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Southern Adventist University Students Talk Back

Students at Southern Adventist University have voiced their outrage at an attendance-required vespers presentation given by Pr. Alvin Maragh on March 21, 2014. It's been so inspiring to read their responses in the SAU student paper, the Southern Accent.

Pr. Maragh’s presentation repeated one he gave at Loma Linda last September: he claimed that heterosexual marriage and the seventh-day Sabbath are twin institutions, marriage equality and worshiping on other days of the week are Satanic counterfeits, and legal changes that allow LGBTI people to live their lives without discrimination or exclusion are signs of the soon coming of Christ! Even though he explicitly demonized LGBTI people throughout his message, Maragh also said he wanted to help people "struggling" with the supposed sin of homosexuality: "Jesus is in love with you," he said, "but he will not save you in that sin."

Some Southern students felt traumatized by Maragh's presentation last weekend, and many have written letters and opinion articles in the student newspaper about the sermon's bigoted rhetoric and how that way of thinking about and talking about people blocks the Christian message of God's love for all.

I was glad to learn that during the same time this vespers happened on campus, Southern pastors were involved in a different service off-campus that emphasized Jesus' inclusive ministry and His love for all of us. The students really appreciated that other event, and it's good to know that local ministers don't support the kind of teaching students were required to listen to at the on-campus vespers.

Earlier this week, SDA Kinship sent a letter to SAU's university president expressing our solidarity with local students and our disappointment about the presentation that was allowed on March 21. I'm so proud of the Southern students who didn't let the vespers and its damaging messages go unchallenged. I'm also proud of the university administration: before they received our letter, the administration had already decided to respond by reviewing their procedure for screening future speakers and presentation content. We applaud this swift action by the SAU administration.

One theme that we heard often at the GC summit on gender and sexuality in Cape Town last week was that our church has failed to show the love of God to the LGBTI community and have made so many feel unwelcome in Adventist churches. It was ironic that Pr. Maragh's presentation immediately followed the church's summit, and it graphically illustrates the continuing pain and stigma that church teachings, language, arguments, and actions inflict on our community in the name of ministry and in the name of Jesus.

We hope this incident at SAU will encourage the university and its sister institutions to minister with love, without demonization, and to ever more effectively reflect the character of Jesus to the students and faculty on campus. Kinship's church relations director is reaching out to Pr. Maragh privately. We hope we can start a conversation with him that will help him to be more sensitive to the LGBTI community in the future. 

Check out the Southern students' letters in the Accent and let them know how much they've inspired you!

—Yolanda Elliott

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JOURNEY Chapter 25