During the 2014 North American Division (NAD) Year-end Meeting, a request was made that the division’s Executive Committee provide guidance on the topic of homosexuality. With an increasing number of North American states approving same-sex marriages at the time, many Adventists wanted clarity on the NAD’s stance.
DRAFTING A STATEMENT North American Division Associate Secretary Kyoshin Ahn served as chair of an ad hoc committee tasked with formulating the division’s position statement, the North American Division Statement on Human Sexuality. Presenting the statement at the 2015 NAD Year-end Meeting last week, division leadership stressed the diverse credentials of the writing committee members.
In addition to Kyoshin Ahn, the committee members were:
- Larry Blackmer, North American Division Vice President for Education
- Claudio Consuegra, Director of North American Division Family Ministries
- Marcus Harris, Senior Pastor of the Breath of Life Church in Ft. Washington, MD
- Heather Knight, President of Pacific Union College in Angwin, CA
- Grace Mackintosh, General Counsel and Director PARL for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada
- Alan Parker, Professor of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Adventist University, and former vice president of evangelism for Amazing Facts
- Katia Reinert, Director of North American Division Health Ministries
- Gerald Winslow, Vice President for Mission and Culture, Loma Linda University Health
The committee shared drafts of the document with various NAD departments for feedback, and General Conference President Ted N. C. Wilson also provided feedback on drafts of the document.
The committee’s work first came before the NAD Executive Committee on October 30.
Before delving into the contents of the NAD Statement on Human Sexuality, committee members received and reviewed two statements from the General Conference. The first was the General Conference statement on homosexuality, which says in part that “The Bible makes no accommodation for homosexual activity or relationships. Sexual acts outside the circle of a heterosexual marriage are forbidden.” The second was the document, “Responding to Changing Cultural Attitudes Regarding Homosexual and Other Alternative Sexual Practices,” which states that a "monogamous union in marriage of a man and a woman is affirmed as the divinely ordained foundation of the family and social life and the only morally appropriate locus of intimate sexual expression."
Executive Committee members also heard portions of the recently-released Andrews University Theological Seminary position paper on homosexuality entitled “An Understanding of the Biblical View on Homosexual Practice and Pastoral Care.” Jiri Moskala, dean of the Seminary, read excerpts from the 21-page document.
"We strongly affirm that homosexual persons have a place in the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” Moskala read.
Following Moskala, the writing committee presented the NAD Statement on Human Sexuality for consideration, reading the statement line by line. Executive Committee members then set about dissecting the language. Most challenges to the document’s verbiage came from the right, and focused on the document’s provision allowing denominational employees to attend same-sex weddings at their discretion.
DEBATING THE STATEMENT Omar Grieve, Speaker/Director for La Voz de la Esperanza, shared concerns about the language. “Attending a same-sex ceremony is a matter of personal conscience and should be considered with discretion,” Grieve read from the statement. “Can I go other places I should not go with discretion? I think we should remove this and not put it on paper. Then you’re opening the door for other things,” he said.
Kyoshin Ahn responded that the committee intended to permit “simple attendance, especially in the case of family members. We want to create boundary for them,” he said.
Gene Heinrich, pastor at the Troutdale Adventist Church in Oregon thought the statement needed more clarity. “Who decides what is different between actively participating and attending?” “If children of an employee get married, is the father of bride marching her down the aisle active participation or not?”
Heather Knight responded, saying that “Officiating, performing a musical selection, being the best man,” etc., differed from attending ceremony “that may be one’s own child.”
“Those were the very very sensitive areas where we were trying to make distinction between participating and attending,” Knight said.
While most feedback from Executive Committee members attempted to make the document more restrictive, student leaders, serving as delegates from Adventist Colleges, pushed in the other direction.
Nic Miller, president of the student body at Pacific Union College asked for the inclusion of Millennial voices. “There was a joke in the discussion about people who don’t know what gender they are,” Miller said, addressing the Executive Committee. “My generation doesn’t find that funny because for people on my campus and other campuses it’s a very real struggle. I can take this paper back to someone on my campus who is gay and say, ‘This is how I’m supposed to treat you.’ And it looks good on paper, but in reality it’s not that great.”
Nisha Johnny, Burman University Student President, said later in the discussion, “I want to know how much of this document was based on relationships with real people. I can give them all of these documents...it’s not going to prevent them from walking out the door. The only position I want us to take is that of love.”
Still the move to strike portions of the document persisted.
Cryston Josiah, pastor of the Beacon Light Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kansas City, made a motion to strike the statement: “Attending a same-sex ceremony is a matter of personal conscience and should be considered with discretion.”
By a vote of 76 yes, 85 no, Josiah’s motion to remove the sentence was defeated.
On the first two days that the document came before the Executive Committee, it was sent back to the writing committee for revisions.
On the third and final day of discussions of the Human Sexuality Statement, General Conference President Ted Wilson stood to speak with his concerns about the statement.
“I want to thank the North American Division for focusing on this particular subject and producing a statement which helps to cover this very complicated area,” Wilson said.
He called attention to the two statements approved by the General Conference Executive Committee.
“One item that I think we might have a little challenge with, and I have mentioned it before this, but the committee has chosen to leave it in, and that’s up to you folks here,” Wilson said. “It has to do with the marriage ceremony [section] in the last sentence: ‘Attending a same-sex ceremony is a matter of personal conscience. It should be considered with discretion…’ Actually I think the first sentence implies that an individual could attend, and you probably would be better off not having the second sentence.”
Wilson honed in on the problem as he saw it:
“My guess is that this may seem and appear to be almost an unofficial condoning of allowing people, even though it says it’s a matter of personal conscience. But be that as it may, the Scripture is extremely clear in my opinion and in the opinion of many people as to the subject of homosexuality. The problem comes in with our inter-relationships and how do we deal with that. One of the greatest challenges that we’re facing in society today and in the church is that society and culture almost coerces its members into a particular mindset. And if you’re not part of that mindset, you are therefore out of step. And as we try to understand what Scripture says about this subject, we must not consider ourselves in any way to be above the sin of others. That’s what our documents try to portray. That we are all sinners at the foot of the cross, but that the Lord does give the power to overcome, otherwise what would Christianity be? It is coming to the foot of the cross and allowing the justifying and sanctifying power to change our lives to become more and more like Christ. The challenge comes when you interface that with individuals that you know, and how do you respond to them? How do you work with them? How do you try to associate with them, even within the church?”
Taking aim at the ways younger generations have demonstrated greater openness to same-sex marriage, Wilson continued:
“If we allow culture to form our opinion and we don’t--especially I would say young people today...we have some wonderful young people in the church, we need more. But young people I would urge to go back to the word and not allow culture to form opinions that are contrary to the word. You know people will want us to believe that life is existential, that everything is relative. It is not, if we believe in absolutes, and absolutes do not have to be legalistic in the wrong sense. They are full of Christ’s righteousness. So I think as you go into this, I would appeal to this body and to the entire--not only the North American Division, but the whole church at large--that we must fully understand what is really at stake. It is that we must stand for the word in loving kindness, but we must always stand for God’s word.”
As Wilson finished, several Executive Committee members murmured “Amen.” North American Division President Daniel Jackson responded:
“Thank you very much for that statement. I want to publicly give you the assurance that I fully support the statement that you just made, and I fully believe that is the position of our administration. We must never compromise on the word of God. Never compromise on the word of God. I do want to say, and I’ve made this observation to a number of young people who I’ve had dialogues with--and they’ve been good dialogues--the statement I’ve made is I believe in my heart is the church has it right in the theology. Where we do need, I think, help and assistance is in how we mediate the truth. How we mediate the statements to those in our midst because in our generation, it was much different. And so we need the help of those who interface and those who understand, in terms of relationships. And I think you pointed that out. But we will not compromise on the word of God and we cannot compromise on the word of God.”
IMPLEMENTING THE STATEMENTOn November 2, the NAD Executive Committee voted to adopt the North American Division Statement on Human Sexuality. Conversation turned to implementation of the statement. Dan Jackson and NAD Executive Secretary Alex Bryant both noted that the statement was an official document, but was not policy. Michigan Conference President Jay Gallimore expressed dismay and concern that the document was not policy, suggesting that institutions with “other leanings” could go another direction.
Jackson stated that theologically, he stood with the document, but suggested that its implications for implementation remained open-ended. He hinted that he would like to engage in a series of conversations with students on Adventist campuses as former General Conference President Jan Paulsen had done.
The open-endedness of the NAD Statement on Human Sexuality leaves implementation and policy making to the constituent unions and conference of the North American Division. In the short term, the statement creates a state of limbo for church employees.
Soon after the Year-end Meetings concluded, I received a question from a musician and paid section leader of a large Adventist Church’s choir. She asked not to be named because her being paid was not widely known.
“Would I be at risk for being fired if I participated in a gay wedding?” she asked. “How does this impact those of us being paid through yearly contracts?”
The question was not merely hypothetical. For this musician, how territories within the North American Division shape policy around the Human Sexuality document could directly impact earning potential.
“As a poor student, I use my talents in order to cover my living,” she said. “I sing for weddings, funerals, and special occasions all the time. Singing is my livelihood.”
She says that if she were to cut out an entire demographic because of the risk of being fired from her primary job, “it puts me in the position of choosing between my church and my livelihood.”
For the time being, no official policy prevents people in similar positions from participating in same-sex weddings, but that may soon change.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
If you respond to this article, please:
Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7178