This past weekend my church, the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church, hosted the current pariah of Adventist circles, none other than Pacific Union College’s Jonathan Henderson. In case you have been under a rock for the last few weeks, Jonathan presented a sermon for PUC’s Fall Revival entitled "Adam and Steve."
The sermon caused, of course, a great stir in the Adventist blogsphere. There were those who found his sermon to be a call for compassion toward the LGBTIQ community and nothing more. There were others who heard a call for total inclusion of the community and absolute surrender of Adventist standards. I count myself as part of the former group and not the latter.
Jonathan had been scheduled to speak for our Young Adult Festival of Praise many months before his sermon at PUC. His topic for our program was The Great Controversy. As a result of the firestorm his comments generated there were a number of people who strongly expressed a desire that we rescind our invitation to Jonathan to speak. The reason given was that if we allow him to speak here we would be endorsing his perceived endorsement of homosexuality.
After thoughtful consideration of the content of his message in consultation with my pastoral staff and discussion with my church board we decided it was consistent with our core values to leave the invitation on the table for Jonathan to speak. We have always sought to be a Fellowship of Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. We haven’t always met this objective, however, that doesn’t preclude us from taking the journey.
My personal support for bringing Jonathan here was for the following reason had multiple reasons. 1) He is a gifted speaker. We need to have the very best speakers before our people who can clearly proclaim the Gospel in a language and manner that everyday people resonate with. 2) I think that our people are mature enough to be able to decide for themselves on some of the pressing issues of the day and are not going to just blindly follow someone just because they gave a sermon on a subject four states and 1,700 miles away. 3) In regard to his sermon it is my belief that as we seek to minister to a broad assortment of people that we are going to have times when people say things that we personally or collectively may disagree with and when that happens we need not resort to cloture.
As a pastor I have on multiple occasions counseled with homosexuals and their parents and have observed the deep pain and anguish of these folks first hand. Much of the pain they have felt has been a result of the great sense of rejection and judgment they perceive from the church. I personally do not desire to add one more burden to people who are already suffering.
I have a sermon that addresses some of the issues Jonathan raised but mine is entitled “Where are the Whores and Perverts?"* The title is intentionally inflammatory. I chose those words because I believe they reflect the pejorative nature of the charge the Pharisees frequently leveled against Jesus when they spoke about his close association with “Sinners.” When they used that term they were using their equivalent of the slurs I include in my title.
Regardless of what your beliefs are about homosexuals or any other marginalized group everyone needs to hear the message of a soon returning Savior. Christ told us that when he was lifted up He would draw all to Him. We need to lift up Christ and not focus on tearing people down.
When relating to people who seem to be resistant to the Gospel I try to take the counsel of Ellen White in the book Life Sketches of James and Ellen White. She says:
But if your companions and children will not come, if you cannot win them to yield to the claims of truth, make their lives here as pleasant as possible; for all they ever will enjoy will be this poor world. But let not your duty to them interfere with your duty to God. Pursue a straightforward course. Let nothing they may do or say provoke an angry word from you. You have a hope that will yield you consolation amid the disappointments and trials of life. Your companions and children who will not be induced to tread the narrow, cross-bearing pathway with you, have not this divine consolation. They should have your pity, for this world is all the heaven they will have.”1
Our churches should be overflowing with "whores," "adulterers," and "perverts" of all sorts. Because we should be overflowing with the love of Christ in our conduct, sermons, small groups, community services, Pathfinders, Sabbath Schools and everything that we do.
If we are faithful to this then Holy Spirit will have the room to work with people and bring about the transformation that is promised throughout the Scriptures. If we persist in being hateful, condemning people, then we will ensure our slide into death as a movement.
Jonathan was successful in lifting up Christ in the context of The Great Controversy and the amazing thing is that the world did not end because we allowed him to speak. We will still provide food for a couple of hundred people this week through our Revive Community Care. Our small groups will continue to meet and nurture one another. And we will still strive to be a Fellowship of Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. We just need more "whores" and "perverts" in our ranks.
*The sermon title has been edited slightly over concerns of an offensively derogatory slur in the original title.
1Life Sketches of James White and Ellen G. White (Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1888), 335.
P. Kevin Wells is the Senior Pastor of the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church in Arlington, Texas and a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy of Religion from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute.
Image: Younger Generation at the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6405