I love the Adventist church. I honestly feel the Adventist church holds the most Truth at this moment in our history. One of the things that has helped us get to this point has been the way we intelligently analyze scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit, through the lens of history and culture. Understanding that God’s instruction, and Christ’s interactions, don’t live in a vacuum, we attempt to understand the message as it was being given, extract the spiritual message, and apply it to our daily lives. Thus, things like the prohibition against unclean foods lose its law-based ritualistic imperative, and gain a tradition-based application symbolic of our bodies being a temple for the Spirit.
There are two cases, however, where the Adventist church completely, and arrogantly, drops the ball with this historical-cultural method of interpreting scripture: Homosexuality, and the role of Women.
I knew very early that I was gay. This did not fill me with dread or self-loathing, however, because my family was rather gay-friendly; my Uncle was gay, and I credit him for “breaking in” my family, making it much easier for me to feel okay with myself. I have always been deeply religious, in general, and strongly Adventist, specifically. As I grew older and began to understand the oil-and-water relationship between Religion and Homosexuality, I came to a conclusion which has become quite popular with more mainstream churches wanting to put on a gay-sympathetic façade: I had no control over how I was born, but I could control how I acted – The sin isn’t in being homosexual, but in the homosexual acts themselves. Sound familiar? I was perfectly okay with this arrangement growing up. All through High School, I was just fine – when questioned by my religious friends, my stock example was, “It’s not my fault if I’m born to a coven of witches, but that doesn’t mean I have to practice witchcraft.” This always brought smiles, nods, and enthusiastic pats on the back.
Things changed once I entered college, and people started seriously challenging my position on the matter. I was painfully aware I didn’t have the scriptural knowledge to back me up, so I decided to take some time, one summer, to dive into the issue and get some biblical support under my belt. This is a key point: I went into this with the notion I was correct, and was simply finding the support I knew was already there.
As I have always done before doing any kind of bible study, I prayed for guidance and support, and for the Spirit to guide me to truth. By the end of my research and study, I was a changed person. This is when I began to understand the errors of the Adventist church on this topic; that they willfully detour from their traditional methods of biblical study when talking on this subject, and choose, instead, the evangelical mainstream God-spoke-in-King-James-English method of direct application.
There is, of course, a lot of religious anti-gay literature that uses lots and lots of biblical quotes to support their position. There are, also, a lot of pro-gay literature that debunks all of those biblical quotes, and attempts to make it seem like there’s never been anything wrong with it. What moved me the most, however, was an article written by one Walter Wink. His “Biblical Perspectives on Homosexuality” and “Homosexuality and the Bible” do point out errors in the anti-gay rhetoric, but it also admits that yes, in fact, there is clear language, no matter the translation, condemning male-on-male sexual encounters. “But so what,” I paraphrase, “there are plenty of sex-things the bible wags its finger at which we allow today; and, conversely, that the bible allows, but we wag our finger at today.”
For example, virtually all modern readers would agree with the Bible in rejecting: incest, rape, adultery, and intercourse with animals.
But we disagree with the Bible on most other sexual mores. The Bible condemned the following behaviors which we generally allow: intercourse during menstruation, celibacy, exogamy (marriage with non-Jews), naming sexual organs, nudity (under certain conditions), masturbation (some Christians still condemn this), birth control (some Christians still forbid this). And the Bible regarded semen and menstrual blood as unclean, which most of us do not.
Likewise, the Bible permitted behaviors that we today condemn: prostitution, polygamy, levirate marriage, sex with slaves, concubinage, treatment of women as property, and very early marriage (for the girl, age 11-13). And while the Old Testament accepted divorce, Jesus forbade it.
In short, of the sexual mores mentioned here, we only agree with the Bible on four of them, and disagree with it on sixteen!
This is when I began to see the error of the traditional Adventist stance – they were ignoring, for this particular issue, the spirit of what was being taught, and focused instead on the words. I attribute this to the very subconscious fear of emasculation that most men feel; and since they’re the ones with the power, they have controlled the dominant cultural stigma against homosexuals: “you make me feel uncomfortable, therefore you must be evil.”
Growing up in the Adventist church, I have seen everything from extreme bigots attempting to quite literally evict me out of town (while I attended SVA), to companionate and unconditional acceptance (granted, it was the Music Department at CUC, so I guess that’s kind of falling into the stereotype… hahahaha). The most heartbreaking experience for me (other than New Market waving pitchforks and torches at my door) was when I found a very small Adventist congregation in Waldorf, MD. They were super friendly, and welcomed me with open arms. I’ve never been one to deny or actively hide my sexuality, but I also don’t go around actively trying to make people feel uncomfortable either; I try to be sensitive to my surroundings, and act accordingly, so I’m not sure exactly how they ended up finding out I was gay. They had, however, and one Sabbath the tone and feel of the church was the polar opposite of how it had been the week before: no one talked to me, no one sat in the same pew as me, and the sermon was old-school fire and brimstone gays are going to hell. The subtlety was not lost on me. Nor was mine on them. I slammed my bible shut, the thud echoing in the small stone sanctuary, and I stood up and walked out. I never went back, and they never inquired after me (a stark reversal from when I was sick one week and got no fewer than a dozen members and even the head pastor checking in on me to make sure I was okay). They made it clear I was not welcome, and that my very nature was an affront to their sensibilities as Adventists.
This whole thing is so perplexing to me. How can we, as a church who prides themselves on our ability to hold the Truth, so willfully turn a blind eye to an issue that is so clearly a cultural misunderstanding? I am neither a temple prostitute, nor heterosexual acting against my nature. So… why are you harassing me?
It gets better though. Seriously... it really does:
It Gets Better (for Adventists too) - Extended Version from Stephen Eyer on Vimeo.
Some sites for consideration:
Homosexuality and the Bible and Biblical Perspectives on Homosexuality, by Walter Wink - Professor of Biblical Interpretation, Auburn Theological Seminary, New York City
The Bible and Homosexual Behavior, SDA Kinship International