New Pacific Union College chaplain and PUC Church associate pastor Jonathan Henderson took the university’s week of prayer as an opportunity to deliver a message that has resonated deeply with LGBTQ Adventists and their allies.
On Wednesday night, October 8, Pastor Henderson took the PUC Church stage for the third night in a row in a series on relationships. Monday night he highlighted Adam and God; Tuesday focused on Adam and Eve; and on Wednesday, Adam and Steve were the focal point of the conversation.
Henderson started his presentation with a humorous tone, noting that he still had his job, despite the intense nature of his sermons.
After beginning with prayer Henderson asked the audience to recognize his limitations understanding homosexuality. “You need to hear the perspective of those who have walked this journey,” he said. “I am not an expert. I am not the Holy Spirit. I am not the Judge. I am not the prophet. I am your chaplain, who is still on his journey, and I am wanting to understand even better.”
Henderson quoted Matthew 19:3-12 (NIV) to propel his sermon. He focused on verse 8: “Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.’”
Henderson went on to say that God gave in on this issue of divorce, despite this not having been God’s intent in the beginning.
“You need to realize that God has given in often throughout history to us,” said Henderson.
He cited God’s giving the Israelites a king when they asked for it, even though God was their King. When David, a “man after God’s own heart” became King, he was good, but after time, he became corrupt.
“They [the Israelites] chose to be a part of something that was never God’s original design, but this is the world we live in,” said Henderson. “How I wish we could all go back to the way things used to be,” he continued. “And interestingly enough, God works with us in our own sinful matrix. How often that God has to put up with the way that we chose to do things. It was not God’s will that Eve take the fruit and that Adam also partook in it.”
Henderson stated that maybe even up to 90% of the things that happened in the Bible did not happen as God wanted it to happen.
“And you’ll say ‘but no, it’s God’s will!’” added Henderson. “God is just willing to allow us have our well. That’s it. Let’s just keep it real….just because God knew it was going to happen, doesn’t mean that God planned it.”
Henderson suggested that acting as though God is in control of everything is unhelpful, because then God bears responsibility for every molestation, hungry person, and murderer.
“God isn’t in control,” Henderson said. “He gave that over to you, and look what we’ve done with it.”
Henderson preached that what really upsets God is when people hurt other people. He cited Nineveh as an example, calling it the city of blood where people walked over dead bodies in the streets.
“We keep thinking that ‘Wicked Cities’ was like people at the slot machine in Vegas—people just watching a bunch of porn. When the Bible describes evil, it’s talking about stuff that’s so scary, so disgusting, that even the wicked city doesn’t want to be around itself.”
Henderson stated that sin is everywhere, but for some reason, the church has chosen to focus on one sin that some consider worst of all. People in the church will say that God did not choose to create Adam and Steve; He created Adam and Eve.
People will say that homosexuals are like rabbits, and all they want to do is have sex. Henderson said this is a problem, because these statements dehumanize. “You create all these images as if they are not people that are having soul connections—relating to one another, identifying with one another. You need to understand the foundation of relationships…and it’s not sex! It’s heart to heart connection.”
Henderson admitted that he used to believe it was okay for same-sex couples to “have the soul connection,” but not to engage in sexual activity. As he began to read the Bible, Henderson began to see the situation differently. He realized that God can “call an audible” because the game of life changes.
In Jonah 3:10, Nineveh repented and God saw their repentance, so He changed His mind.
“Listen, the character of God never changes. His heart never changes. His love never changes. It will never–we could never be separated from that. But God will change His mind because we change! The game changes and God will adjust based on the circumstances. Why wouldn’t He? In fact, coaches get fired because they don’t know how to change their game plan within the game!”
Henderson reminded the audience that not everyone will accept or interpret the Bible the same, though some people find that hard to accept.
Henderson pointed out that in the Bible, Christ says some people are born asexual. Henderson suggested that it’s possible for people to be born homosexual. Again, this is hard for some people to accept.
“‘It just couldn’t be that way, pastor, because then somehow we wouldn’t be able to judge them in the same way that we are used to doing...If they are born that way then we might have to be more compassionate and understanding!’ And there’s something wrong with that picture!” said Henderson.
Henderson stated that while some people may be born homosexual, others might be shaped that way by experiences they had as a child. People in the church find this all hard to accept because it is complicated; it isn’t black and white. He went on, noting that people have a tendency to want to fit sins in a box, but one size does not fit all. In the past, people did not believe a white woman should marry a black man, but things change–people change, Henderson pointed out.
He asserted that people believe the Bible governs morality, but oftentimes culture shapes our moral beliefs. “We are afraid of what we don’t understand. We are afraid of what’s different,” said Henderson.
Henderson drew attention to the fact that there is a ministry on Pacific Union College’s campus called Safe Place. He believes that the fact that this group exists on campus is a “tragedy.” PUC itself should be the safe place. “How do you have a sanctuary within a sanctuary?” he asked.
Sometimes, when homosexual individuals “come out,” their parents have a hard time dealing with it. Some unsupportive parents tell their child not to bring their partner around the house. Henderson said that thankfully, this isn’t always where the story ends. Sometimes, parents come around to accept their child, and their child’s partner because they love their child, and nothing can change that.
“If your parents can come to that point, how much more will your heavenly Father, who loves you more?”
Since Henderson’s talk on Wednesday, his words have prompted an overwhelming response.
PUC student David O’Hair, who also works as the editor for the Campus Chronicle, called Henderson’s sermon surprising and great. “The talk addressed the differences between being born, made, or choosing to be part of the LGBTQ community. The honesty and different approach was refreshing to hear,” said O’Hair. “In an age where controversial issues are touched on, but never fully divulged, Pastor Henderson crafted a great message that was able to reach all listeners, not only those personally influenced by this topic.”
O’Hair stated that the “Adam and Steve” sermon seemed to draw the biggest crowd of the series so far. “I honestly have not heard one bad review of the talk or its message. It was well received and led to many discussions outside the sanctuary.”
PUC professor of psychology, Dr. Aubyn Fulton, spoke highly of Henderson’s talk. “This just may be the most powerful sermon ever preached from the PUC pulpit," he said. “What makes Jonathan's talk last night such a landmark is that it so clearly creates the space for pretty conservative Christians, who still might believe that LGBTQ is not quite what God originally had in mind, to still treat LGBTQ people with love and respect. From now on, no conservative Adventist has an excuse for their hate or rejection. We now know it is possible for people with those views to still be loving and respectful - and (I think) from now on we should expect nothing less than this.”
Seventh-Gay Adventists producer Daneen Akers also spoke passionately about Henderson’s sermon. “I was weeping through much of this sermon because I know what a step it is, and it just felt like this—this is what Jesus was talking about when he said his followers would be known by their love,” said Akers. “It’s really just the Gospel, and it’s what Christians should be known for—love and respect, even if we all don’t fully agree. But somehow we’ve gone so terribly wrong, especially around this topic, that tears are shed when someone preaches such a beautiful sermon about what Jesus said it should be all about.”
Jonathan Henderson began working at PUC in September 2014. Previously, he served as the head pastor for Grand Advent Seventh-day Adventist Church in Oakland, California for eleven years.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6320