On March 21, Alvin Maragh began his presentation as a guest speaker for Asian Heritage weekend. On Friday night he delivered a message in which he spoke about homosexuality, homosexual marriage, and homosexual Adventists/people. As part of his presentation to Asian Club vespers, Maragh asserted that gay marriage and Sunday blue laws are Satan's "twin institutions." Because gay marriage is becoming more widespread, laws about Sunday worship are soon to follow, he argued.
A few days later, I decided to make a public response to what I felt was a poorly developed sermon. I made two signs (pictured above), and went to the cafeteria during the busy lunch hour to proclaim my messages. I confess I pursued shock value, and it mostly worked; several students noticed me and engaged me in dialogue. I felt satisfied with the conversations I had, but I realized that my picture on the Southern Accent, the campus student newspaper, had all the shock I had been hoping for without any of the explanation I had provided in person.
A couple of disclaimers before I proceed: my reaction is to the sermon (which I heard retroactively on audioverse.org because I was not there), not to a speaker or club or school. I affirm the ministerial calling upon brother Alvin and believe the Lord is using him. Moreover, as a conservative Adventist, I had no qualms with the message’s conclusions. Jesus is the goal of prophecy, I agree that there is a need for the plain preaching of the Bible, and I do believe Scripture condemns same-sex intercourse. However, good conclusions do not justify a poor delivery, and I believe that message was poorly developed and delivered.
I will highlight two key problems I heard in the message: 1) a poor exposition of the Bible and Ellen White, and 2) a hurtful handling of an already oppressed and marginalized group.
Some students were very happy with the message’s “straightforwardness,” but as I listened, I found the sermon’s straightforwardness to be weakly supported. The logic was this: Ellen White says that the Sabbath and marriage are twin institutions created for the benefit of man (Adventist Home 340.4). As twins, they were born in sequence and in proximity during Creation. According to Maragh, the satanic counterfeit to heterosexual marriage is homosexual marriage, which he argued is gaining massive popularity. This can only mean that the Sunday blue laws are soon approaching because if God’s twins were born in proximity, then so too will Satan’s.
An attendee at the Vespers service posted this photo on Twitter.
While hearing his premises, I realized that the entire argument was built off rhetoric. It sounded persuasive, it sounded biblical, and it played upon Adventist values, but there was no substance. The Ellen White quote was mishandled by making the word “twin” refer to things that it doesn’t in its context. Creation order is cited, but where is the Biblical support for the claims that homosexual marriage is the satanic counterfeit — comparable to Sunday blue laws? Or that its popularity would be an indication of soon-coming Sunday laws? Homosexual marriage is not listed in Matthew 24, Revelation, 1 Timothy 4, 2 Timothy 3, and even when Jesus cites the days of Lot as a pattern for the end times, He does not specifically refer to it; her refers to other indulgences like eating, drinking, and marrying, but not homosexual activites.
The message sounded persuasive, but when I analyzed the claims, they looked like conjectures. The message mishandled Scripture, mishandled Ellen White, and made homosexuality a chief scapegoat when the Bible never does.
The second problem: a hurtful handling of an already oppressed and marginalized group. I’m going to be honest. The message’s language sounded misinformed at times, and even simply inflammatory. I have been part of hit-and-run ministries and can understand the logic behind: let-me-come-and-deliver-a-strong-message-to-the-backslidden-youth. However, being on the receiving side of that ministry, I now realize some topics are better treated by ministers who have community with the audience and can offer time to deal with repercussions. Homosexuality is one of those complex topics. Research shows that young LGBTQs grow up feeling marginalized and hated, and Christian LGBTQs — particularly those from conservative traditions — experience great self-hatred and depression. There’s a reason why the suicide rate of Christian LGBTQs is twice as high as that of those who are non-Christian.
Therefore, to hear a message that didn’t acknowledge the complexity of the LGBTQ community, that forced unscientific claims (i.e. you can’t be born gay), that did not communicate safety, and that made sweeping statements in regards to the LGBTQ community was frustrating because it obviously mistreated a hurting community. Messages of that variety do more damage than good. Moreover, it does not follow the example of Jesus’ ministry. I know there is a time for strong exhortations, but Jesus also said that ministers would do better in killing themselves than to cause a little one (weak in faith/hurting) to stumble, (Matthew 18:6) and elsewhere, I read that ministers should consider the emotional conditions of their audience when they present light (Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing 134-6).
I argue that today’s ministers should relate to the LGBTQ community in the way that Jesus related to the oppressed and marginalized groups (Samaritans, women) of His time: with scandalous grace and savvy tactfulness. Yes, preach repentance, but do not for a moment entertain a tone that communicates lack of information, hostility, or unkindness. As Elaine Oliver said at the Cape Town Summit: In God’s Image: Scriptures, Sexuality, and Society, “Finding a better response than 'hate the sin but love the sinner' will be the first step towards ministering to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.” I will be the first to admit that this is a challenging appeal, but it is an appeal that I believe must be embraced by my fellow ministers.
I invite us all, whether “liberal” or “conservative,” to be careful listeners; test everything and hold on to the good, and keep speakers accountable. I invite preachers to be faithful expositors and to show the wisdom of serpents and gentleness of doves. And in everything we do, let us lift up our Lord for it is written, “When I will be lifted up, I will gather all” (John 12:32).
Author’s note: A version of this article ran on my Southern freshman blog page on March 31. This article is the response of a concerned student and in no way seeks to speak on behalf of Southern Adventist University.
Bryant Rodriguez is a freshman theology student at Southern Adventist University and adapted this piece for Spectrum.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5912