Southern Adventist University Student Now Leads LGBT Collegiate Coalition


(system) #1

After three years leading the Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition (IAGC), its president, Andrews University student Eliel Cruz, has handed leadership over to Jefferson Clark, a senior public relations and international studies major at Southern Adventist University.

IAGC is an unsanctioned but growing network of Gay-Straight Alliances on Adventist college campuses in North America.

In 2011, when Eliel Cruz lived on the Andrews University campus, he never imaged he would have to turn to school administration for protection. However, Cruz said several incidents of on-campus sexual mistreatment made him worry about his personal safety. He had no choice but to ask for help. With the support of Dr. Nancy Carbonell, associate professor of Clinical Mental Health, Cruz warily approached the student life office where he received assurance that the situation would be taken care of. Cruz was skeptical. “I told them, I don’t trust you,” he said. He felt that past experiences gave him cause to doubt the promises of support. Despite his misgivings, the situation was taken care of as promised, Cruz said. He felt the incident marked a turning point for the LGBT community on campus.

Soon after, Dr. Carbonell invited Cruz to an off-campus meeting she planned for students to come together to talk about their sexual orientation, their struggles, and anything else they wanted to talk about.

An eclectic group attended that first meeting. Four in attendance had been suspended or expelled from their Adventist academies because of their sexual orientation. Seven attendees were close to committing suicide or had already attempted it, and one member drove around the block for thirty minutes before she collected enough courage to come inside.

“The meeting was a profound thing,” Cruz said. “It was the first time many of us could talk in such a candid space. For me, it was a spiritual moment. But people were scared to come forward because of their [traumatic] past experiences.”

One person in attendance described her experience at an Adventist academy; she was suspended because of her sexual orientation, and as a result, was moved from her dorm room to a different wing and a room without a roommate. She was also kicked off the soccer team.

The small group grew under Carbonell’s mentorship, and Cruz decided to approach the university’s administration again. This time his questions concerned campus policy. He brought a written proposal with him. “I asked them if they allowed LGBT’s on campus. They said that under social-concept stipulations, yes. So I told them, if you accept these students, then you need to offer them protection,” said Cruz.

According to Cruz, Andrews University was one of the first Adventist universities to codify protection for homosexual students in its Student Handbook.

“I think [the administration] realized that there was an entire group of people on campus that they had forgotten, but when it was published, people in the church were very upset.”

Around this time, Cruz had been in contact with Amador Jaojoco, then-president of Gay and Straight People (GASP) at Pacific Union College. Jaojoco presented the idea of a gay student alliance coalition.

“We knew of a support group at La Sierra, PUC, and Walla Walla. We knew of each other, and we talked sometimes on Facebook,” said Cruz. “But AJ [Jaojoco] thought we should have a network. So he created the name [Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition] and created the group, and [we] ran with it.”

That summer, in 2012, the leaders of each group met for the first time in person and created the network that is now IAGC. They crafted a mission statement, listed goals, and when they returned to their respective institutions, they did so with a network of support spanning several Adventist campuses. Eliel Cruz was selected as president.

In April 2014, Andrews University hosted its first LBGT program, entitled “A Conversation With LGBT Students,” which featured a variety of LBGT speakers. The program included testimonies, a panel question and answer session, and a discussion on how to engage in conversation with LBGT individuals in the Seventh-day Adventist community.

“Our campuses are leading the conversation in the Seventh-day Adventist church because we are having to create a practical approach that the church hasn’t yet provided to the LGBT community” said Cruz.

The program was a success. Over 600 people showed up, filling the room twenty minutes before the event began and extending into three overflow rooms.

“People were sitting on the stairs and standing in the wings to watch,” Cruz said.

While the AU event succeeded, it was also difficult to pull off. As soon as the posters went up advertising “A Conversation with LGBT Students,” people began calling the AU Student Life Department, questioning what was going to happen in the meetings.

“People were very worried,” said Cruz. He confessed that the two weeks leading up to the program were some of the most stressful ever during his involvement in the LGBT conversation. “It took a lot of negotiating and listening; it took a lot of meetings and phone calls.”

Because IAGC is not an officially recognized group, none of their logos were allowed on advertisements or programs.

Today IAGC is expanding. Seven Adventist campuses make up the coalition: Andrews University, Pacific Union College, Southern Adventist University, Union College, Walla Walla University, and Washington Adventist University. Loma Linda University students have expressed an interest in IAGC, but do not meet formally as a group because scheduling difficulties.

Students on three more Adventist campuses are in the process of establishing groups within the IAGC network. IAGC will list those campuses when their groups move out of the planning stage and are officially established.

IAGC chapters meet under varying circumstances. The Andrews University group meets off-campus in someone’s home, while PUC’s GASP meets in a classroom and takes minutes. Though different in that regard, a common mission statement unites the chapters:

“The IAGC is a student-run organization that seeks to bridge the LGBTQ community and the Seventh-day Adventist community within the academic setting. The IAGC seeks to promote understanding, compassion, education, awareness and community for those who wish to integrate their faith with their sexual and gender identities. The members of the IAGC strive to create a community of fellowship that affirms diversity while sowing seeds of love.”

IAGC works to help those within its community. The group claims responsibility for helping one of its members when that individual fell into financial trouble. The group has provided a tuition scholarship for another of its members. When one member sought asylum in the United States, IAGC helped to provide a lawyer.

As the group has grown in membership and scope, so has criticism. IAGC members have been accused of joining the network so they can use it as a dating service. Others worry that the group pushes theology that contradicts Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. “We have people who want to remain celibate and we have people who are in same-sex relationships,” says Cruz. “We don’t promote a certain theology.”

During the summer of 2013 Cruz chose to step down. In his place Southern Adventist University's Jefferson Clark will lead the organization with Daniel Perez from La Sierra University as treasurer and Andrews University student Jonathan Doram as secretary.

Clark begins his work with enthusiasm: “My goal is to first create awareness of the fact that there are actually LGBT students on Seventh-day Adventist university campuses – students who are scared and who are fighting internally for multiple reasons.” He hopes to foster learning about the LGBT community and to foster openness and dialogue.

Clark is careful to point out that IAGC is not affiliated with or sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church or any of its official institutions. The purpose of the coalition is not to change policy or theological belief. His focus is on helping LGBT students find their place on Adventist campuses.

“One of the most important things people need to understand is that there is a big difference between the words ‘acceptance’ and ‘approval,’ especially on such controversial topics. Unfortunately, these two words have become synonyms in the minds of too many people, and I hope to change that.”

Rachel Logan is a writing intern for Spectrum.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6358

(efcee) #2

“One of the most important things people need to understand is that there is a big difference between the words ‘acceptance’ and ‘approval,’ especially on such controversial topics. Unfortunately, these two words have become synonyms in the minds of too many people, and I hope to change that.” - Clark

How true! I believe that this should be a prime directive for the IAGC - to discuss, define, publish and distribute the definition of this difference as a peace initiative for the SDA church. We must be clear on the difference here if we are to treat each other with all due respect.


(Tim Horton) #3

Just questions. If I appear to approve of a persons actions, would it also appear that I approve unless I state otherwise? God loves all mankind but clearly not mankind’s actions, correct?. So, logically, I can safely state that same sex relationships, meaning sexual, and homosexual relationships which basically would have to be same sex relationships, are not accepted by God nor approved of by God so what would be the next indicated step in dealing or not dealing with this abomination?

If a person is actively performing an action that is against the Word of God and has no intention of changing his or her ways, what would be the purpose of he or she continuing any education of God’s Word? Understandably, if the place of education provides courses that one needs for a career or self improvement other than perfecting a relationship with God, would not those same courses be available at non-Christian education facilities for higher learning?

I guess my main question would be shouldn’t we follow what God finds acceptable and approves of and deal with issues in that mindset?

Thanking you in advance, Brother Tim


(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

I believe it is correct that Adventist universities and colleges accept qualified students regardless of their sexual orientation, I also believe they be given the protection of the university as a matter of policy… I believe the line should be drawn upon any attempt at recruitment. I would hope that the best path would be celibacy, as difficult as that must be. The big question is the definition of normal. As senior affirmative action officer of a major academic health Universty, I have had to deal most often with the vindictive behavior of gay faculty against 'straight" colleagues. One case when as far as Federal Court. The university prevailed. but the federal judge warned the aggressor --“I don’t want to see your face in my court again” Tom Z


(Tim Horton) #5

I was going to try and consolidate this statement with the comment on acceptance and approval but I felt it needed to be addressed on its own merit or lack of merit.

Without any doubt, the Great Commission assigned to every Christian is to spread the Gospel to all the world. I think it is admirable that a student has become involved with helping those that are aware of his or her transgressions providing spiritual guidance back to the Lord and His Laws of Love and Liberty. However, if I am reading this correctly, a student has taken on a very delicate situation and had formed an on campus organization focused on helping LGBT students find their place on Adventist Campuses. Again, if I am interpreting this article correctly, this students effort appears to be a larger scale type of movement and looks to show acceptance and approval of other students wanting an education but are engaged in unacceptable moral practices that do not fall within the guidelines or approval of God’s Word.

Clearly this student has taken a positive approach and bringing correctable problems into public view is a great concept but this is a subject that is complicated and I repeat, a sensitive matter, and I question the research and planning to launch such a program or movement without University staff involved. Now, I do not know the structure of this students plan but I would hope that in the plan there are guidelines in place that keeps God in the loop and in now way there is any violations of campus rules or persons privacy.

In this day and age where so much is misunderstood by society and legal actions pop up at the drop of a hat, there really needs to be someone or perhaps several staff overseeing such a movement. Not knowing these students capabilities, I will pray for their success. I think what they have undertaken is wonderful and should have support of the staff and the university, as long as they do not get in over their heads. Unfortunately, there are very large organizations that lay back in wait for situations that provide opportunity to attack the best of intentions. Disclaimers are not a protective shield from adversaries and from a legal standpoint, a students disclaimer does not eliminate or reduce the responsibility or liability of actions that take place on University Campuses. In closing I would like to voice my opinion on people that attempt to integrate their faith with their sexual and gender identities. A persons faith has nothing to do with personal sexual preferences nor gender identity. For the Adventist, and as a Christian I can speak referencing what is required of all Christians according to what Jesus Christ said pertaining to Faith, "If you love Me, you will keep My Commandments. So please be careful, pray a lot and I will be praying for your success as well. God Bless, Brother Tim


(Elaine Nelson) #6

The fear of enticing others, a.k.a. recruiting, has not one iota of evidence.
Has any truly heterosexual person been “recruited” to become homosexual? This is the same unwarranted fear alluded to by some that it equates to pedophilia, even bestiality.

Reminds me of a recent comment about the Catholic cardinals in Rome at the Sistine Chapel discussing the evils of homosexuality: “What have they ever contributed to benefit our world”? Another one answered “Look up at the ceiling.”

As for the student’s forming an association, this is done all the time for various groups in SdA universities. Fear is still the factor and yet can anything be worse than the current attitude toward homosexuality in the church today? The universities of places of education and there’s a lot of education on homosexuality that the church SHOULD have already addressed; but it’s not too late–youth leads the way.


(Andy Blosser) #7

When I first heard about this organization (I am an Andrews student), I questioned its necessity. Now, having become aware of the professors who have attempted to ban known LGBT students from campus, and the generalized bullying that is rife even here at the top progressive SDA university, I have no doubt that this group is doing an immensely important job. It may be decades before Adventism changes its views on the acceptability of same-sex partnerships, but it will one day (after all, Adventism has done a 180 on its assessment of heterosexual sex in marriage over the last century, so why can’t it do the same with homosexual sex?).


(Eliel Cruz) #8

Thanks Andy for the kind words! :slight_smile:


(Kevin Paulson) #9

Any organization that openly accommodates both persons striving for obedience to the Word of God, and those openly choosing to disobey that Word, has no place in the Seventh-day Adventist Church or on any Seventh-day Adventist campus. It is not enough to merely claim you’re not trying to change the church’s theology. The mere fact of seeking to encourage a lifestyle contrary to the church’s theology is sufficient to warrant the exclusion of such a group. Without accountability for one’s choices, theology is little more than a dead letter.


(Elaine Nelson) #10

No one is seeking to encourage a “lifestyle” contrary to the SdA church. Have you been “encouraged” lately to become a homosexual? Please give evidence that any such group has EVER ENCOURAGED anyone to begin being a homosexual. This is absurd and has no evidence to support such assumptions.

BTW: What do you mean by “Lifestyle”? Do you have a lifestyle? Doesn’t everyone have a lifestyle? Confusing lifestyle with one’s sexuality is a misuse of the term.


(Kevin Paulson) #11

Elaine, you don’t do your cause a service by trying to complicate what is really quite simple. We are talking here about same-gender sexual intimacy. No one needs a picture drawn as to what that is. The Bible condemns same-gender sexual intimacy without qualification, in both Old and New Testaments. That is the position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is the sponsor of Southern Adventist University.

No such organization has any place on a Seventh-day Adventist campus, and no student involved with such an organization has any business studying on a Seventh-day Adventist campus.


(Jefferson Clark) #13

Neither IAGC nor any of the GSAs affiliated with it “recruit” members. We founded these student groups out of necessity. Our members joined because they had a desire to do so, whether they needed community and help, or to be educated and to support. Also, as stated in the article, there is no specific push of doctrine or viewpoint, we merely facilitate self-discovery for those who are unsure of their identity - sexually and/or spiritually.


(Kevin Paulson) #14

Jefferson, from all I have read and witnessed, this organization is about more than “community” or “self-discovery.” It is also about the choices one makes within a community and what one does when “self-discovery” moves one way or the other. Any accommodation or legitimizing of same-gender sexual intimacy as a permissible alternative for one choosing to be a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, is out of bounds on any of our denominational campuses, or any of our churches as well.


(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #15

So, Bro. Kevin, are you calling for all the heterosexuals, making up at least 95% of the student body, to be screened about their sexual activities at every group, organization, & class? Should campus security & faculty protect/teach only the celibate ones?

If you’re going to clean up Adventist campuses you have a humongous job before surmising about the tiny proportion of sexually active homosexual students.


(Rohan Charlton) #16

Ha! Yes!.When I spent my 6 months of misery (but secretly kinda happy)at an Adventist campus,Jack Dan. under the bed, playing guitar in my room,reading poetry and listening to black metal, I definitely should have been ‘cleaned up!’. Ahh sweet memories…

In a colorful dynamic world moral issues increasingly take on a shade of gray. I can’t pretend to know the answers,but I can listen…If that’s what these groups are doing, then great.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #17

I know that, I was addressing the large picture and the situation at EMC pre-war and early war year. 1941-43. Also the experience of my graduate students who spent the summer. In S. F. Delivering produce to top of the line hotels and restaurants. Also my experience as a weekend guest at PUC. With their own community the probably is no longer an issue. I had to deal with one incident between X-Ray tech. and a patient in 1975. Tom Z


(Kevin Paulson) #18

No “hopeful,” I am not calling for such screening. Most assuredly not. But a more appropriate parallel would be if heterosexual students started an organization for the purpose of legitimizing and justifying premarital sex. Or if students wishing to exploit the economically disadvantaged started a club for the overtly greedy. Homosexual behavior is no better or worse than any of these, to be sure, but when we deliberately seek to make any sin appear less than sinful, we have strayed into disobedience to God.


(Brian) #19

Could this be the Omega Apostasy? Folks the bottom line Homosexual lifestyle in the end destroys peple the same as divorce, fornicaaion, drugs ns drinking; Why do you think the ble cation aganist getting involved in thes things. College aged kids are stilling expolring and trying to cement thier values. Bssicly hat ththier siful behaviorese LGBT people are trying to do is ti justify thier sinful behavior, I have no problem ithwh them strugguling with thier emotions. Sex used to be a private matter. Now in our politically corrct tell all society. You cant keep silent, no you ave to advertise what you are doing to the world. Just remember God is calling us to come out of Babalyon ad not to accept what the world has to offer but to live for him. I sruggle with sins every day.and ask for forgivnes;s But what is going on here is these people are tring to justfy thier sinful behaviour. If they ant to go to public universities more power to them , but to try tio convince other youth that sinful behavior in Gods sight is alriright is unaccceptable. They are tring to shape the church in thier image and in te end tey ill estroy the church which is already fracturing over many other issues.


(Alisa Williams) #20

Thank you to Eliel and IAGC for the great and much-needed work that this coalition is doing across Adventist campuses. The enthusiasm of the new president is evident in this article, and it will be wonderful to see this group continue to be a safe-haven and refuge for LGBT Adventist youth under this new leadership. Many blessings to you, Jefferson, as you take up this important work!


(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #21

That’s an outrageous comparison which casts unfair & dishonest aspersions on this group.

Huge numbers of heterosexual unmarried students are sexually active without any visible effort to “legitimize & justify” it. Interesting that this isn’t your public focus.