Book Review: "The Bible & LGBTQ Adventists"

Review of The Bible & LGBTQ Adventists by Alicia Johnston (self-published, 2022)


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11900
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Thank you for this well-stated review of Ms. Johnston’s new book…I have been interested to know more about it. And while expectations have not been set too high, I do hope her theological grounding and experience as a pastor will make some reluctant church leaders (and members) more willing to consider a broader thought process, and become more loving and inclusive to those who have been so sadly marginalized in our denomination.

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I’m reluctant to chime in on this topic, having gotten into trouble before. Kudos to Alicia for the book and for Spectrum to bring it here. This would have been impossible not so very long ago. Having said that, this topic is actually part of a much larger issue.

I was water sprinkled as a Lutheran, but was baptized as SDA before I was able to be “confirmed”. All I can remember about the Lutheran faith is that we went to church Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve.
As long as you paid your dues you got to be on the church membership list. Nobody cared what you ate - what you wore - where you went - who you married etc. As an Adventist I thought that sounded too much like belonging to a social club. However, I’m begiining to see the wisdom of that kind of openness of church membership.

I don’t see Jesus touching any of those subjects as He met with the throngs of people. You might say there were many fewer choices at the time, and you’d be right. Things are getting progressively more complicated as science advances and we find out so much more about the intricate way nature works.

Adventism, in particular, is very intrusive into people’s personal lives, while Jesus delved into people’s hearts. We don’t seem to care what your heart says, “just do the right thing” -and we have lists in case there’s doubt. The church would be better off just reading and discussing the Bible, and letting its members work out the details on their knees at home. We certainly don’t need 19th century social mores dictating our lives.

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Thanks, Bryan, for the excellent book review and thanks Alicia for writing this very Adventist based book. If this book doesn’t at least make you pause and think that the traditional church’s stance on homosexuality could be wrong, then you are intentionally not reading the Bible through an objective lens. You have an agenda and not even God can sway you from that point of view. Anyone who, after reading this book, still feels that God condemns homosexuality as we understand the term today isn’t understanding what it means to be homosexual in 2022. Go in peace…
If this book speaks to you, let’s work together to share it with others to create more dialog around this topic and ultimately stop the harm and hurt that is happening and being propagated within our Adventist church. Seriously, contact me and let’s work together with SDA Kinship to use this as a learning tool to stop the abuse being done by Adventist change/conversion ministries and stop parents from kicking their kids out of their Adventist homes for being LGBTQIA+. Adventist homelessness should never exist.

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Over time I have come to view the Bible as a guide, not an ‘answer book’. I look at the overall theme of the Bible and see it written for a people who needed constant assurance that there would be an end to all of there suffering and pain. Good would eventually win, so to speak, over evil. The whole message of the NT was about Christ bringing back into focus His real desire for humanity, compassion, empathy and genuine caring for your neighbor. He tried to shift their focus away from ‘crime and punishment’ to one of true love for others.

So what does this have todo with the topic? I have come to believe, that understanding Christ’s message is the answer to many issues with in organized religion when people think they need to find a specific answer from the Bible. This piece of ancient literature called The Bible has been so twisted and wrung out by religious thought, Christ message has been clouded over.

Thanks for the review and her book should help, along with none SDA authored books, to bring some understanding and compassion towards others. Lets seek for ‘present truth’, that is, truth for today, not yesterday!

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We certainly live in a complicated world and time.

What is present truth? Does truth change? Does truth really set us free?

Love! What is it?

Time is running out. We all live in something called now - it is our present.

Jesus bids us COME and He will give us rest. ALL are invited!

We are one complicated family.

I have few answers. I have lots of excuses and many questions.

We are all broken people living in a broken world. We are not called to judge - we are called to love.

Excuses? We are all good at excuses. Jesus sees us as we are and accepts us. If we follow Him, if we behold Him, we will be changed.

I apologize for breaking into this discussion. I am just thinking out loud.

Love!

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Considering Genesis 9:25, I do not read where the text reads that all of Ham’s descendants were cursed. I don’t understand why there would be an implied representation if not an explicit representation that the text reads so. Considering Genesis 10:6-20, a list of the descendant’s of Ham is provided. I don’t read any where in the text where all of the descendants of Ham were cursed. Once again, I don’t understand why a false implied or false explicit representation would have been made that all of the descendants of Ham were cursed.

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i agree…it’s really only Canaan, one of Ham’s fours sons, who was cursed…and the Canaanites were largely wiped out by Israel as it took over its promised land, aka Canaan…

but to be fair to the article, slavery was based, at least partially, on the notion that the inhabitants of Africa, traditionally believed to be descended from Ham, were cursed (Egypt is equated with “the land of Ham” in Ps 105:23,27)…i know for a fact that this is one of the justifications used for apartheid in
S. Africa yrs ago…

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It makes me very happy to see the progress that has been made during the past 30+ years in understanding our LGBT+ family. It seems dreadfully slow when you are one of those suffering from lack of understanding, but as I look back on when we first learned our son is gay, I am amazed at where we are now. Not so much in our hierarchy, but on the grass roots level and among the open-minded leaders with willingness to consider “present truth.”

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Nice review of what appears to be a valuable contribution toward discussion of an important issue. I’m a tad surprised to see no mention of the biological attributes of sexual differentiation, gender identity, and sexual orientation, but the topic of the book is clearly theological. Here’s a dated summary of biological issues for those inclined to consider them: https://spectrummagazine.org/article/jeffrey-kent/2014/05/05/christian-attitudes-toward-sex-and-women%E2%80%99s-ordination-cerebrocentric.

At my Episcopal church we are reading through the entire Bible this year, and have come to the Wisdom Books (generally Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes - and okay, maybe Lamentations on a dark and stormy night). We are seeing that even more of the biblical scripture record is not about providing answers, but providing wisdom to cope with TODAY in our own lives. We can hardly wait until we hit the New Testament sometime in October, the Jesus parts especially, who told us to love one another as I have loved you, particularly the marginalized and downtrodden, starting with our own family and church circles. Thanks for this book review.

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From the review, it appears like this book will be a great read!

Some comments, as I can’t resist.

While I agree with the sentiment, note that there is no marriage in the second creation story (or the first). There’s no ceremony. There is no proclamation of marriage. Also, if you take the creation stories literally - as actual history - and if you assume that when God created humans, “male and female he created them”, that it means he created only one couple, then it is a story of an incestual family where siblings coupled up to procreate. And then first cousins. The same is true for the story of the flood, which left only a small family unit alive to repopulate the earth. Of course they are both stories and not literal history - and they are best understood that way to avoid such complications.

Also, given the rest of the origin stories in the Pentateuch, where nearly every hero had a plural marriage and perhaps some concubines on the side as well, where this is relayed in the text but never criticized as wrong, it seems hard to assert that the biblical model of marriage is between one man and one woman. Instead we read of all sorts of arrangements which were (and this is key for me) culturally normal and proper at the time. In many bible stories, the more powerful and the wiser you are, the more wives you have & the bigger your harem is. And don’t forget that if your brother dies you must marry his wife. Most Americans think plural marriages are wrong at some level, if not plainly creepy. Fascinating, perhaps, but creepy. But why? They’re normal in the bible, after all. How could they be morally correct then and morally wrong now?

Jesus actually makes one statement that includes innuendo that most of us miss after translation and living in a different culture. I read a book (can’t remember the title) that included a rather careful and in-depth discussion on that statement, similar to the review’s descriptions of the arguments in the book:

For there are eunuchs who were born that way; others were made that way by men; and still others live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 19.

In a discussion on abstaining from marriage, Jesus recognizes three types of eunuchs as types of men who might be candidates. Three types of men who would not be interested in marriage to a woman, and so could focus on spreading the word instead of raising a family:

  • Men who were born deformed in some way and so not suitable for marriage. Natural eunuchs.
  • Men who were made that way - who were castrated by other men.
  • Men who were neither of the first two categories, but who were also not interested in marriage.

All three types were recognized by Jesus, and none were marginalized.

Ask yourself, what sort of young men - not deformed at birth and not castrated - are not interest in women? Well, either men who have and exceptionally low libido - a medical condition no one then would have been aware of - or men who are not sexually attracted to women.

It’s important to recognize that in Jesus’ time there was no concept of “sexual orientation” or of “homosexuality” as one of those orientations. Indeed, we didn’t recognize it until a generation or two ago. But here - it seems - Jesus might have understood it and didn’t denigrate it. And in fact he recognized that men in all three of these categories were good candidates to spread the gospel.

At the same time, I expect, Jesus wouldn’t not require any of these types of men to live loveless lives. What might we expect men who are unsuitable for marriage to women do to?

Bart Ehrman make an excellent point in the webinar behind the link below: It is actually not possible for the bible to teach that homosexuality is wrong because no writer of the bible knew of any such thing. They knew of same-gender sex, as the book review notes, but not of sexual orientation or of homosexuality as one of those orientations. They had no such mental concepts.

Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality? Recording of The Blog Webinar - The Bart Ehrman Blog

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Yep, and this is explored in more detail in the book. Hard to see that as a model when later in Leviticus incestuous marriages are prohibited. That, and other later, acceptable variations (or at least acceptable in their culture) modified the concept of marriage in a number of ways, and the concept of marriage is a moving target in the Biblical record. Exactly why there is no reason to exclude the permissibility of same-sex marriage.

Another excellent point, and one also discussed in the book. The eunuchs of the NT era are the closest equivalent we have to the LGBTQ+ community of today. They are not directly equivalent, because, as you point out, same-sex excusal attraction was not a thing at that time. In fact, recognizing same-sex attraction as a natural, biologically based behavior wasn’t widely recognized till the late 20th century. This is the main reason that any hint of descriptions of same-sex sexual behavior in the Bible needs to be addressed so carefully. Such behavior simply was not understood in anything like the way it is today.

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Also, regarding:

Yes, this is an admonishment that was true in the early church as well, when one thought leader eloquently wrote, regarding the creation stories:

In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth [what we generally call science today] justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own [cherished teachings], wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture. - St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1:37, AD 401-415.

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A bigger question would be why would a merciful and loving God curse the decedents of someone? This was written by humans with a human mindset. None of us should be responsible for what our parents or grandparents or even great grandparents did or didn’t do. As for Ham, all he did was look on the drunken naked body of his father who was lying uncovered in a drunken stupor. And he didn’t cover him up. How can anyone think this is worthy of generations of abuse from God? Or…am I missing something here?

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At its heart there seems to be this idea that Noah and generations of fathers after him have the power to “curse” someone. I forgot the part of the Bible that God imbued fathers the ability to this.

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For me, there was an ah ha moment when I first delved deeply into the LGBTQ issue. I came across the simple fact that one in every fifteen hundred births is an infant born with both male and female genitals. This means that there are over 5 million people alive right now that were born as both make and female, genetically speaking. For anyone to persecute, abuse or ostracize any of these people born this way through absolutely ZERO choice on their part is downright disgusting…but then you should be able to extrapolate from this the simple fact that virtually all of those who find themselves in one of the LGBTQ categories, did not CHOOSE to be who they are either. Why would it be reasonable to expect that transgender individuals were born but all the rest of this community made a choice? It is simply ridiculous thinking. This should provide some prospective to all of those who would threat these people in any other way than accepting. Therefore, in my mind, treating anyone badly, or rejecting them in any way for how they came into the world is offensive to God, That also goes for the church. I think there will be many people in the goat pen because of their hateful bigoted treatment of those in this community.

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Yes, as it turns out human sexuality is quite a complicated topic. There’s genetics (including but not limited to the XX XY sex genes), perceived gender, in vitro development of the gonads and the masculinization of the brain (which normally does happen for genetically male babies and normally does not happen for genetically female babies), and I think more facets that impact sexuality.

The church’s “fundamental” belief #23 states,

“Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship.”

First, there was no marriage in Eden. If you think there is, find it and reply with the text.

Second, they somewhat hilariously use “man” and “woman” seemingly unaware that their language refers to gender identity, and not genetics. “Male” and “female” more closely approximate genetic labels. Most people are genetically either XX or XY, but that doesn’t mean that every XX person identifies as a “woman” or that every XY person identifies as a “man”. Sometimes this is because a genetically male person was born presenting as a female. Sometimes it’s because a person whose genetics match their sexual presentation has a brain that does not. This happens when the brain of a genetically male person does not masculinize in vitro or when the brain of a genetically female person does.

So, technically what the church’s statement says is,
“Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a person who identifies as a man and a person who identifies as a woman in loving companionship.”

Which, again, is hilarious. Because that’s probably not what they meant.

What they think they mean is,
“a lifelong union between a person who has an XY chromosome and a person who has an XX chromosome in loving companionship.”"

But, even then that probably wouldn’t work for them.

Consider these cases. Which do you think the church would bless?

  • A marriage between a person who has an XX chromosome and an XY chromosome, but where the person with the XY chromosome didn’t develop naturally and so presents as a female. They would appear to be two females, but one is male.

  • A marriage between two people with XY chromosomes, but where one didn’t develop naturally and so presents as a female. They would appear to be a male and a female, but both are male.

It can get wilder:

  • How about a marriage between two people where one is XX and one is XY, and there their gonads present as expected, but where the genetically male person’s brain is female because of an in vitro mishap, a lack of testosterone when it was needed? So, inside they’re both female?

Since they both feel like women and both have a female brain, are they lesbians in secret?

  • How about a marriage between two people where one is XX and one is XY, and there their gonads present as expected, but where the genetically female person’s brain was flooded with testosterone at just the wrong time in vitro?

So, inside they’re both male. Is that OK?

And then we get to transgender issues:

  • How about a marriage between two people where one is XX and one is XY, and their gonads present as expected, but where the genetically male person’s brain is female because of an in vitro mishap? And then, the genetically male person who feels female, changes her body to look female?

Are they now not a man and a woman? Their genes say they are.

  • How about a marriage between two people where both are XX, but one has a female brain and so changed her body to look female. So, they’ll present as a man and a woman, and they feel like a man and a woman. But they are both genetically male.

Are they both men, or is one a woman?

My point is that - even excluding individuals with standard same-sex sexual orientation, if it’s OK with the church for two people who look to be male and female to be married even if their genetics say otherwise (it probably is), then it should also be OK for two people who do not present as male and female, but who are genetically male and female to be married.

And if that is OK, then it’s also OK for people whose brains are different - perhaps a female brain trapped in a male body, or a male brain in a female body, or a person born with same-sex attraction for various reasons, or an intersex person as @Lindy pointed out, to be married.

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Bless you for articulating this issue so well. I must admit it has taken me awhile to comprehend resulting in a radical change in my understanding i.e. I have had to change my view on this matter.

If you don’t mind I would like to borrow your message and use it with others that I talk to on this topic.

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Well, I think I really only scratched the surface, but sure!