Exploring Identity Negotiation in Adventist-raised Gays and Lesbians in Norway

This article presents some of the findings of a master’s level research project exploring the process of identity negotiation among ten Adventist-raised homosexuals in South Norway. Based on data collected through in-depth interviews and analyzed from the perspective of identity theory in combination with a four-path model of identity conflict resolution strategies, the thesis explores how social ties and religious affiliation affects the identity forming process in the context of Norwegian Adventism. Four emerging themes (“within-ness,” silence/avoidance, moral acceptability, and the parental role) are further briefly discussed in light of some moral, social, and political implications drawn from Rappaport’s empowerment theory and Honneth’s theory of recognition.

(The full thesis can be read online here: Negotiating Identities: The Case of Adventist-raised Gays and Lesbians in Norway.)

Background and purpose of research project

Forming an identity in a conservative religious environment has posed a major challenge to many gays and lesbians. Realizing one’s homosexual identity under such circumstances often leads to a tension or identity conflict (Thumma, 1991; Rodriguez & Ouellette, 2000; Anderton, Pender, & Asner-Self, 2011). In seeking to resolve conflict between their religious and sexual identities, gays and lesbians have applied different conflict resolution strategies. These include 1) rejecting their religious identity, 2) rejecting their homosexual identity, 3) compartmentalizing identities, or 4) seeking to integrate their homosexual and religious identity (Rodriguez & Ouellette, 2000). Using this four-path model in combination with the analytical tools provided in identity theory, I sought to explore the identity formation process among homosexuals raised in the Norwegian Seventh-day Adventist Church. One extensive study has been done on gay and lesbian Adventists in North America (cf. Drumm, 2005; Drumm, 2008).

The topic of homosexuality has often been dominated by a theological and/or political and polarizing discourse around the issue within the SDA Church, with surprisingly little regard or reference to the social and psychological health aspect of the homosexual subjects as holistic human beings. My thesis seeks both to bring further attention to the social and psychological health aspect of homosexuals within the SDA Church (and on a more general level in society), as well as to demonstrate some initial normative implications of what a healthy social and psychological environment might entail in the Adventist context.

Four central themes and main outcomes

Four salient themes emerged from the interviews with my informants. These four themes I have dubbed 1) “within-ness,” 2) moral acceptability, 3) silence/avoidance, and 4) the parental role. Based on central socio-psychological mechanisms proposed by identity theory (such as identity-verification and the perceptual control system; cf. Burke & Stets, 2009), I suggest there is an experienced notion of a hegemonic Adventist identity on the informants’ behalf. As their Adventist identity governs major and vital aspects of their social and psychological life and health, most informants report making serious efforts to conform and to reject/suppress their interfering homosexual identity. Culminating in an identity crisis, most end up either rejecting their Adventist identity or seeking to integrate their homosexual and Adventist identities.

Silence/avoidance: “No one ever mentioned the word”

The first major theme that emerges from the interviews is the theme of silence and/or avoidance around the topic of homosexuality. One of the informants relates,

“No one ever talked about homosexuality when I grew up, and no one ever mentioned the word. No one ever stated it was wrong. Yet it was in a way — it was implied through the entire system that it was not an alternative.”

Despite the generally experienced silence on the topic (some reported enduring fiery remarks by their parents whenever homosexuality was brought up at home), many report feeling a keen sense of incongruity between their homosexual feelings (once they became aware of them) and their Adventist context. Even before their own awareness, most informants relate experiencing an unease and discomfort in the rare occasion that homosexuality was casually referred to.

Another informant relates how religiously inferred ideals led him to pursue a “perfect life” according to all the religious and social values he had internalized. Years after having gone through a nerve-wracking coming out process, he recounts some ambivalent feelings about the outcome.

“I am very thankful that [family and friends] took it as well as they did, and the pastors. But there was very soon a vacuum. And that is what I think is so strange — that people did not take it more seriously. That they did not express more care, more inclusivity, ask how I was doing seeing how this permeates all of life. From pastors you have admired for many years! Instead, there is silence, distance, and something they still will not talk about.”

Three informants report enduring the disdaining remarks from their parents whenever confronted with homosexuality in media. These fiery remarks led them to fear for their own security at home after realizing their own gay and lesbian orientation. These informants, as well as others, report spending considerable amounts of time trying to suppress and/or eliminate their homosexuality — a second major theme that emerged during the interviews.

Moral acceptability and suppression

Another central theme focuses on Adventist code and an Adventist preoccupation with religious/moral acceptability of behavior. Whether it be with an ideological impetus from end-time urgency or it be in the social context of family values and social code, the idea of fulfilling a set of expectations in order to be ethical and morally acceptable for God, the church, and/or family and friends is a central theme pervading all of the informants’ accounts of their Adventist upbringing.

“The reason I am sharing this incident is to illustrate this thing about the truth, in a sense. And if you are not “within” — if you do not do what is expected of you, what the Bible teaches, then you will not go to heaven. And that is what has been the main focus in my upbringing. (…) If I had any feelings that were not in harmony with what was normal, this was a sufficient reason to keep them as far under the carpet as possible.”

Eight out of ten informants reported having attempted to suppress (i.e. reject) their own homosexuality. However, not all such attempts were conscious or even understood as such in the informants’ own minds at the time.

“I did not ponder it, to put it that way. Because — I can perhaps now see that I was a bit afraid as to whether there would be this kind of deviance in me. It was at least something I would not talk about with anyone.”

The struggle to fulfill his ideals culminated in another informant’s entering an engagement with his girlfriend as a means of “tying himself to the mast.”

“Well, it was sort of an avoidance thing. Right? ‘I will not continue to be interested in men’ and all that. So now, we are going all-in to, like, force myself to remain faithful, keeping it all about women and, like… ‘I will manage to live this heterosexual life that I in a sense have said that I would (…).’ So, it is a way of tying yourself to the mast.”

Another informant relates that while attempting in various ways to suppress and/or remove his same-sex attractions by invoking a sexual or romantic attraction to girls, he began praying that God would kill him.

“So then, when it [removing my attraction to men] did not work, I was, like, ‘Okay, repress your sexuality.’ (…) I prayed every night that God would either heal me or kill me before I became gay. Because if God made sure that I was run over by a bus — I cannot commit suicide, because then I murder myself, and that is wrong. However, if God sends a bus that can run over me before I do anything with another man, then I have not done anything wrong. So, then it was, — ‘You must either heal me, God, or you must kill me, because I will not kill myself — and I do not want to become gay.’”

Similarly, another informant explains the roots of her own struggle for healing from her homosexual orientation.

“As dad and I were discussing homosexuality in Sabbath school, I felt a bit sorry for the poor gays. (…) ‘But dad, can we not… What if you are gay?’ (…) Then he said, ‘Well, if you are gay then you must simply pray to God, and then he will fix you.’ It was a simple solution, so I remembered it and kept praying… ‘Phew, now you are being fixed!’”

“Within-ness”

Church-centeredness emerges as an important theme in all of the informants reflections on their religious upbringing. One informant explains how the close-knit and socially all-encompassing community of the SDA Church made her choice to leave thus more difficult, seeing so many positive things about the Adventist community.

“It was good, but I do not think I had the feeling that there was any alternative, you know? (…) Everything is within. (…) I think — it takes a lot to leave this, because there is so much good that is going on, there are so many good people, so many good attitudes, activities, projects, right? That it takes a lot to turn this down for something else.”

This “within-ness” results, as she sees it now, in a lack of knowledge in the church in regards to social and societal issues and poses a challenge to the relevance of the church to people outside in wider society.

“I find that there are massive gaps in knowledge. Real knowledge gaps. (…) There might be differences between those [Adventists] working within the Adventist community and those who have (…) regular jobs outside in society — because then you are subjected to diverse influences. However, [I wish] that people would take in literature and research that is not written by Adventists and not published at Norsk Bokforlag [the Norwegian Adventist publisher]. It can really become, like — you reproduce yourself so much that you will not take in other experience. (…) Like, it turns into a club.”

Some moral implications

Most of the informants report struggling with anxiety, depression, and shame for being gay, fearing the rejection of family, friends, and God if they were to acknowledge the truth about who they were. Finally, most also felt they had to distance themselves from the church in order to heal, be authentic, and feel a sense of positive self-value.

Based on the findings, and using insights from Rappaport’s empowerment theory and Honneth’s theory of recognition, I further discuss some normative implications for an empowering and positive/healthy identity formation for homosexuals in the church. I conclude that themes of Adventist identity (“within-ness,” moral acceptability, and the parental role) can be reframed and used as to create a safe place for gay and lesbian community members.

The emphasis of the Adventist sense of moral acceptability, for instance, can be shifted away from exclusive behaviors focused on rules/codes towards the deeper Adventist/Christian behavioral principles, such as showing love, compassion, tolerance, and mercy/grace. This shift in moral emphasis is traced in the informants’ own self-healing process and positive identity (re-)formation. In a theological context, such a shift happens along a dialectic tension between two Christian antinomies — or, within the paradox (Rappaport, 1981) — of “law” and “grace.” A shift towards “grace” (speaking in theological terms) allows for a positive view of homosexuals as valuable and respectable individuals in the church and in society, and thus opens for a sense of safety and the possibility for authenticity and healing from anxiety, depression, and shame among gays and lesbians in the Adventist community.

Some questions for further reflection

• How might the Adventist health message as “the right hand” of the Gospel be used to serve the social and psychological health and well-being of homosexuals in the community and in the church?

• If homosexuals are becoming mentally ill and socially bankrupt by how they are treated in church (forcing many to distance themselves from the church for the sake of their own sanity), is the church’s current practice or attitude defendable from the Gospels and Christian/Adventist ethics and health claims?

• How might the dialectic or tension between “law” and “mercy”/“grace” in Adventist theology — the tension between the ideal and the real — be used dynamically as to help and inspire (rather than to harm and discourage) highly diverse groups of people with diverse needs and experiences (such as LGBTs) in the church and in the community?

David-Kingsley Kendel, MPhil, is currently studying practical pedagogy (the Norwegian teacher’s certificate program) at the University of Oslo, working part-time as a tutor. Holding a BA in theology from Newbold College, he recently earned an MPhil after having completed a master’s program in religion and sociology at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society.

References

Anderton, C. L., Pender, D. A., & Asner-Self, K. K. (2011). A Review of the Religious Identity/Sexual Orientation Identity Conflict Literature: Revisiting Festinger's Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 5, pp. 259-281.

Burke, P. J., & Stets, J. E. (2009). Identity Theory [Kindle]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from www.amazon.co.uk

Drumm, R. (2005). No Longer an Oxymoron: Integrating Gay and Lesbian Seventh-day Adventist Identities. In S. Thumma, & E. R. Gray (Eds.), Gay Religion (pp. 47-65). Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.

Drumm, R. D. (2008). Perspectives Interaction and Angst: The Social Experiences of Gay and Lesbian Seventh-day Adventists. In D. Ferguson, F. Guy, & D. R. Larson (Eds.), Christianity and Homosexuality — Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives (p. Part Three). Roseville, CA: Adventist Forum.

Rodriguez, E. M., & Ouellette, S. C. (2000, September). Gay and Lesbian Christians: Homosexual and Religious Identity Integration in the Members and Participants of a Gay-Positive Church. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 39(3), pp. 333-347. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/1387818

Thumma, S. (1991, Winter). Negotiating a Religious Identity: The Case of the Gay Evangelical. Sociological Analysis, 52(4), pp. 333-347. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3710850

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9904
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Thanks for publishing David-Kingsley Kendel’s paper here. I hope everyone will click on the link and read the full paper. It is important to tell these stories and the challenges of growing up Seventh-day Adventist and then realizing you are LGBTQ. Sadly these challenges haven’t gotten much easier in our church. These stories are a small sampling of such stories that I hear from Adventist folks of all ages and walks of life from around the world when they contact Seventh-day Adventist Kinship to try find a community of believers who share their same struggles.

We talk more openly ABOUT the LGBTQ community, but the church still isn’t talking WITH us to understand us. We are still waiting for someone from the General Conference to respond to our request to talk about this subject. If not the GC, maybe one of the Divisions will openly step forward to talk with us? This subject has been swept aside for way too long. It is about much more than just Bible texts.

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Thanks for this information - I hope there will be that shift towards grace!

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Thank you David-Kingsley Kendel for a most provocative, painful and poignant perspective on growing up gay and Adventist.

You succinctly state that the social and health aspects of Adventist homosexuals, as holistic human beings, has yet to be addressed

What is eminently evident from your remarkable research, is that the attainment of holistic health for homosexual Adventists is an horrific ordeal.

Comments from your interviewees define the despair, desperation, discomfort and depression when you find yourself both gay and Adventist ———

“I PRAYED EVERY NIGHT THAT GOD WOULD EITHER HEAL ME OR KILL ME BEFORE I BECAME GAY.”

I CANNOT COMMIT SUICIDE BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE MURDER.”

“ I BEGAN PRAYING THAT GOD WOULD KILL ME.”

“ THERE WAS VERY SOON A VACUUM “

“ MY GAYNESS PERMEATES ALL OF MY LIFE “

“ IF YOU DO NOT DO WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES, YOU WILL NOT GO TO HEAVEN”

THEY FEARED FOR THEIR OWN SECURITY AT HOME AFTER REALIZING THEIR ORIENTATION .

I would wager that similar responses would be elicited from gays growing up in other fundamentalist rejecting Christian households.— Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic and Mormon.

BECAUSE OUR CHRISTIAN GOD HAS A VICIOUS, VENOMOUS, VENDETTA AGAINST CHRISTIAN GAY KIDS

He creates four to five per cent of the Christian population gay / lesbian.
These children have zero conscious input or choice of their sexual orientation,

Then He plants homophobic passages in His Biblical Scriptures which promote pernicious persecution against gay offspring from their Christian families. .

Without those homophobic Biblical Scriptures , there would be ZERO homophobia in our Western Christian world .

My Orthodox Jewish friend, on the day of the same sex wedding of his lesbian daughter, had to be admonished by his sister —-
“ This is her day— don’t you dare exhibit any negative body language “.

God creates four to five per cent Jewish gay kids, who, growing up in Orthodox Jewish households, experience similar revulsions and rejections from their parents.

Because the Jewish Jehovah has a vicious, venomous, vendetta against gay Jewish kids —- He creates them gay without any personal input or choice from them, and then programs their parents with His homophobic Scriptures to persecute them!

Because their God, the Jewish Jehovah, has through His “inspiration” allowed negative, homophobic texts in the Jewish Scriptures.

Simarlarly, if interviewed, I would wager that Islamic children, growing up in Sharia Law households, would exhibit equally egregious emotional exhaustion.

The Islamic parents of the four to five per cent God created gay Muslim kids, treat them with similar shame and shunning ——- because the Islamic Allah has a vicious, venomous, vendetta against Muslim gay kids — creating them gay / lesbian without any choice on their behalf — and then promoting their persecution with his homophobic Koran.

This Christian God, this Jewish Jehovah, this Islamic Allah, are all supposedly the same deity.

In every one of His manifestations He is homophobic and encourages persecution of gays — gay bashings, gay bullying, and gay killings.

In distinct contrast to other religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism which have zero homophobic religious texts and therefore minimal or absent persecution of gays in their cultures.

Homophobia is horrific in Western and Islamic cultures but largely absent in Asian societies whose religions contain no homophobic anti gay texts.

An adolescent needs self esteem, self worth, self affirmation,
to develop a mature personality —-
—-FORM AN IDENTITY —
-impossible to attain in a
rejecting ,
shaming ,
shunning
household,
programmed by a venomous God to reject their gay offspring.

Every honest, ethical person would affirm that gay adolescents with an ATHEIST birthright are far more privileged. / advantaged / honored by their secular parents, than are those unfortunates who have a hateful, homophobic ADVENTIST heritage, and a God who encourages repulsive rejections by SDA families, schools and congregations

And only the God who harbors this hateful homophobia is to blame!

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I can certainly endorse all of the above. The depression, anxiety, and sense of frustration thinking you are a broken vessel led me to reject and try to suppress my homosexuality for about 50 years. I even married a woman and had 3 children. I desparately tried to stay married because that was the only way I could feel like a whole man. It tore me to bits when she divorced me 4 years ago. I loved her, but it was clearly in an emotional, not intimate way. My pastor told me my wife needed to feel cherished and desired. It was then I revealed to him I was gay. I told him gay men don’t desire women, we put up with them and expect to be mothered. He didn’t pass any judgement on me, but he could clearly see that our divorcing was the best solution. He never took sides nor rejected me. However I got the sense that he felt I was a broken person because of my homosexuality, when he stated “we are all broken in some way or another.”

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Tom Loop,

Your history resonates with hurt and humiliation…

At the recent Fortieth Anniversary Kinship Kampmeeting in Portland Oregon, ( a group of American Adventist gays / lesbians ) many had strikingly similar sagas to yours ( and to those of their Norwegian counterparts ).

Because in the Colin Cook era of forced conversion therapy for Adventist gay adolescents, many were encouraged to pursue heterosexual marriages to “cure “ them. Resulting in disasters for both the gay men, and the unsuspecting girls they married…

As I hosted a group of forty Kinship members in my Portland home, I had an epiphany:

Had I been hosting a group of Hindu homosexuals, Laotian lesbians, Burmese Buddhists, Thai transgenders, Nepalese nellies, none of them would have experienced horrific hostility, hatred and homophobia, because their Asian religions had no negative anti gay slurs nor messages.

Only Christians ( and Islamists ) gays suffer from the prolific homophobia that pervades and permeates their religions.

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For a project in the works, I am now reading one of the greatest of all commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans. The Gospel, it says, “sets a question mark against all truths.”

The commentator’s point, read in the light of this article, compels me, once more, to embrace the value of re-thinking all cliches, all conventional wisdom.

I thank the author.

Chuck

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It is too bad we cannot take a new look at this topic from the eyes
of the Conservative Jewish Jews.
The local Rabbi in my community told one gay man that if he found
a partner, and the two desired to be married, he would perform the
ceremony in the “church”.
Apparently certain Jewish groups read their Scriptures much differently
than we Seventh day Adventists do.
Also, other Christian groups are re-investigating the Torah and in doing so
find a welcoming in their communities for ALL of God’s human creation.

Our problem is this:-- Ellen White never addressed the issue even though
the terms “Heterosexual” and “Homosexual” were coined just after the
middle of the 1800’s, and were around for at least 50 years prior to her death.
We can’t move without an Ellen statement in print.

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But if Ellen had made a statement, it likely would have been plagiarized.from some other writer /. Journalist of her era.

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Wonderful research project! What is astonishing is that this even happens in the extremely open society of Scandinavia. But this fact, gives even more credence to the research showing how powerful social ties and religious affiliation is.

The SDA Church has so much work to do in the area of demonstrating God’s love and mercy to the LGBTQ members. There needs to be a place at the table for them and, as of yet…I have not seen even a chair.

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Thank you for this. What a wonderful project. I hope that more such projects can be done, not just in Norway, but in other places, including the US. The limited research that has been done in the US resonates with what you present. Your emphasis on narrative, listening to the stories, letting speak for themselves, is powerful. We need more stories. It is by hearing from how gays have experienced the church that we learn what we are doing wrong and where we might do much better. Hearing the stories elicits compassion, and compassion grace, healing and acceptance. I long for the day when LGBTQ+ members of the church are valued as highly and loved just as much as any member of the church. Thank you for doing such important work.

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I read an article in Insight in 1978 on homosexuality penned by Colin Cook. I sent a tearful letter to him. He called shortly thereafter at 4 a.m. I lived in California and he was in Pennsylvania. He said he was going to Loma Linda to do a week of prayer in a few weeks, and asked me to come and meet and talk with him. Like a fool I did, because I was desparate to cure what I saw was a curse. I drove 200 miles to Sacramento airport, and flew another 500 miles to meet with him. I bought his tapes on “Homosexuality and the Power to Change.” No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get his ideas to work. I started drinking heavier and I was so depressed that one night I decided to jump off a bridge, but I was too drunk to get my leg over the rail. A few days later I stumbled out of a bar, dead drunk, and tried to walk out in the street in front of a cement truck, but I fell over backwards when I stepped off the curb. Some guys pulled me off the sidewalk and back in the bar. I was so screwed up from it all I even flunked suicide. I went into the adjoining restaurant and had something to eat and then drove home. I never listened to his tapes on conversion therapy again. But that didn’t stop me from trying conversion therapy again in 1982 just before I met my wife to be. I was certain I was cured then. WOW!!! Twenty six years later in 2008, I couldn’t handle living in denial so like a fool I read some Exodus literature on line and decided to try it again. What a head trip these charatans put you through. This time I had a nervous breakdown, but thought about suicide, but couldn’t do it because I had a wife and children.

I did all this as an adult with no coercion by anyone. There is no ends to which a person, who has been conditioned to think their homosexuality will surely send them to hell, will go to try and rid themselves of it. Several states have banned conversion therapy for minors. Religious fanatics still think homosexuality is a choice and that banning it for minors violates the religious freedom of parents. What a crock!!! It needs to be banned outright as a harmful quack therapy harmful to the health of anyone LGTB. It should be on list right next to DDT.

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Should the time ever arise that a bill to outlaw conversion therapy is introduced in Congress I would be willing to go all the way back to Washington D.C. and testify in favor of it. I am quite an articulate spokesman, and being a republican I think it would be quite persuasive to members of that party,

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Don’t hold your breath waiting for the SDA church to do this for LGBT youth. Even if you aren’t gay the church has a constant focus on the wretchedness of our fallen nature, that self esteem is looked at as “ungodly” and they use EGW to back them up!

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About all groups like SDA Kinship can offer is “crumbs” that fall from the table.
Other Denominations offer the chairs at the banquet table.
I mean that both literally and spiritually.
Unfortunately, even SDA raised G’s and L’s have to find Spiritual Advisors
outside the Adventist church pastors.

I do thank God that a couple of gay SDA’s in the mid-70’s invited other gay men
to fellowship with them for a few days.
From there it has grown to the International SDA Kinship. With members on all
continents except [for right now] Antarctica.
One SDA couple met age 19 and 21. In 2009 in Atlanta they celebrated their
50th anniversary together. I have a gay non-SDA friend and I took him up there
for introduction to Kinship and SDAs for the convention event. He liked it so much
that I took him to Kinship weekends for a number of years to Rehoboth Beach, Del,
Nags Head, N.C., Vermont for Thanksgiving.

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Tom Loop,

Your conversion therapy account confirms that
the practice is psychologically damaging and that is
why numerous American states are banning it.

COMING OUT MINISTRIES which the General Conference
parades around the planet, at tithe payer expense,
peddles a watered down “conversion therapy “.
doctrine.

COMING OUT MINISTRIES is a group of
pathetic, aging “ ex gays “ all in the “viagra age” group,
who claim that their declining sexuality is a
gift from God, when it is actually just reduced
testostérone sérum levels due to aging.

Problem is that they entrap our younger gays,
who have raging testosterone levels,
with the false hope that they can be cured of their
gay sexual desires .

The truth is that only eventual erectile dysfunction
slows down the gay impulse !

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Tom, those charlatans disrupted the lives of many people. I am sorry you went through this kind of trouble. Had we known each other at that time, I would have told you to stop trying to be who your were not, just being who you are. I bet it’s what you are doing now, right? And it appears to be working very well for you. Keep the pace!

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I agree, Steve…what Adventism has had to offer is mere crumbs at best. I have had gay friends that have had to go to other Denoms to find a sense of community and “place”. You have certainly been doing your part in inviting others to join you at the Kinship conventions, etc.

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You got that right, LOL

Coming Out Ministries (COM) is a crafty way of hooking younger gays into their trap, It’s got nothing to do with what an unsuspecting LBGT person would think is a “coming out of the closet.” It’s more like CJFTFPIF (come jump from the frying pan into the fire)

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Thanks, George. And you are right.