BOOK REVIEW - Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives
Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives
David Ferguson, Fritz Guy and David Larson, editors, Adventist Forums, Roseville, CA (USA): 2008--370 pages; price $ 19.95
Review by David Potter, Australia
Are same-sex relationships natural? Do homosexuals and heterosexuals deserve equal treatment in the church? Is sexual preference chosen, or is it biologically determined? Are the Leviticus 18 and 20 edicts timeless moral laws that apply equally to Christians as to Israel? Do Paul’s comments on “unnatural” relations (Romans 1) cover all same-sex relations, or only the perverse practices of the godless Gentiles? These questions and many more are addressed in this book.
Most of the 18 papers in the book were presented at a 2006 conference organised by Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International, an organisation set up in the 1970s to nurture gay and lesbian Adventists. Eight were written by current church academics. Most question aspects of the traditional church position on same-sex relations. The reader faces two challenges: firstly, to properly assess the growing body of literature that suggests homosexuality is a predisposition, not a choice; and secondly, to re-examine what Paul is really saying in Romans 1.
Part one is biographical, presenting the stories of Sherri Babcock, the great-great-granddaughter of one of the founders of Atlantic Union College; Leif Lind, former SDA pastor and missionary; and Paul Grady, son of a church pastor, missionary and administrator. All three are gay. According to Lind, coming out of the closet was “the hardest thing I have ever done.” Lind lost his marriage, his career, and his respect and acceptance in the church – a terrible price. But he had to be honest about who he was. “Who would choose to pit themselves against all odds and make life as difficult as possible if it were really a matter of choice or sexual ‘preference’? Not too many people I know,” writes Lind.
Part two examines biomedical perspectives. Research continues to suggest that homosexuality has a genetic predisposition and is biologically determined, a conclusion that was widely resisted. One of the last impediments was removed in 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association unexpectedly declared that homosexuality was not an illness. As Fulton asks, if homosexuality is neither a choice nor an illness, how is the church going to deal with its anti-gay bias?
Part three presents insights from behavioural science. Change ministries have failed repeatedly. The church that has called itself “the caring church” and a “welcoming church” has not given evidence of these claims in its treatment of gay members and workers, most of whom have been forced to live deeply closeted, lonely lives. To come out risks ostracism and dismissal. To express sympathy is to be treated with hostility.
The church attempted to distance itself from Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International when in 1987 the General Conference filed suit for “breach of trademark.” The church lost. Later, in 1994, the GC administration committee voted that GC personnel were not to speak to gatherings of homosexuals. As Lawson notes, the official church position was becoming more polarising at a time when law courts were recognising the equality of homosexual and heterosexual persons.
Part four examines scriptural and theological perspectives. Jones writes, “Romans 1:24-27 contains the Bible’s only substantive consideration of homosexual conduct.” But it is not a complete discussion. It is a preliminary comment that serves to introduce Paul’s thesis that Jews and Gentiles are equally lost in sin and in need of salvation. Those that read Leviticus 18 and 20 literally, bring a preformed perspective that distorts Paul’s message. Homosexuality is not the central issue in Romans 1. Furthermore, in discussing homosexuality, it is not clear that Paul’s conceptual horizon and ours coincide. Indeed, there has been a serious confusion of categories.
For Guy, “It is Scripture as a whole that is properly the ‘rule of faith and practice.’” Applying this principle leads him to conclude that “Scripture does not condemn all same-sex love.” Gane’s literal interpretation of Leviticus does not let him entertain pro-gay views. Nevertheless, he concludes that the church has some work to do to restore itself as “the trusted friend rather than the enemy of sinners.” Rice notes with approval that in recent years the church has “become more open to the complexity of human sexuality and willing to consider more helpful responses.”
Part five contains four papers on Christian social perspectives, in which the writers press the church towards greater fairness and compassion, towards becoming the “just, open, caring” community it should be. “God puts a tremendous value on human freedom.” We must do no less.
We all have our responses. Perhaps these are well-informed; on the other hand, they could be tainted by prejudice or by misuse of Scripture. Whatever your current view, this book will inform and challenge your understanding.
Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives is a collection of essays dealing with the increasingly significant issues related to people who have a homosexual orientation and the way Christian churches relate to them.
The book is edited by David Ferguson, Fritz Guy, and David Larson and is the product of a collaboration between SDA Kinship, International (a support organisation for gay Adventists) and the Kinship Advisory Board [Kinship Advisory Council] (a group straight Adventist leaders formed to advise and lead SDA Kinship).
The subtitle of the book is important. The writers all come from a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) perspective. That does not mean they write from any official SDA position. In fact, much of the book may make the officials of SDAism somewhat uncomfortable. It is published by Adventist Forum -- an independent SDA organisation which fosters open communication and thinking amongst its members.