I’ve just gotten home from the “Marriage, Homosexuality, and the Church” conference at Andrews University, and Alexander asked me to share some thoughts and impressions.
Although most of what I heard there was difficult to listen to, it wasn’t unexpected, or anything I haven’t heard before. But first I’d like to look at the bright side.
- The Church is finally officially talking about this issue! This is what I’ve been pushing for the last 19 years. While other denominations have been having this discussion for as long as 30-40 years, our church, typically, is the last to become engaged. But in some ways that’s good, because a lot of preliminary discussion and scholarship has already been done, and our struggle may thus not have to last as long; we can learn from other churches. On the other hand, Adventist homosexuals have suffered longer in silence. I suppose our church leaders have avoided this issue for so long because they have seen how it has divided other churches, but it can be avoided no longer.
- I appreciated that Dr. Richard Davidson acknowledged that the church has failed in the way it has dealt with this issue in the past. And several presenters called for the church to make a much greater effort to put the talk about compassion and love into action. “We need to love homosexuals into the church,” stated one presenter.
- After hearing one discouraged attendee predict that this conference was just intended as a lead-up to another, even stronger, official directive from church leaders, I was very encouraged to hear a call made for more conferences to be held in the future. I believe this will happen. One of the GC Vice Presidents commented to me, “This conference has been very one-sided.”
The conference, which was admittedly in response to the Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives book and the “Adventists Against Prop 8” website, addressed the possibility of orientation change, the religious liberty issues, and the theology.
Dr. Mark Yarhouse, a psychology professor from Wheaton College, presented his self-published, non-peer-reviewed research which refuted the APA’s statement that orientation is unchangeable. However, his definition of change included chastity, and some advancement along the Kinsey scale toward heterosexuality. Although the study did cover six years, only 61 out of an original 98 participants, remained at the end. They were all participants in one of the Exodus-supported change ministries. Fourteen of these self-reported successful conversion, 18 reported attaining chastity, ten felt they had moved some degree toward heterosexuality, four reported no progress but were still trying, three had given up but had not embraced a gay identity, and 12 had given up and accepted themselves as gay. One may also assume that those who dropped out of the study may have done so because they were unsuccessful.
Although this showing was not spectacular, Dr. Yarhouse emphasized that change may be very difficult, but that it is not impossible for some. He did say that those who don’t succeed should never be told that they didn’t have enough faith, didn’t pray or try hard enough, or didn’t want change enough. He also cast doubt on research showing a biological basis for homosexuality. I must say, though, that this presenter did exhibit love and a pastoral attitude.
The religious liberty panels were the most strident, overall, and showed the least compassion for homosexuals. One panelist was especially offensive in his remarks. But this were also the only area to include a dissenting voice, so I must congratulate them for that. It almost seemed to me, from some of the remarks made, that they feel if their stance on gay marriage makes our church more vulnerable to Sunday laws, so be it.
Nick Miller, director of the International Institute for Religious Liberty at Andrews University and organizer of the conference, presented his rationale that gay marriage should be opposed because of its less-than-ideal effect on children, who do best when raised by their two biological parents. Of course, this ignores the fact that many children are successfully raised by adoptive parents or by a single, divorced or widowed parent, while many gay and lesbian couples are raising happy, well-adjusted children and many heterosexual couples in dysfunctional marriages are not good parents.
The impression that I got from some remarks in the presentation by Barry Bussey, director of the NAD religious liberty department was that society is moving inexorably in the direction of gay marriage, and our church will be a small minority opposing it, so we must be careful in handling this issue because society will be watching us closely.
During one Q&A session I asked, “Do the rights of Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin trump the rights of Christians who support homosexuals?” I felt the answer was unsatisfactory and didn’t really respond to the question.
The theology panels presented a very rigid stance that the Bible is clear in condemning homosexual acts. There was also an attitude that their position was unarguably the only right one, and other views are revisionist, although I believe it was Dr. Roy Gane who said that it was alright for the church to entertain healthy dissent. He also gave the Christianity and Homosexuality book a good plug and suggested that everyone ought to read it before making up their mind. I must admit that several of the theology panelists strongly urged a more proactively loving church.
Dr. Robert Gagnon, a New Testament scholar from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, seemed to be particularly certain and aggressive in opposing same sex relations. He declared that all sins are not equal and that homophobia is a natural reaction to such unnatural actions. I can’t help wondering if perhaps one of the reasons for inviting him to participate in this conference is that he represents a minority in his Presbyterian Church USA denomination, and warned that the Adventist Church doesn’t want to be in the position his own church is in.
Two ex-gay men told their stories. Both had spent many years in a promiscuous, drug- and alcohol- filled secular gay lifestyle. My observation of people like this is that when they return to God they associate homosexuality with all the ugly aspects of their former life and feel they must reject all of it. Mrs. Inge Anderson, director of the GLOW and GLAdventists internet groups, spoke of her empathy for homosexuals and her belief that God can find “the one person” a gay man can be sexually attracted to and urged gay/straight marriage if celibacy could not maintained. Unfortunately, two of the married men who were previously examples of her theory have since left their wives.
During the conference I experienced several family entanglements regarding this issue. Perhaps the most traumatic moment for me came at the beginning during the welcome by Nick Miller. Nick was an RA in the PUC dorm where my son was living, and he told my son’s story, using a different name. Some of his facts weren’t completely accurate, and he conveniently omitted the abuse and threats my son suffered from other dorm residents, which Nick did nothing to prevent. I know a number of people present knew who the story was about.
I believe that, disappointing as the overall emphasis of this conference was, it is just a first step in a continuing engagement on this subject. It is my prayer that love for our gay and lesbians members will be a leavening agent in current disagreements.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1922