I made my way into the living room and sat down on the comfy couch directly in front of the television screen. I didn’t want to miss a second of it. Never in my wildest dreams would Ihave thought there would be a film produced regarding sexual orientation and Christianity, especially within my church. The Seventh-day Adventist church. After an introduction from theproducers of the film, the lights went out and the journey began.
On June 15 I had the privilege of attending a private screening of the newly released documentary Seventh-Gay Adventists: A film about faith on the margins. Then a month later, I re-experienced the documentary all over again, watching it a second time. The film itself is not what impacted me the most; it was the content, the stories, the real life emotions. Seventh-Gay Adventists documents the lives of three couples who identify as both gay and Adventist. The film narrates the struggles, persecutions, and triumphs of each couple without taking sides on around this controversial issue. The fact is the producers took a back seat. Rather than filming an issues film, the producers honestly listened to the stories being told.
And what resulted was a story that spoke to all aspects of my life.
Truth be told, the story of Seventh-Gay Adventists was my story. Now I’m not saying I’m an older lesbian with a partner and two kids dealing with church persecution. I’m not even a Brazilian pastor dealing with the hassles of achieving asylum status with a same-sex relationship. In fact, I’m an Adventist young adult Puerto Rican bisexual male with no kids and no lesbian partner, yet the three stories captured how every LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Adventists struggles. And even more amazing, Seventh-Gay Adventists has achieved what I deemed unthinkable, receiving support from all sides of the homosexuality debate in the church. Even respected Adventist thinker Roy Gane from Andrews University (My university) has said of the film “Whatever one’s position regarding homosexuals and the church may be, this film is worth seeing because it candidly probes issues with real human faces and stories”
A week before my second screening of Seventh-Gay Adventists, I read the article “The Missing Story in Seventh-Gay Adventists” by Andy Nash in the Adventist Review. At first I was excited hoping a writer from an Adventist publication was going to finally talk about the important issue of homosexuality in the church. I must admit that I don’t regularly read the Adventist Review. And after reading Nash’s article, as a young Adventist, I was reminded why I don’t frequent this publication.
Among my peers Nash is a highly respected professor at Southern Adventist University. Word has it that Nash is a provocative lecturer and is open to dialogue. Unfortunately, I do not see an opening for dialogue in this article.
After reading Nash’s article I was left with the repeated and unoriginal response from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The same answer of “You’re gay, and if you love God, you have to be a life-long celibate” was given. Again.
First, the “missing” story from Seventh-Gay Adventists Nash addresses is that of a celibate LGBT Adventist individual. Nash uses the story of Wayne Blakely as an example of the Adventist gay celibate life. Wayne Blakely is a self-proclaimed homosexual turned to the celibate life due to his personal religious beliefs. In 2009, I heard Wayne Blakely speak at a conference hosted at Andrews University “Marriage, Homosexuality and the Church.” I can honestly say I wasn’t spiritually moved by Blakely’s story. I’m not sure if I was uninterested because he had just recently recommitted his life to Christ after 37 years of sexual promiscuity or the curse words he accidentally let slip in the sanctuary. Regardless, at that time there was certainly no comparison between his story and the three other stories in Seventh-Gay Adventists.
The Adventist church has been suggesting to the LGBT community for years that they must stay celibate to escape “living a life in sin”. Hasn’t celibacy in the Adventist church already been conversed, dialogued, and promoted? I would ask Nash and anyone who promotes celibacy as a viable option for LGBT individuals, how they would respond to never having an intimate relationship? I believe Seventh-Gay Adventists takes the next step in evaluating what the church feels uncomfortable discussing: meaningful committed same-sex relationships.
A second problem I have with Nash’s article is the reference to Romans 1 and the crude comparisons to LGBT individuals. I’ll let the words speak for themselves. Nash stated at the end of his review : “Which of the other tendencies named in Romans 1 would supporters of a gay lifestyle also encourage struggling people to live out? Worshipping created things? Greed, envy, murder, strife? Gossip, slander, insolence, arrogance? Dishonoring parents, heartlessness, ruthlessness?”. Since the publication of the article, the director of the film, Daneen Akers has said that Nash wrote her privately and “Indicated clearly that his intent with the rhetorical questions in the closing paragraph of his column was not about equating gays to murderers or the rest of the list in Romans 1. Rather, he says his questions are about how we use scripture.”
But he hasn’t publicly explained what his conclusions then mean, so many readers of the Review (and their grandchildren who happen to pick it up on a Sabbath afternoon) are still going to read his conclusions as equivocating loving same-sex relationships with murderers and the rest of this list.
Even giving him the benefit of the doubt about his intent, I would hope a journalism professor at an Adventist University would know the power of words and be a bit more sensitive when expressing himself on paper because these comparisons are very likely doing damage to the minds and hearts of LGBT youth and the parents, friends, and church members who could be their support.
The Trevor project, an organization that actively works with suicidal LGBT youth states that “LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.”* If the family rejects them they are, “Eight times more likely to commit suicide.”** My concern is that Adventist youth will read this article and compare themselves to murderers, slanderers, and ruthless people. If Nash actively watched and listened (there’s that word again) to the film, I’m sure he would say that the couples in this film are anything but those character traits.
I’m personally attached to the Seventh-Gay Adventists stories, not just because of identifying as a bisexual man, but also because I’ve witnessed firsthand the struggle our LGBT Adventist youth are going through. Luckily, my family is anything but rejecting. Even as they struggled and came to terms with their religious beliefs and my sexuality, they loved me. But not all LGBT Adventist youth are as blessed. Our students hide, get persecuted-even commit suicide over the backlash of being identified as an LGBT individual in the Adventist world. Whatever our theology, we have to admit that the way we treat LGBT people and the words we use to describe their struggles is contributing to suicide, depression, and self-loathing of many of our students sitting on the pews and in our classrooms. We have to make a change.
The Intercollegiate Adventist Gay Straight Alliance Coalition (IAGC) was founded this year due to the overwhelming concerns regarding sexual orientation and identities on Adventist campuses. IAGC works regularly with LGBT youth in the Adventist world creating safe places, offering resources to counseling services, and creating LGBT friendlier campuses. IAGC mission statement states: “In the spirit of Jesus' ministry of love and Paul's directive in 2 Corinthians 5:20, members of the IAGC are to be ambassadors of reconciliation. Therefore the IAGC is a student-run organization that seeks to bridge the LGBTQ community and the Seventh-day Adventist community within the academic setting. The IAGC seeks to promote understanding, compassion, education, awareness and community for those who wish to integrate their faith with their sexual and gender identities. The members of the IAGC strive to create a community of fellowship that affirms diversity while sowing seeds of love.” Being a part of this incredible organization allows me to actively listen to the needs of the students and come to their aid.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been in communication with three students from different campuses who are dealing with their suicidal thoughts and rejecting families. The following are direct quotes from students:
“You believe in God right? Do you believe homosexuals will be accepted into heaven?”
“My parents tell me I’m living in sin and that I’m going to go to hell”
“I don't know how to balance being my true self and still maintain a convincing façade”
“Being back home with a family that doesn't accept me doesn't really help my depression but that's life sometimes.. Right now I am looking into finding some place to go for a while and get rid of my suicidal thoughts and depression”
It is students like these with their heartfelt questions and their search for belonging from the proverbial closet that we must start listening to in our conversation about homosexuality and the Adventist church. What do we want them to hear from their church?
I just had the great opportunity to hear renowned speaker Andrew Marin from the Marin Foundation speak about reconciliation. The Marin Foundation has an unusual mission. They actively seeks out reconciliation between the LGBT community and conservative Christian churches. Andrew Marin stated that “for true reconciliation to take place you must literally set yourself in the worldview ‘box’ the other group is in. It is only then that true reconciliation can take place.” In other words, it is not enough to talk at one another--we must actively listen.
I’m a firm believer in stating one’s viewpoints. It was discussion and conversations that paved way for pioneers of the Adventist church, and it will continue to help modern Adventists in facing our modern struggles. Whether it be the debate over women’s ordination or LGBT issues, there is legitimacy to having conversations and really hearing each other. The revolving door (a reference to the high rates of young Adventists leaving the church) of the Adventist church has been talked about for many years now. This revolving door is even more pertinent to the LGBT youth of the Adventist church. It is important for this revolving door to transform to an open door. Andy Nash’s article can be starting point for this transformation to take place.
As the president of IAGC, I envision a new future. I envision for a future where Adventist campuses are safe places for us all to talk, discuss, learn and ask the hard but important questions about what it means to be an Adventist Christian. . As a young Adventist, I envision a day where the Adventist church (as well as Andy Nash) will wholeheartedly participate in an actual dialogue where we listen before judging. We may not always agree, but we have to start listening and respecting each other. These questions of belonging and identity are even more crucial to those of us who identify as LGBT. Our lives literally depend on how we proceed with this conversation. It is only when we start listening that together, as a church we will learn, accept, and love one another like Jesus asked us to- if we’d only listen.
Eliel Cruz is the president of Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition and is a senior international business and French major at Andrews University.
For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or find the IAGC at Facebook.com/IAGCAdventist
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4644