Who Cares? Newsletter Archives
Who Cares? A Newsletter for Caring Pastors and Educators was published during 2011 and 2012 by Claude E. Steen, III.
Who Cares? A Newsletter for Caring Pastors and Educators — Vol. 1/No. 1 — January 2011
“…Was Blind, But Now I See”
You’re looking at the first issue of an e-mail newsletter designed to highlight a conversation among Adventist pastors and educators about how to deal more constructively and compassionately with our gay and lesbian constituents.
Like me, some of you may not have realized that we have any, because they aren’t wearing labels or demanding our attention. But more and more our eyes are being opened and our hearts are being wrenched by nagging questions about how to act as Jesus would in the face of deep but quiet anguish.
Whose anguish? That of members in our pews and students in our schools who deeply identify as Adventists, but who are sure that their other, equally deep, identity as gay or lesbian can never be welcomed by their church.
Briefly, here's my story. This past June I retired after more than 40 years of pastoral ministry, mostly in the NAD Columbia and Southern Unions, with five years in Ethiopia, where I had grown up as an MK. My wife Donna and I are the proud parents of five adult children, all outstanding achievers with solid careers and great families, giving us 11 grandchildren (to date!).
So why would I want to dedicate a portion of my retirement to editing a newsletter about gays? Because I have come to realize that for most of those wonderful years of marriage and ministry I was blind. Blind to some pressing needs of my parishioners. And blind even to agonizing struggles going on in my own children.
First came the news that one of our daughters-in-law (an Adventist professional from a good Adventist family, a great mother of two of our wonderful grandchildren) was leaving her marriage, having decided she is a lesbian. Then just over a year ago, another son (in medical school, still single at 31, a "son with whom I am well pleased") called to tell his mother and me that he is gay.
Obviously all this has raised many urgent questions in my mind—some deeply personal, others more general and professional. Why couldn't a son struggling for years with his sexual orientation confide in his pastor father or his educator mother? Why in all my years of pastoring Adventist churches was I never aware of even one gay or lesbian member or attendee? The best statistics available suggest that as many as 5% of church family members and potential members are homosexual or struggling to deal with those issues in their personal lives.
I've come to realize that it wasn't because they weren't there that I didn't see these people, but because I was blind. They didn't make themselves known because my churches, and the attitudes I projected, were not "safe" for such discussions or disclosures. And I now know that my experience is not all that unique.
This is not an easy subject to tackle. Most of us have strong convictions and maybe even stronger feelings. But we must not avoid study and discussion just because it is hard. The love that our Lord demands (and provides) cannot look the other way while significant numbers of our neighbors, our members, our students, and our families feel that we condemn the very beings they know themselves to be.
When Jesus lays out the criteria by which he will judge our faithfulness and effectiveness in ministry, He commends those who ministered tenderly to His brothers and sisters considered outcasts or less valuable, not realizing they were ministering to Jesus Himself. Those who failed the test are those who neglected the most vulnerable of His children (Matthew 25:31-46).
Who Cares? proposes to be a voice calling Adventist leaders to care enough to take another look, to take seriously the divine scolding of Ezekiel 34 directed at shepherds who neglect to care for the weak and the abused of the flock, and to help transform our churches and schools into safe places for all of God’s children. We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we invite you to join the conversation searching for them. We point no fingers for we are all guilty. And in the words of Jesus, “…they know not what they do.” But the Chief Shepherd is already at work, and we are invited to repent and join Him.
Claude E. Steen, III
Diversity and the Seventh-day Adventist Church
By Reinder Bruinsma
Editor's note: The unity of the Adventist church seems to be threatened by post-modernism and increasing diversities of thought and culture. This article addresses such relevant questions as, “How should the church deal with diversity?”, “If unity in diversity is to be achieved how do we decide which beliefs are non-negotiable and which allow flexibility?”, and “What are the most pressing issues to be decided by the church in the next five years?”
This is a partial transcript of a sermon presented by Pastor Bruinsma at the European Kinship Meeting this past September in the village of Neer, southeastern Netherlands. It is considerably longer than most we intend to send you, but we believe that the importance and timeliness of these ideas merit the energy it will cost you to digest them.
In order to understand some of the issues facing our church around concepts of diversity, I believe it is important for us to take a look at the difference between modern and postmodern thinking. The era we term modern rejected medieval myths, renewed an interest in the classics, embraced humanism, developed a new approach to the arts, and promoted trust in reason. The scientific method espoused experiment and exploration.
The role of theology and church weakened as the emphasis on reason grew. The motto became, “I believe what I can understand.” Charles Darwin (1809-1892) wrote that science rather than religion explains our origins. Gradually secularism gained ground. There was an emphasis on harmony and structure. With the thoughts of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Friedrich Nietzsche there began to be more focus on feeling, interpretation, lack of absolute truth and morality, and emphasis on hermeneutics. We began to think in terms of chance or contingencies instead of absolute truths. Diversity rather than harmony or unity became increasingly important. Believers began to ask questions not posed before: Why Christianity? Why this particular denomination? How much must I accept to belong to a church?
The appeal of non-denominational churches increased. Post-modern thinkers began to have changing views of ecumenism. We began to consider the possibilities that all traditions have value; and our goals began to focus on dialogue, understanding and respect.
Diversity: A Christian Value
There is one God. Deuteronomy 6:4 proclaims, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” Exodus 20 instructs, “Do not worship any other gods besides Me!” Ephesians 4:5 reiterates, “There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” God is unity. And yet, God is also a trinity—One Essence in three “Persons”—community, communication, relationships. The Bible shows us repeatedly that it takes a multiplicity of metaphors to talk about God.
The Biblical view of mortals is holistic: We are unity. We have a body and a spirit that makes us a soul. We have individuality. Yet, we are diversity: male, female, intersex. We exist in a family, community and relationships. We have a variety of occupations: farmer, prophet, teacher and healer.
The Bible is a book of diversity; yet, there is unity in the Scriptures. There is great diversity among the authors and their styles of writing. There is diversity in sources and discrepancies in the reporting of specific events.
In the Old Testament there is both unity and diversity in the origin stories of Genesis 1, 2, and 10. In the stories of Israel and other nations there was no intention that other nations should cease to exist. God's intention was that these different nations should worship the one God. The covenant emphasizes kinship, but there is always a place for the stranger. Jesus' genealogy indicates non-Israelite women.
In the New Testament Jesus associated with men and women of all walks of life. He had compassionate dealings with Jews and non-Jews: Samaritans, the Syrophoenician woman, and Romans, for examples. He dealt with various categories of Jews. His followers interacted with a diverse group of people: Philip and the eunuch from Africa, Peter and the Roman centurion, Paul as apostle to the Gentiles. Christians were from everywhere and made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Some member of the new church thought that everyone should be the same; but the focus of Paul on diversity prevailed: we are one body with One Head, yet we differ from each other and are needed and interdependent. We have different gifts and talents but One Spirit. It is not what we are but in Whom we are.
Development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
We have changed from being white and rural to mixed race and cosmopolitan. We began in the United States, expanded to Europe, and became world-wide. In many countries we have gone from mono-cultural to multicultural. We have shifted from being a denomination predominately from lower social classes to one containing a wide spread of social strata. We look at issues such as the role of the church community, the extended family (social control), and the place of church in the totality of life. Different times and parts of the church have had a variety of views on divorce, condoms and other contraceptives, polygamy, sex before marriage, cohabitation and homosexuality.
Schools of thought around these discussions include liberal, progressive, moral influence, evangelical, center conservative, extreme conservative and ultra-extreme conservative (outside regular Adventism).
How do we decide what is more or less important? Do we use some sort of doctrinal triage? What are the landmarks of our faith? I propose a model of concentric circles. There are Christian fundamentals (what makes you a Christian). Then there would be Adventist core doctrines (which defines an Adventist). Then Adventist secondary doctrines (fair degree of unanimity) and finally Adventist traditions. The postmodern person will make personal judgments.
Key issues at the present time are: how to read the Bible, hermeneutics, creation, women's ordination and sexual orientation.
As the church struggles with how to address issues of diversity I have many reasons for optimism. We share many basic convictions: a high view of the Bible; basic Christian doctrines such as God, Christ and salvation; a general Protestant orientation; Sabbath; the second coming; a great controversy theme; belief in a heavenly sanctuary; an understanding of the nature of humanity and an emphasis on stewardship, especially health.
How Will We Deal With Polarity and Diversity? Looking Forward
Will we maintain unity through forced uniformity or through unity in diversity? Some positive signs are: the “grand story” still works much of the time; we still utilize Ellen White; we have a strong organizational structure from the local church to the General Conference; there is frequent travel between various parts of the church; we are able to organize large multicultural meetings; we have strong publications such as Adventist World, mission stories, and the Hope Channel; and we have many common goals.
However, we need to look at how modern and postmodern thinkers will communicate and understand each other. We need to address theological polarization, and we need to develop ways to integrate thoughts and cultures among different communities inside the church. Will we accept and welcome diversity or will we fight diversity?
We need to create a general climate of tolerance. We need to figure out ways to engage in a positive dialogue and demonstrate willingness to learn from each other as we discuss our theological issues. We need to improve our ways of addressing the bible and Ellen White. We need to overcome fundamentalist thinking.
There are three main issues facing the church in the next five years: creationism, the ordination of women and homosexuality. There is a movement within the church to tighten the language of Fundamental Belief #6, which has to do with our understanding of a six-day creation. If we do not take a balanced view, we run the risks of strengthening an anti-science reputation, losing intellectuals in our denomination, creating crises in our colleges and universities around the freedom to develop their curriculum, and placing the Geoscience Research Institute in an impossible situation. As the scientists from that institute have noted, there are geological patterns that can point to slow evolutionary development, and geological patterns that can point to a creation/flood story development. Since no human was there at the beginning, the decision about what to choose is an act of faith. We need to address how we will protect our understanding of the origins and sacredness of the Sabbath.
The situation around the ordination of women has become extremely messy. In Atlanta the constituents voted to ordain all deacons, including women deacons. Whether some parts of the world will do so remains to be seen. They also made a decision to form committees to study the issues involved with ordaining women to the ministry. By 2015, no matter what is decided by the General Conference Session, the ordination of women will go forward. There are divisions and conferences that will not be able to wait any longer for the process to go forward.
The third primary issue facing the church at this time is homosexuality. In the next five years we will need to carefully consider the theological concerns (both pro and con). We will need to train our pastors to work with their gay and lesbian congregants in thoughtful, honest, supportive and compassionate ways. We need to address legal challenges. And we need to address public relations challenges, such as the public reaction to a Seventh-day Adventist woman who was running for parliament and decried because of the church's reputation for homophobia, the refusal of the church to allow Carrol Grady and her organization that supports families of gay and lesbian people to have a booth at the General Conference Session, and the refusal of the Toronto Vegetarian Association to allow the Seventh-day Adventist Church to have a booth at their health fair because of the church's homophobic policies.
The church could address these issues by applying pressure that would affect the careers of people, curtail educational institutions, demand some sort of “total commitment” document to be signed by employees as a sign of loyalty to present policies, censure books and publications and guard against external influences. But how well could this possibly work?
As we head into these discussions, I am convicted that we need to protect the identity of the Adventist movement by recognizing our non-negotiable core of basic Christian beliefs and key Adventist convictions. I believe we need to remain intentional about unity and, at the same time, be intentional about creating a space for diversity.
I suggest that the church recognize the value of a postmodern climate, stimulate dialogue and study, educate our members about various issues, reflect positive attitudes towards diversity in our publications, give educational institutions freedom and accept some ruggedness at the edges. I think it is important that our church accepts some differences between the administrative divisions on the issue of women in ministry, letting some issues be determined at lower levels for positions regarding certain geographical territories. While doing this I suggest that the church let local congregations have their own unique “flavor.”
As we go into these times of change, we need to keep a spiritual mind, be willing to listen, distinguish between principal and culture, develop the tolerance for others that we want for ourselves (including when they hold opinions that disagree with ours), look for what binds us together, and strengthen our patience and our understanding that change takes time. Perhaps we may even need to be prepared to change our own minds about some things.
Recently retired president of the Adventist Church in the Netherlands, Reinder Bruinsma has had a stellar career as a leader and thinker among us. Author of numerous books in several languages, he has served as school principal, church pastor, and director of communications then executive secretary of the Trans-European Division. His most recent book is The Body of Christ: A Biblical Understanding of the Church (R&H 2010).
Homosexuality and the Church
By Bruce Manners
Editor's note: Here is a link to the video of a sermon preached on September 25, 2010 by the senior pastor of College Church on the Avondale College campus. Prepare for nearly half an hour of mental and spiritual stimulation. Avondale College Church Service
Gay Bashing in Adventist Schools:
Creating a Safe Environment for Students with a Perceived Homosexual Orientation
By Carrol Grady
The current epithet of choice on the playground and in the classroom is fag or faggot. These words are hurled derisively at any student who is seen as “different,” whether or not the student is actually a homosexual. For the most part, this abuse is perpetrated by boys against other boys and is the result of parental and societal attitudes and pressures to be “manly.” The quiet, bookish boy who is not interested in sports is often seen as a sissy.
The ultimate put-down today is “You’re so gay!” and this is also used, along with “dyke,” to target girls who are assertive, intellectual, or interested in sports and masculine pursuits. Of course, not all students who have non-gender-typical behaviors and interests are destined to be homosexual, but this is considered a strong indicator. Various studies have established that 65-75% of children with non-gender-typical behavior will be gay.(1)
Detrimental Effect on Students
In spite of the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” words do have the power to hurt. A continued pattern of abuse may damage a student’s self-perception or make him/her feel unsafe, so that time and energy which should be devoted to learning is directed instead toward surviving in a hostile environment. If teachers do not to stop abuse, victims will feel abandoned by the very ones who should protect them. They may try to avoid calling attention to themselves by not speaking up in class or participating in class activities.
If they are actually aware of their own homosexual feelings the trauma is increased ten-fold, and often leads to missing classes or even dropping out of school permanently. The recent rash of gay teen suicides has drawn national attention to this problem, with research showing nine out of ten gay teens have experienced harassment and are four times as likely to attempt suicide as their counterparts.2 Cyber-bullying is a new form of aggression that presents a unique challenge today.
Perpetrators are also harmed if allowed to continue their attacks with impunity. Over time they tend to become more aggressive. “Studies have shown that boys identified as bullies in middle school are four times as likely as their peers to have more than one criminal conviction by age twenty-four.”(3)
Adventist Schools Different?
“But surely,” you may be saying, “this doesn’t take place in our Adventist schools!” True, most of our schools have a zero-tolerance policy for derogatory language, but this often does not extend to slurs about sexual orientation. Teachers in Adventist schools are often uncomfortable with this issue or may have strongly held beliefs regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality, and are likely to ignore, downplay, or excuse this kind of hurtful behavior.
Yet Christians believe that no one is outside God’s love. And teachers believe that every child is entitled to respect and a safe learning environment. We must recognize that gay-bashing is a separate issue from our beliefs about homosexuality.
Incidents in Adventist Schools
Mark grew up in the mission field, attending a small school that enjoyed nature activities as recreation. He was 12 when his parents came back home and settled in a small Adventist college town. He soon discovered that the other boys in his class cared only about sports. He tried to be friendly but the other students called him “Sissy.” His good grades and musical talent only intensified the ridicule and bullying, and some of the older boys even shoved him around and punched him.
One morning Mark woke up feeling completely overwhelmed with pain, sadness and rejection. He experienced a nervous breakdown and was unable to attend school or church for several weeks. Fortunately, his parents found counseling for him and he was able to finish the school year. The following year he had a teacher who refused to tolerate abusive behavior and he did better. But 45 years later, those memories are still vivid and he has spent many years in counseling, working to overcome the feelings of fear and rejection that still affect his relationships.
Peter went away to boarding academy in 11th grade, where he experienced constant ridicule and abuse from the other boys. One time they pushed him into a shower stall and urinated on him. When his horrified parents finally heard about this, they called the boys’ dean, only to be told that this was Peter’s fault for not standing up for himself, and that if the dean punished the other boys it would only make matters worse. They decided to let Peter stay home and attend high school, where he found acceptance with a number of other gay students. Unfortunately, he drifted into a promiscuous lifestyle and contracted AIDS, dying some years later. Many similar experiences could be told.
Often teachers do not know how to respond in situations like these. They may be concerned about how parents will react, uncertain about what course to follow, or dealing with their own homophobia. Here are some guidelines that may help:
Every school should have a policy that addresses anti-gay harassment, and it should be followed consistently.
Effective intervention includes immediately stopping the behavior with statements like, “Stop that right now!”, “That is not acceptable behavior”, or “Christians should not put other people down.”
This should be followed by education, either on the spot or later in private. Immediate brief instruction sets the tone for compassion and helps students know that school is a safe place. Later instruction in private has the advantage of more time for discussion, saving face for the bully, and preventing embarrassment for the victim, who may also fear retaliation after school.
Teachers, like most of us, might benefit from additional study of homosexuality in order to understand it better. A good place to start is the recently published Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives.(4)
Teachers should also be aware of the legal ramifications involved in situations where one student harasses another. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment means that schools have a duty to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students from harassment on an equal basis with other students.(5)
Christian teachers should encourage students to value each person for his/her unique, God-given personality and talents and help develop a sense of responsible caring for each other. Then they will be ready to take their place in society as representative followers of Christ.
(1) Healy, Melissa, “Pieces of the Puzzle” Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2001
(4) http://www.sdagayperspectives.com (to purchase online)
(5) Joslin, Courtney, Esq., “Harassment and Discrimination: A Legal Overview.” National Center for Lesbian Rights, Washington, D.C., 2001
Carrol Grady is a retired minister’s wife, having served with her husband in several NAD conferences and unions as well as in Asia and the General Conference. After learning, some 20 years ago, that their youngest son is gay, she wrote a book about their family’s experiences, which led to a ministry for other families of gays and lesbians. She maintains an informational website, www.someone-to-talk-to.net.
Creating a Safe Learning Environment
By John Dolby
Recently I was privileged to have a senior high school student share with me her dream of becoming a first or second grade teacher some day. When asked what interested her about teaching first and second grade she replied, “Because it’s the last time kids were kind to me at school. After that they just kept picking on me and teasing me.”
As we continue to press into the 21st century we believe that we have become much more tolerant and respectful of others than a previous generation. After the kidnapping, beating, and murder of Matthew Shepard we think we’ve learned about inclusion and acceptance. But have we really learned anything?
The morning news tells us we still have a long way to go in treating others with respect. While we like to think that bullying and harassment happens only in “other” schools, the sad reality exists that bullying in its many forms is prevalent in Adventist schools and academies too. As I spoke with one school administrator his concern about teasing and bullying came through: “I know it exists on my campus but I don’t know how to make it stop.”
I’m reminded of Ezekiel’s stern words that were directed to the spiritual leaders of his day; words that were intended for those charged with the care of others; those who were to be like a shepherd caring for a flock. Ezekiel says, “You have not taken care of the weak ones, healed the ones that are sick, bandaged the ones that are hurt, brought back the ones that wandered off, or looked for the ones that were lost. Instead, you treated them cruelly” Ezekiel 34:4 (TEV).
Can I tell you something honestly? I really don’t like those words. Because their message isn’t just for the religious leaders in Jerusalem—those words are directed to you and me today. Too many times we’ve looked past the weak, the vulnerable, those at risk and those that have been picked on. We’ve tolerated many subtle forms of teasing and social aggression. Instead of standing up and speaking out on behalf of those who have no voice or those whose voices have been silenced, we have treated them cruelly by allowing the bullying to continue. We have neither tried to protect those who have been bullied nor have we tried to prevent it from continuing.
In her book, Creating Emotionally Safe Classrooms, Dr. Jane Bluestein suggests numerous proactive steps that educators can take to create a safe environment where everyone is treated with mutual respect, where bullying does not happen, we need to create schools where students can experience:
- A sense of belonging, of being welcomed and valued; being treated with respect and dignity; acceptance
- The freedom to not be good at a particular skill, to make mistakes, forget, or to need additional practice and still be treated respectfully and with acceptance
- Encouragement and success; recognition; instruction, guidance and resources according to individual needs
- Having one's own unique talents, skills and qualities valued, recognized and acknowledged
- Freedom from arbitrary, indiscriminate and unexpected punishment and reactivity
- Freedom from harassment, intimidation (including labeling, name-calling, ridicule, teasing, criticism, contempt, or aggression) and threat of physical harm from adults or peers
- Freedom from prejudice, judgment and discrimination based on physical characteristics and general appearance; religious, racial or cultural background; sexual orientation
- Freedom from prejudice, judgment and discrimination based on academic, athletic, creative or social capabilities; modality or learning-style preferences, or temperament,
- Freedom to have and express one's own feelings and opinions without fear of recrimination
Tragic events in recent weeks remind us that there is so much work left to do in order to make schools safe and affirming places for all students. October 5 was National Safe Schools Day—an opportunity to spread awareness of the situation of our schools and work together to change the school environments that fail to protect our youth.
John Dolby is a pseudonym
Introducing Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International
By Yolanda Elliott
Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International provides a safe spiritual and social community to current and former Adventists who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI). Current membership is more than 1,500 world-wide.
To help members build and nurture friendships, SDA Kinship holds an annual four-day Kampmeeting in North America as well as mini-kampmeetings around the U.S. and the world. Kampmeetings usually include worship services, group outings, and informational sessions by members or guest speakers.
Kinship also has a thriving online community through our web site, www.sdakinship.org, where members can chat with each other, post on discussion forums, read recent news stories, and share experiences that are important to them. Kinship’s education and advocacy goals are to facilitate and promote understanding and affirmation of LGBTI Adventists among themselves and within the Seventh-day Adventist community worldwide.
Since its founding in 1976, Kinship has been a lifeline to many LGBTI people, their family members, and friends. The organization encourages its members to integrate all aspects of their lives so they can live as whole and healthy LGBTI individuals—children of God awaiting the return of Jesus.
Yolanda Elliott lives in Clarksville, Maryland. She is an alumna of Columbia Union College (now WAU). She’s been a Kinship member since 1995 and is the current president of Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International.
Some Current Initiatives of SDA Kinship International
By Dave Ferguson
With suicides of gay teens and young adults becoming national news, SDA Kinship is working to prevent others from taking their lives. The Safe Place program has been introduced to the Presidents of the 15 Adventist universities and colleges in North America.
The program would provide faculty on each campus who are willing to serve as a Safe Place for gay and lesbian students to talk confidentially about their orientation. Faculty would also determine if the student needs professional counseling and if the student is facing bullying or harassment because of their sexual orientation. Other students who are perceived as “different” for cultural, ethnic, or physical reasons would also be able to talk to these faculty members. Hopefully, the program will be ready for introduction to the campuses for the 2011-2012 school year.
A similar program designed for elementary schools and academies is being developed. This anti-bullying, anti-harassment, and tolerance program should be ready for a pilot test in several schools this school year. If you would like to have your school participate in the pilot program, please contact me at email@example.com.
Your feedback regarding these initiatives is welcomed. We care what you think!
Dave Ferguson, Church Relations Director for Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International, is an active member of his local Adventist church. He served as an Adventist pastor for 15 years and tried every available method to change his orientation, but found it to be impossible. Believing that God called him to ministry, he currently ministers to Kinship members, especially others who have served the church as pastors. He also works with other pastors and educators who are seeking to provide answers to gay and lesbian members of their congregation or campus.
Besides including a representative collection of your email messages in each edition of Who Cares?, we plan to include a question for discussion. Your comments are welcomed and will be shared in the next edition, which is now scheduled for April 1. Send your thoughts and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here's the current discussion question:
Ellen White wrote, “Men hate the sinner, while they love the sin. Christ hates the sin, but loves the sinner. This will be the spirit of all who follow Him” (DA 462). How difficult is it to experience and communicate true love for a person while feeling hatred for what we perceive to be his sin? When does hating my brother's sin become judging him?
Designed to highlight a conversation among Adventist pastors and educators about how to deal more constructively and compassionately with our gay and lesbian constituents, Who Cares? is a quarterly e-mail publication edited by Claude E. Steen, III, email@example.com.
|Claude E. Steen, III||Editor|
|Dave Ferguson||Church Relations, Subscriptions|
|Jacquie Hegarty||Director of Communications|
|Linda Wright||Layout & Design|
Who Cares? A Newsletter for Caring Pastors and Educators — Vol. 1/No. 2 — April 2011
Who Would Choose This?
Does a human being have any real choice in determining whether he or she is romantically or sexually attracted to opposite-sex or same-sex individuals? If so, how much personal choice is involved? How much do we really know about sexual orientation? Or does it really matter how much choice is, or is not, involved? Should we just apply Biblical principles as we understand them to those who wish to be followers of Jesus Christ and “let the chips fall where they may”?
It seems that there are no easy answers. But in this issue of Who Cares? we propose to wrestle with the questions anyway. We do so because the attitudes of each of us toward gays and lesbians, both in the church and out, are greatly affected by our beliefs about whether or not they chose to be gay. Whether you are a pastor, teacher, or administrator, people around you are greatly affected by attitudes you hold and decisions you make concerning them. And whether we are aware of it or not, some of the people we impact through our leadership are in the process of coming to terms with their sexual orientation.
Obviously we can't fully cover this topic in our few short pages, but hopefully we can facilitate an adult conversation that gets beyond the powerful emotions many experience at the mere mention of the “h” word.
The Adventist Position
The official Seventh-day Adventist position seems to assume that homosexuality is a choice. While affirming that “every human being is valuable in the sight of God,” the official statement declares categorically that “Sexual acts outside the circle of a heterosexual marriage are forbidden” and that “Adventists are opposed to homosexual practices and relationships.” (1) In fact, Dr. Kemena, author of Sexual Orientation: Can We Talk About It?, our lead article in this issue, fears that even a discussion of the question of sexual orientation may be deemed heretical since official statements of our church don't recognize the concept.
Dr. Ron Springett, in his 1988 book Homosexuality in History and the Scriptures, published by the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference, after 24 pages reviewing the scientific literature, concludes, “What actually causes homosexual orientation of an individual remains something of a mystery. Often more than one factor is no doubt at work, defining the condition, therefore, as one of multiple etiology.... There is no way at present to measure the relative inputs of the different variables.” (2)
When we look at non-Adventist literature, we see the vast majority seems to support the notion that sexual orientation is not a choice, with supporting evidence citing everything from genetics to behavioral science to cultural influences. But none of these influences, or the theories themselves, are deemed conclusive.
A conservative Christian scientist with years of research in homosexuality, Dr. Mark A. Yarhouse, who teaches at Regent University (Pat Robertson, founder and chancellor) and director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity (he was one of the presenters at the Andrew University Conference on Marriage, Homosexuality and the Church in October 2009), writes: “I think it is important that we recognize that people do not choose to experience same-sex attraction or to have a homosexual orientation as such. They find themselves with attractions toward the same sex. It is unclear why some people experience same-sex attractions or have a homosexual orientation.... [T]here are probably many factors that contribute in one way or another, and these factors vary from person to person.” (3)
In the same article Dr. Yarhouse also writes that he accepts the statement of the American Psychological Association as correctly representing what is currently known about homosexuality. That statement reads:
“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.” (4)
To make this all a bit more practical, do you remember when you chose your sexual orientation? Neither do I. And now this question, asked by gays in every country and across many cultures and religions. “If I could choose my sexual orientation, why would I ever choose to be a part of the most despised and persecuted minority in the world?”
Don't Miss These Articles
Besides Ben Kemena's lead article examining the science behind sexual orientation, Dr. Arlene Taylor weighs in with a review of a current scientific book on the subject and answers a couple of questions related to this discussion.
If “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation,” should that understanding affect in any way how we relate to those whose attraction is only to same-gender people? Ryan Bell, senior pastor of the Hollywood Adventist Church, shares his thoughts in the article How Deep is God's Love?
You will also enjoy the story, Deep, Dark Closet, from a forthcoming memoir of John McLarty, pastor of North Hill Adventist Fellowship in the Washington Conference.
Finally, I've written a short review of the 2008 book Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives. And we've included some responses to the discussion question in our January issue, as well as proposing another discussion question to provoke thought and possibly your written response.
Love with Actions and in Truth
“Dear Children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” 1 John 3:18-20, NIV.
Claude E. Steen III, Editor
Statement voted by the Annual Council of the General Conference Executive Committee, 1999.
Ronald M. Springett, Homosexuality in History and the Scriptures (Washington, DC: Biblical Research Institute, 2008), p. 25.
- American Psychological Association, Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality.
Claude E. Steen III retired from more than 40 years of active pastoral ministry in June 2010. His work was mostly in the Southern and Columbia unions with 5 years in Ethiopia and a short stay in the Southwestern Union. With his wife Donna (Chalmers) their family consists of 2 married sons, 2 married daughters, a gay son, and 11 grandchildren. He lives happily with Donna in a restored 1827 farm house at the end of the road near Roxboro, NC.firstname.lastname@example.org
Sexual Orientation: Can We Talk About It?
By Ben Kemena MD
The intersection of religion and science often swirl in a tempest. Both reflect an imperfect world searching for perfect answers. Both are at their best when provoking new thoughtful questions and are often at their worst when attempting to answer those questions.
Organized religion attempts to provide a moral and spiritual basis for decision-making based on ecclesiastical guidance and biblical authority. Science and technology attempt to provide guidance and direction for decision-making based on testing hypotheses and considering statistical probability. When there is general agreement between sacred tenet and scientific probabilities, there is relief and affirmation of both. But when there is genuine disagreement (or misunderstanding) between the two, the driven debate and discord can be discrediting to all parties.
When considering the complex issue of sexual orientation, Seventh-day Adventists face obstacles. The ecclesiastical authority of the church does not recognize the concept of sexual orientation in any policy statement with deliberate omission. Therefore, to consider the topic means to start beyond the boundaries of church guidelines in heretical territory. Heresy is dangerous ground upon which to initiate a discussion and is often done at considerable personal risk for those within church fellowship.
On the other hand, for those still wishing to consider the issue, the science is challenging to understand, bound to complex mathematics and statistics, and provides probabilities rather than certainty. Furthermore, unlike a church policy guidebook, there is no single reference which catalogs scientific research on sexual orientation, in part, because the issue remains more socially polarizing than data-driven and because research comes from every corner of the globe.
Sexual orientation variation (such as homosexuality) has been part of humanity for centuries under a variety of unflattering euphemisms. In 1892, the term “homosexual” was first used in American scientific literature (in Europe by 1840) and was a common term by 1900. It is noteworthy that Ellen White never addressed the issue of homosexuality, though she discussed a variety of other sexual issues in detail.
In its early conception, the model of homosexuality was that of an illness which compelled both pity and attempts at a cure. It was also seen as part of the stratum of human biological development in which all humans were not created equal, but that some were more biologically advanced (and valuable) than others. This general scientific model based upon social degeneracy theory was a prevailing view for centuries. Its influence on both science and religion were used to justify the notion of African-American slavery and the Nazi doctrine of Aryan supremacy with the ethnic cleansing of Jews in the Holocaust. Even in the United States, this theory was used to justify brutal scientific experiments on the mentally ill, upon homosexuals, and upon African-American military men at Tuskegee, to name a few.
During the era between 1892 and 1970 specific interventions to “cure” homosexuality represented some of the greatest embarrassments and disappointments to both science and religion. The surgeries, chemicals, radiation, aversion therapy (including torture) used to “treat” homosexuals are gruesome to detail. It is worth noting that the last series of brain lobotomies to remove homosexuality continued through 1959 as a tragic failure to all involved. More recent efforts to overcome homosexuality through so-called reparative therapy programs remain rooted in social degeneracy theory. Despite many attempts, no legitimate research studies reveal a method to alter sexual orientation.
In 1953, the deciphering of the genetic code and the post-World War II realization of the dangers of social degeneracy writ large in our horror surrounding the Holocaust began to change both religion and science. Deciphering the genetic code was the scientific discredit of social degeneracy. Views on race relations, religious differences, and gender equality began to ascribe to the notion that all human beings have equivalent value. In Christian terms, “God so loved the world”--without exception!
The understanding that human physiology is linked to genetic codes ushered in the modern era as we currently know it. Over the past forty years, specific areas of human chromosomes (genes) have been identified which are responsible for eye color, hair color, height, liver function and the production of insulin, as simple examples. Since the biochemistry of our genetic code remains complex, it has been easier to look for patterns, similarities, and trends in human body structures. Comparison of structure size, anatomical variations, reviews of identical and fraternal twins, and family history trait studies often yield clues to possible genetic linkages.
Arguably, using observable structural differences between homosexual and heterosexuals have limitations and remain the topic of intense religious debate. But taken on the whole they seem to support a biological basis to sexual orientation. Critics argue that human body structure is not the same as human behavior, whereas supporters argue that statistical probability clearly supports biological differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals. Numerous studies looking for similarities and differences, including everything from finger-sizing, handedness, cochlear ear measurements, startle reflexes and brain anatomy, have revealed patterns which strongly suggest a genetic influence for sexual orientation. Elegant studies of identical and fraternal twins have also shown a linkage to sexual orientation, with identical twins much more likely to have the same sexual orientation, whether raised together or apart. In other words, if one identical twin is homosexual, the other is much more likely to be homosexual as well, particularly when compared to sets of fraternal (non-identical) twins.
The newest era of research is moving from the level of body structure, chromosomes, and genes into the arena of specific molecules of DNA which are the basis of those genes, chromosomes and structures. In 2004 a “working draft” of the full DNA molecular map of human genes, the Human Genome Project, was completed, offering the likelihood of future molecular genetic research, including research on sexual orientation, which may vastly increase our knowledge.
Because some of the DNA sequences of our genes have been known, there has been one molecular DNA study regarding sexual orientation. In 1993 American researchers at the National Institute of Health studying male homosexuality linked the human X chromosome at area Xq28 to sexual orientation. While this linkage was neither perfect nor absolute, it was statistically significant. Once full details of the entire genetic DNA molecular map become known, detailed molecular research will surely follow. However, because the issue of sexual orientation remains contentious, many scientific researchers have avoided new research in this area. In today's hyper-polarized world, efforts to discredit the research, by either conservative or liberal groups, usually begin with an ethics investigation of the researcher, threatening their future career and funding.
Many Seventh-day Adventists have a strong evangelical interest in the medical and biological sciences as part of our proud church heritage. For many, if an iron-clad biological basis of sexual orientation could be determined--particularly linked to specific genes and genetic codes--the issue of sexual orientation might be re-opened to ecclesiastical review. However, in a scientific world of statistics and probability, an absolute answer is unlikely. While a genetic basis of sexual orientation is supported, there is contention around other factors which may contribute to variations in sexual orientation. For instance, sexual orientation is probably a complex interaction of genetics, hormonal factors, and other chemical mediators. Sexual orientation studies reveal that this identity trait is established in human beings before the age of five.
The polarized rhetoric of the debate on sexual orientation can be difficult to decipher or endure. However, both sides agree that sexual orientation has a basis in both genetic (DNA) and biological factors such as hormones, etc. The contention revolves around the degree of influence of each. To what degree does childhood upbringing play a role, if any? And what are the moral implications of the variations in sexual orientation (homosexual or heterosexual) as defined by religious groups? On this last point, we know that genes code for variations in eye color, hair color, height and etc. which most Christians view as normal variations without moral weight. The issue is whether differences in sexual orientation are seen as a genuine human variation or as moral blight or illness.
Ultimately, science will aide ecclesiastical conscience on the issue of sexual orientation. Currently, the Adventist church does not recognize the legitimacy of the concept of sexual orientation. The internal church debate seems closed. The accumulative scientific evidence and religious implications may require many decades to fully elucidate and reopen church discussion. Christians have been here before. Before overwhelming evidence was fully known, thoughtful people struggled with whether the sun orbited around the earth, whether social degeneracy theories could justify human slavery, or whether cancer indicated divine punishment of the unfaithful. In the meantime, millions of lives remain suspended in the balance of incomplete knowledge.
Today we must remain informed in our present truth by the inclusive love of Jesus, with the imperfect science as we know it. For some Adventists, the concept of sexual orientation is completely objectionable and there is no room for further review. However, for those willing to consider this topic, science may or may not be the final arbiter of one’s personal views on the issue. Human science based on statistics and probabilities may help inform, but some of the most challenging questions likely await the Second Coming for full revelation.
I humbly ask all to make the Savior’s love our leading moral compass as we consider sexual orientation on the basis of biological variation rather than as sin without recourse. A moral call to love changes hearts and the way we view human research. Rather than excluding 5-10% of the world population, all made in the image of our Creator, from the fellowship of Adventism and assigning them to eternal hell, the concept of sexual orientation with a century of scientific research deserves a genuine forum for consideration and analysis.
Ben Kemena MD is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Hospice and Palliative Care and works as Staff Hospitalist and Staff Palliativist with a large medical group in several hospitals in Denver, Colorado. A 1986 graduate of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, he did his internship, residency, and fellowship there, then taught in the medical school until he was terminated in 1991 due to issues related to his sexual orientation. The son of retired Adventist denominational employees, Ben enjoys writing, speaking, and appearing on media outlets particularly discussing sexual orientation issues. The greatest passion of his life is caring for his patients. He lives with Mike, his partner of 17 years.
Adventist, Professional—and Gay
By Ben Kemena, MD
Editor's Note: My brief stint as editor of this newsletter has brought me into contact with many people who have been a real blessing to me. Among those are readers, people I come across in my research and our writers.
Author Ben Kemena took me seriously when, requesting information for an author profile, I said, “Send everything you think might be relevant and I'll cut it to fit.” What he sent was so moving to me I don't want to keep it to myself. It seems as important to me as the article it was meant to highlight. Elsewhere in this newsletter Ryan Bell has urged us to listen to stories. Those of us who are “straight” Adventists typically have no idea of the pain endured by many of our gay brothers and sisters. So we've decided to let you read more of Dr. Kemena's story than I had originally planned. —Claude E. Steen, III
I was raised in an Adventist home and attended Mile High Academy. My parents are both retired Adventist denominational employees. My mother and my paternal grandparents were immigrants to America. I have one brother and I'm 50 years old. My parents taught me the value and nobility of hard work as well as the virtues of their new country.
I graduated from Columbine High School (yup—that one) and went on to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder, earning a degree in chemical engineering. I worked as a petrochemical engineer before deciding to attend medical school at Loma Linda University. I graduated from Loma Linda University School of Medicine (LLUSM) in 1986 and went on to do my internship, residency, and fellowship there. Then I started my career as a faculty instructor at LLUSM.
In 1991 I was dismissed from LLUSM after issues around my sexual orientation surfaced. At that point, I had to face personal rebirth and a new beginning. Gone was the world I once knew— separated from church, friends, colleagues, school, employer, family, and culture. There are few words to describe what this change meant to me some 20 years ago.
I have been blessed in my rebirth, hoping to carry the best of my Adventist legacy with me. This has included the joy of performing classical music, running marathons, and trekking in the Colorado high country. I was able to grow in my human relationships, moving beyond superficial, guarded acquaintances into mature, disclosing relationships. Honest self-identification has become an important basis for my maturity. I have been with a great partner, Mike, for 17 years and have found an accepting Adventist faith community in Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International (a support group for gay Adventists). I have also found refuge and solace among other gay-accepting Christian groups, notably Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran faith communities.
My relationships within my family have been mixed. My parents and brother have always remained in contact with me despite their personal disagreements and misgivings on this issue. We have all worked very hard to keep our family together and I am proud of them. They have taught me the living message of the Gospels: “Love wins; love always wins.” We read, discuss, challenge, pray, and repeat the process over and over again. I am blessed to live near my parents and we see each other often.
My parents have weathered blistering criticism from other family members and friends. This has been difficult to watch and endure. Some have angrily demanded that I submit to so-called “gay reparative therapy” programs. Others simply avoid me. But over the course of several decades, most detractors are actually surprised that I'm still alive (I lived through an era where most predicted that I would die from HIV), and my survival has slowly opened doors. Hate is difficult to sustain over many years.
Currently, I serve in the medical profession as a board-certified physician in both Internal Medicine and in Hospice and Palliative Care Medicine. For the past fifteen years, I have had the privilege of serving as a hospitalist and palliativist at several teaching hospitals in the Denver area, where caring for vulnerable patients continues to be the passion of my life. I'm indebted to many who believed in me. Indeed, I stand on the shoulders of giants.
I have enjoyed writing for many years and have written articles for the Chicago Tribune, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, and a guest editorial writer with the Denver Post. Many of my articles have addressed sexual orientation issues as this has been a part of my life rather than a cause.
I have been involved on local TV, radio, and print media on the topic of sexual orientation. This has been challenging at times, particularly with hostile audiences, including evangelical Christian groups. I have also been a speaker on local university campuses and within my professional group.
My role as a 50-something-year-old has been to step aside from leadership and to help mentor younger people. I am able to be open about my sexual orientation in my work setting, and I'm fortunate to live in a city and county which offers basic civil liberties for gay people through local ordinance protection. Mike and I have been able to intervene on behalf of gay people “starting over” from all over the country. Many are Adventists that you might actually know.
As gay people of faith, we understand that we dwell outside of Adventist policy; but we find solace in the inclusion of the Gospel message. As my father would say, hard work, self-review, Christian fellowship, and prayer are the ingredients of becoming better Christians each day. In that journey, we strive towards our own Mount Pisgah, looking across the Jordan with an occasional glimpse of the Promised Land.
By Arlene R. Taylor PhD, Brain-Function Specialist
What causes a child to grow up straight versus gay or bisexual? Simon LeVay PhD addresses these types of questions in his book: Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why (NY: Oxford University Press, 2011). For those of you who are wrestling with solidifying your brain’s opinion on sexual orientation (versus, perhaps, what you have been told to hold as an opinion), LeVay’s book may assist you with obtaining additional perspective. Whether or not this prompts your brain to adopt a new opinion, knowing more about the body of knowledge in this scientific discipline can help you to discuss it in a more informed manner.
There is a wealth of scientific evidence, some more conclusive than others, that points to “one inescapable conclusion: Sexual orientation results primarily from an interaction between genes, sex hormones, and the cells of the developing body and brain.” Thus, the general conclusion from multiple lines of research is quite clear that a person’s sexual orientation arises in large part from biological processes that are already underway before birth.
Dr. LeVay, a British-born neuroscientist, has served on the faculties of Harvard Medical School and the Salk Institute for Biological studies. This is just one of nearly a dozen books he has authored, including the textbook Human Sexuality (Sinauer, 3rd edition 2009).
Questions and Answers
Q: A parishioner recently contacted me for help in understanding her son who “says he is gay.” The youngest of four children and the second son, the woman claims he has “always been more like my daughter since birth” than like his older brother. I’ve always been taught that sexual orientation was a flat-out choice and anyone could choose to be either straight or gay. Now I’m beginning to wonder.
A. First, if the current body of scientific study is moving in the right explanatory direction, a child would likely not choose to be gay any more than it would decide to select autism, or Down syndrome, or savant, or any number of other brain presentations. Life can be much more stressful when a brain does not match societal (to say nothing of familial or religious) expectations for that brain and gender. Most human beings would not consciously select a more stressful life.
Second, while a person’s primary sexual orientation appears to be innate rather than just a personal choice, the selection of behaviors a person chooses to exhibit, having reached the age of accountability, does contain a component of choice. Perhaps that’s where the Biblical “a leopard cannot change its spots” fits in.
Human beings are a combination of nature (genes, chromosomes, and cellular memory) and nurture (the way in which the environment has acted upon “nature” beginning at least in utero). Perhaps it would be more efficacious to spend less time and energy trying to figure out what happened to an individual brain to cause it to differ from the majority and more time helping such brains to find ways to live balanced, connected, inclusive, and fulfilling lives in both the world and religious communities.
You may want to refer to Brain References on my website (www.arlenetaylor.org) for additional information on Cellular Memory and on Sexuality and the Brain. In addition, you may want to refer to Simon LeVay’s book Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why (NY: Oxford University Press, 2011).
Q. My theological training has resulted in my belief that the Bible indicates homosexuals must be asexual in order to be saved. A few of my colleagues differ in their beliefs. Which position represents the truth?
A. I am a brain-function specialist, not a theologian. Consequently, I am unable to address your brain’s opinion deriving from a base of theological training. My father, however, was a preacher; and in the few conversations we were able to have on this topic prior to his death in 1992, I found his perspective quite open, balanced, and helpful.
It was his brain’s opinion that if the deity permitted brains to be born with changes in the third interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus that impacted sexual preference, the deity must also have a way for that type of brain not only to be integrated appropriately into a religious community but also to be “saved.” It was also his brain’s opinion that the Biblical injunctions against certain practices (e.g., fornication) address behaviors rather than preference (e.g., the leopard cannot change its spots).
Whatever else human beings are, they are relational and sexual. Some brains (and sex does begin in the brain) seem to have stronger needs for sexual affiliation than others. But the theologians I’ve spoken with are hard put to come up with a Biblical injunction that clearly indicates anyone outside the parameters of a heterosexual brain must be asexual to be saved.
Monogamy is the recommended behavior for sexual behaviors for any number of reasons, health as well as cellular memory. It is fascinating that one rarely observes true monogamy in this world, among even some of the clergy to say nothing of heterosexuals in general. Monogamy means an individual who chooses to engage in sexual behaviors does so with the same ONE person throughout an entire lifetime. This does not mean being sexually monogamous with one person at a time, which is what is more commonly observed. I refer to that as serial monogamy, where an individual is sexually active and monogamous with one person for perhaps months or years, then the couple separates and each goes on to develop another monogamous sexual relationship for perhaps months or years, and so on.
The religious community could do a much better job at addressing issues of sexuality in an open and informed manner instead of either pretending it doesn’t exist or simply legislating “don’t have sex before marriage.” An adult with a relatively undamaged and normally functioning brain (every brain is damaged in some way or another) can choose whether or not to be monogamous or promiscuous, literally and virtually. And he/she can choose to control the thoughts related to sexual behaviors that are allowed to hang out in the brain.
Arlene R. Taylor PhD is founder and president of Realizations, Inc., a non-profit corporation that engages in brain-function research and provides related educational resources. She is a talented speaker who specialized in simplifying the complex topic of brain function, with the goal of helping individuals learn to thrive by design. Learn much more at www.arlenetaylor.org.
How Deep Is God’s Love?
By Ryan J. Bell
I’ll never forget the night I really talked to Matt* about his sexual orientation and what that meant for him. He was the son of one of the prominent couples in my church. Matt had come out to his parents and his church years before. But they were new in our town and at first, all we knew was that their son didn’t attend church.
Gradually we learned that Matt was gay and heard the painful stories that always go along with that discovery. He was a remarkably talented pianist and used to play for his church when he was younger. I and other leaders of our church reassured Matt that he was welcome at our church anytime and that we'd love to hear him play the piano in worship. It took a while, but he finally did join us and even played the piano on occasion.
One night I finally mustered the courage to ask Matt about his life experience. It was the kind of conversation that presupposes a trusting relationship. I asked him about the gay subculture. He described a fun and exciting world, but with a twinge of sadness. He confessed that it is a self-destructive environment but seems like the only places where gays and lesbians can find any peace and acceptance in our culture.
Now it was my turn to be sad. I remember that moment like it was yesterday because I said to Matt, “Isn’t that what the church is supposed to be? A community of love and grace and acceptance that can’t be found anywhere else on earth?”
Matt laughed politely but I could tell he found the idea naive if not downright preposterous.
Through the years I have had the privilege of knowing dozens of men and women like Matt. Their stories are vastly different but some elements are almost always the same. I have not met a single person who has, in any sense, “chosen” to be gay. They have all discovered it about themselves, just as we all discover our sexuality in adolescence. As Pastor Steen says in his introduction to this issue, “Do you remember when you chose your sexual identity?” Right. Me either.
More importantly, and in spite of what I heard one very prominent pastor claim, I have never met a single person who is “thumbing her nose” at God or militantly flaunting his sexual identity. I do, however, know many gays and lesbians who feel God has rejected them, thumbing His nose at them! Where could they have possibly gotten that idea?
If you are a pastor or a teacher and you’re struggling with understanding sexual orientation or same-sex attraction, there is really only one way forward that I have discovered.
Listen to people’s stories. Listen compassionately.
Isn’t that what we pastors have been called to do? God invites us into people’s lives at the point of their deepest pain. This is a difficult thing to do, but it is also a gift. We have the honor of being with people when others cannot. If you will listen, without judgment, as we see Jesus doing over and over again in the gospels, you will hear stories, as I have, of profound pain and rejection. And if you allow this pain to touch you it will change your life forever.
The next thing I want to say might sound moderately heretical at first, so please stay with me. The next step in this journey, as you’re listening to people’s stories, is to set your Bible down. Not permanently, of course. The Bible is normative for us and we’ll need to come back to the Bible after a bit. But if we don’t put our Bibles down long enough to listen to people, homosexuality will remain an issue. But this is first and foremost about people.
So this has been my hermeneutic, if you will—my way of understanding. First, we acknowledge that there are gays and lesbians in the world. They exist. For real. They’re not making it up. They’re not being rebellious. Their sexuality is rooted in the same deep place your sexuality is—at the level of your identity.
Once we acknowledge that gays and lesbians legitimately exist in the world, like people with red hair exist in the world, we can face the next question. How should the church relate to gays and lesbians?
Leaving aside for the moment the question of the morality of same-sex relationships, can we now accept that the church must welcome gays and lesbians as full participants in worship? Even if you think same-sex relationships are a sin, are not sinners welcome in worship?
If we accept the fact that gays and lesbians have not chosen their sexual identity as one would choose breakfast cereal from the array of options at the market, is it not obvious that to reject them from church life is like rejecting people on the basis of race?
My point—and now you can pick up your Bible again—is that the narrative weight of scripture tells me that God values people over ideas.
If homosexuality is an idea for you, it will be easy to dismiss or reject the people to whom that idea adheres. But if homosexuality is about people, then love and acceptance is the first response if we are, indeed, followers of the peasant of Nazareth, who “ate and drank with sinners,” which is to say, ate and drank with outcasts and rejects.
Jesus welcomed everyone. And not just as a pastime. His welcome of everyone is central to who he was and the calling he has left to his people, the church.
Just a few weeks ago one of the older members of my church made an appointment to see me. I’ll call him Dave*. He’s 70 years old but he seems much younger than that to me. He loves God and studies his Bible with a voracious appetite. He’s a classically trained pianist and he doesn’t like our “upbeat” worship music. He’s told me so quite a few times. The point is, he’s more traditional than our average member.
On this day, Dave came to me with a heavy heart. It turns out his heart has been heavy for 50 years. He told me, through tears, that when he was 19 he realized he was attracted to boys. He prayed fervently for God to change him. He sought therapy. He did whatever he could think of to try to change but to no avail. One thing he could never do, he told me, was tell his pastor.
Dave eventually drifted away from the church. He lived a fairly self-destructive life in the world for many years, but something led him back to the church of his childhood, and for a decade or more he’s been at the Hollywood Adventist Church. For the first time, he’s telling others members about his sexual orientation. So far he’s been told that he is an abomination even after stressing that he’s only talking about his orientation, nothing more. He’s had people piously say they’ll pray for him. He was expecting the worst from me.
I simply told him what I know is true—God loves him and wants a relationship with him. If that’s not true, I don’t want to be a Christian either.
I could tell so many more stories like this. One of the first times I talked to Chloe* she said she was coming to the conclusion that she is a lesbian. I listened. She told me stories of Christians, and especially pastors, saying that Satan had a hold on her life and that she needed to pray for God’s healing. She was holding her breath, expecting my reaction to be the same.
In my mind, it was just her story. How could I pass judgment on her story? I had to ask again, how deep is God’s love? Is it deep enough to welcome Chloe and Dave and Matt into His family? Deep enough to welcome me? Thankfully, in our church Chloe is discovering God’s unconditional acceptance of her as a beautiful person created in God’s image.
There may be a lot we don’t know for sure, but two things are abundantly clear to me. First, gays and lesbians do not have control over their sexual identity. It is something they discover about themselves just the way I discovered that I was attracted to girls.
Second, the church is a community called into being by God’s Spirit to extend the ministry of Jesus in the world. And Jesus went around conversing and eating with the people who were supposedly unacceptable and untouchable.
This is primary. We can talk about sexual ethics after we get this straight in our hearts. The ethic of love and acceptance is primary for the church.
*These names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.
Ryan J. Bell DMin has been a pastor since 1994 and served three congregations before becoming Senior Pastor of Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church in June 2005. His M.Div is from Andrews University (2000) and his D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his congregation are both very active in their local community and the wider world bearing witness to God's goodness by seeking solutions to difficult social problems. Besides serving on the boards of several area interfaith ministries, Ryan is founder and director of re-church: a network of emerging, missional Seventh-day Adventist congregations across America. He writes for a wide range of publications, including The Huffington Post and the Hillhurst Review. Ryan lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Elysabeth, and two daughters, Zoe and Sophie.
Deep, Dark Closet
By John McLarty
Tim Miller was tall, gaunt, impeccably dressed in a black suit. He didn’t have a British accent, but he looked like he should have. It was impossible to tell how old he was. He looked exactly the same as he had six years earlier. We were visiting at potluck after services at the Greenwich Village Church. I was fresh out of seminary, back in New York, and employed as a Bible worker at the evangelistic center in Times Square. Tim was still working in the fashion industry, still single, and still praying “that God will bring the right woman into my life.”
I doubted it.
“I don’t believe in dating.” He explained. “I believe God will bring just the right woman into my life. When he does, I’ll know. And she will know, too, because she will be that close to God. Why go through all the heartbreak of dating and breaking up? God can’t want us to go through all that. It can’t be his plan for men and women to chase each other and hurt each other. So, I’ll just wait until God brings the right person into my life. Then I’ll get married.”
I first met Tim six years earlier through Colin Cook, my homosexual boss and roommate. His mannerisms were decidedly effeminate. I didn't doubt his commitment to God or even his dream that God would bring “the right woman” into his life. I did doubt that such a woman existed. But I played along with the conversation.
“So you’re not going to do anything to find the right person?” I said. “You’re not going to introduce yourself to attractive women. You’re not going to go to a concert or a museum with a woman unless you’re convinced she’s the one that God has picked out for you to marry?”
“Why should I? God doesn’t make mistakes; I do. So I’ll just wait until he brings the right person into my life. Besides, I’m not sure people should be getting married these days. We are so close to the end of time, I wonder if getting married isn’t just asking for trouble. Because when the time of trouble comes, you’ll be worried about your wife instead of focusing solely on doing God’s will. Your wife could become one more avenue through which Satan could attack you.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I was suspicious of people who tried to run their lives by the eschatological calendar. My dad didn’t think he would live to finish high school, then didn’t think time would last long enough for him to finish college and medical school. He got married in part because he wanted to make sure he got some time to enjoy conjugal pleasures before the return of Jesus and the end of marriage and sex.
So Dad got married because time was short. Tim was remaining single “because time was short.” Actually, I was sure the eschatological calendar had nothing to do with Tim's singleness. Tim wouldn’t recognize the “right woman” if she came and sat in his lap, I thought. Then I scolded myself. Just because a man was effeminate did not prove that he was gay. Who was I to question his self-professed interest in women and marriage?
After lunch, Tim invited me to go with him and Olivo to a park on the west side of the Hudson. I had no plans. I wasn’t looking forward to spending the afternoon alone, so I said, sure, I’d come along.
We piled into Tim’s car and drove toward the Holland Tunnel. I was getting out of the City! No matter how much I loved Manhattan, I always thrilled to get out. Manhattan is so intense. The energy and vitality are utterly absorbing when you’re there. But the sense of decompression, of release, of catching one’s breath when you leave the city is also intoxicating. I loved escaping; but already in the car, even before we reached the Tunnel, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.
Tim and Olivo were getting acquainted. At church, I had thought they were old friends. Turned out they had never seen each other before. Olivo was enthralled with Tim’s description of his life in the fashion world. Tim was equally taken with Olivo’s descriptions of his work as an aide in a kindergarten in Spanish Harlem. They laughed and giggled.
At the park, the chemistry between Tim and Olivo got hotter. They pushed each other on the swings. They chased each other around and over the jungle gym. They talked with rapt intensity, giggling with unrestrained mirth and excitement.
Philosophically, I was committed to compassion and tolerance for homosexual people. But finding myself the third person on a date thick with coquettish flirting and sexual energy felt really weird.
After an hour at the park, I suddenly remembered an evening appointment. “Hey Tim,” I said, “I’m really sorry, but I’m going to have to run. I need to get back to the city for a social this evening at the Crossroads Church.”
“Oh, do you have to go so early? It’s such a beautiful day. I’m afraid we won’t get too many more of these before winter really sets in. I can drop you off later right at the church.”
“No, that’s all right. I’ll just take a bus down to Union station and get the PATH train into the city. I really appreciate you’re including me this afternoon. I didn’t even know this park existed. Thanks, so much.”
“You sure you have to go now? It’s still a couple of hours till sundown?”
“Yes, I think I better head on back. I want to do a little reading this afternoon before I go to the social.”
On the bus, I stared out the window, unseeing. What kind of life would it be? To be so committed to the church and to God, and never be able to admit your sexual identity, maybe not even to yourself? I knew what it was like to have people ask why you were single. I remembered being invited to a weekend gathering at a faculty member’s cabin in the Sierras during my senior year of college. The invitation meant a lot to me. I was definitely not part of any of the cool groups. But there I was on a Saturday night, eating popcorn and talking with ten or twelve cool students and one of the most popular teachers on campus. It was light-hearted fun until the teacher turned to me and asked, “So John, why are you still unattached?”
I was startled. I was at the time utterly enthralled with Carol, a sophisticated, brilliant chemistry student. She was surrounded constantly by guys who appeared to be good friends and nothing more—which drove me crazy. I couldn’t understand how any male could hang around her for any length of time without being hopelessly enmeshed in her seductive spell. I was jealous of their ease. Every time I got close to her I felt a head-spinning charge. She was dazzling, spell casting.
But I wasn’t about to talk about her in a group of cool students with a cool professor, none of whom I knew well. So I offered my standard speech about my philosophy of dating and marriage: I wasn’t going to get married until I had finished school and had a job. And what was the point of dating if it wasn’t going to go anywhere. And given the years of school ahead of me, there was no way I could sustain a dating relationship till I was done. So why start?
The professor wasn’t buying it. How could I know the kind of woman I would want to live with the rest of my life if I didn’t develop some significant relationships here and now? Didn’t I think that dating was an important part of preparation for marriage? Besides, if I didn’t date now, how would I really be sure about the woman I did marry? Maybe the only reason I married her would be because she was the only person available to me in the narrower social setting that would likely be my situation after graduating from medical school. School was where you had the largest pool of women eligible for marriage. If I didn’t find someone here, what were my chances of finding someone out there?
At the time, I had the distinct feeling he was really wondering if I were gay. But, of course, he couldn’t ask me that. Not in front of others, maybe not even in his office behind closed doors. Because if I were gay, what could he say? He could not offer any realistic hope of change nor could he bless me as I was. As an Adventist Bible teacher, he would have been bound by the doctrine of the church. In that setting, don’t ask; don’t tell was the most compassionate of all imaginable policies. Still, he wanted to ask. Maybe I should have been offended. Instead, I was amused.
Then there was the time in seminary when I was interviewed by the president of the Iowa Conference. I knew I wasn't a likely candidate, since I wasn’t married and didn’t wear a suit and tie and had long curly hair. Still he and his vice-president were on campus interviewing prospective pastors, and I was a prospective pastor. So I signed up for one of the interview slots. I could tell right away he was not interested in my candidacy. Still we went through the motions. When he asked about my wife and found out I wasn’t married and didn’t have any immediate prospects, he came right out and asked, “Are you attracted to women?”
I laughed and assured him I was.
In the church, marriage was expected. If you were over twenty-one and single, everyone wanted to know about your plans to remedy the situation.
I imagined myself in Tim's place. What if I were gay? It would be one thing to survive four years of interrogatory ambushes in college. But what if I faced an entire lifetime of careful pretending?
What kind of inner dissonance must Tim live with in the church? He had absolute confidence in Adventist doctrine. He believed the Adventist teachings about the Mark of the Beast, the Time of Trouble, and the Close of Probation. He confidently witnessed to others about the classic Adventist teachings regarding the nature of the human soul and hell. He lived by the rules restricting entertainment and diet. He had internalized all the details of Adventist Bible interpretation and life style. The church was home for his heart. But he could never admit publicly his sexual identity. And while I believe there is more to persons' identity than their sexuality, surely sexuality is a crucial element of who a person is. Tim had to be ready with an explanation for his singleness any time someone asked him. And if he was going to remain welcome in the church, when it came to sexuality, he could never tell the truth.
The bus dropped me at the train station. I took the PATH train into Manhattan, glad to be alone.
After ten years, I left New York for the west coast, and, naturally, lost touch with Tim. Then a dozen years after moving to L. A. I ran into Tim when I was at the Glendale Church to preach. He looked the same, impeccably dressed, as pleasant and devout and effeminate as ever. Still in the fashion industry. Without my asking, he said he was happily single, but only until God brought the right woman into his life. He would never want to repeat Abraham's error of running ahead of God.
John McLarty has been the pastor of North Hill Adventist Fellowship for the past twelve years. He also serves as supervising pastor for two lay-led congregations near Tacoma, WA. He began his pastoral service in Greater New York and later worked as a writer and producer for the Voice of Prophecy. His articles have appeared in a variety of Adventist magazines. His latest book is Adventist Spirituality for Thinkers and Seekers: The Faith I Highly Recommend published by the Review and Herald Publishing Association. He is married to Karin Lundstrom McLarty and has three children. He posts his sermon manuscripts at http://www.liberaladventist.blogspot.com.
Book Review of Christianity and Homosexuality:
Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives
By Claude E. Steen III
An excellent resource for a pastor or educator wishing to seriously rethink the issues of homosexuality is the 380-page book Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives published in 2008 by the Adventist Forum (publisher of Spectrum magazine). Don't be put off by the perception of Spectrum's liberal stance. Both liberal and conservative Adventist authors are represented in this collection of essays by behavioral scientists, medical scientists, theologians, pastors, educators and gay Adventists.
The first of five sections is biographical, featuring personal stories written by Adventists whose struggle with sexual orientation resulted in declaring themselves gay or who love a gay family member. How can we think we understand this subject if we haven't listened to the stories of those who've been there?
Section two discusses biomedical issues relating to homosexuality, such as what we know about its origins, from the perspective of three Adventist scientists.
Section three looks at behavioral science perspectives and includes a chapter by an Adventist sociologist examining the history of the church's treatment of its homosexual members. For me, this chapter is worth the price of the book and should be required reading for every pastor, educator, and administrator in the denomination. As one who loves this church and loves people, I am horrified by what we have done to our gay members. This chapter has led me to repentance for our corporate failure and a determination to do all I can to help the church take on the spirit of Jesus as it relates to gays.
The biblical and theological perspectives of section four get to the core of our church's struggle with homosexuality. How can we deal with what seem to be unbending denunciations of same-sex intimacy while trying to love our gay brothers and sisters as Jesus does? Four theologians debate the issues here for our enlightenment. They do not agree with each other but they will help you understand the questions and may guide you toward more informed personal convictions.
Section five looks at Christian social perspectives, including some proposals for modern sexual norms, and includes an excellent chapter on ministry to gays by Mitchell Henson, to whose memory the book is dedicated. As senior pastor of Glendale City Church, Mitch had a rich ministry to many Adventist gays before his untimely death in 2006.
The book has some weaknesses. And you will not agree with everything you read in it. But it is an indispensable tool to open the eyes and challenge the thinking and living of Adventist leaders and members. Other reviews of this book are available at www.sdagayperspectives.com and at Amazon.com. Both sites offer the book for sale in paper binding at about $20.
Besides including a representative collection of your email messages in each edition of Who Cares?, we plan to include a question for discussion. Your comments are welcomed and will be shared in the next edition, which is scheduled for July 1.
April's Discussion Question:
What practical things could we Adventist pastors and educators do (or are we doing?) to help our institutions become places where everyone—gay or straight, black or white, gifted or challenged, rich or poor—will want to come and where they will sense the love and acceptance of Jesus?
Send your thoughts and comments to email@example.com.
Here's the discussion question from our January 2011 issue:
Ellen White wrote, “Men hate the sinner, while they love the sin. Christ hates the sin, but loves the sinner. This will be the spirit of all who follow Him” (DA 462). How difficult is it to experience and communicate true love for a person while feeling hatred for what we perceive to be his sin? When does hating my brother's sin become judging him?
Here are some comments we've received:
"When does hating my brothers sin become judging him?" This word "judge" has become such an explosive word in our culture. "Don't judge me!" is often seen as the heartfelt cry of the politically correct and those who have felt beaten down by others. In fact, Jesus Himself said, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." But how can we balance this with other statements of Jesus such as, "By their fruits ye shall know them"? Does not this statement necessitate some type of judgment on our part? As I've wrestled with this in my own life I've come to the conclusion that it is not my place to judge other people, but I must also recognize that the Bible does pass judgment on certain actions, words, and attitudes. As a Christian, [I feel] it is appropriate for me to point people to God's word and allow that word to serve as a template for their lives. Yes, it is possible that this will leave a person feeling judged in some way; but now it is God who is doing the judging and not me. The Bible teaches that God is the Judge who will decide the fate of each person's salvation and who sets the standard for how that salvation is attained. This does two things. First, it makes God responsible for setting His own standard and enforcing that standard instead of me. Second, it frees me up to do the "Loving the sinner but not the sin" part that DA 462 calls me to. I find this a more enviable position than getting tangled up in a discussion of whether or not I'm a judgmental person and how I should be more accepting of people. —Bob Cundiff, Pastor of Raleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church, Carolina Conference.
How many men today have felt compelled to impregnate their dead brother's wife to provide an heir for the deceased (Genesis 38:8)? Or how many fathers today feel compelled to impregnate their dead son's wife for the same cultural reason (Genesis 38:26)? However, the failure to do so is apparently condemned (as sin?) by scripture. My point here is that the Bible reports behavior that we would perceive to be sin today but at the time was an accepted cultural norm.
On the other hand scripture strongly condemns same-sex sexual behavior as sin that was apparently a fairly widespread practice (Sodom and Rome) among pagans of the past. The Bible culture has no understanding of inborn differences of sexual preference which science today (American Psychological Association 2006) has established beyond a doubt. Heterosexuals are unlikely to recall a point in their life when they made a conscious choice to be attracted to people of the other gender. This is equally true for gay and lesbian people. I propose that all adult humans have a God-given right to intimacy with another consenting adult, including same-sex intimacy, without facing the negative judgment of others.
Perhaps sin, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder! —Alan Forquer, Matthews, NC.
Editor's Comment: Through much of Christian history many followers of Jesus have not only judged others whose doctrinal beliefs were different than their own, but often have resorted to homicide or even genocide as a solution to the conflict. During the Reformation era when Protestants were in power many Catholics were executed, and when Catholics were in power it was the Protestants who died. Martin Luther's solution to the Anabaptist's belief in adult baptism was, “Kill them!” And hundreds of them were! The past 200 years have seen less killings of dissenters by Christians, but condemnation and shunning continue to be common Christian reactions toward those who disagree with us. Might the time have come for Christians to change our approach to doctrinal or practical diversity by adopting the practice of kindness, love, and gentle persuasion? How else can we understand the words of Jesus, “Love your enemies...so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:44,45). It is God's responsibility to judge and discipline. Our responsibility is to love and teach. That's probably about all we can handle!
Other messages we've received:
I’m an elementary teacher in our Adventist school system. I know many people who have struggled with these issues. I am happily married and have 3 children. When our daughter started having seizures at age nine, after an otherwise perfectly healthy childhood, we had many painful experiences in our own church because of this…from people asking if we thought she was demon-possessed to not letting her ride horses at our summer camp even though her doctor said she could (she was a liability, of course) and so on. (She is 15 today and doing well on her medicine which has prevented more seizures.)
Since this time I have become much more open and aware that being gay is probably a very real physical problem and not just a choice to live a sinful life. One of my cousins had a child born and didn’t know what the sex was and had to make a decision to operate…what clothes would they put on their child, what kind of name would they give… (she seemed more like a girl… and so became a girl at least for the time being.) There are so many issues we face today.
From Australia: I would please like to receive the "Who Cares" offer for Seventh-day Adventist pastors.... I am gay myself, but only out to a limited number of people.
Adventist Pastor in California: Oh wow! This is so good!
Adventist Lay Leader in California: Thank you so much for including me on the list. I have sent the newsletter on to two other pastors that I think highly of.... Great job, and I look forward to the next issue.
Physician in Massachusetts:[My wife] grew up in the Roman Catholic Church and I in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Neither religion has ever come to terms with or accepted the gay and lesbian community, and yet the majority of our really close friends of the last 20 years have been either gay or lesbian. Our very close relationship with them has led us to realize that they never really had a choice. They are really "wired" very differently than we are.
Designed to highlight a conversation among Adventist pastors and educators about how to deal more constructively and compassionately with our gay and lesbian constituents, Who Cares? is a quarterly e-mail publication edited by Claude E. Steen, III, firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Claude E. Steen, III||Editor|
|Dave Ferguson||Church Relations, Subscriptions|
|Jacquie Hegarty||Director of Communications|
|Linda Wright||Layout & Design|
Who Cares? A Newsletter for Caring Pastors and Educators — Vol. 1/No. 3 — July 2011
A Million Gay Adventists?
Of course, no one knows for sure. But that number may not be off by much!
What percentage of a given population are likely to have same-sex romantic attractions as opposed to the majority who have a heterosexual orientation?
Again, no one knows for sure. But evidence shows that homosexuals are a minority in every culture around the world, even though to be "outed" in some of them is equivalent to a death sentence. Most evidence suggests that sexual orientation is not learned or chosen but is simply a part of who we are, no matter our skin color, native language, religion or the societal norms where we live.
Does anyone really know what the percentage of homosexuals to heterosexuals is? Not really. But studies have been done and estimates have been made and the numbers vary. They vary all the way from under 2% to near 10%. Of course, many who talk about the numbers have a stake in the outcome, so the estimates tend to be squeezed upward or downward depending on who is talking. Also, with homosexuals comprising the most despised minority in just about every culture in the world, most thoughtful researchers agree that significant percentages of this minority are still invisible and uncounted.
So let's choose a number somewhere in the middle, say 5%, as many thoughtful observers do. Then let's apply that number to people attending Adventist congregations around the world, again taking a conservative estimate of about 20 million people in church on Sabbath morning. The answer comes to about one million of them being homosexual! And it doesn't matter if you'd rather lower or raise that number, for whatever reason. The conclusion is still pretty much the same.
This is a subject that is not going away! This topic can no longer be ignored!
The implications of all this become more clear in the following report by Rene Drumm, now Dean of the School of Social Work at Southern Adventist University. She describes the results of in-depth interviews with 37 gay and lesbian Adventists done about 10 years ago. Why read the report of a study done 10 years ago? Because we didn't read it when it was fresh. And the questions it raises have still not been answered! Don't let the dispassionate language fool you. Once the facts sink in your emotions may shake you!
Also in this issue of Who Cares? Pastor Todd Leonard makes a modest proposal about how to reconcile orthodoxy with a loving ministry to gays. He writes from his own experience with this ministry.
Then we have answers to a couple of questions directed to Arlene Taylor, our "Brain Guru." And we have links to a couple of news notes, one about an action by an Adventist Union Conference concerning gays and the other about Southern Baptists, whose official stand on Homosexual issues is very similar to ours.
Finally, you might be interested in our link to a website maintained by a straight Christian woman from a conservative denomination who has made ministry to gays her central focus. She may be mostly conservative theologically, but there's nothing conservative about her ministry!
We at Who Cares? would love to hear from you! Are you happy we're talking about Adventist homosexuals or does it upset you that we're distracting church employees from the work of spreading the three angels' message? Are we being way too politically correct or have you also been praying for a better way to love this minority? Don't just keep quiet. Tell us what you think.
And if you're not ready to have your views publicized, we understand. Just tell us, and we won't "out you!"
Till next time,
Claude E. Steen, III
Claude E. Steen III retired from more than 40 years of active pastoral ministry in June 2010. His work was mostly in the Southern and Columbia unions with 5 years in Ethiopia and a short stay in the Southwestern Union. With his wife Donna (Chalmers) their family consists of 2 married sons, 2 married daughters, a gay son, and 11 grandchildren. He lives happily with Donna in a restored 1827 farm house at the end of the road near Roxboro, NC. email@example.com
Who Cares? A Newsletter for Caring Pastors and Educators — Vol. 1/No. 3 — July 2011
Gay and Lesbian Seventh-day Adventists:
Strategies and Outcomes of Resisting Homosexuality
By Rene D. Drumm
This article presents findings from a qualitative study of 37 gay and lesbian Seventh-day Adventists. Using in-depth interviewing, the research explored participants’ accounts of the home environments and examined participants’ journeys in trying to reconcile a lesbian or gay sexual orientation with an identity as Christian. Findings offer contextual information regarding the participants’ experience growing up in Adventist families and Adventist churches whose religious beliefs prohibited homosexual behavior. Findings highlight various strategies participants used to resist homosexuality, including several change strategies that appear unique to Christian gay and lesbian persons that have not been previously examined in the literature, and the outcomes of those efforts. These findings suggest implications for social work practitioners, social work educators, and faith-based communities.
Many world religions point to the Bible story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as proof of God’s disapproval of homosexuality (Ponse, 1978). Particularly among conservative Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish adherents, the practice of homosexuality is condemned (LeVay & Nonas, 1995). In spite of this, many homosexual persons have religious identities and commitments that they are reluctant to give up (Salais & Fisher, 1995). Studies suggest that “gays and lesbians belong to the various major faiths and denominations in about the same proportions as other Americans” (LeVay & Nonas, 1995, p. 106). Further, research indicates that among gays who were religiously affiliated, the religious attitudes of gay and non-gay members were not much different (O’Brian, 1991).
In studying religiously affiliated gays and lesbians, researchers note the pervasiveness of the influence of religious socialization on the individual. Religion frequently provides a worldview with which all other competing forces must contend (Thumma, 1991). This worldview may be so powerful that it produces measurable differences in attitudes among gay and lesbian persons. Wagner et al. (1994) noted a significant difference between a community sample of gay persons not associated with a religious institution and those affiliated with a particular religion concerning religious beliefs and religious behavior. These findings may indicate important differences in the gay community between religiously affiliated and non-religiously affiliated gay and lesbians.
Internal Conflict and Seeking Change
The more serious homosexuals are about their religious experience, the more conflict they may have over their homosexuality (Bell & Weinberg, 1978). Some researchers note an association between religiosity and homophobia (Berkman & Zinberg, 1997). Individuals reared in families whose religious beliefs define homosexual behavior as sinful may internalize these convictions (Wagner et al., 1994). Some may believe “If I am homosexual, I must not be a true Christian; if I am a Christian, I cannot be homosexual.”
As a result of the conviction that homosexual behavior is inherently non-Christian, religiously affiliated gays and lesbians often seek to change their sexual orientation (Friedman & Downey, 1994). The search for a change in sexual orientation, however, is often disappointing because such a change appears to be highly unlikely (Friedman & Downey, 1994). Coleman (1988, p. xv) states, “many of the psychoanalytic and behavioral approaches which were designed to purge homosexuality from the individual and create heterosexuality were found to be generally ineffective and ethically questionable.” Research concerning “change ministry” within the Adventist church found widespread sexual abuse of the counselees by the “reformed homosexual” center director (Lawson, 1987). While literature exists supporting the possibility of change in sexual orientation, it remains controversial. One reviewer of change therapy concludes that these studies “are consistently flawed by poor or nonexistent follow-up data, improper classification of subjects, and confusion of heterosexual competence with sexual orientation shift” (Haldeman, 1991, p. 155).
As social perceptions and attitudes have shifted regarding the merit and efficacy of changing sexual orientation, acceptance of one’s homosexuality has become the focus of social work practice and policy. Consequently, the literature has dwindled concerning efforts religiously affiliated gay and lesbian persons make to change their orientations. In addition, there is a significant lack of information about the everyday experience of many homosexual Christians in terms of integrating their religion and sexual orientation.
This paper addresses the experiences of gay and lesbian Seventh-day Adventists and reviews their journeys in reconciling a lesbian or gay sexual orientation with an identity as a particular kind of Christian. Seventh-day Adventists view homosexual behavior as sinful (Ministerial Association, 1988). Since this is a typical stance in conservative Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism (Orbach, 1975; Thumma, 1991), this research may have implications for persons of other religious faiths as well.
The naturalistic paradigm of scientific inquiry provided the structure for this qualitative study (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The naturalistic paradigm holds that perceptual realities are “multiple, constructed, and holistic” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 37). In-depth interviewing provided the vehicle to gain a deeper understanding of lesbian and gay Adventists from the perspective of the participants.
Study Participants and Sample Selection
Thirty-seven individuals contributed information for the study. Of these, 28 were interviewed, and nine submitted autobiographies for analysis. There were 14 women and 23 men whose ages ranged from 23 to 56. While most were Caucasian, there was one Asian American, one African American, and one person of Hispanic descent. There was also some international diversity in the sample. One participant was a native of Australia and two participants were Canadian. All participants had graduated from high school. Seventeen participants had completed college, eight had continued on to a master’s degree, two had graduated from medical school, and three had earned a doctoral degree.
This study used purposive sampling methods in accordance with the conventions of the naturalistic paradigm to magnify information and add understanding (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). To locate participants, I used the internet computer network developed by members of SDA Kinship International, called KinNet. SDA Kinship International is a support group for Seventh-day Adventist gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gendered persons.
I invited users of this group to reply to a general announcement explaining my project. Members could participate by agreeing to an in-depth interview or by submitting an autobiography. To be included in the study, the participants needed to meet two criteria: (1) identify themselves as homosexual and (2) be a current or former member of the Seventh-day Adventist church.
Data Collection and Analysis
I developed an interview guide based on the research questions from my doctoral dissertation. This guide was used as a starting point to direct the discussion and assist in getting similar information from all participants (Lofland & Lofland, 1995). Autobiographies were also gathered from some participants. In this way, I was able to use multiple sources of data. Triangulation “improves the probability that findings and interpretations will be found credible” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 305).
The interviews lasted an average of two to three hours with a maximum of six hours. Participants reviewed and signed an informed consent agreement prior to the interview. Interviewees had an option of being audio-taped or allowing me to take notes on a laptop computer to record the data.
The naturalistic paradigm calls for inductive data analysis (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The data were initially processed using the computer program Ethnograph to assist in coding the emerging themes. As coding continued in the analysis process, I examined specific instances of the codes to clarify similarities and differences. Using the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), I generated both descriptive and explanatory categories. This process led to interpretive insights as I noted the emerging themes.
To assure accuracy in my interpretations, I used member checking as an analytical tool. Member checking consists of the participants reviewing the report for accuracy (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The purpose of member checking is to provide a direct test of the findings and analysis with the participants themselves.
Findings and Discussion
All of the names used through this study are pseudonyms. I chose to use pseudonyms instead of case numbers so that ethnicity and gender would not be masked. In addition, pseudonyms aid the reader in identifying the participants as persons rather than objects used for scientific study.
Growing Up Adventist
For the majority of lesbian and gay Seventh-day Adventists in this study, understanding the influence of family and religion was fundamental to understanding how their conflicts formed between their sexual orientation and religious affiliation. Most participants grew up in Adventist homes and were firmly entrenched in the Adventist religion. One participant summarized his experience:
To answer the question of how I became an Adventist, I’d have to say that I don’t know what else I could have been. I was born in an Adventist hospital (on the Sabbath, no less), to SDA parents who had graduated from SDA schools, sent there by their SDA parents. I went only to SDA churches and my parents socialized almost exclusively with SDAs. My aunts and uncles were SDAs. One set were missionary doctors, another uncle was an academy Bible teacher. My mother’s father had been a missionary to Japan (Marvin).
Participants in this study overwhelmingly reported growing up experiences of typical Seventh-day Adventist families. The majority of participants described having family worship, following a vegetarian diet, keeping the Sabbath, and other traditions promoted by the church. Nearly all participants related that they had come from a close-knit family. “I come from a very loving and caring family. We are very close to this day. I call them all the time and assure them that I love them. They do the same” (Donald).
Seventh-day Adventist education was another important factor influencing these participants. All of the lesbian and gay Adventists in this sample attended a church-affiliated school for at least some portion of their education. “The greatest influence on my development as an Adventist was probably the fact that I attended SDA schools from first grade through a master’s degree” (Tom).
The combination of being raised in Adventist homes and attending Adventist schools produced a similar acceptance of Adventist teachings and traditions among the participants. Most participants accepted the Adventist religion and belief system in its entirety. “I went to boarding school for academy and an Adventist college a few hours away after I graduated. I had a good experience. My teachers were great. I really never questioned the Adventist beliefs having grown up in the environment” (Nathan).
Dealing with the Conflict of Religion and Sexual Orientation through Resisting Homosexuality
Having had similar family and educational backgrounds, participants in this study also experienced comparable journeys as they developed an understanding of their sexual orientations. Much has been written in the literature regarding stages and models of how people come to see themselves as gay or lesbian (Cass, 1979; Coleman, 1982; Plummer, 1975; Troiden, 1988). Less is known about the specific strategies individuals use to try not to be gay or lesbian. Lesbian and gay Adventists offered some insights about how they resisted homosexuality. While some of the strategies reported here reflect themes from the literature, I will elaborate on the unique aspects of lesbian and gay Adventists’ journeys in resisting homosexuality.
As these participants began to understand their sexual orientation to be other than heterosexual, they engaged in a number of strategies to resist “becoming” gay or lesbian. Participants used change-seeking strategies that included: staying in denial, seeking professional help to change orientation, engaging in suicide attempts, praying, claiming Bible promises, using religious rituals, immersion in religion, and heterosexual marriage. Many participants used tools they had gleaned from church teachings to ward off homosexual urges. Of these eight strategies, five appeared unique to gay men and lesbians with strong religious identities. That is, the strategies of staying in denial, seeking professional help, and engaging in suicide attempts are common in the literature as ways that lesbians and gay men sometimes deal with their homosexuality. While research documents heterosexual marriage among gay and lesbian populations, it is generally not within the context of trying to change sexual orientation. Praying, claiming Bible promises, using religious rituals, and immersion in religion as strategies in changing sexual orientation are seldom mentioned.
Denial is a typical response in understanding oneself as gay or lesbian (Troiden, 1988). Participants in this sample, however, often connected the denial of religion or God. One participant remembered, “I couldn’t admit to myself that I was gay. It seemed to be such a sin. I just knew it had to be my fault, my choice made wrong somewhere I didn’t remember” (Marvin). A woman reported, “My first reaction [to realizing my homosexuality] was screaming inside, ‘No! God, No! I’d rather die.’”
Professional Help to Change Orientation
About one-third of this sample sought professional help to change their sexual orientations. The range of modalities included traditional talk therapy, aversion therapy, and residential treatment. In each case, these efforts failed. This supports existing literature which documents the difficulties that are typically encountered in changing orientations (Friedman & Downey, 1994).
In some cases, failure to change was only one problem associated with treatment attempts. One participant experienced sexual abuse while attending a church-affiliated “change ministry” program. This ministry was operated by a “reformed homosexual” who was a former SDA minister (Lawson, 1987). This participant committed himself to residential “treatment” and was sexually approached by the director from the first weekend at the center until he left over a year later. Subsequent interviews with former residents revealed wide-spread abuse among the counselees in this particular “change ministry” (Lawson, 1987).
Research indicates that suicide among lesbian and gay adolescents is six times higher than the norm (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 1997). It is not surprising, therefore, that about one-fourth of the participants in this study also attempted suicide in response to their homosexuality. These attempts ranged from taking handfuls of pills (whatever they could readily find) to cutting their wrists and hospitalization.
All of the participants in this sample used prayer as a means to resist homosexuality. This generally took the form of praying to God to take away homosexual desires. “I spend entire nights agonizing in prayer with God. Begging Him, ‘Please Lord! Please! Don’t let me be gay!’ I found myself praying, ‘Please Lord, let this cup pass from me, but your will be done’” (Joanne).
“I have prayed my entire life (since age 13) that the Lord would change me. I didn’t want to have these feelings. I didn’t want to go to hell. I didn’t want to be this way” (Mitch).
Claiming Bible Promises
Adventists believe that God, through the Bible, promises help in times of need. Participants were taught to “claim” these promises, that is, to dimension believe that God’s help will come to them if they ask, referring to certain Bible texts. “I resolutely decided I could overcome this, with God’s help. It was sin and all sin could be overcome through Christ. I began looking for Bible texts to admonish myself. I’d look for promises of overcoming and ask friends to pray for me” (Sue).
Use of Religious Rituals
The “laying on of hands” is a religious ritual where Adventist ministers and elders of the church pray for the person who needs “healing.” The laying on of hands is done in a group while touching the individual. One male informant recalled, “Soon after my first affair I was filled with guilt. So the next morning I said to him [my partner], ‘You can’t stay here. This is wrong.’ He left and I got into the religion thing again. People prayed for me with laying on of hands” (Alan).
Immersion in Religion
When trying to resist homosexuality, some lesbian and gay Adventists would immerse themselves in religious activities hoping that the homosexual tendencies would lessen.
“I did a lot of praying. I got involved with church activities like leading out in song service, youth activities, helped out with Pathfinders and I led out in Sabbath School” (Nathan).
“After my sophomore year in college, I decided to become a student missionary. If I had a year off to do nothing but concentrate on ministering to others, I could overcome this” (Sue).
One way participants in this study tried to resist homosexuality was to pursue a heterosexual relationship and get married. Most individuals realized that they were gay or lesbian; however, they hoped that marriage would change their orientations. All of the participants in this study who married are now divorced. In general, participants held their former spouses in high regard and expressed much regret for the pain the marriage caused. One female participant remembered her heterosexual marriage,
I guess I allowed myself to fall in love with the idea that this guy loved and cared for me. When he asked me to marry him, I was 32 years old and figured this was God’s answer to my prayers. After all, we were taught that if we asked God to take away unnatural desires he would do so (Nan).
Other participants were less sure that the marriage would change them but wanted to give it a try. On his wedding day, one participant recalled, “Standing in the church waiting to say, ‘I do,’ I was thinking, ‘I shouldn’t do this. Hans, you’re gay. But you can’t back out now. What will the church think of you?’ I wanted to be married. I wanted to be straight. I thought I could pretend” (Hans).
Outcomes of Resistance
While the lesbian and gay Seventh-day Adventists in this study had previously resisted acknowledging and accepting their homosexuality, at the time of the interview, they recognized their sexual orientations as a part of them that would not change or go away. This section outlines three basic outcomes or decisions participants made to deal with their homosexuality and religion after abandoning resistance.
Leave the Church while Retaining Gay/Lesbian Identity
Approximately one-third of the participants in this study (12 out of 37) chose to leave the church after realizing that their resistance was not going to change their orientations. In this study, leaving the church refers to dropping church membership. In spite of dropping church membership, many of the participants still sustained, to some extent, Adventist traditions. For example, some remained vegetarian and observed the Sabbath, which are traditions of the Adventist religion.
There were three conditions under which lesbian and gay Adventists in this sample left the church. These conditions included: (1) no longer believing church doctrines; (2) believing church doctrines, but not being able to conform to them; or (3) feeling righteous indignation and leaving the church.
No Longer Believe Church Doctrine
The majority of participants who left the church did so simply because they no longer believed church doctrines. Nationally, the Adventist church experiences about a 50 percent drop-out rate as people change their religious beliefs (Willis, 1998). Being gay or lesbian may or may not itself have been the decisive factor in these participants’ decisions to leave the church. One woman shared, “I left because I no longer believed the doctrines nor the dogma of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, even in God. I believe that there is no one truth as SDA’s claim” (Anna).
Believe Doctrine, Cannot Conform, Leave the Church
Another condition of leaving the church was that the participants believed the church doctrines, but realized that they could not conform to the expectations of the church (celibacy) and left. These participants believed that homosexual behavior was wrong and therefore did not want to go to church because they knew they would not remain celibate.
I’m no longer in the church, but I’m a lot more comfortable with myself as a gay person. I don’t pretend to have the big answer [about homosexuality]. I would take the position that it [homosexual behavior] isn’t a sin if I was talking to my mom. But I’m not sure I’m convinced of that myself. It would be very hard to come back to the church. It would make a difference if the church turned its position around. I still hang on to certain Adventist traditions. I tithe to Kinship, and I’m still a vegetarian, don’t drink or smoke. The big issue is the gay issue (Mark).
Believe Doctrines, Feel Righteous Indignation, Leave
A third condition for leaving the church was that participants felt wronged by the church and left. In general, these participants believed most of the Adventist doctrines but did not attend church because of the church’s stance on homosexuality. These participants felt that the church had rejected them and in return, they rejected the church. One participant said:
With respect to institutional Adventism, I want no part of it unless I am welcome. Until gay acceptance is written as part of a policy of acceptance, I want no part of institutional Adventism. I have a wonderful worship community that I am a part of. I will not simply idolize my past, nostalgia, or familiarity (George).
Retain Church Membership Through Celibacy
Homosexuals who practice celibacy can hold church membership in good standing since the church’s objection is focused on homosexual behavior rather than orientation. Two of the 25 who retained church membership did so by practicing celibacy. These individuals fully recognized and accepted their sexual orientation and believed it would not change. At the same time, they did not want to give up church membership and therefore made a commitment to celibacy. One participant said, “For myself, I have to be celibate because it [homosexuality] is a controversial issue. I might not keep that same reference forever, but for now, I’m committed to living a celibate life (Jim).
Integrate Gay/Lesbian and Adventist Affiliation
About 60% of the lesbian and gay Adventist in this study (23 of 37) had fully integrated their sexual orientation with their Adventist church lifestyle and membership. The participants in this group were fairly open regarding their sexual orientation and their Seventh-day Adventist affiliation. In general, participants who integrated gay/lesbian orientation with church membership were either in a committed same-sex relationship or were looking for a life partner. The following interview excerpts illustrate the integration of homosexual orientation and Adventist affiliation.
Despite the church’s official opinion, there are two things I’ve always been–always will be–a Seventh-day Adventist and a lesbian. God doesn’t expect me to try to be something I’m not, or say I can’t be something I believe in (Nan).
I am still a quite conservative Adventist. The Adventist lifestyle is something that works for me and something that I worked out with God on my knees after many hours of prayer and studying and tearful contemplation. The same goes for my homosexuality. I have peace in my heart that God accepts me as I am. Being the omnipotent God that He is, he knew I was going to be gay long before I was a gleam in my Dad’s eye. Now I see my homosexuality as a blessing. It took a long time to get there–34 years (Hans).
Conditions Leading to Integration
There were three conditions that appeared to facilitate the integration of lesbian/gay identity and church affiliation. These conditions were:
1. Having an accepting church congregation.
2. Having a job that would not be in jeopardy if sexual orientation became known.
3. Having an accepting family.
Having an Accepting Church congregation
The condition that appeared mandatory for a fully integrated identity was having an accepting local church congregation. Without an accepting church congregation, the participants’ church membership was withdrawn. A female participant reflected:
My involvement with the church has been less than average in the last six years. It’s not because I don’t believe–I do–but I was limited because of how I thought the church may perceive me. But lately, I’ve found a refuge in the church. When I go to prayer meeting, my partner comes with me. The pastor said that if the gay fellowship in his church increases, he would be more than happy. People in this church are warm and accepting, or at least not mean. So, I’ve started to go back to church more and try to teach my partner who is not an Adventist more (Carol).
Having a job that would not be in jeopardy if sexual orientation were known
Another important condition for integrating a lesbian or gay orientation with Adventist affiliation was for the participant to hold a job in which sexual orientation was not an issue. None of these participants were in a position where their employment would be jeopardized by coming out publicly. Most participants in this category were self-employed or worked for non-church related organizations. One participant reported, “I came out to my boss [an Adventist] and she said, ‘I don’t see it [your sexuality] as an issue.’ Then she told the president of the company, and the president said the same thing” (Brandon).
Having an accepting family
Having an accepting family was another condition facilitating the integration of gay/lesbian identity and church affiliation. While the majority of families in this sample initially had difficulty accepting a gay or lesbian family member, over time they did accept the gay or lesbian member. Nathan shared, “Now I feel loved by my family. I understand that they had to have a ‘coming out’ period of about three years. Since my father is an Adventist pastor, it was important for me to be accepted by him before I could go back to church.”
Lesbian and gay Seventh-day Adventists in this study shared a number of common pathways on their journeys in understanding their sexual orientation and their relationship to the Adventist religion. Most participants grew up in highly religious homes with loving, involved parents. This contrasts with other research on gay and lesbian families. Pattison and Pattison found that their “subjects reported that the primary cause of their homosexuality was unsatisfactory relations with their parents. Eight subjects stated that their fathers were distant, aloof, and uninvolved with them” (1980, p. 1558). Since this study only included 11 gay men, this difference could be because of small sample size, researcher assumptions, or biases.
Gay and lesbian Adventist used a variety of strategies to resist homosexuality. While the literature addressed denial (Troiden, 1988) and suicide (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 1997) as resisting strategies, it does not address the other strategies discussed by these participants. My sense from the data is that gay and lesbian Adventist may engage in strategies to resist homosexuality to a greater degree than other studies indicate. These data demonstrate an extensive use of resisting strategies by the participants. It was also interesting that many of the resisting strategies connected to religion: prayer, immersion in religion, use of religious rituals, claiming Bible promises. Participants relied on tools gleaned from their religious upbringing to try to overcome what they believed was sin.
Once participants came to believe that their sexual orientations would not change, they made choices about church membership in accordance with their beliefs about homosexuality and the church doctrines. Study of choices about church membership in relation to sexual orientation is lacking in the literature; however, a number of studies point to religion as important in the lives of some lesbian and gay persons (Davidson,1970; Shallenberger, 1996; Thumma, 1991). While participants in this study clearly saw no “choice” in their sexual orientations, they were able to choose what to do about church membership under their given circumstances and did so with varying outcomes.
Implications for Social Work Practice
Social work has a long history of faith-based involvement, research, and advocacy. It appears that addressing religiously affiliated gay and lesbian persons sometimes presents social workers with unique challenges. How do conservative social work practitioners and educators integrate their religious beliefs and convictions with their social work mandates of inclusion and advocacy? How do liberal social workers work respectfully with religiously conservative gay and lesbian clients who may be choosing to try to resist homosexuality or to integrate their sexual orientation with the beliefs and practices of their religious groups?
First, social workers should become educated about sexual orientation in general, its development, fluidity, and its multifaceted features. In checking the research on sexual orientation, particularly “change” in orientation, it is crucial to pay particular attention to research rigor, methodology, and how the conclusions flow from the data. Some research abstracts examined for this article that appeared to support orientation change, upon careful examination of the full article, supported instead, little to no change.
Secondly, social work practitioners who have religious convictions against engaging in same-sex relationships may hesitate to advocate for gay rights such as extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. Social workers may want to consider the impact on lesbian and gay persons who have done what they could to be true to their religious convictions and come to believe they can never be heterosexual. While some of these individuals may choose celibacy as a way to resolve the conflict, others believe that finding a life partner more feasible. These people believe they are simply doing the best they can with what they feel they were given.
Third, social workers may not realize the importance of religion in the lives of their gay and lesbian clients because of the lack of information and dialog about religiously affiliated gay and lesbian persons. Social workers should not assume that gay and lesbian clients are void of spirituality because their religious convictions do not include heterosexual sex-within-marriage as the only appropriate sexual expression. Similarly, social workers should not assume they know what the goals of their religiously conservative gay and lesbian clients are or should be. Respect for client self-determination is complex, especially when workers and clients may have differences of values and goals, regardless of what direction that difference may run.
Finally, social worker clinicians must carefully consider the ethics of engaging in therapies designed to change sexual orientation, even with clients who request such therapy. Research indicates the lack of these therapies’ efficacy while documenting some inadvertent harm that clients have suffered because of such therapies. The integrity of both the client’s and social worker’s values must be protected, not always an easy thing to accomplish.
In terms of social work education, educators should provide students with specific information about religiously affiliated gay and lesbian persons. Popular media presents a picture of the lesbian and gay community at large that is not necessarily in keeping with gay and lesbians who have strong religious convictions. Silence insinuates non-existence, which presents a biased view of homosexual persons.
Too often, it is easy for religious adherents who see homosexual behavior as sinful to pass judgment on lesbian and gay persons as simply choosing to live an immoral lifestyle. Given the magnitude and range of strategies lesbian and gay Adventists use to avoid homosexuality, it appears unlikely that this is the case. It is important to recognize the reality of gay and lesbian Christians and to listen to their voices, often full of pain and confusion, as they seek to honor their religious beliefs.
How should the non-gay/lesbian church community respond to their gay and lesbian members? It may be important for church members of all religions to re-examine their attitudes towards gay and lesbian adherents. The issues, complex and deeply-woven into the fabric of Christianity, are unlikely to change quickly or dramatically. In spite of this probability, we must begin meaningful dialogue that incorporates new knowledge and a deeper understanding of sexual orientation into our perceptions and subsequent actions.
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Davidson, A. (1970). The returns of love: Letters of a Christian homosexual. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Friedman, R., Downey, J. I., &. (1994). Homosexuality. New England Journal of Medicine, 331(14), 923-929.
Haldeman, D. C. (1991). Sexual orientation conversion therapy for gay men and lesbians: A scientific examination. In J. C. Gonsioreck (Ed.), Homosexuality: Research implications for public policy. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Lawson, R. (1987). Trouble in an “ex-gay ministry” [Quest Learning Center/Homosexuals Anonymous].
Le Vay, S., & Nonas, E. (1995). City of friends: A portrait of the gay and lesbian community in America. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
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O’ Brien, T. (1991). A survey of gay/lesbian Catholics concerning attitudes toward sexual orientation and religious beliefs. Journal of Homosexuality, 21(4), 29-44.
Pattison, E. M., & Pattison, M. L. (1980). Ex-gays: Religiously mediated change in homosexuals. American Journal of Psychiatry, 137(12), 1553-1562.
Plummer, K. (1975). Sexual stigma: An interactionist account. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
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Shallenberger, D. (1996). Reclaiming the spirit: The journey of gay men and lesbian women toward integration. Qualitative Sociology, 19(2), 195-213.
Thumma, S. (1991). Negotiating a religious identity: The case of the gay evangelical. Sociological Analysis, 52(4), 333-347.
Troiden, R. R. (1988). Gay and lesbian identity: A sociological analysis. New York: General Hall.
Wagner, G. J. S., Pabkin, J., Remien, R., & Williams, J. (1994). Integration of one’s religion and homosexuality: A weapon against internalized homophobia? Journal of Homosexuality, 26(4), 93.
Zastrow, C., & Kirst-Ashman, K. K. (1997). Understanding human behavior and the social environment. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall Publishers.
Rene D. Drumm, Ph.D., is Dean of the School of Social Work at Southern Adventist University. She earned her Ph.D. degree from Texas Women's University, her MA in Social Work from Michigan State University and her BA in Sociology from Andrews University. She has taught at Andrews University and Southwestern Adventist University. She is married to Stanley Stevenson, also on the Social Work faculty at Southern. They are the parents of twin daughters who are students at SAU. Rdrumm@southern.edu
Who Cares? A Newsletter for Caring Pastors and Educators — Vol. 1/No. 3 — July 2011
When God Disagrees with God, Whom Do You Follow?
By Todd J. Leonard
Over the last year or so I’ve become more public in my support of open and inclusive congregations for my LGBT brothers and sisters and in my convictions that LGBT relational behavior, when lived within the spirit of the biblical principles outlined for heterosexual relationships, are compatible with God’s will. This has, of course, led to many discussions with friends and colleagues who disagree with me on the subject. Most of the conversations have been mature and, at the heart, each person I’ve talked with is ultimately concerned for God’s grace and salvation for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals.
But there are two comments that have come up in almost every conversation. They go something like this:
1) “Because multiple places in both the Old and New Testament condemn homosexuality1, and nowhere is there scriptural support for LGBT practice, I must be faithful to God and scripture and view the behaviors as sinful,” and,
2) “I believe that we in the church must show love and compassion to people like gays and lesbians, but we must also be clear that their active practice of the lifestyle is a sin and that we want them to repent and break free of their bondage to that sin. We must love the sinner, but hate the sin”
One of my good friends even said to me (this is a paraphrase), “I really wish the Bible didn’t say that homosexual behavior is a sin because I just want to accept them without having to condemn their lifestyle. It seems like Jesus would be good friends with gays and lesbians. But there are not any stories of Jesus doing that nor are there any words from him approving their lifestyle. If I’m going to be faithful to God, I have to stick with the only texts that speak to the subject and obey them.” His wrestling with the issue was obvious. His compassionate heart was on his sleeve. And he wanted to find a way forward, but could not.
What do we do when the words of God seem to be at odds with the acts of God? What do we do when we have a clear command from God with a chapter and verse that seems to be at odds with the Spirit of Jesus that can’t be cited chapter and verse?
A casual reading of the Bible will lead you to see story after story of people who start out with one understanding of God and end up with another one based upon what happens in their lives. One such story is where God plays gospel cupid between a Jewish Peter and a non-Jewish Cornelius in Acts 10 and 11.
According to the account, an angel of God visits Cornelius, someone whom a Jewish person would refer to as a “good heathen”—someone who behaved ethically but still was not one of God’s people. The angel tells Cornelius to request a meeting with Peter (Acts 10.3-6). Shortly thereafter, God gives Peter a vision (10.9-16). In the vision, Peter sees a smorgasbord of non-kosher animals and, in verse 13 he hears the God of Moses tell him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”2 Peter, having received a direct command from God, and who, at the moment, was really hungry and would have probably enjoyed the taste of a good pork chop, disobeyed God by obeying God. He said, “Surely not, Lord. I have never eaten anything impure or unclean” (10.14). God responds by saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
This is a major problem for Peter. For hundreds of years, Jewish people devotedly followed God’s command that they were to not eat anything unclean. Peter was born and raised with this understanding. He followed Jesus for over three years and never observed him before or after his death and resurrection ever eating unclean meat. But now, in this vision, God—and there’s no doubt in Peter’s mind that it is God—tells Peter to enjoy a shrimp cocktail. What does Peter do when confronted with a God who, in Peter’s mind, disagrees with Himself? Three times the voice of God in his vision tells Peter to ignore the voice of God from his upbringing. And each time, Peter goes with the God of his upbringing over the God who was speaking to him right then.
Peter wakes up and gets a knock at the door. Cornelius, the good heathen, was requesting a meeting with him. For a Jewish person, entering the home of a Gentile was a much greater sin than eating catfish. Cozying up to an unclean person was much worse than devouring an unclean animal.3 Peter, who had been reflecting on the vision, started to connect the dots between it and the fact that now he, a clean Jew, is entering the house of an unclean, non-Jew who wants to learn about Jesus. When he arrives at the home of Cornelius, he says, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean” (10.28). Then, while Peter is in the middle of talking about Jesus, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit comes on everyone in Cornelius’ house, before they finished their Bible studies, got baptized, got circumcised, or learned kosher dietary practices. Peter, in amazement at what is happening, says, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (10.47).
Unlike in the vision, Peter, when recognizing the hand of God upon this cross-cultural meeting and seeing the evidence of the Spirit at work in Cornelius’ family, discarded the scriptures taught to him at his mother’s knee that said he was to keep himself separate from unclean Gentiles. He rejected the words of God from the past in light of the acts of God in the present. And, incredibly, so did the early church. They called Peter in to reprimand him for mixing with Gentiles, but after hearing his eyewitness account of God’s Spirit at work with non-Jewish people, they end up saying, “It’s really happened! God has broken through to the other nations, opened them up to Life!” (11.18) 4
Have not faithful followers of God over the millennia had to adjust their understanding of God in light of new revelation? Has not the powerful work of God’s Spirit in the now forced people to re-read the Bible stories of God’s words and actions in the past? We have allowed science to lead us to a reinterpretation of certain passages.5 We have allowed our convictions about human equality to change the way we understand verses about slavery and women’s subjugation. We have changed our understanding of end-time prophecy in light of Jesus not returning when we were convinced the Bible said he would.
If we see evidence of the Spirit of God at work in the life of a gay man, how do we turn our backs and say, “Because of what God said in the past, I am choosing to not believe what He appears to be doing in the present?” If we are struggling to still explain to ourselves why two lesbians in a committed relationship is incompatible with God’s ethics of fidelity and love for one another because we’ve got half a dozen proof texts that say that it’s wrong, no ifs, ands or buts; isn’t it time that we let go of God’s words in the past because of His obvious action in the present? If accepting bisexual and transgendered individuals into our faith communities seems like something Jesus would do, can’t we just go with the Spirit of Jesus? Those of us who hold to the traditional reading of Leviticus 20.13 have already chosen to disobey God’s command to kill practicing homosexuals. Can’t we just disobey the rest of that verse in light of the ministry of Jesus and how the Spirit is working today in LGBT individuals around the world and welcome them into our midst as spirit-filled men and women of God?
It is time to be faithful to God. Not the One whose old words we thought we understood, but the One Who is acting now and is working in your heart and mine. Let us be obedient to the never-ending revelation of God.
1. It is not the purpose of this article to address the linguistic and theological issues related to the “condemnatory” texts in scripture (Genesis 19:5, Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, I Corinthians 6:9, I Timothy 1:9-10). The SDA Kinship website discusses these texts and their interpretations and provides resources for further study
2. All scripture quotations, unless noted otherwise, are from The Holy Bible, New International Version, Zondervan, 1984
3. For an example of a Bible passage that Peter was probably taught regarding the need to stay separate from foreigners, see Deuteronomy 7.1-6, part of an important section of the Torah where God gives his laws to the people of Israel again like he did at Mt. Sinai
4. Acts 11.18 is taken from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, Eugene Petersen, Zondervan, 2002
5. For the purpose of this article, I am not referring to the current creation/evolution debate. I am referring to simple changes in the way we read passages like Psalm 19.4-6 and Ecclesiastes 1.5 where the sun is described as orbiting a stationary earth. We now read these passages as metaphors rather than literal astronomical descriptions in light of the evidence of the earth as the orbiter rather than the sun.
Todd J. Leonard has been a pastor for 11 years, serving Adventist churches in Georgia and Tennessee. In May 2011, he joined the staff of the Vallejo Drive Seventh-day Adventist Church in Glendale, California as Pastor for Collegiate and Young Adult Ministries. He has been married for 14 years to Robin, mother of their daughters Halle, Abigail and Emma. Todd's 1999 M.Div. from Andrews University helps him focus his passion for creating communities of faith that welcome people from all walks of life and compassionately serve their cities. Todd@reconcilerestore.net
Who Cares? A Newsletter for Caring Pastors and Educators — Vol. 1/No. 3 — July 2011
Answers from The Brain Doctor
By Arlene R. Taylor, Ph.D.
Q: A friend told me recently that males and females begin life with both sets of sex organs and that each possesses the same hormones. That’s probably just another one of those theories to justify bisexuality. Have you ever heard of such rubbish?
A. Rubbish as applied to theories to justify bisexuality or to the perception that human beings begin life with both sets of sex organs and that each possesses the same hormones? Personally, I’ve never thought of either hormones or sex organs in terms of rubbish.
Since every brain on the planet is believed to differ in structure, function, and perspective, each brain has its own opinion. The tone of your question suggests that your opinion on the topic of sex organs and hormones differs rather dramatically from that of your friend. The brain and body are “fearfully and wonderfully” constructed. Whatever else humans are (e.g., relational, spiritual), they are sexual beings at their very core. That does not indicate, however, that a person’s core sexual being and the sexual behaviors he/she chooses to exhibit are one and the same.
In terms of sets of sex organs, your friend was on the right track. Here is a brief summary.
Internal sex organs: Both genetically male (XY) and genetically female (XX) fetuses start out with two sets of internal primordial structures, the Wolffian and the Mullerian.
- In the presence of testicular hormones, the Wolffian ducts develop (e.g., prostate and vas) and the Mullerian ducts regress.
- In the absence of testicular hormones, the reverse happens. The Wolffian ducts regress and the Mullerian ducts develop (uterus and fallopian tubes).
External sex organs: Both male and female fetuses also start out with a single set of external primordial structures:
- Testosterone stimulates these structures to differentiate into penis and scrota, becoming recognizably male by about week 9-10 of gestation.
- In the absence of testosterone, these same structures become clitoris and labia, regardless of the levels of estrogen or progesterone. So, no hormonal influence from the female gonads (ovaries) appears to be needed for differentiation of female external genitalia. Some have referred to this as a preprogrammed state, perhaps contributing to the perception that the default position for a human fetus is female.
Your friend was also on the right track in relation to the topic of hormones. As members of the same species, males and females are far more alike than they are different. This means that as far as is presently known, human beings have the same types of hormones. Relative hormonal levels differ, however. Males tend to have estrogens but at much lower levels than those generally found in females. Females have testosterone but at a much lower level than that typically found in males. Some studies have shown that at puberty the average male has 20 times the testosterone in a comparable female. And speaking of testosterone, competition appears to increase the level of testosterone in the male. Interestingly enough, competition doesn’t appear to have much impact on testosterone levels in the average female.
Sex organs and hormones as rubbish? Not so much. Complexity on top of complexity and fraught with potential for variation? You bet!
Q. I’ve been looking for a book to help explain more about what creates a female versus a male. In other words, I’m beginning to think there’s more to this process than just whether the fetus has a XY chromosome pattern versus a XX. Do you know of any books that are “readable” for a non-scientist?
A. Actually, one of my favorites was written by Melissa Hines, a clinical psychologist who did years of postdoctoral training at the UCLA Brain Research Institute. Entitled, Brain Gender and published by Oxford University Press, Inc. (2004), the book contains a wealth of information. Although some of the material is technical and the contents include descriptions of research projects, the language is understandable to a wide variety of readers, including the interested layperson.
More to your question, Dr. Hines wrote in Chapter 5, Gonadal Hormones and Human Sexuality, “Core gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as gender role behaviors, are each independent characteristics and could show different types of relationships to hormones.” She included examples of the multifaceted dimensions of human sexuality and ways in which each may relate to gonadal steroids (hormones) as opposed to chromosomal patterns alone. As a brain-function specialist, I have found Chapter 10 especially fascinating: Sex and the Human Brain. Although similar, the brains of males and females do differ in some structural and functional aspects. Overall intelligence doesn’t appear to be one of them. In other words, although types of intelligence differ among human being in general, and among males and females more specifically, one gender has not been shown to have higher levels of overall intelligence as compared to the opposite gender.
You may be able to pick up a used copy of the book through internet sources such as www.amazon.com.
Q. Years ago I recall hearing you make a comment about “female brains in male bodies and male brains in female bodies.” I can’t imagine that so many mismatches actually occur between the brain and its housing. I assumed, of course, that you were speaking of homosexuals.
A. I do recall having made that statement, and probably more than once.Your assumption was inaccurate, however. Who a person is sexually includes at least three components:
- Gender Identity – the sense of one’s core gender identity as being male or female (or in some cases half-and-half or neither)
- Gender Orientation – the preference one has for the gender of preferred sexual/erotic partners (both in actual behaviors exhibited and in fantasy or imagination)
- Gender Role – the types of behaviors that are culturally associated with gender or that exhibit sex differences
In the overwhelming majority of human beings, these three components are present in harmony. That is, an individual with male-typical Gender Orientation also has male Gender Identity and tends to exhibit masculine Gender Role behaviors. A person who has female-typical Gender Orientation also has female Gender Identity and tends to exhibit feminine Gender Role behaviors. At times, however, these three components are not congruent.
- A man with a masculine Gender Identity, who exhibits masculine Gender Role behaviors, may have a sexual orientation toward males, an orientation more typical of females than males. A woman with a feminine Gender Identity, who exhibits feminine Gender Role behaviors, may be attracted sexually to other women.
- A genetic male (XY) with masculine internal and external sex organs, may perceive he is a woman psychologically; while a genetic female (XX) with feminine sex organs may perceive she is a man psychologically. These types of individuals are considered to be gender dysphoric.
Gender Identity and Gender Orientation can diverge in differing brains. Some individuals decide to change their appearance to match their psychological Gender Identity. If they undergo hormone treatment and sex-change surgery, they are often referred to as transsexual persons. (Wikipedia defines a transsexual person as an individual whose identification with a gender is inconsistent or not culturally associated with their biological sex.) Some (e.g., genetic males who perceive that they are psychological females), may be interested in female sexual partners, whereas others are interested in male sexual partners.
How does this happen? There are any number of possible contributors, some of which are highly speculative. Currently, there is little direct evidence, according to Dr. Hines, to support a hormonal contribution to the development of a transsexual person. In many parts of the world, transsexual persons are stigmatized. Discrimination and negative attitudes are often associated with specific religious beliefs or cultural values. There are cultures, however, that seem to have little difficulty integrating individuals who change gender roles.
So how does a person whose three components are harmonious relate to another whose three components are in disharmony? My brain’s opinion is that the topic would need clarification and investigation primarily when one person views another as a potential life partner. In that case, an exploration of each person’s Gender Identity, Role, and Orientation would seem to be of critical and long-term importance. Other than that, it reminds me of one of my little French Grandmother’s favorite expressions: Tend to your own rat killin’ and let your neighbors tend to theirs.
Arlene R. Taylor PhD is founder and president of Realizations, Inc., a non-profit corporation that engages in brain-function research and provides related educational resources. She is a talented speaker who specializes in simplifying the complex topic of brain function, with the goal of helping individuals learn to thrive by design. Learn much more at www.arlenetaylor.org.
Who Cares? A Newsletter for Caring Pastors and Educators — Vol. 1/No. 3 — July 2011
Links of Interest
On the seventh annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), May 17, 2011, the Executive Committee of the Netherlands Union of Seventh-day Adventists demonstrated remarkable awareness and moral sensitivity by voting a historic resolution opposing all forms of violence against homosexuals. We at SDA Kinship International applaud this action by our Dutch brothers and sisters and commend them as an outstanding example for other units of our international church to emulate. Use this link to the Trans-European Division news website for the details.
Southern Baptists are similar to Adventists in their official statements regarding homosexuals and homosexual practice (see http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/pssexuality.asp). As the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, they are different from us in number of members (less than 1 million to about 16 million in the US) and in having a much more loose-knit, congregational form of organization. For a glimpse of some of their current struggles with the topic of homosexuality follow this link.
How much can just one person accomplish? Kathy Baldock is a Christian housewife and mother who never questioned her conservative church's position on homosexuality till she became acquainted with a lesbian to whom she wished to witness. Since then she has become a one-person powerhouse of concern for GLBT people, speaking out for them to other Bible-believing Christians and trying to become a channel of God's love to them. One of her most audacious acts was to attend the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco wearing a tee shirt with this message in bold letters: "Hurt by church? Get a str8 apology here." She says she felt more naked than some of the people around her who really were naked! But she is determined to put the love of Jesus back into the dialogue between gays and conservative Christians. You may not agree with everything on her website, but it debunks many misconceptions we conservative Christians often carry, and it will challenge your thinking and your own lifestyle. Start by reading Ten Insights on the GLBT-Christian Dialogue here.
The mission of Who Cares?
A Newsletter for Caring Pastors and Educators,
is to increase awareness among Adventist leaders
of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and intersex people
in our congregations and classrooms,
with the goal of increasing our understanding
of what makes these people special
and how we might become more effective
in sharing the love of God with them.
With an estimated 5% of our church members and students likely to experience symptoms of one of these classifications, yet with very little understanding and much false information being believed about them, there is an urgent need for us to become better informed and much more purposeful about ministering to them in ways that do not drive them away but rather tenderly love these special people as Jesus would.
The first issue of Who Cares? was published in January 2011. Your comments and questions will be welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Designed to highlight a conversation among Adventist pastors and educators about how to deal more constructively and compassionately with our gay and lesbian constituents, Who Cares? is a quarterly e-mail publication edited by Claude E. Steen, III, email@example.com.
|Claude E. Steen, III||Editor|
|Dave Ferguson||Church Relations, Subscriptions|
|Jacquie Hegarty||Director of Communications|
|Linda Wright||Layout & Design|