Makers of "Seventh-Gay Adventists" Say New Film Project Answers the Question, "What Next?"


(system) #1

Daneen Akers and Stephen Eyer, the husband-wife team behind the Seventh-Gay Adventists film, have started raising funds for a new companion film that they say will offer answers to the question "What is next?" for Seventh-day Adventists who have started important conversations about homosexuality. Seventh-Gay Adventists followed the lives and spiritual journeys of three Seventh-day Adventists in same-gender relationships as they struggled with tensions between the distinct cultural markers of their faith community and their identities as lesbian or gay individuals. They describe the film as a project designed to help Adventists engage in "the sacred act of listening." The new film project will serve as a companion and a follow-up to the SGA movie, they say. On the kickstarter fundraising page, they write, "we’re going to bring together a diverse group of people (pastors, thought leaders, and LGBT Adventists) for a weekend of listening and dialoguing about the next steps. We’ll film their conversation and share it with you all as a resource."

I asked Daneen and Stephen to talk about their motivation for the film as they begin collecting funds for production. Our Q & A follows.

Why a new LGBT-themed Adventist film project and why now?

This motivation for this companion film is coming from the huge amount of positive feedback we’ve had from people who have engaged with the stories in Seventh-Gay Adventists, and a lot of that feedback has been along the lines of—"My eyes have been opened to a group of being being mistreated and excluded. This isn’t what I want for my church, but what’s next? How do we move forward in positive and tangible ways when our faith communities and families often have different theological paradigms?" We’re particularly sensitive to pastors and lay leaders who want to make their congregations truly welcoming to all.

We’ve shared the story before of a small church in Canada. The founding pastor likes to tell a parable. He said that there are two different ways of keeping sheep. You can build fences and pens and guard the gates, or you can build a really great well, and then they all come there to drink. That’s the vision of church we have—the place where we all come to drink from the well of God’s love and the radical way of Jesus. And the divisions become much less central when we can focus on seeking the restorative water together.

The topic of homosexuality has been used as a wedge to divide families and congregations, but most people really just want permission to trust God, love each other, and experience a faith that is meaningful in the world. Can we do that as a whole community? There are hard questions, but they are seldom really explored with all of the voices who need to participate at the table. So we want to gather a diverse group of some of the most thoughtful pastors, thought leaders and LGBT Adventists to engage with each other around all of this over a weekend. We’ll film it, edit it, say a prayer, and share it with our community as a resource for the continuing conversations in their communities and families.

What links this project to Seventh-Gay Adventists and what will make it distinct from that project?

The Seventh-Gay Adventists film is a long-form, character-driven documentary that was filmed over more than two years. It’s an experience of stepping into the stories of those talked “about” and “at” but seldom “with.” It created a listening space, had broad reach, and screened widely. While we hope other conservative denominations just waking up to the reality of this conversation will find this companion film helpful, it is really a follow-up that’s specifically for the Adventist community. The conversation is well underway in the Adventist church, and a growing number of people realize that the status quo is broken and harmful, that the only “approved” narratives that they’ve grown up hearing leave out the experiences of the majority of LGBT Adventists, and our youth in particular are leaving the church because of perceived injustice and intolerance for people they know and love (See "Millennials leaving religion over LGBT issues"). But how do we move forward together, even when we still have differences in theology and experiences? How do we build that well where we can all gather to be nourished and sustained? We’re going to bring together some of the best voices we know who are able to engage respectfully and ask them to address those questions (and many more that will no doubt come up).

What are you setting out to accomplish this time around? Who are the people that you have in mind as you get started with this project, that is, who do you want to connect with?

We want to help model the dialogue that we hope to see happening more. This isn’t easy—there are big questions and reasons why this has become such a controversial topic. And yet real people, families, and congregations are being impacted, so we have to keep talking. It seems evident that our church could use some examples of how to have a healthy discourse around a lot of topics!

We have a lot of sympathy for pastors, who really do not have helpful resources but have an enormous amount of political pressure. Let me share a short story.

A woman who has agreed to be part of this dialogue is in a long-term committed relationship with another woman. When her partner got breast cancer and was about to go into surgery to have a double mastectomy, one of the pastors at the church where they attend, came to the hospital to pray—to be a minister. The partner without cancer was suspicious—this was someone on the Adventist institutional payroll, and the institution has increasingly been sending hostile messages to LGBT people and theologizing about them but without actually allowing their voices to be heard. And then a couple of days later the same pastor returned to the hospital with another pastor.

These pastors showing up to minister melted suspicions and helped created a respectful relationship that continues to this day. This is what she shared with me when I asked about her participation in this project, and it’s beautifully put--it’s what we hope would come of this resource:

I don't know that the senior pastor and I share common theology about sexuality: I've never asked in part because agreement is not required for the kind of relationship we have right now. Perhaps that will change in the future. I think the associate pastor is fully affirming, but am not 100% sure of points where we might agree and disagree. Either way neither pastor gives me any signal that they do not respect me as a moral peer. And both of them have found ways to set aside the institutional bind to prioritize the spiritual and physical health of people in front of them. That is their job and calling. And that's what I'm interested in helping congregational leaders to move towards.”

Your first press-release described the participants in this film as a "respected group of pastors, thought leaders, and LGBT Adventists." Can you at this point elaborate some on the cast of characters.

We haven’t wanted to disclose names yet mainly because we don’t want to get those on church payrolls into potentially hot water before this resource is available to evaluate instead of just to speculate about.

We have pastors and thought leaders who would self-describe themselves as “liberal” and “conservative”, and we have LGBT Adventists who actually represent the full spectrum of the gender and sexual minority demographic--some who are in committed relationships and some who have chosen celibacy. The key is that we are inviting people who have generous spirits and can engage in thoughtful, respectful dialogue. Most of them do not know each other, and we hope that they’ll be able to share parts of their stories with each other as they engage. Honestly, we already have more people interested than we can probably accommodate—but that’s a good problem to have. We really need to limit this weekend dialogue to around 8-10 people in order to have the time and space to make this a reasonable resource (60-90 minutes) and not a 10-part mini-series!

These are some of the people we’ve met on our many screening journeys with the SGA film, and we’ve often thought how amazing it would be to put them all in the same room together and witness the ensuing conversation. We’re excited to see what unfolds.

This project will broach a subject that has been the subject of discussion and debate for many years now, and will undoubtedly continue to go on for many more. What unique contribution do you anticipate this weekend of sharing and connecting will provide to the discussion?

This is definitely going to be a conversation that continues to mature and emerge. I am sure there will be many more resources, hopefully from a variety of thoughtful voices. We feel incredibly blessed to have been able to be part of bringing awareness to this conversation in a new way through the lens of real people and real stories with the Seventh-Gay Adventists film. This feels like a natural outgrowth of the conversation that’s started, and we think it will be an important resource, especially for pastors and lay leaders who do not have helpful resources that include the voices that have been excluded and marginalized participating alongside with pastors in dialogue.

What is the timeframe you have in mind for this project?

The trickiest part is going to be logistics and scheduling with people coming in from all over the U.S. We’re going to aim to film in late January or early February and have this edited and available by the end of March 2015.

How was the SGA movie funded differently from the way this project is being funded?

Seventh-Gay Adventists was largely funded through the ongoing contributions of individuals and two small grants. Way back in the very early days, we conducted a crowd-funding campaign using IndieGoGo, but it was very early in the crowd funding days, and it was mainly a way to accept monthly, tax-deductible contributions. Later, when IndieGoGo changed their platform, we moved to Network for Good as a way for those interested to provide ongoing, tax-deductible contributions.

Almost exactly a year ago, we used a different crowd-funding platform, Kickstarter to fund the DVD production stage of Seventh-Gay Adventists, and it was phenomenally successful. We were able to meet lots of stretch goals—like a filmed Q&A, translations in Spanish, Portuguese, and French, sharing the film for free widely to pastors and teachers who wanted to engage (we’ve given away over 8,000 copies), and more.

This time around, the project needs to be another all-or-nothing campaign (since we’ll have a lot of up-front costs like airfare), and we really wanted to truly test this idea to see if it’s what enough people want, need, and can support at this time. Using Kickstarter makes sense for that, and it’s extremely easy for those who contributed to last year’s campaign to pledge to the new one (http://www.sgamovie.com/kickstarter). This project will only be funded if at least $20,000 is pledged by Tuesday, November 25. Since it is an all-or-nothing campaign, if the entire amount isn’t pledged, nobody is charged and the project doesn't happen. That means we need a lot of help spreading the word. We will need about 300 people to back this project in order to meet our goal.

How has the San Francisco Film Society been part of the work you've done and will do on this topic?

Many independent films that are non-profit in nature apply for fiscal sponsorship under an organization like the San Francisco Film Society. Outside of the film world, the idea of a “fiscal sponsor” might seem like they give us money. Actually, the opposite is true! They simply provide non-profit status to us for Seventh-Gay Adventists. They take a small fee to process, issue receipts, and provide oversight. This Kickstarter campaign is a separate educational outreach effort though. The only ones taking a cut are Kickstarter and Amazon (who processes payments for Kickstarter and makes it very easy for anyone with an Amazon account to contribute).

Talk about the technology that goes into this project like this and about the process of producing the film.

A film is typically divided into three parts: pre-production, production, and post-production. Each one is driven by the overall story that you’re trying to tell. The planning process involves a lot of communicating and logistics planning no matter the effort. Often hundreds of emails and phone calls are made to bring together the right people, coordinate the logistics, and shape the experience. Filming for this one is different than some because we’re containing it all within a weekend. Still we’re planning to try and create as much of a cinema verité experience as we can to allow the viewer to feel like a participant in the experience. A single camera allows us to bring a perspective that’s both intimate and authentic. This is not going to be a three-camera, studio shoot since that would make it feel too stiff. This is the kind of filmmaking we like to make—it’s not as slick, but it often feels more real. The final step is editing the project, which is where a film like this is actually written. There are many choices that need to be made to shape the tone, pacing, and feel of the piece. We want the experience to be engaging and educational, but not boring. People watch films to experience how others made choices that they might one day face. We hope that by making this as honest as possible by the tools we choose to tell the story that this project will help model how to have a conversation about a tough topic no matter where we each are coming from.

On a personal note, you invested a lot of your life into the SGA film, and this one will likely require another large commitment. Aside from the fact that you are a film-making team and making films is what you do, why pour so much of yourselves into these projects in particular?

We started work on the early stages of Seventh-Gay Adventists when our daughter Lily was an infant. And she just started kindergarten this fall, so it’s been more than a five year journey for us. Even knowing the huge challenges, especially the financial ones, inherent in doing an indie project that had most of our close friends and family quite concerned for our souls at one point (that also has shifted significantly over the course of this project!), we’d choose to spend the last five years in the same way. Lily has grown up with her family’s work being “the love film” which is what she calls it—that can’t be a bad thing for her character development! And all of our lives are so much richer and more meaningful because of the deep friendships we’ve developed along the way.

It’s not uncommon for people to assume that one or both of us is gay—some people can’t fathom a heterosexual couple making this film and championing this conversation. But we strongly feel that the silence, shame, and rejection that has been the status quo in our church around this topic hurts heterosexuals too. Sure, non-LGBT youth don’t have four times the risk of attempted suicide (or eight times if they are from rejecting families), and non-LGBT youth aren’t likely to be homeless simply because they tell their parents who they really are, but when we marginalize in the name of God, that hurts us all and makes us complicit in the rejection, marginalization, and Othering that happens in so many faith communities. We couldn’t raise our daughter in this church without also actively helping to resist the status quo that marginalizes, so our story and our religious identity is part of this as well. We want our daughter to be part of a church that creates space for love, listening, and that space at the well for all of us to drink together.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6386

(Daneen Akers) #2

Thanks so much for continuing to be one of the few spaces in Adventism where real conversation is possible. We hope this next film project contributes to healthy dialogue in the same way that Spectrum fosters and nurtures space for all of the voices to be at the table.

I saw a quote today from Rev. Yvette Flunder, “”[T]he best way to guarantee safety and welcome for the average person is to guarantee it for the obvious outsider.” I think this is one of the key reasons why a resource like this is not just for the benefit of those currently on the margins of our church, but it’s actually for the benefit of us all.


(Jonathan Cook) #3

So glad this discussion will continue – with so many negative voices represented, Daneen and Stephen are a beacon of light. The LGBT community is starting a conversation with the church. Will they listen? Or will they take down videos displaying humility, love and inclusion? We must resist our recalcitrant tendencies and embrace each other in the spirit of community.


(Eliel Cruz) #4

I’m really excited for this new project to come to fruition. Seventh-Gay Adventists has been fundamental in shifting the conversation not just in the SDA world but in other religious spaces as well. Having been to a few dozen screenings in over 9 states, i can personally attest at the power behind this film and in sharing stories. I wrote about, what is quite possibly, the most moving experience i’ve had in this piece called “When A Redneck Loved A Queer”

Stephen and Daneen have become such important people in my life. Their work on behalf of the LGBT SDA community will always be remembered. I’m so honored they wish to continue their work in this companion film. I can’t wait to see the results!


(Dave Ferguson) #5

I’m not sure where you find the energy to move forward with ideas and to face those who feel you are destroying the church. But, I’m so grateful that you continue to work to bring love and the vital conversation this topic needs to our church family. Such conversations are the glue that really make us a world family with all of it’s diversity.


(Elias Rowlandson) #6

This sounds exciting, hopefully move adventism into the 20th century, then the 21st. despite the guaranteed negativity, the fact remains that the resource is there, not necessarily from church sources e g abc’s, colleges etc. In some ways it’s a bit like the gospel changes lives.
All the best Stephen and Daneen.


(Aubyn Fulton) #7

One of the biggest blessings for me personally from the original film has been the now frequent experience at a screening of having someone identify themselves as a traditional conservative Adventist who still believes the Bible does not approve of same sex relationships, but now understands how the Church has inflicted so much pain and suffering on its LGBTQ members, and wants to figure out how they can do a better job of letting LGBTQ Adventists know that they are loved and valued in the Church community. I think this new film is going to help a lot in carrying those kinds of conversations forward, and hopefully find ways to make differences at the ground level of local churches. We are so fortunate to have loving and spiritual filmmakers like Stephen and Daneen in our community - thank you!


(Floyd Poenitz) #8

After a short break, I am glad to see you taking on this new film that will go hand in hand with the previous film. I am hoping it will be another tool that can be used to continue the conversation and create a space for additional conversations and stories. It is only when we stop to listen to each other than we can actually hear what is being said… Keep up the good work Stephen and Daneen! You are greatly appreciated and loved.


(Interested Friend) #9

I cannot think of any instance where a gay person has been subjected to the type of egregious treatment that Daneen alleges. I’m not saying it has not happened but I wonder whether the alleged plight of the gays may have been exaggerated.

This constant pressure to accept practicing gays church membership continues to foster disunity in the SDA church. When we read what Scripture says about same sex intimacy how can a committed SDA endorse such activities.
In The Grip of Truth


(Daneen Akers) #10

You don’t have to take my word for the “alleged plight” of LGBT people in the church (and not just the Adventist church), you can talk to LGBT people of faith and hear their stories. I am not sure if you want to really hear them though, as it’s much harder to demonize and other when you have really heard someone’s heart.

When I read scripture, I can’t help but notice how much more emphasis God places on how we treat each other, no matter one’s theological paradigm about those six verses. Jesus didn’t say His followers would be known by their “correct” doctrine or firm stance on divisive social issues–He said we’d be known by our love.


(Susan Willard) #11

Thank you so much for planning another film. I’d love to see more discussion on this topic. I am straight, was raised in the church, and found Seventh-Gay Adventists very helpful for me as I struggled to voice a challenge to the church’s position on homosexuality. The film helped me see where Adventist conventions and moral values collide. And I am relieved that I can finally say out loud that Adventist conventions aren’t always the morally right choice. And I do think this is a moral issue. Psychologists have found that the early stages of morality focus on punishment and black and white thinking. If we are to develop morally as people, and a community, we must be open to sitting down with others who challenge our thinking, for that is how we grow. Those at the highest stages of development value justice, equality and have an ethic of care. We were created by God to grow and develop! It is work like yours that helps us along. Thank you.


(Tom Loop) #12

I like Daneen’s illustration about the sheep and building a fenced or digging a well. Very good illustration. I have lived in what is called “open range” country. It’s sparsely populated, mostly public land areas, with small areas of private property.
The basis of open range is that catlle or sheep can be grazed anywhere. You don’t have to fence them in. Those who don’t want them on there property must build a fence to keep them out. Now how in the world does a rancher keep track of his herd or flock when the range can cover several sqaure miles. If water is scarce, he supplies water in certain spots and the animals come to those water holes.

The world is an open range. The church has built too many fences to keep sheep out. We need more water holes so people are drawn to the only source of hope and life, Jesus the Water of life. Christ said “I, if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me.”…"as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren you have done it unto me,"
I think people need to be careful who they look down upon.


(Carrol Grady`) #13

IF, I have known hundreds (if not thousands) of LGBTI people and I can count on one hand those who have not been the recipients of disgust, shunning, and complete lack of understanding or help from the church.

I am so grateful to Stephen and Daneen for finding the strength and courage to continue their difficult job of bringing this issue to the attention of the church. I think if they can model a respectful and kind conversation about it among people with different opinions, it will be a great blessing!


(Ellen Brodersen) #14

being willing to have conversations about the difficult issues in life - especially when there is so much fear surrounding these conversations - not easy - yet in putting love first - you told the stories that mattered - and kept the fear at bay so the stories could be heard - driving out that same fear in people with power so their story of love can be uncovered - also not easy - yet I believe that connections and solutions can be found - and something new created that honors the capacity of humans to solve the difficult problems in life - by including all voices. – thank you for being willing to continue the conversation - I am looking forward to seeing the next part of the story unfold- I wonder if we will be able to stay in a place without fear…long enough to listen?.. deep breaths - just breath as my sister says when things get tense…I think it allows the brain to expand - use the logical side — maybe the haze clears - and what we thought was impossible -becomes a paradigm shift - and we wonder why we never thought of it before? a simple solution has emerged- been created by us - imagine that!! life is amazing — Truly What is Next - ?


(Dee Roberts) #15

In the Grip, I am amazed that you can say that you have never seen despicable unkind, un-Christian treatment of LGBTQI people, but then again, one must chose to be aware of others perceptions and have some empathy. I this day and age, saying that you haven’t seen bad treatment of LGBTQI people is like saying you haven’t ever seen racial discrimination, or discrimination against other minorities.

I can see how as a white male, in western culture you could be blind to it, but you hurt your credibility with this kind of assertion. If it is your observation, just start looking and listening a little bit more.


(Tom Loop) #16

In all sincerity I don’t think you are" In The Grip of Truth" as you sign off, but in “The Grip of Denial”. Take the blindfold off like I finally did. You’ll begin to see things you didn’t realize were there.


(efcee) #17

I hope the subject of ordination (of gay members) is discussed as part of this project, I think this might be the main “stumbling block” that many “plain-reading-of-scripture” Adventists have when they consider inclusion of gay members into the community of faith. Many Adventists have no problem with treating LGBTQ as second class members - able to participate but not to be treated as equals. Few Adventists can imagine accepting a gay person as their pastor or even as an elder. If the makers of this new film are truly attempting to answer the question, “What’s next”?, this topic should definitely be included as part of the conversation.


(George Tichy) #18

Surrendering to truth is always painful and triggers denial.
There is only one way out: marching out of the valley of denial and climbing the mountain of truth.

It may take a while, but at the end, “Veritas Vincit!.”


(Sox) #19

How could two people in a same sex relationship , some thing God calls an abomination be even allow for discussion here ? Or is this the real reason for Spectrum existence, to be used to tear down every last bit of truth left in adventism. Most of the contributors seem to head in that direction. Like mr George, who speaks about sola scriptural and then do not even believe in the flood in Genisis. It make thing that Jesus have to come real soon. In genesis it states that the imagination of mans heart was evil continually and we seeing it before our very eyes here today. I urge these people to repent before judgement comes, because my friends it isn’t going to be an easy time.

(You would do well to try to understand the other commenters better before you launch into the sort of judgmentalism you exhibit in this comment. But, in any event, you need to dial back your word choices, no matter how you feel. - website editor)


(Sox) #20

Well said George , you should keep reading that over and over to yourself, until it make sense .