of this is that we have Orthodox who believe precisely that. I have met Orthodox across this country (including here in Fargo) who believe converts should not be entering the Orthodox church and/or that they are not “really” Orthodox because they do not have the “right” heritage. Moreover, there are Orthodox who are sympathetic to Heimbach. Heimbach, although told via his parish’s website to repent, has issued no such statement and yet is now a member of the Traditional Orthodox (Canonical) group on Facebook. No one on that group has seemed to object to this. Another example might be found in a rather well known Orthodox priest linking to an article that argues against an alleged discrimination against old white men (no I’m not making up the rhetoric here, that is the point of the article). The article, though admitting white males have been privileged, then goes on to highlight only a few radical cries against white males in order to conclude old white men are under siege. I don’t think anything is gained by responding to but a few examples from the extreme left by championing old white men is helpful, really, and it can send the wrong message to people such as Heimbach, his friends, and those in the Traditional FB group who are OK with such attitudes. A better response would not be for an Orthodox priest to state he’s an old white man too and so are many others who will be celebrated on Father’s Day, but to have pointed out that a handful of extreme views from the left does not drown out the fact that people from all races and of either gender should be treated respectfully. That’s all that needed to be said. Whenever we play the role of victimization against a radical view, we risk encouraging radicals from the other end of the spectrum.
Orthodox clergy and laity need to make a clear stance on this. We need to do so when encountering a rising white supremacist star. We need to do so when discussing the relations between Orthodox internationally. We definitely need to do so here in America, where we have jurisdictions that still hearken back to certain ethnic beginnings in ways that allow some of us to say converts aren’t welcome and/or aren’t “really” Orthodox. A clear stance would be consistent with the ruling from 1872, even if the context is quite different. The question is whether we’re willing to be consistent with that, whether we’re willing to say there is neither Jew nor Greek.