It is easy to look at this statement and be discouraged and I am discouraged by it, although not that surprised. I do want to try and acknowledge what progress it represents, however minute, while also expressing deep disappointment about some aspects of it.
First, the progress. 1) It is nice to see it acknowledged, albeit it tentatively, that people who have same sex attractions may not be able to do anything to change themselves. It was not that long ago that the church seemed to be saying that same sex attraction was a choice and that with proper counseling and spiritual intervention a person could change this. 2) It is nice to see it clearly stated that those with same-sex attraction can be a member of the church in full standing. This has sort of been policy at a number of churches, but has never been fully embraced at higher levels. These things are progress, but oh so little, in my opinion.
Several things about this statement deeply disappoint me, and two are particularly galling. The first of these is the special kind of hell prepared for LGBT members who do choose to be full members of the church. As the document states:
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual explains the criteria for becoming a member. Individuals desiring membership are expected to affirm and commit to the Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Beliefs and the responsibilities and practices of membership. This includes holding to a biblical view on human sexuality. Principles and criteria relative to membership are to be applied with fairness, consistency, and an attitude of love.”
In other words, the same old mantra is repeated, i.e. you can be a member, even if you are gay or lesbian, but you must remain celibate for the rest of your life. This is so heartless. This means that LGBT people, to be fully participating members they must forgo ever having an intimate, romantic relationship with anyone, since the church has decreed that their choice of partner is against official church doctrine. This, in spite of the fact that the Bible says absolutely nothing about same-sex marriage. Now that same-sex marriage is legal in our country, and since there is no clear Biblical prohibition against it, we need to take the step of allowing it. The SDA church, along with most Protestant churches have long decried the celibacy requirement of the priesthood in the Catholic Church, and here we are imposing this same vow of celibacy on a subset of our own members.
It is especially galling when I note this statement: “Principles and criteria relative to membership are to be applied with fairness, consistency, and an attitude of love.” We are already being inconsistent in applying the principles of Biblical sexuality. We essentially give many teens a free pass when they are caught engaging in pre-marital sex, and many the first pregnancy of a newly married couple is considerably shorter than nine months. We also treat divorce loosely, and no longer enforce the words of Jesus where he says: “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”
Now, I am not advocating going back and getting stricter in enforcing rules around pre-marital sex and divorce, because I think we have taken a more grace-oriented approach to these problems, but if we are going to apply rules around sexuality “with fairness, consistency, and an attitude of love” we need to do so with LGBT issues too. This means recognizing that condemning LGBT people to a life of celibacy is too harsh and judgmental. Allowing, and even encouraging LGBT people to get married is a wonderful grace-inspired way to help them live fulfilling, church-centered, God-centered lives. We make allowances for human weakness in other areas of sexuality, why not for the LGBT community too. It saddens me greatly that the administrators of our church are willing to banish LGBT people to such a bleak place, saying you either need to be celibate, or you cannot fully commune with us in God’s kingdom.
My second largest disappointment with this statement is how it treats allies and family members of those who are LGBT. As an ally myself I feel it my duty to help LGBT young people make good choices about their lives. This document basically tells me my hands are tied. If I have a gay student come to me, this document says I need to tell them that being gay is okay, but acting on their gayness is a sin. If I have a gay person see me and they are talking about getting married to their partner, I feel it only ethical that I encourage them in this direction. Marriage is a much more healthy way to live out a monogamous, life commitment to another person than to simply live together without that deeper level of commitment.
Further, what about pastors who have gay or lesbian children, brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces or grandchildren. This document basically tells them that they cannot participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony. What a terrible dilemma to put a pastor in! How can we presume to tell a pastor that they may not preside at the wedding of a beloved daughter who is marrying the love of their life, just because it happens to be a same-sex marriage?
Even I, as a professor at an SDA college, am presumably barred from the same things. My daughter, who is lesbian, got married to her partner this last summer. Although she did not ask me to preside over the wedding, if she had, I would have done it, gladly. I did attend her wedding, and my grandson was one of the attendants. Presumably, had I presided over her wedding, I could have been subject to some unspecified reprimand. I just cannot see how such a rule for church employees is even conscionable.
It is my hope that this statement is just a piece of paper that the NAD leaders felt they had to produce and that they will not use it as a true guideline for church practice. I already know of SDA churches that are fully accepting of LGBT individuals. And I hope this document will not be used to try and roll back what progress has already been obtained. I also hope that this statement will be revisited, and that input from psychologists, social workers, geneticists and the LGBT community itself will be welcomed. There is always hope, as slim as it seems sometimes.
It was heartening, indeed, @carrolgrady, to see that there were a few stalwart souls who voted against the statement. My hope is that at least some of them saw the damaging aspects of this statement to those in the LGBT community.
I am on this page too, @daneenakers. I am just thankful that there are pastors who are willing to ignore guidance like that in this document and love and fully accept LGBT people as they are.