Adventist Church in Australia Responds to Conversion Therapy Bill

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Adventist Record, the official news and lifestyle magazine for the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Since the article’s publication, the proposed bill banning LGBTIQ+ conversion therapy has passed Victoria’s Upper House and will become law. The Record’s article is reprinted with permission in full below:

How should Seventh-day Adventists respond to this proposed legislation?

The past few decades have been marked by increasing openness regarding human sexuality. Issues that were once considered taboo are now openly discussed and debated in schools, universities and the media.

In recent years, the informal public conversation has progressed to a more formal stage, particularly with regard to LGBTQ rights, which in turn has resulted in lawsuits, court decisions and new government legislation. Along with other Western nations, Australia has adopted a progressive approach to LGBTQ-related matters, resulting in the 2017 legalisation of same-sex marriage.

More recently, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory became the first Australian jurisdictions to pass legislation banning conversion therapies. And in Victoria, the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020, which would ban any attempt to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, is currently before state parliament.

Various Christian groups in Australia fear that this bill might open the way for a broader agenda that could infringe on religious freedoms in Australia. How should Seventh-day Adventists respond to this proposed legislation? To address this question, it might be helpful to consider how Adventists have approached the question of epistemology or how we know what we know.

From its early years, the Adventist Church has sought to integrate what we know of the world and human life from Scripture with what we know of the world and human life from the world of science.1 For example, in contrast to the Medieval Church, which was convinced that Scripture supported the notion that the sun moved around the Earth and thus tried Galileo for heresy, our understanding of the Cosmos has been informed by science and thus we accept a heliocentric worldview.

At the same time, however, we also embrace a biblical understanding of origins, and thus the Genesis account of Creation, rather than Darwinian evolution, is foundational to our understanding of the world, as well as the meaning and purpose of human life.

Similarly, in the area of health and healing, we recognise that God is the source of all healing and that Christians are called to live by faith. However, we also believe that, more often than not, God works with and through the gift of increased medical knowledge. As a Church, we have historically sought to integrate these sources of knowledge while recognising that there may be Adventists who lean toward both ends of the continuum—between scriptural exclusivity at one end (thus rejecting aspects of modern medicine, such as vaccination) and scientific exclusivity at the other end (thus embracing a more evolutionary understanding of origins).

This integrative approach to knowledge also means that, while we attempt to interpret what we know from science in light of Scripture, we also recognise that science sometimes speaks into domains of human life that Scripture does not. For example, while the Scriptures are central to our understanding of spiritual growth, we recognise that the Bible says very little about child development. Hence, in striving for excellence in our denominational school system, we look to Scripture for the principles of children’s spiritual development, while allowing social science to inform our understanding of the psychological development of infants and children, which in turn informs our understanding of how children learn and grow.

Similarly, while the Scriptures underscore the sanctity of human life, they are silent regarding the modern technologies that create some of our most significant ethical questions, such as the termination of high-risk pregnancies, assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF, and end-of-life decision-making. Consequently, the Church has sought to prayerfully understand how to wisely relate to these technologies in a way that is true to the spirit of the Scriptures.

In the area of homosexuality and transgenderism, however, the Church has struggled to adopt an integrative approach. In its attempt to remain faithful to a biblical sexual ethic, the Church has not always understood the challenges faced by the LGBTQ community.

This has been particularly true in the area of change or suppression practices, also known as conversion therapy. The Scriptures proclaim the reality of new birth and new life in Christ, and so, for many years, various Christian organisations promoted and practised a variety of conversion-related practices, including talk therapy, prayer and even exorcism, which aimed to change sexual orientation from lesbian, bisexual or gay to straight, as well as to change gender identity from transgender or nonbinary to cisgender.

In recent years, however, social science research has revealed that the conversion practices of both medical and faith communities are not only unsuccessful in reducing same-sex attraction or increasing other-sex attraction, but that they have a wide range of potentially harmful side effects, particularly for LGBTQ youth, including loss of faith, as well as significantly higher levels of depression and suicidality.2

Accordingly, in 2012, Exodus International, a US-based interdenominational Christian organisation that had promoted conversion practices, renounced conversion therapy, stating that it was not effective in changing same-sex attraction, apologised for the harm they had inflicted on participants and closed the organisation.

While Exodus International no longer exists, conversion therapy and related practices continue to be promoted in some faith-based communities, including in Australia.  According to a 2018 research report initiated by La Trobe University, the Human Rights Law Centre, and Gay & Lesbian Health Victoria, conversion therapy continues to be practised in some religious communities, causing real harm to vulnerable individuals.3

The report called for action by governments, the health sector and religious communities, in order to minimise harm to individuals who experience conflict between their sexual orientation or gender identity and their beliefs.  Accordingly, as outlined above, some Australian states have passed or are in the process of passing legislation prohibiting conversion practices.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia does not support conversion therapy and related practices due to evidence that, not only are they not effective in changing sexual orientation, but that they can cause harm to vulnerable individuals.

However, the bill that is currently before the Victorian State Parliament is of concern to Adventists due to its ambiguous wording. The bill does not clearly define Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices, making it possible that praying with an individual who is struggling to reconcile their sexual orientation or gender identity with their faith might be criminalised.

Further, the ambiguous wording of the bill raises concerns regarding teaching and preaching a biblical sexual ethic, which the Adventist Church has always sought to uphold. In addition to these concerns, the bill criminalises change or suppression (conversion) practices “whether with or without a person’s consent”, thus negating our belief in human free will, which is central to our understanding of humanity being created in the image of God.

Thus, while we are supportive of legislation aimed at protecting the vulnerable and preventing harm, the Adventist Church will be voicing its concern regarding the proposed bill in its current form.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, in consultation with various groups, is supporting submissions made by Freedom for Faith, the Institute for Civil Society and Christian Schools Australia.

 

Notes & References:

1. Ellen White states: “Nature and revelation alike testify of God’s love” (Steps to Christ, p9).

2. www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf, p49-53.

3. static1.squarespace.com/static/580025f66b8f5b2dabbe4291/t/5bd78764eef1a1ba57990efe/1540851637658/LGBT+conversion+therapy+in+Australia+v2.pdf.

 

Dr Edyta Jankiewicz is family ministries specialist within the Discipleship Ministries Team at the South Pacific Division.

Photo by daniel james on Unsplash

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11052

I have seen on Facebook a letter from many conservative religious groups in the state of Victoria opposing the passage of the legislation, where the signatures of the President and Secretary of the Victorian SDA Conference are the first listed. Some of the other groups that signed it make me cringe. For example, several of them were shown as a result of a Royal Commission to have long participated in programs that have become infamous for the sexual abuse of children and young people. (The commission revealed that similar abuse occurred for many years at Lilydale Academy near Melbourne, a boarding academy operated by the same Conference.) Another letter of opposition was signed by these officers and eight other Adventist pastors. It is a huge problem that failure of Colin Cook’s Quest Learning Center in Reading, PA, a “conversion therapy” program funded by the Adventist General Conference and Columbia Union in the 1980s, and publicized by the church, especially Ministry Magazine, and the rampant sexual abuse of the young men who participated in it by its director, was never publicized or admitted. For further information on this, see my article in the current issue of SPECTRUM.

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Yes, the Colin Cook’s Quest Learning Center in Reading, Pennsylvania, was a documented total failure in “ converting “ gay young Adventists to become straight. Not only were they not “ healed “ they were subjected to rampant sexual abuse.
Was Lilydale Academy, that Ron Lawson alludes to, another similar failure in attempted “ conversion therapy “ ?

Those parents / families whom the Adventist church openly encouraged sending their gay offspring to be “ healed “ , should have aggressively litigated for financial compensation. Regrettably , this is the only curb / constraint that the denomination understands. However the statute of limitations probably makes this not possible now.

I am encouraged by the general tone of the statement set forth by the Australian Adventists , whereby they admit that homosexuality is not a “ chosen” entity that can easily be changed. This is a huge advance from the church’s position several decades ago.

Now that they have admitted that gays / lesbians have no choice in their sexuality, but it is inherent and unchangeable, surely the next coherent position is to be fully inclusive of their LGBT members, including acceptance of same sex marriage.

This would be the loving / compassionate / truly Christian approach, otherwise they are condemning their gay / lesbian members into lifelong loneliness and a companion less existence.

NOT a loving / accepting stance !

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The church has failed in not providing biological and psychological information on gender orientation. I recognized this while working for the church and reading letters from suffering people–mostly men. I was around when the Colin Cook material came out supporting him and later admitting his failing. It’s become clear for a long time that real homosexuals cannot choose their orientation. Why would anyone choose to be stigmatized by church and society? Those programs have harmed many persons. Should they be outlawed? There is a difference between one-on-one counseling and programs that bring vulnerable people together. Will counselors be spied upon, set up, and reported?

I don’t know the scientific details, but have heard there are differing levels with persons not entirely homosexual… I would like Ron Lawson or someone to clarify this. If so, those persons should have the freedom to get counseling if they choose. They should be allowed to testify to others their experience if they are able to become happier with some change in thought patterns or be celibate (like many widowed and divorced Christians). So I see a problem with this law.

I also don’t understand those (Christians) who claim to be bisexual–wouldn’t they have a choice? After all we expect married people to be faithful–why not the bisexual?. I feel like they get a pass for immorality. They could also do well with spiritual and emotional counseling…

Our church does not now accept SS marriage, but it is the best solution outside the church. To pass laws against it for people who do not believe as we do (celibacy) would be no different than having a Sunday law forced on the world.
In the church those who do practice celibacy have every right to be pastors, teachers, administrators as any other member. As we keep learning again and again being a straight Christian doesn’t keep certain people from taking sexual advantage of others.

In its condemnation I doubt the Bible is referring to homosexuals in love relationships (if such existed in the ancient world–think polygamy) but a humiliating and pagan practice based on treating their enemies like women. It was also a product of pagan society’s destructive human lust. Many of them used children.

I have concluded that when Jesus talked about eunuchs he meant homosexuals “who were born that way.” Matt. 19:12. Eunuchs cannot be born that way as we translate the word today… His ideal is celibacy and He ends by saying “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”

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Now I am 83; fifth Generation SDA. Since early adloscnece I was attracted to the issue, seeing how the SDA here (Austria) just ages ago marched with the mainstream : Do not talk,. or clearly condemn : Here are the Bibles texts . . The secretary for youth on summer camps : "Please , that is your matter, clear it - - - - -And now, after that long time the local Union invited “Coming Out Ministries” to play their perforrmance in our Union so the people - especially the young ones, will know about - - - - ( ! !) - - -

I now have a long time for forfollow up observations. I have eight “cases” who could maintain their camouflage. . I still have the outcry of one faithful SDA woman, then fifty years of age, , having married on advice of the minister : " Once in my life I also want to experiece smooching !!" - - Why ? A gentle, friendly, dedicated husband, with high committment in responisbility and supporting his family , two children, - - and never having a certain special attraction to the woman sharing his life ! Decades ago the minster, by him asked for guidance, just said : “Just try it, the appetite comes with eating !”

Instead of “eunuchs” one minister introduced the term “not fit for marriage” - we usually assume a surgical Intervention; I assume the lack of “inborn patterns”.

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Thanks for responding and Happy Birthday.

Some of my ancestors came from Austria–the Oberholtzer family.

Ella Oberholtzer Rydzewski

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