President Jan Paulsen General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists 12501 Old Columbia Pike Silver Spring, MD 20904
March 3, 2008
Dear President Jan Paulsen:
Seldom in my membership in the faith community of Seventh-day Adventists have I been embarrassed by the actions of the leadership of the General Conference. Several passages of the document "Safeguarding Mission in Changing Social Environments" adopted at the October 15, 2007 Annual Council session of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, however, concern me. These passages, while not constituting an official belief statement on Homosexuality, convey yet another advancement of exclusive fundamentalist and conservative values and beliefs. I find no regard, respect, or tolerance of moderate, progressive, or liberal Adventist views on human sexuality, sexual expression, sexual orientation, or gender issues within this document.
Of the so-called “Twenty-eight Fundamental Beliefs,” there is not one belief addressing human sexuality. There are traditional statements on “Marriage and the Family,” the “Nature of Man,” and “Christian Behavior,” yet none of these directly address the complexity of sexuality or sexual expression. The leadership of the General Conference’s “Position Statement on Homosexuality” and “An Affirmation of Marriage” continues the seemingly hostile and historical bias of our elected leadership. Our church leadership has long claimed to uphold the principles of democracy in our elections and leadership. Local and world church policies sustain that our leadership is called to represent the diversity of ideological opinion present among our Adventist membership. These policies have been noticeably set aside, and some have instead pressed forward policies that stem from ideological agendas. This fact is most alarming to moderates, progressives, and liberals within the Adventist Church (referred collectively as “progressives”). These Adventists have often felt betrayed by the leadership of the General Conference and the apparent institutional bias toward principals of divisive ideologies.
The document from the Annual Council session continues a noticeable theme (of some previous and more recent policies) that outright advocate exclusively on behalf of advancing particular agendas within the church. These position statements under your and previous GC leadership are quite alarming to progressive Adventists. On the February 11 edition of Night Talk with Mike Schneider you stated that, “My goal for the church is that we become more effective in communicating not only ideas, but care for people, so that they may discover that Seventh-day Adventists are good people to get to know."
Many progressives join you toward realizing the goal that Adventists, “become more effective in communicating ideas and in caring for people,” however, this document (and others) can only serve to continue to divide our membership and disserve God’s mission for the church—a mission of unconditional love and reconciliation between people and God. Various members have expressed the fear that the commitment to being “more effective in communicating ideas” refers solely to the ideals of fundamentalism than to the spectrum of ideas within Christianity in general or the diversity of opinion within Adventism in particular.
I would submit to you, President Paulsen, that for our GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) Adventists the actions of the Annual Council only further asserts the Adventist Church’s practice of exclusion, intolerance, and an assumption of moral authority with matters concerning sexuality and expression. Policy statements from the General Conference are further separating the Adventist Church from Christ’s true mission for the sake of placating to those in “Third World” Adventism. GLBT Adventists understand the lesson of God’s love and acceptance of all people of faith through His teachings in Scripture for His church on earth but often are forced to choose to fellowship in more inclusive, welcoming congregations outside of our beloved denomination. This experience, sadly, is common for many of our Adventist brothers and sisters.
In your Christmas Season message to the World Church you posed the questions, "Are we compassionate toward those who are vulnerable? [Do] we reach out to them and offer our constant support? Are we the peacemakers in society? Do we offer words and actions of mercy and compassion to the people we meet?" It is far too prevalent that the “religious” often act without compassion toward our homosexual brothers and sisters. Are these not the “vulnerable,” of which you spoke of in your message? Do documents like the ones addressed in this letter “reach out to them” or “offer our constant support” of them? Does the Adventist Church become “peacemakers” in society by advancing policies that openly discriminate on the basis of sexuality or sexual expression? Are statements like these from the leadership of the General Conference reflective of “words and actions of mercy and compassion to the people we meet?”
It would seem that such actions of mercy and compassion are supported in speeches by GC leaders, but the test of one’s leadership is not solely-based on words, but whether those words have actions. The leadership chose to act at the October 2007 Annual Council session and, unfortunately, their actions do not reflect their words. Part of your closing message envisioned that “…the message of Christmas is that we can walk into the future with a sense of assurance and a feeling of security. The future has many uncertainties…” Our moderate membership has no “sense of assurance” in our leadership if the past and present actions of the General Conference, is any indication of what our elected leadership believes.
Additionally our GLBT Adventists have utterly no “feeling of security” within our denomination. They often are coerced out of our churches. These Children of God are left to segregation from the corporate fellowship of Adventist believers. The most prominent ministry for GLBT Adventists is Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International, an organization that the church leadership has yet to recognize. The future may have many uncertainties, but one certainty for our moderate, progressive, and liberal membership is an apparent continuation of the alignment of the General Conference to the ideology of fundamentalism and conservatism and the limited interpretation of the will of God and the mission for our church within the confines of those limited ideologies.
From a July 3, 2005 Adventist News Network article on the 58th World Conference Session in St. Louis, Mr. Jack Krogstad was reported as pointing out “that Jesus was an example of great leadership.” He stated that, "Even the secular world studies Jesus Christ as a great model of leadership," Krogstad continued, "Those traits are openness, flexibility, tolerance, and acceptance.” President Paulsen, when there are documents that openly advance agenda-driven ideologies I cannot help but wonder where those traits are in the leadership of the General Conference or your tenure as President. You have often spoken of the “hope of Jesus” for mankind on many occasions. You have spoken of that hope as being, "a hope that always looks outward; and always looks through eyes of compassion." You have also advocated the belief that, "We are His agents of hope -- it's reflected in the choices we make and in the ways that we demonstrate the presence of God in our everyday lives."
How do documents like “Position Statement on Homosexuality,” “An Affirmation of Marriage,” and "Safeguarding Mission in Changing Social Environments" help the church “demonstrate the presence of God in our everyday lives?” Why is it that the views of moderate, progressive, and liberal Adventists are not represented in the policies of the General Conference or official position statements? Why do our GLBT Adventist brothers and sisters confront institutionalized aversion, inflexibility of church policy, theological intolerance, and official rejection within our church? How does the position of the leadership of the General advance Christ’s true mission? How is the fundamental lesson of God’s love and acceptance of all people of faith, reflected through his teachings in Scripture for his church on earth, or for the Adventist Church in particular?
Your sincere attention to these serious concerns and questions is greatly appreciated.
Yours in Christ,
Raymond Roccograndi Thompson Southern Adventist University Student Lafayette Seventh-day Adventist Church Member, New Jersey Conference
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/394