"God Put Me On This Planet to Advocate for Queer People in the Church"

Paul-Anthony Turner, a gay seminary graduate, has a deep commitment to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. "I will not leave Adventism," he says. "I won't hand it over to people who operate out of fear and bigotry… I don't believe people like those that have made me feel unwelcome are truly Adventist. I believe being Adventist is a radical calling to justice."

Question: You are a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and are also gay (and celibate). This July, your home church in Kentucky said they can no longer allow you to preach or have any leadership role in the congregation, due to your views on marriage and the family. What led up to this announcement from the church leaders? How did you feel when you received the letter?

Answer: It all started at the beginning of this year when I finished seminary [at Andrews] and I moved back home. The conference that was supposed to hire me (the Carolina Conference) did not hire me and did not explain why explicitly or formally. I was back at my home church, where my mother was an extremely active member, and where in the past I had preached, led Sabbath School, led song service, and everything. 

But this time, when I came home and told the pastor I wanted to be involved, he just didn’t get back to me. Here I was, with skills and knowledge and training — a pastor without a church — but my home church didn’t respond.

Had they only just found out that you are gay?

I am openly gay. But I had been away at college and at seminary, so people at my church didn’t really know. Since 2019, I had been putting posts on Facebook, and when the mini documentary I did with The Haystack was out in early June, definitely all the church members knew or could have known.

I have vehemently defended LGBT+ inclusion, even in churches that don’t accept gay marriage. They can at least be welcoming. I am gay and I celebrate that.

Even as I celebrate being gay, I do maintain a traditional biblical sex ethic and doctrinally, I hold the traditional views of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Generally, I don’t believe anything out of harmony with what our church believes about marriage. But being gay is about so much more than sex and marriage. (See How to Be Gay by Dr. David Halperin, where he explains gayness as not merely sexual orientation but cultural orientation.)

In March, when the pastor and two elders pulled me into a surprise meeting to explain that the fact that I was gay was a problem if I wanted to participate in any church leadership roles, I told them they had not followed the procedure for dealing with perceived problems, outlined in Matthew 18 and our church policy based on that Scripture, which counsels you to go and speak personally and privately to someone if you have a problem with them. 

But I had not done anything our church has a problem with. I was being clear and honest about myself — they just wanted me to stop calling myself gay and stop talking about homosexuality. This is not about a theological Adventist issue — this is about personal feelings. 

I know my Bible and I know church policy. I can adequately address any arguments that people bring up about this issue, because it is something I have thought and studied deeply about. 

Even a progressive sexual ethic can still be grounded in the Bible. But what I teach and believe — a traditional sex ethic — is actually in alignment with our church’s teachings. 

Some people are unhappy that I choose to celebrate the fact that I am gay, because they can only see being gay as a negative thing. I choose to focus on all the good things that they fail to recognize. It’s not just about gay marriage and sex. There are many aspects to being queer. Yes, some may be negative, but there are a lot of negative things about being straight, too! What about toxic masculinity, objectification of women’s bodies, the taboo of same-sex individuals showing even platonic affection to one another? I don’t really see these issues in the queer community, so straight folks need to tread lightly and not pathologize the queer experience if they are not willing to have their straightness pathologized.

When I say I am gay it goes beyond talking about sex, though that is all some people can hear. Straight people somehow manage to not think of their straightness as only pertaining to sex. This imbalanced and hypocritical perspective creates a hyper-sexualized picture of the queer community — one in which we are seen as base and promiscuous.

What did the church members think?

Concerning my being out and the stance I take, many thanked me for being open and sharing. They said they were inspired by my story. (However, since all this drama with my local church occurred, I have hardly heard from any of them.)

My family was one of the most involved families in the church. My mother organized a church international event that celebrates diversity and inclusion, and asked me to teach the Sabbath School, but I was told that, because of my “problematic views,” I was not allowed to participate. I stood right in the pulpit and led Sabbath School anyway!

I was thinking: “You guys are forgetting I am still the same person — the same person as I was all those years. I was always gay, the only difference is that now you know. I also now have more than seven years of theological education under my belt.”

Don’t you feel that your church is justified in its decision in some way? Your sexual orientation is not traditionally Adventist. 

No. I do not believe they have any justification. I am teaching the same things as the church. I hold the same set of beliefs as a traditional Adventist. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a traditional orientation. People are oriented as they are. Additionally, our Adventist church’s policies make it clear that orientation is not problematic, only behavior.

The North American Division put out a book in 2018, Guiding Families of LGBT+ Loved Ones, that talks about terminology in what appears to me to be prescriptive, or at least in an affirming way in that it validates these identities. I am not advocating anything different than what the NAD has said. 

Read a book review of Guiding Families of LGBT+ Loved Ones by clicking here.

How do you think the Adventist Church should change when it comes to gay church members?

We need to do something to help our church become a more welcoming church. 

The NAD Statement on Human Sexuality from 2015 is pretty welcoming. It’s a good starting place for a denomination that might never be accepting of gay marriage, but can at least be welcoming. 

The statement lists (on my reading) basically three levels of church participation for queer people, depending to what extent they are willing to take up the denomination’s theological and ethical beliefs.

First level: general church participation and fellowship, including participation in Communion (which is significant because only believers are allowed to take Communion, which indicates that no matter whether a queer person maintains a progressive or traditional sexual ethic, they may be considered a believer in Jesus!), small groups, Sabbath school, and so on. This level is about broad participation. 

Second level: Membership, for those who are willing to take up the beliefs of our church. (This can only be for people who maintain a traditional biblical sex ethic. Inclusion for those who hold a progressive belief would be way down the road and would require a very nuanced approach to church membership in a denomination whose membership is largely based on doctrinal assent.)

Third level: Church leadership and employment in the denomination (which is only given to members in good and regular standing).

The NAD has already voted something pretty progressive for a church as traditional and conservative as ours. Now we just need to start implementing the NAD’s statement in a nuanced way. 

You have been very open about your situation recently, giving interviews and posting videos. What response have you received?

The overwhelming majority of responses have been very positive. People are telling me they feel more informed. Some say I am helping them know what to say when speaking to others. I am grateful to be starting a conversation. 

I try not to think about the negative responses. But they really are few. I guess not many people want to challenge me. They know I will call them out for prejudice. I used to have my own prejudices and that gives me more patience. 

Most people have not done a deep study into what it means to be a sexual being. Most don’t know how to look at sexuality. Straight conservatives tend to see being gay as all bad, and straight as all good.

Where do you see yourself in the future? Do you see yourself pastoring an Adventist Church?

Probably not. I see myself just helping people like I do now — helping people who feel suicidal, helping queer people. I get questions and messages all the time from pastors and all kinds of people. This is non-traditional pastoring, like what Jesus did, I would say. 

It’s great that you are able to help people. What you are doing does not pay, though. How will you live?

Right now, I am a full-time PhD student in philosophy at the University of Kentucky in Lexington (online for the moment), and my program is paid for. 

When I graduate, I would be down to be a pastor or professor. I do what I do. But I won’t jump through ridiculous hurdles. I just want to help people know Jesus, so I won’t put myself in a position that will diminish my ability to minister in radical or unorthodox ways just to make some feel comfortable. 

I don’t know exactly what I want to do.

I do know at least one big part of my purpose in life: God put me on this planet to help queer people know Jesus and advocate for them in the church. And I am already doing that. Whatever I end up doing career-wise, I want to be a pastor for queer people, and I am already doing that. 

How do you feel about the Seventh-day Adventist Church now? Do you intend to remain a part of the church?

I will always be super Adventist, theologically. 1844, the second coming, the state of the dead — I am very Adventist through and through. I love Auntie Ellen. I am part of this church and it is part of me. 

Adventists are my spiritual home.

I will not leave Adventism, because I don’t want to just hand it over to people who operate out of fear and bigotry; the church doesn’t truly belong to them. I don’t believe people like those that have made me feel unwelcome are truly Adventist. I believe being Adventist is a radical calling to justice.

You don’t believe fully in the investigative judgment and the second coming if you don’t confess your prejudices, live differently, and advocate for personal piety and justice for others.

I will always be Adventist. I really believe those things. They have become a part of my ideology, and not in a trite and superficial way. I believe these beliefs have an impact on how you treat queer people, immigrants, and women. If you look at the early Adventists, their beliefs caused them to live and advocate in a certain way. They believed in a certain interpretation of Revelation 13. (The US is the land beast that persecutes and so forth.) Because of these eschatological beliefs, social justice was a big part of their focus.

If Ellen G. White were alive in our time, I think she and the other early Adventists would be more or less where I am. I think they would care for the same things I care about. I am not going to give up these issues to bigots and let them ruin this church. I care about this rich tradition. I refuse to stand by and let them take away something they have no right to take away. 

It sounds like your mother has always been very supportive of you.

She is incredibly loving. She is ferocious — always ready go to bat for me. I like to say that, after God, my mom is omnipotent. She is a very powerful, motivated woman. She is my greatest support and my best friend on this whole journey. I love her to death. 

Have you met other Adventist pastors or people who wish to serve as pastors who also identify as gay, whether publicly or privately?

Most Adventist pastors I know who are gay or bisexual are either celibate or married to people of the opposite sex. Most hold to a traditional biblical sex ethic. I know a few who wish they could be more progressive, but have decided to forego those things for the sake of the job.

I have met quite a few seminarians who are gay or bi. Many of them dropped out of seminary or are considering dropping out. Some feel tortured. Many wish they could be vocal about what they are going through. They want to be authentic without feeling something bad will happen to them. 

How do you see the attitude of the Adventist Church changing on the LGBTQ+ issue, and how have you seen that the attitude may have changed already?

I look at the future positively. I have to believe. I believe in the second coming of Christ. And I believe the nearness means true believers will come together in what really matters. I believe that people of God at the end of time (not only Adventists, but whoever chooses to follow Yahweh) will join together.

But you are asking about our church. And yes, institutionally, I have hope. I believe that things can always change. I believe Jesus is still working the world through his Spirit and that he is very present. 

Our pioneers gave us this rich theological tradition through the Spirit of God, and he can still do this. We cannot keep choosing to quench the Spirit by immortalizing LGBT+-phobic theology.

We need more people who are willing to put their necks on the line. Faith is never terribly far away. The Spirit is never far away. Just reach out and touch it. This is a thing that has to happen. We can be a light in this dark time. 

 

Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.

Photo courtesy of Paul-Anthony Turner.

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10726
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It is unequivocally scientifically accepted that gays and lesbians have zero input / personal choice in their sexuality. Every western medical psychological and psychiatric society is on record as affirming this.

This lack of personal input / choice in one’s sexuality is also true of heterosexual individuals.

Demographics across many nations, races, tribes and ethnic groups, show a consistent five percent of their populations are gay / lesbian.

This is one person in twenty— which implies that every extended family of twenty members, has at least one sibling, cousin, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, child, parent, who falls in this category.

Given these indisputable facts, how is it that LGBT Adventists through zero bad choice of their own, are shamed, shunned, scorned, maligned, and discriminated against ?

Hopefully our Loma Linda departments of psychiatry and the psychology departments at our various universities will affirm the fact that gays / lesbians are in no way responsible for their sexuality.

It would be helpful if they would not remain in shadows and openly publish this to the church members.

However, I do not see the psychology department of our schools doing this in the foreseeable future.

With the pervasive homophobia and negative attitudes in our congregations, schools, and families, I have long advocated to our gay teenagers, and young people that they remove themselves from this negative, hostile, malignant environment.

Attaining confidence of self worth, self respect and dignity is a paramount priority in reaching maturity.

This is unfortunately not possible for the LGBT youth in our current Adventist environment.

As soon as our LGBT young people discern their different sexuality they should distance themselves from Adventism.

They should enroll in the nearest in state tuition, public school, community college or university. Our Adventist campuses are anathema to them !

They should also seek out local churches of other denominations which are gay affirming.

Thereby they will retain their dignity, self respect and self worth and not be burdened by the guilt, shame and loathing that Adventism heaps upon them.

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Paul, thank you for sharing your story. It made me think of your talk at the Adventist Revolution gathering last year: “We need more of the N-word in church–Nuance!” May God be with you as you continue to advocate for greater fairness and inclusion within the church.

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Thanks for your willingness to talk about a subject the church likes to avoid. A very thoughtful article and response.

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I like the openness but I feel I still don’t know what the authors view of homosexuality is. He mentions he holds a “traditional sex ethic” but doesn’t say what that means to him. What is traditional to him may not be to you, or me. Also, he says he is celibate, but openly gay. I truly don’t know what that means. Will he date other men? does he believe it’s ok to marry another man? Is his plan to stay celibate? These are the questions I would have wanted to know the responses. This would clarify his true doctrinal stance on homosexuality. I don’t know what it means to “celebrate homosexuality” and is affirming other gay couples part of that?

He seems open but doesn’t specify so many crucial issues. Someone who is gay, believes it’s in violation of biblical principles and determines to stay celibate in response to that conviction is absolutely a person who should be a minister without restrictions. We need more gay workers in this sense. But I don’t feel that the author falls into this category.

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I read the interview yesterday night. This night, I had a dream which went something like this:


The people around me in my dream said that something is not right with homosexuals. That even if they stayed celibate, they are somehow biologically not wanted by God. He can’t love them the way they are. Immediately when I heard this, something inside of me broke. This thinking was so wrong. I felt an inner heart pain. As a result, I lost the ability to speak and became mute. There was no point for me to ever interact again when the basic human need of being loved is denied to someone. A cry inside of my heart that couldn’t get out, couldn’t talk, could only feel.


Then I woke up this morning and realized our LGBTQ+ brethren must feel similar to how I did in my dream. All the time. For me, it was just a dream. For them, it is their life reality.

Thank you for speaking up, Paul-Anthony! For not being mute! For not giving up on us. For trying again and again and again! Shame on us for dehumanizing you, for not loving you, for denying love to you! Lord have mercy on us. We love you all. Every single one of you, precious children of God. I would love to have you as my pastor, as my shepherd. Time may come.

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Kate ,
You nailed it when you stated:

THEY ARE SOMEHOW NOT BIOLOGICALLY WANTED BY GOD

Yes it is clear that God hates gay children.
How do we know ?
Because in everyone of His manifestations, He programs his followers to make the lives of gay children miserable.

As JEHOVAH, He is the God of the Orthodox Jews, who treat their gay children shabbily.

As ALLAH, He rules over the billion plus Moslems, who treat their gay offspring even worse that do the Jews.

We have to look no further than the Adventists, to watch how the God
of the Christians, manipulates families to shame, shun and stigmatize their LGBT children.

The perception is inescapable that God, in all His manifestations, as
ALLAH,
JEHOVAH
or CHRISTIAN GOD,
just loves to create MISERY for the gay kids of His followers.

This is definitely not a loving God but a hate filled God when it comes to LGBT children.

Buddhist families with gay children, Hindu households with LGBT offspring and Japanese kindred with gay kids have no compelling compulsion to be cruel to their kids with differing sexual orientations.

Which proves that only God / Allah / Jehovah has an agenda to stigmatize gay / lesbian children.

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Wow, Robin, interesting conclusion. Thanks for being brave. Gives me much to think about.

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Hi, Yoyito. I’m not Paul-Anthony Turner, but as a reader, here’s what I got from what he said in response to Alita’s questions:

  1. “traditional sex ethic” = sex within marriage, yes; sex outside of marriage, no.
  2. “celibate, but openly gay” = when sexual orientation comes up in conversation, he does not avoid saying “I’m attracted to men” or “I’m gay,” but when dating/possible marriage comes up (for instance, if somewhat says, “Oh, you’ll have to meet my niece/my nephew,” he says something like, “I’m not looking to date, thank you.”
  3. “Does he believe it’s ok to marry another man?” I don’t know what he would answer in general, but from what he said, it sounds like right now, he does not feel that he is free to marry another man.
  4. “Is his plan to stay celibate?” I didn’t read anything about his “plans,” but I would note that most of us have changed our plans at some point. (If you’d asked me fifteen years ago, I’d have told you that I was more likely to spend my next vacation on the moon than get a divorce, for instance, but I have not yet been to the moon.)
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I wonder sometimes if this issue is a symptom of a much larger problem within us.
Acceptance, love, respect are all basic human needs. What does that say about our species when we withhold these needs from our own?
There’s been some excellent replies here.
Thank you for your openness and your voice in this matter.

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Good questions. Could it be he’s trying to strike a balance here?

As I read the article I said to myself, This man is cruisin’ for a bruisin’. For some reason, I couldn’t get Schrodinger’s cat out of my mind.

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Margaret,

You legitimately ask:

IS HIS PLAN TO STAY CELIBATE ???

Because our cruel, compassionless, callous, harsh, heartless, Heterosexual members, enjoying the bliss of the cameraderie companionship, devotion, loyalty, support, and love of their opposite sex partners, demand LIFELONG LONELINESS of their LGBT peers.,

While sex is an important part of marriage, it is these other elements listed above which is the glue that holds relationships together.

And this effervescent joy experienced by all loving couples is denied our gay members by an unfeeling, unloving denomination.

There is more than companionship and sex as positive elements of a marriage —- there is economic security.

In these perilous pandemic times, with widespread job loss, when one partner becomes unemployed, it is the earnings of the other, that prevents homelessness and disaster.

So when you unfeelingly ask, does he plan to stay celibate, you are not only denying him sex ( he has the same hormonal sexual urges as his straight siblings and cousins ) but also life long companionship and the security that a double pay check provides.

SHAME ON YOU !!

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Good morning, Robin.

I didn’t ask, “IS HIS PLAN TO STAY CELIBATE ???” When I typed, “Is his plan to stay celibate?” I was quoting Yoyito’s question in a post that replied to Yoyito.

I’m not sure I understand how the question is both “legitimate” (“You legitimately ask”) and “unfeeling” (“So when you unfeelingly ask”).

It’s hard to have these kinds of discussions on blogs, isn’t it? So many opportunities to talk past each other and misunderstand.

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I hear you. Just wondering: Don’t we confuse ideas about God with God? The God of person ABC is not necessarily the same as the God who is. Testimonies of how people experienced God at a specific time and place do not necessarily contain a universal way of experience for everybody of all times and places. Who can separate my preconceived ideas about God, my history, my stubbornness, my baggage from my experience of God, and how I talk about him? Maybe testimonies tell a lot more about myself than about the God they actually try to describe. And maybe God had to deal with specific people at a specific time, had to lower himself (and still has) so that an encounter could happen, an encounter at their level. This is my “wannabe”-explanation, not an excuse for behavior.

The Spirit now in our hearts allows a more intimate closeness to the heart of God than ever before.

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Ahhh, you saw the flip side of the coin that people rarely think about. He probably could honestly say, “I have never had a lustful thought for a woman. I don’t know what Jesus was talking about.” Even on TV, men are more circumspect in their attire. That sure takes care of a lot of temptations.

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There are generations of LGBTQI+ people who the church put out. Many of these where terminated and humiliated by church leadership, but who have attempted to bring light to the SDA church. There are some in SDA hierarch that are understanding and even behind closed doors will admit this is an area the church needs to address in a MUCH better way. The NAD has done some fine leadership in this area over the past few years.

Sadly at the GC level hostility seems a bit better fit, although they attempt to cloak their rejection in sanctimonious wording of statements.

There are a significant number of professors within SDA North American universities, across the scientific and social science realms that are fully supportive and within their realms of influence teach the science and understanding that modern science brings to these questions. This information from the first book of the Creator, Nature, should be seen by the “theologians” as definitive on the subject. I’ll let you in on a secret, there are even SDA theologians who get it, but given the church political environment must work quietly…

I applaud Paul-Anthony, but sadly he is just the next of the, “out” SDA’s to be outwardly rejected for being part of the magnificent diversity that the Creator made…

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So sorry, Margaret,
I clearly should have aimed my SHAME ON YOU condemnation at YOYITO, not at you! It was she who was demanding if Paul Anthony’s plan was to remain celibate. YOYITO has clearly not thought through all the negative deleterious aspects of enforced celibacy —-life long loneliness, absence of companionship, no sex, and possible homelessness when losing employment.

In my era ( I am 84 ) our denomination had an exceedingly anti Catholic stance. We deplored the celibacy of monks, nuns and priests.

At least these celibates made a deliberate, informed, adult choice to be celibate. And they are universally lauded and admired by their families and parishioners for their celibate choice. I have Irish heritage with a Dublin grandfather and in large Irish families, of all the children, the most admired are the ones who choose to be priests and nuns.

Unlike the Catholic clergy, our gay kids have celibacy thrust upon them, and even when celibate, like Paul Anthony, they receive not adulation, but contempt.

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Please read my response to you, elsewhere in this blog— I mistakenly hit the reply to myself, rather than to you.
My apologies.

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Yes, for them it’s not only a nightmare but a “daymare” as well. Day and night they suffer the attacks and the insensitivity of rude, uninformed and arrogant people around them. Often… in the name of God. So sad.

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