Statement Regarding Matthew Heimbach
On Saturday, April 12, 2014, I received Matthew Heimbach into the Orthodox communion through the sacrament of Chrismation. I did not understand at that time that he held nationalistic, segregationist views. Immediately upon learning of the scope and development of Matthew’s views, I responded to his decisions quickly and decisively, meeting with him in person and by phone on multiple occasions, and conferring with our bishop.
Typically pastoral issues are best handled confidentially between priest and penitent in order to protect the privacy of those coming for counsel. If, however, a person makes inflammatory public statements in the name of the Orthodox Faith, as in the present case of Matthew Heinbach, a public statement is most certainly warranted.
Though Matthew has made progress in coming to understand the teachings of Christ, he has not formally renounced his views promoting a separationist ideology. Orthodoxy rejects the teaching that churches or countries should be divided along racial lines. For, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). And again, “They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd” (Jn. 10:16).
Matthew must cease and desist all activities, both online, in print, and in person, promoting racist and separationist ideologies, effective immediately. He must formally reject violence, hate speech, and the heresy of Phyletism. Finally, he must submit to period of formal penance in order to be received back into the Orthodox communion.
– Father Peter Jon Gillquist
Over the last 48 hours a serious contretemps broke out among the USA Orthodox over statements made by Matthew Heimbach who is a co-founder of the Traditionalist Youth Network. I, myself, wrote a blog post on the controversy yesterday. I wish to be clear that the issue was not that Mr. Heimbach had a white nationalist background before being chrismated Eastern Orthodox. We need to be clear that any who repent and believe are joyfully brought into the faith, regardless of their past background. One need think only of Saint Paul, Saint Mary of Egypt, St. Moses the Black, the thief on the cross and various others to see how murder, sexual sin, robbery, etc. do not prevent you from being received in the Church immediately upon your repentance. Note that this does not mean immediate baptism. But, it does mean that becoming a catechumen happens immediately upon your repentance and your belief, regardless of your background.
No, the problem comes in if, and only if, the person continues with certain types of public sin, or shows evidence of a lack of repentance in certain areas. Such was the case that triggered the outpouring of concern among the Orthodox. Sample incidents were detailed in my blog post of yesterday. The priest involved was blind-sided by the statements. I would suspect that later he was aghast that his personal reputation was also being assailed by all too many of the bloggers. As those reading this post can see, the priest consulted with his bishop, and spoke with Mr. Heimbach. The result of those consultations was the discipline announced and explained in the statement issued just a few hours ago and quoted above. The main reason for the discipline was making, “inflammatory public statements in the name of the Orthodox Faith … .” These statements brought the Church into disrepute over the last 48 hours, leaving no choice for bishop or priest but to issue public discipline and to clarify that the views held by Mr. Heimbach were not those of the Church.
I suspect that the most difficult part of the decision was in how to phrase it so that it was clear to both Mr. Heimbach, and to the public at large, that the door is open for his future return to full communion. It would have been all too easy to issue a blanket condemnation, separate out the offending person, and nail the door shut behind them. But, that is not the Church’s calling. The Church’s calling is that of the father of the Prodigal Son. It is ours to be ready so that when the Prodigal returns, the doors will be found to be open. I think the statement by Bishop Anthony and Fr. Peter Gillquist is very properly phrased and reflects the loving nature of church discipline, which is a hard means to a desired end. The desired end is to see Mr. Heimbach a full member of the Church.
Now, I need to address various bloggers and other people who have been quick to condemn the priest. More than one blogger and/or commenter have said that they cannot believe that Fr. Peter was not aware of Mr. Heimbach’s background. More than one intimated that Fr. Peter must have leanings in a white nationalist direction. This is where I think that various people crossed a line. There has never been any evidence that Fr. Peter shared any of Mr. Heimbach’s views. That set of assumptions participates in the popular American sport of “conspiracy theories,” and character assassination. I have no doubt that Fr. Peter was not fully aware of Mr. Heimbach’s views. In a worst case situation, Fr. Peter was naught but a naïve innocent. (And, he will probably be upset with me for saying that about him.) Those who were not innocent are those who engaged in inappropriate speculation.
Let me give you a personal example that may help you understand Fr. Peter. About fifteen years ago, I had to deal with a pedophile in the parish I was in. I had worked with him for seven years. When we began an orphanage, I appointed him as the first Director. The worst day of my life was when a teenage girl came to me and told me that she had been abused by this man since she was 12. I notified my bishop. He interviewed the girl by phone. Then, he promptly sent an investigative team from the city in which he lived. No local people were allowed on that team. They found four girls from the orphanage had also been abused. And all were around 12 years old. I knew nothing and had suspected nothing. But, the bishop was right to send in an outside investigative team. I am sure that there would have been people back then who would have said that I needed to be removed simply on the basis that I had not clearly seen the pedophile right away. How could I not have noticed? For a couple of years afterward, I asked myself the same question, nay I tortured myself with the same question.
Priests are not prophets. They cannot see into the hearts of men. I did not see into the heart of that pedophile. So, if bloggers had been as common back then as they are today, I am sure I would have been torn apart and there would have been calls on my bishop to defrock me. But, they would have been wrong. They would have been every bit as wrong as the bloggers today who have assumed that Fr. Peter must have been some type of fellow-traveler with Mr. Heimbach. Fr. Peter is a sound Orthodox priest. He is not a white nationalist. To condemn him, you who read me must also condemn me. He is nothing more than a priest who was fooled, just like I was. And, he is better than I, because he caught on less than a month after receiving Mr. Heimbach whereas I never caught on for seven years. So, to put it bluntly, leave the priest alone! He is doing what is right and needful.