'Sanctuary for Conversation' Helps Churches Constructively Address LGBT+ Issues

A new resource is available to congregations seeking constructive ways to address LGBT+ issues. Open Dialogue Resources, the publisher of “A Sanctuary for Conversation: Living, Loving and Learning” materials and workshops, fills a growing need for churches that want to begin discussion of the range sexual identities, but may be unsure how to proceed.

At the 2015 North American Division “Called” Ministerial Convention in Austin, Texas, a large convention hall full of Adventist ministers worked through the “Sanctuary for Conversation” materials together. Chris Blake, Associate Professor of English and Communication at Union College, led the workshop, which included exercises in listening, dialoguing in small groups and examining case studies and synopses of leading literature from a variety of disciplines on sexual identities.

Blake has not only led “Sanctuary for Conversation” workshops, but has also developed the materials through conversations with LGBT+ individuals and as a result of lots of reading. Blake recognized a need for materials and processes that helped move beyond simplistic, binary thinking about homosexuality and other sexual identities. Instead of engaging in the frequent arguments over the rightness or wrongness of allowing homosexual individuals a place in Adventist congregations, the workshop focuses on genuine dialogue among church members.

Participants in past workshops, including an event at the Berkeley Seventh-day Adventist Church, have provided anonymous comments on their experiences. These are samples of participant feedback:


“I have grown because of the time I spent listening to the presentations, discussions, and panel. As a result of this workshop, I have taken away an understanding of how to become a better minister to all.”

“The spirit of loving, humble discussion was filled with opportunities to sense and share God’s Holy Spirit.”

“We asked them to become more empathetic, not to change their beliefs, and as we showed tangible ways to do that they seemed very receptive, which was incredibly encouraging.” (a gay Adventist presenter)

“Thank you for the courage to hold this event.”

“Especially enjoyed the interviews with actual LGBT+ people.”

“I came today asking God to make me a student, and my prayer has been answered.”

“During my 27 years in Adventism, I have never seen such a spirit of humility expressed from the leaders of the church. No one came to prove ‘I’m right, you’re wrong,’ or to ‘school’ someone else on their theology. Instead, we all came to learn, be honest, and work together to improve the lives of our LGBT+ youth.”

“If you want your church to be a true community that is loving and compassionate, then do this workshop—it will make everyone more aware of their humanity.”

An excerpt from one of the handouts that accompanies the workshop.

“Our agenda,” Blake has said (and it’s part of the workshop materials) “is this: we aim to create safe spaces for positive, healing, informed, authentic conversation.”

The Pacific Union College community in the area around Angwin, Napa and St. Helena will have the opportunity to participate in the workshop this weekend at the Deer Park Community Hall in St. Helena. On Saturday, May 14 at 3:00pm, the Haven Adventist Church will host a “Sanctuary for Conversation” workshop free to the public. Organizers hope the event will attract at least 144 participants. Participants may RSVP on the Open Dialogue Resources website under "Events." The website includes free sample materials and introductions to the workshop process for churches interested in hosting an event.


Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7451


A starting point for REAL conversations with, and for, the LGBT+ communities and churches.


Why not 144,000? :slight_smile:


Kudos to Chris and all those who helped him. At long last, sensitivity and education!


Have mercy, We are such a conflicted church. At the last GC Lollapalooza, we tighten down the definitions of MAN AND WOMEN relationships to exclude any possible misinterpretation that we accept into fellowship gays and lesbians. But now we are offering dialogue workshops? And to punctuate the absurdity we offer participant reactions like "“Especially enjoyed the interviews with actual LGBT+ people.” Does no one else see the absurdity? Actual GLBT+ people?

So we will invite “actual LGBT+ people” into the ark so we can talk to to “them” but when it comes to fellowship and acceptance and… have mercy… membership. Nope. Dialogues are safe but we would rather selectively holding to exclusionary teachings of primitive Hebrew society rather than offering the fellowship of the kingdom to all nations (Matt 28). If we fail to hold the communion cup to all people. We fail.

Okay, the church can live with that cognitive dissonance for now, but if I read it correctly, at the end there will be “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”



One of the many approaches of the workshop is to change the language from “them” to “those of us who are.” If it’s absurd to listen to actual LGBT+ people, count me as an absurdist. We do hold the communion cup to all people. And we have to start somewhere to open dialogue.

Frankly, I’m weary of the armchair diatribes and hand-wringing. It’s time to act. It’s time to listen. This is one opportunity.


have to start somewhere just need 143,146 more.

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1 Cor. 11:27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

Sounds a bit more complicated than your simple premise would suggest.

Peter Mark!
This is going to be in the PUC area of churcheS. Many.
And they are “HOPING”, Not Expecting for ONLY 144 persons to show up!!
What else can I say, maybe “sigh”.

Robin. Portland has better weather than Atlanta. Gay weekend there is in October so to be kind to grassy Piedmont Park. I have enjoyed marching with Episcopalians in the Pride Parade for about 8 years. As you stated about Portland, in Atlanta many different Faiths participate in the parade and announcing themselves as Affirming Congregations and Welcoming ALL to worship and fellowship. And the churches along the route are there passing out water.
As a Seventh day Adventist I cant invite persons to SDA churches, but this IS what I did. I had a SDA Kinship sign made and me and a couple of my Episcopalian friends hold it up behind the Episcopal group. We also “borrow” some of their beads so we can throw them. The first year I did that I had a number of persons along the parade line yell greetings at us, and 2 black girls ran out into the street and took our picture on their phone. That is WHY I continue to do so. 2 years ago there were several along the parade route with Southern University shirts on.
At Piedmont Park over the week end they have several hundred tents of “vendors”. One to 2 dozen religious groups rent tents for the weekend. After the 1st year I wrote the Ga-Cumb Conf President and encouraged the presence of the SDA church at a booth and pass out literature, advertise the many services of SDAs. Reason for that is that probably MOST of those at the park are not gay, and most are probably Secular, as we would call them. So I felt it would be a great way to meet 1000s of persons without going door to door or doing a mailing. But no return response to my invitation, as I expected.
So I just continue to do my part of announcing Seventh day Adventists with my SDA Kinship sign.
Just to encourage YOU. It is a lot of fun to march in a parade. Wave at everybody. Be waved back. AND throw beads. Yes, the throwing of beads is the MOST fun.
Just dont throw candy. Candy gets thrown back at you. The Episcopalians only did that ONE time when they ran out of beads. LOL!!!

PeterMark. On that back of my Macon SDA church bulletin, #17 says “God condemns homosexuality” and gives texts. This is an every week message to everyone. Little boys and girls up through Adults. And Adult Visitors. Yes #17 is VERY systemic, discriminatory, and a WARNING to little boys and girls to Not Say A Word to ANYONE.

Chris – When one is attempting to break down the Wall of Jerusalem, one has to begin some place and some way with some tool.
Ingrained, taught, and Bible based prejudice is difficult to assault. Difficult to change minds. But Dr. MLK changed minds about segregation. But it wasnt easy. One does have to begin in order to finish. A statement attributed to EGW that I heard one time — “Strike while the Iron is Hot, and Strike the Iron until IT gets Hot”. She might have been repeating a saying she learned from childhood. but it is a good MOTTO.


If it’s absurd to listen to actual LGBT+ people, count me as an absurdist. We do hold the communion cup to all people.

Chris, I am sure we are actually in agreement on the nature of your workshops. Yes, teach away. But that does not take away from the absurdity that is multi-layered.

  1. The assumption that SDA adults functioning in society have not spoken to “actual LGBT+ individuals” EVEN within the church is silly. The fact that we don’t have enough spiritual maturity to pull our head of of the sand is in my opinion offensive to the gospel of Christ.

  2. As a church we have canonized written policies condemning homosexuality, policies against same sex unions, issued a statement of concern about sexual behaviors which places homosexuality on equal grounds as incest and child sexual abuse, and we go to great lengths to affirm marriage as only between aa man and a woman. Indeed through Liberty magazine the church advocated that SDA’s oppose gay marriage. Going back to 1987, the Seventh-day Adventist Church filed legal action with the State of California in an attempt to prohibit SDA Kinship (a support system for LGBT+ SDA members and allies) from using the name “Seventh-day Adventist” and the abbreviation “SDA.” It is absurd to think that the LGBT+ community would I feel welcome into the SDA church.

  3. You are narrow to define the communion cup to the quarterly sacrament. Extending # 2, we deny baptism to the LGBT+ community, the church manual mandates church discipline if one were to disclose sexual orientation (equating them with pedophiles) and SDA ministers are forbidden to perform same sex marriages. That is denying communion and community within our church.

Do I applaud any attempt at dialogue? Not without an equal dialogue about systemic change and discrimination in our church.


Peter, systemic change will not happen other than grassroots change in local churches.

The NAD Statement on Human Sexuality, voted November 2, 2015, states, “As imitators of Jesus we welcome all people, inviting them into our faith communities and sacrificially serving them. Followers of Jesus, regardless of their views on alternative human sexualities [sic], treat people with dignity and respect and extend hospitality and grace to all.” That extends the communion cup, although it’s true we can do much better.

Here’s the point: Do we curse the darkness or light a candle? Please visit the Open Dialogue Resources website, order a copy of the workshop materials, and taste and see for yourself. This dialogue does address changing unjust discrimination.

Let’s bring whatever light we can to all people including the marginalized, the bigoted, and those who stand between. In the end, all true followers of Jesus are activists.


I own a home in downtown Portland Oregon.

Some years ago, on a Sunday morning stroll through the heart of the city, crowds suddenly materialized on the sidewalks. I was informed that a Gay Pride Parade was about to begin!

What do I remember about that event? Part of the parade was an astonishing segment of about thirty church groups, holding banners of their respective congregations, all inviting gays and lesbians to join their worship services! These were clearly STRAIGHT Christians, who had chosen to march that morning rather than attend their own worship hour.

I later learned that churches welcoming LGBT members were called AFFIRMING congregations.

In this parade, nearly every denomination was represented, including a synagogue, a Mormon group, and a Catholic group.

Although the metropolitan Portland area has one of the densest Adventist populations in the USA, not one of the dozens of Adventist chirches in the region was present to welcome LGBT individuals to their worship hour!

Thank you Chris Blake, for spearheading a wonderful outreach to a very marginalized group. So shunned, so shamed, so ostracized, so disowned, by Adventist families, schools and congregations, that I fear many are so embittered and carry so much negative baggage, they will NEVER return to the fold.

The average church member has been fed so much negativity against gays, it will be hard to “decontaminate” them.

Thanks for trying Chris Blake! You have set yourself an arduous task, undoing decades of bigotry, bias and blame!


This gives me hope that people may learn to be human, and so reflect the image of God. Thank you to all of those involved in this project.

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Chris, I think Peter was expressing irony.

It might interest those of you here to note that the Methodist church is having their “General Conference” in Portland the next week or so. Sexuality issues have been on the agenda since 1972.

An article in the WSJ, May 12, makes these observations:

United Methodism, with more than seven million American members, is the largest of the big seven mainline Protestant denominations. Nearly all the mainline churches in recent years have officially affirmed same-sex marriage and actively gay clergy, followed by schism and decline. The United Church of Christ, once a flagship mainline denomination, recently predicted losing 80% of its members over the next 30 years.

Methodists have not followed that path. Yet in the 1970s, as the late Catholic intellectual Richard John Neuhaus once recalled, United Methodism was expected to become the first major denomination to adapt to post-1960s sexual mores. Of the great Protestant communions, Methodism was arguably the most democratic and American, and the least tied to tradition.

Methodists have debated Christian sexual ethics at every General Conference since 1972, but delegates have repeatedly affirmed traditional teachings. The church prohibits same-sex rites, and clergy must be celibate if single and monogamous if married. For decades what made the difference was Methodism’s large evangelical subculture. But recently the decisive factor has been the church’s growing membership in Africa.

While other mainline denominations shrank, United Methodism grew, thanks to its overseas membership. Since the 1960s the church has lost four million Americans but gained five million new members in Africa, mainly in former French, Belgian and Portuguese colonies, where early 20th-century missionaries didn’t have to compete with British Methodism.

Africans, who are in general theologically conservative, now account for 40% of members and will soon become a majority. This leaves liberal Methodists frustrated. The church’s General Conference has long included colorful protests against traditional sexual standards. These have become more heated: One LGBT activist suggested that protesters show up to this year’s convention with “gallons of piss and vinegar,” adding “just think of the trouble we can cause.”

For all their energy, liberals may be hard pressed to change the church’s teaching on marriage. In 2012 the African delegates were organized, often voting as a bloc, and especially outspoken on sexuality. This year 31% of delegates are from Africa, joined by another 10% from the Philippines and Europe. Only 58% are from the U.S.

But nothing is certain, and tensions in Portland are high. Any major liberalization of the church’s marriage stance would likely lead to a global denominational schism—and the same kind of decline faced by other mainline churches. Affirming traditional teachings would allow continued overseas growth, making United Methodism less and less a conventional mainline church. (emphasis mine)

End of excerpt.

So, what is your point, Blake? Do Advents need more “understanding” of homosexuality so we can have the same kind of GC the Methodists are having? One with piss and vinegar and all the trimmings? Why not a program for LBGT so they can better understand why traditional Adventists believe the way they do? And do we want to start down the path of the other mainliners who are hemorrhaging members like an insurance co in a death spiral? And why is the Methodist church the largest of the mainliners? Could be be their traditional positions?

Hmmm… Seems to me, as I recall, the NT church (primitive hebrew society?) did not embrace homosexuality. So, I guess they were failures as well?

Interesting metaphor. Wasn’t it the Babylon that was breaking down the walls of Jerusalem?

Adventism does not affirm homosexual behavior, so it would be denying a reality for them to march.

When the adulterous woman was brought to Jesus, did he affirm her (John 8)? I think he did. “Neither do I condemn you, Go, and sin no more.” He understood her plight. He dismissed all those who would have even taken the ultimate step of disfellowship and stoned her. Sounds pretty affirming to me.

Could I say to a gay person who came to my church, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more?” As I recall from previous discussions here, the “Neither do I condemn” part is welcome, but the “go and sin no more” not so much. So, gay advocates divide the words of Jesus into acceptable and unacceptable parts. I think that is the problem that afflicts all such programs as this. Jesus was clear. He did not condemn, but he did not affirm sinful behavior either (like the Portland marchers).

The Methodists have struggled with this for, what, 50 yrs? By maintaining traditional values, in spite of real pressure, they have grown, in contrast to their fellow mainliners. Why should we embark on a program that leads to such conflict and turmoil?

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Thank you for raising important concerns regarding LGBT+ youth…

Yes… But we must remember that the Youth, while vitally important to our community do NOT represent the whole of our responsibilities—

There are LGBT+ Elders…

LGBT+ Adults…

LGBT+ Singles, Marrieds, Families…

And we are NOT limited to North America… There are the terrible manners in which LGBT+ folk are treated other places in the world, say Russia…say Uganda…say Saudia Arabia… All of whom are our brothers and sisters…whether they be “in Christ” or not!


We already are painfully aware that the goal isn’t simply “to provide a sanctuary for conversation”.

It is more of a demand on full acceptance of homoerotic relationships within Christianity. Within Church leadership.

It is an attempt to equate gay marriage to marriage. As if.

At least for now, some of our churches are politely saying, “No Thanks!”

It is ironic that Blake uses the word “bigot”. I guess they remain mystified that some of us that read “it is shameful for a man to lie with another man” believe that it actually means that it is shameful for a man to lie with another man.

I don’t really see room for a mystery there.

Being from Portland I am well aware of the current huge gathering of Methodists in that city Regrettably, their African constiuents will squelch the outreach to the LGBT Christians , just as the Adventist Africans denied us WO.

The Portland First Methodist Church, a huge congregation, predominantly elderly, prints the following pronouncement in EACH weekly worship bulletin:

“We welcome everyone to this worship hour regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation”.

I know of no Adventist church who prints such a welcoming statement in their worship bulletins.

I attend this congregation almost weekly when I am in town. They have the largest pipe organ on the west coast, a virtuoso organist, a sublime a Capella choir, a bell choir par excellence, and a senior woman pastor who delivers a sparkling scintillating, and succinct. always memorable, fifteen minute homily. So different from the 50 minute ramblings, so pervasive from Adventist pulpits!

The First Methodist church in Pasadena, a huge gothic structure on Pasadena’s Main Street, (the Rose Parade route). displays a large sign facing the boulevard : WE ARE A RECONCILING CONGREGATION"-- a code word to the LGBT community that they are welcome. This congregation also has a senior woman pastor and a superb and musically stunning worship hour.
( The Methodists have been ordaining women pastors since 1956!)

So while the Methodist church at large is in conflictual division over same sex issues, a huge number of prominent Methodist congregations are vehement and vociferous in their support for the LGBT community and are lovingly inclusive of this group in their congregations.


peter, i don’t think this is accurate…i’m looking at my copy of the 2010 church manual right now, and p.62 cites “homosexual practice” as an enumerated reason for discipline; p.145 lists “homosexual and lesbian practices” as “perversions”; and p.152 cites “homosexual practices” as “a misuse of sexual powers and a violation of the divine intention in marriage”…as you know, homosexual practice is not synonymous with homosexual orientation, and the pains the manual goes to in specifying homosexual practice appears to mean something…

you may know that our andrews seminary recently put out the following:

“All persons, including practicing homosexuals, should be made to feel welcome to attend our churches while non-practicing gay persons should be welcomed into membership and church office.” p.16, “An Understanding of the Biblical View on Homosexual Practice and Pastoral Care”, which can be found here: https://www.andrews.edu/sem/statements/seminary-statement-on-homosexuality-edited-10-8-15-jm-final.pdf

presumably our seminary, in distinguishing between orientation and practice, would have coordinated any statement with what is in our church manual before releasing it…


Chris, one of your main tenets, among many, was that the Bible does not support same-sex sexual relationships. Do you still believe that, and if so, how does that inform your present ministry?