Category Archives: justice

Thanks, Twitter (2013 ed.)—Part 3

This is the third and last Twitter-compilation post for 2013 (Part 1: Seeing the Real | Part 2: Evolving Deliberately).
Changing the World includes tweets on social development, justice, activism, politics, and progress.

3. Changing the World

Long Reads and Research

Representation and Invisibility

Photo of Neil deGrasse Tyson with quote: "The act of arguing and not agreeing seems to be fundamental to the law profession, and Congress is more than half that profession. What profession all these senators in Congress are? Law, law, law, business, law, law... Where are the scientists? Where are the engineers? Where is the rest of life represented here?"

(ht: @SaganSense on Tumblr)

Tyson asked this question on Real Talk with Bill Maher back in 2011; but he was not the first to ask and I suspect no answers will be forthcoming.

Discussing diversity and the relationships between social location, experience, and decision-making perspective seems to be one of the quickest ways to make lots of people uncomfortable. Just last week I read a report on a theological seminar held at a local Adventist university. The writer informed us that there were “about 170 attendees” and that “several [Adventist] General Conference leaders, including representatives from the vice presidential circle, the Biblical Research Institute and the Adventist Review, were present.” I wasn’t sure what meaning to assign this information, so I went back and reviewed the content of the article, the photographs of the room, and the attendee information provided. And then I asked:

Can anyone who was present share how many of the central discussants and conversants were female, non-White, non-American, or under the age of 35? Since the event was hosted by WAU, was it also patronized by WAU students? If so, how engaged were they with the presentations and responses? Did you sense that they felt any ownership of or responsibility for the story Brueggemann and other named speakers wove? (x)

So far my only feedback has been a thumbs down. Perhaps I’m not supposed to ask these questions about a public event held at a university. Perhaps it’s not supposed to matter if speakers and active participants in a theological conversation are all male, and all, apparently, over 40 years old. Perhaps we are still that naive.

Tyson’s question about the composition and disciplinary skew of Congress also applies outside politics. The collective that frames, writes, and presents theology and philosophy shapes the stories religious communities tell about their scriptures, beliefs, purpose, history, and relationship with the world beyond the gate. Its composition isn’t neutral.

Millennials and other young adults are disproportionately exiting or losing confidence in environments that don’t seem to understand that social location and experience shape and limit perspective, that visibility matters, and that invisibility marginalizes. Neither the political realm nor the religious communities can afford to dodge this, not during the election cycle, not in decision-making committees, not in public ministry, and not on college campuses.

Who speaks for the people who aren’t invited to speak? How will the invited audiences hear them? And how will their absence skew the stories told?


In Case You Missed It: Check out and contribute to Tara L. Conley’s Millennial Manifesta. While focused on economic and labor injustices, Conley is also concerned that Millennials have no peers among current members of Congress and no bloc means of insisting on accountability based on their actual interests or needs.

Today, she shared a quote from Carole Pateman’s classic book on participatory democracy (1970). Whereas some ’70s theorists claimed that citizen apathy kept a system stable, and 1980s theorists thought participatory models quaint and “outmoded,” Pateman argued for engaged citizenship. She has evolved beyond the raw populism that was au courant in the 1970s, but continues to advocate for a space beyond deliberation for ordinary citizens in the routine political spaces that affect us all.

The [empirical] findings show that ordinary citizens, given some information and time for discussion in groups of diverse opinions, are quite capable of understanding complex, and sometimes technical, issues and reaching pertinent conclusions about significant public matters. Moreover, they have to justify their reasoning in their reports. These empirical findings provide a valuable counterweight to the poor opinion of ordinary citizens found in much political science, and to the frequently heard view that many, perhaps even most, matters of public policy are best left to, or must be left to, experts.

In case you missed it: the PBS tribute to James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket. (Length: 1:25:12)

What is it you wanted me to reconcile myself to? I was born here, almost 60 years ago. I’m not going to live another 60 years. You always told me ‘It takes time.’ It’s taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brothers’ and my sisters’ time. How much time do you want for your progress? —James Baldwin

I grew up in a home with at least two of Baldwin’s books, each thin republications. On one I remember a line drawing of his face in peach and purple pencil; on the other, a black-and-white photo.

Time Magazine cover -- a life-like painting of James Baldwin looking directly at the reader

James Baldwin | TIME magazine, 1963

I saw them on the shelves, picked them off and looked at them, but never read them. I had no context for him. No one told me stories about him. Oh, they told me that he wrote; they told me what he did. But they never told me about who he was. They didn’t tell me about his life, about his consciousness, about his wholeness, about his many faces, about those faces that looked like mine.

Twenty years pass. I discover the internet and YouTube. The internet includes his articles, and YouTube hosts his interviews. I read and hear and see this young black man with fire in his eyes and piercing clarity in his mind. I see this wrinkled graying sage who never fathered children but fathered many of us nevertheless. I watch him projected from the memories of his friends… Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, Ishmael Reed.

He debates with the United States establishment and presents his thoughts to my parents’ generation of West Indian immigrants to the UK. I eavesdrop on my ancestor, grateful, reverent, wondering what he’d have seen in me, my millennium, this America.

From the Fire Next Time era:

It comes as a great shock around the age of 5 or 6 or 7, to realize that the flag to which you have pledged along with everybody else has not pledged allegiance to you. —James Baldwin

and

I’ve loved a few men, I’ve loved a few women. And a few people have loved me, and that’s, I suppose, all that’s saved my life. —James Baldwin

We are against violence in all forms, and we envision a world of communities that together embrace the diversity of the human family and live justly and peaceably with all creation. —Sarah Thompson, Christian Peacemaker Teams

Alternatives to religious force exist: Christian Peacemaker Teams is one of them and could stand a whole lot more attention and engagement. Read more about this group and their nonviolence work worldwide: Embodying Peace, Transforming Violence: An Interview with Sarah Thompson.

(via Ryan J. Bell)

Storify: Who Is My Neighbor?

Misanthropes and philanthropists enjoy the same sunlight and we’re naturally interdependent with other living and non-living aspects of our ecosystem. Our ecosystem includes human systems too—families, governments, ethnic-cultural groups, religions, and economic models. Even when we have individual preferences about these things, the dominant models in our environment still affect us. Someone who never builds their own family is still affected by communities of families. Someone who drops out of the church loop is still touched by society’s religions. Someone who is “stateless” is still influenced by a matrix of nation-states.

I could refuse to vote when eligible. I could disavow my religion of origin. I could claim emancipation from relatives. But presence means participation; existence means participation. The only question is what kind of participation it will be.

Photo of the Pacific shore in the early evening.

View Who is my Neighbor? | You are my Neighbor on Storify.


FYI: Florida is one of several US states that, following a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, allows for 6-person juries rather than the conventional 12-person panel when the case won’t involve capital sentencing.

And W.E.B.B.I.E’s post flew across Web 2.0 when pop singer Rihanna and others reposted it without attribution.

Who is my neighbor? My neighbor is you.

Orson Scott Card and Art Boycotts

Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card is in the news again hoping the Ender’s Game movie won’t be boycotted. But his call for “tolerance” doesn’t read like a desire for mutual civility. It’s not even a discussion of his views or their merit. He’s all about the money, snarking about others’ right not to pay into his product, and driving the canard that people working against demographic discrimination are oppressive haters who shouldn’t be trusted when the power tables ever turn. The logic: “I can lobby against your marriage and civic standing & that’s not intolerant. But you organizing against my profits—that’s intolerant.”

No. No, no, no.

Card is a private citizen and entitled to his personal and religious beliefs. He’s not providing a public service so he’s under no mandate to offer his work to everyone. He may be hired by whoever wishes to hire him; and no one is obliged to patronize him. This is the essence of market trading: producers aren’t entitled to consumers. Producers earn consumers via product resonance, price, quality, and great experiences, and so smart producers will cultivate their brand to increase resonance and improve their product, its image, and client relationships. This being so, I wonder what the strategy sessions at Summit Entertainment  look like this week!

The Artist’s Outsized Influence

There’s another issue beyond market strategy. As well as being a private producer, Card is also an artist. One doesn’t have to agree with an artist’s politics or endorse their psychology to engage works derived from the artist’s art. Students of literature and music often learn to trace artists’ psychology, politics, and life experiences in their work, and some of us use that assessment to determine what we do and don’t want to consume.

Centuries ago, Shelley wrote that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. I’ve always agreed with this, not just in relation to poets but also re. other artists and cultural creators. Card has an outsized public influence among a range of readers because of his art and the worlds he creates in that art. He’s also developed influence among religious-political lobbyists because of his willingness to speak beyond his art. How does he not grasp that because of his outsized influence he’ll receive outsized praise and scrutiny when members of the public—his audience—affirm or challenge his contributions?

Boycotting as Freedom: The Right to Opt Out

Unlike those harmed by his political lobbying and the climate he contributes to through his writing and speech, Card is not at risk for harm. There’ll be no referendum on his opinions as there’ve been referendums on other citizens’ rights, relationships, and families. Though he, NOM, and his church have promoted diminished civil rights for LGBT people, they are at no risk of diminished rights themselves.

The freedom of expression that Card enjoys as a citizen and an artist has never included freedom from criticism, and anyone may boycott his work if they wish as an expression of their rights. Economic boycotts are native aspects of American politics. They’re not “monstrous” or inherently “intolerant”; they’re an instance of liberty. They are sometimes based on un-reflective groupthink; they often channel consumer ire at local franchises rather than at corporate owners and policy-makers, and so they can be ineffective change-agents—but these are deployment issues, not essential characteristics.

A boycott is a symbol of the right to opt out, the liberty not to buy, the freedom to consume consciously and at will. It’s a tool, not an end, and sometimes it’s warranted.

Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield in Ender's Game | (c) Summit Entertainment  (Lionsgate)

Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield in Ender’s Game | (c) Summit Entertainment (Lionsgate)

I’d like to see Summit Entertainment’s Ender’s Game eventually though I’ve never read Card’s series: I’m a fan of Asa Butterfield and expect him to shine in this role. I also have some empathy for the cast and crew involved in this production: it looks solid and they’re not responsible for the source writer’s work or personality. Orson Scott Card is responsible for that. I don’t yet have any info on how much he will earn from the Summit film; early rumors are that the studio isn’t including him in pre-screening publicity—yet clearly the marginalization approach isn’t helping them and they may need to be more direct about their relationship.

There are lots of other films to see this year; I may save my pennies and watch the film a few months late with a free Redbox code. In the meantime, all the best to people convicted otherwise: buy or boycott as you will.

Round-up: Responses to Exodus Closure

“And away he goes, precious. Gone! Gone! Gone! Smeagol is free!”

Several organizations have responded to last week’s announcement that Florida-based ex-gay/sexual orientation change ministry Exodus International will close.

  • The National Religious Leadership Roundtable includes representatives of Christian affinity and interest groups including the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, the Unity Fellowship Church, the Metropolitan Community Churches, and DignityUSA.
  • Cindi Love is the executive director of Soulforce, a non-profit that sponsors nonviolent student Equality Rides to Christian colleges across the country.
  • Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International is a support and advocacy organization that has served current and former Seventh-day Adventists for nearly 40 years. It formed in California in 1976, the same year that Exodus International incorporated in Orlando.

Individuals have shared some powerful responses in the last week as well:

  • Sean Sala is a US veteran who participated in Lisa Ling’s special God and Gays last Thursday.  
  • Shay Kearns is an Old Catholic Church priest who grew up in churches that promoted Exodus International’s change dogma as the solution for non-heterosexuality and “deviant” gender expression.
  • Rachel Held Evans is a Christian writer whose blog community responded to the Exodus announcement by sharing their experiences with Exodus and other ex-gay organizations.
  • Brent Walsh is a minister in Indiana who educates congregations on gender and trans awareness. He describes the deep impacts of Exodus’ residential program Love In Action on his life.
  • Jane Brazell is a member of an online group of ex-gay survivors and is based in Washington state.

On May 28 this year, Exodus International quietly withdrew from the Exodus Global Alliance, a confederation from ex-gay groups (the Florida nonprofit only reported this on June 12). Exodus Global has branches in Asia, the Pacific, Central and South America, and Africa, all regions where anti-LGBT sentiment has particularly violent legal and social consequences for LGBT people and their families. On June 21, the Exodus Global Alliance dissociated itself from Alan Chambers’ apology issued on Exodus International’s behalf, and pledged to continue and promote reparative “ministry” and orientation suppression.

Exodus International may now be defunct, but its legacy continues.

The Exodus of Exodus International

Earlier this month, I wrote about the Seventh-day Adventist church’s early history with the sexual orientation change effort industry (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Quest Learning Center and Homosexuals Anonymous both formed during the same era as Exodus International, a sprawling evangelical organization that taught LGBT people, their families, and their churches that “change is possible.” SOCE groups like these continue today despite advances in science and psychology, law, theology, and social acceptance, and not all of them have responded to these advances by becoming kinder, gentler, or more accurate about their claims.

Exodus "True Story" graphic from their conference website.Exodus itself, however, held its final conference this week. Yesterday its director Alan Chambers apologized to the LGBT community and their parents. He also announced that Exodus International will close and a new ministry will emerge in its place. The website for the new ministry is not yet live and I see no substantive information about it anywhere yet. Even if Reduce Fear’s work with churches is conciliatory, based on Chambers’ comments in his apology yesterday, I expect the new ministry to maintain his core beliefs that LGBT sexuality is morally deficient and that unconditional LGBT acceptance contradicts Christianity.

I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.

…I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives…I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself. —Alan Chambers

Last night I scanned Twitter to get a sense of the reactions to Chambers’ apology and have discussed it briefly with friends. While some from the LGBT-hostile quadrant of the church immediately raised the “gay agenda” specter or smeared Exodus as “sellouts”, the majority of early comments ranged from cautious surprise to outright celebration. I didn’t see much anger or cutting cynicism from LGBT-supportive people—though it may be much too soon to expect people to have passed all the way through the grief/loss process. Questions about and closer readings of Chamber’s statements are now trickling out and SDA Kinship will be sharing some of these responses to Exodus’ closure from their Twitter feed today.

I looked at Exodus’ closure statement myself, and this paragraph jumped out at me:

Chambers continued: “From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.”

Return of the Prodigal Son (Murillo,

Return of the Prodigal Son, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1667-1670) | via the Web Gallery of Art

For most Western evangelicals, Chambers’ claim that “we’re all prodigal sons and daughters” will be uncontroversial. The majority of the evangelical community’s doctrines assume that humans are sin-depraved and experience separation from God if not in conscious relationship with Christ. The parable of the lost boy, a story of grace and embrace in family despite error and failure, is an old cultural favorite. So when Chambers identifies Exodus as that “elder brother,” this rings true for many of those harmed by SOCE organizations, and I can only imagine how difficult it has been for him to acknowledge that role.

But the final turn—from being the older brother to “being the Father”—does not fit. I know that as an evangelical, Chambers does not believe in apotheosis. So “LGBT or not, we’re all God’s children; this is our created and redeemed nature; and our lives will be about being or becoming more like God” cannot be what he means here.

In the bible story, the younger brother returns his father planning to play the servant. His father rejects that effort and claims him as the son he is: this is part of his restoration: that he be the son he is. The older brother resents his brother and their father’s open-armed reception of him, and the story closes with the older brother still outside the party, not yet accepting or extending family grace. I’ve often rewritten this ending in my head, supplying an addendum in which the brother crosses the threshold quietly to thaw over fruit punch. My epilogue reads something like “It took time, but both brothers healed. Realizing what their father had been trying to teach them, the brothers worked on their relationship and the family home became known as a house of love.”

Wouldn’t that the best resolution? That the older brother re-enter the party as a brother, not an overlord? That he restore his relationship, not craft a new superior or inferior one for himself, nor impose a false superior or inferior role on his younger sibling?

So why does Alan Chambers represent Exodus’ role changing from brother and peer to “being God”? If Exodus has already lorded over LGBT people for more than 30 years, why, even now, isn’t it enough to simply be equal? The hardest thing for beneficiaries of artificial hierarchies may be to lay their status down and stop grasping for new and improved ways to pick it back up. For those trodden by hierarchies, the hardest thing may be to shed  temptations to inferiority or counter-supremacy, and to accept that we too are our Father’s children.

Should Chambers choose this path, with others who abandoned him long ago because he wasn’t harsh or separatist enough for them, he and they’ll find me by the fruit punch. I promise to save them a cup.

Filling In the Gaps: Sexuality and the Seventh-day Adventist Church III

In Part 1 of this series, I reflected on the Seventh-day Adventist denomination’s influence on the sexual orientation change effort (SOCE) movement since the 1970s and its lobbying against civil initiatives for LGBT people to the present day. Then, in Part 2, I suggested that the limits of our church “mother” can inspire us to grow, that this growth is part of our ethical and moral maturity process, and that extending the conversation about sexuality and gender beyond what the denomination has offered to date is an important way for us to care for ourselves while caring for the community that shaped us.

I would like to make it clear… that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction. The moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.” —J.K. Rowling at Harvard, 2008

Part of my process growing into adulthood has been acknowledging my responsibility. I don’t assume responsibility for the premises and limits that others taught me, but I do assume it for how I frame gifts as I become conscious of them, and how I write them into the life and experiences I share with others. As Rowling told Harvard’s Class of 2008, there’s an expiry date on blaming one’s parents, so if there ever was a time when I might have considered blaming my family, church, or cultures for what they passed down to me, that time has long gone. I accept responsibility for my life.

Photo of South London landscape, 30 St. Mary Axe in centerI grew up as the last child of Jamaican parents in the United Kingdom during the 1980s and 1990s. While most of the events described in Part 1 were unfolding in the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, I was 3,600 miles away in a part of the Adventist community that included Caribbean immigrants, West African immigrants, a smattering of Filipinos, and a small minority of White English and native European people in congregations outside of London.

My 500-member congregation had a very strong lay leadership tradition, and during the early 1990s my mother was one of four women called to the role of elder. From these and other lay leaders before and after my baptism, I learned a great deal about how to teach, share, and support an active congregation. I learned how, under the church’s wings and the wings of my Caribbean immigrant network, to live distinctly from the wider society: we were trained to be Daniels who lived impeccably in both friendly and hostile circumstances, dared to vary from our peers if the cause was honorable, and never brought embarrassment to our faith or Afro-Caribbean culture.

Despite that training, I don’t recall learning how to examine myself as an individual, to situate myself in my several communities and negotiate their competing claims on me. I don’t recall seeing my full reflection in the faces of the elders who surrounded me: I saw partial reflections in this speaker, that artist, this teacher, but never felt wholly mirrored. I knew that I was a member of my immediate family and community family; I didn’t fear being abandoned by them. I saw that I was loved by each of these circles (if not understood) and that my community’s achievement expectations for me were high (they still are!). I thrived academically and otherwise, but did so while not fully recognizing myself in the lives or experiences of any one I knew.

Photo of the hills, Manchester, JamaicaI was about 17 years old and studying at an Adventist college in Jamaica before I met someone who knew he was gay. We became close friends, siblings-but-not-by-blood, and yet our closeness didn’t include his identity or relationships until five years later. We spent our time discussing culture, politics, regional differences, spirituality; we talked in generalities about attractive people and the life lessons we were learning. But in our first five years as friends it never occurred to me to inquire about his orientation or relational life. He didn’t inquire much about mine—and there was little to tell. As much of my own sexuality was still in shadow, I did not see his; I just didn’t ask.

I know now that at least two boys from my English high school were gay; while we were schoolmates, their bullies had tormented them for not being athletic or “manly” enough. But at the time I never made the leap from their gender expression to their sexuality, and I don’t know when they made that connection for themselves. I have no comparable stories about English or Caribbean women to share.

Like many Adventist youth, I’d received the Ellen White compilation Messages to Young People as a baptismal gift and read it; I’d also been given John F. Knight’s books for teenagers, What a Young Woman Should Know About Sex and What a Young Man Should Know About Sex. These church-approved sources were supplemented by classes at school and my parents’ direct contributions at home. My mother and father, a registered nurse and social worker respectively, may not have been comfortable with all of my questions, but they usually responded by being frank and clear, dismissing baseless myths and scare stories, and suggesting that we research what we didn’t know. I’ve kept this model as an adult: it still helps me to fill in the gaps I’ve discovered along the way.

I cannot explain why, despite the parents, books, and cultural and congregational influences that I had, I still came into my 20s with no hook to hang my growing awareness of myself on. Yet that is how I found myself in 2008—hook-less—and so I began to build from scratch. I spent the next 4 years studying classic materials and contemporary research on Christian history and theology, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, working with credentialed counselors, and rebuilding my inner relationship circle. It was an amazing period—equal parts insight and horror, with much of the latter channeling through some of my religious relatives and my denomination. I do not blame them for the role they played during those years. I also had many angels, guardians, and friends, and was not alone.

On this side of the process, though, I sometimes imagine the SDA community being so committed to realism about sex, gender, and relationships that our scholars led the wider Church’s conversation. It saddens me when I see us trailing the rest of the Church with groundless 20-year-old talking points, or expelling leaders for being current or compassionate. It’s possible I’d be writing a different story today if my imaginary denomination were real.

At the same time, I’ve met hundreds of LGBT Adventists in the last several years, all shaped by the sources I’ve mentioned or others similar to them. Some of these people were caught up in Quest Learning Center and survived to share their stories. Others passed through other orientation change ministries and are grateful today to have made it out alive. Perhaps it’s been to our collective benefit that our church hasn’t led the pack: as things stand, the teaching we’ve received has tended toward suppression, occlusion, fear, and the dysfunctions that naturally flow from them. More of that is not what we’ve needed. By filling in the gaps beyond the church, we’ve instead worked to build personal and collective awareness that this life is an opportunity to develop loyalty, joy, care, pleasure, faithfulness, patience, understanding, and love.

Close-up photo of broad green leaves in sunlight.Rowling’s metaphor for adult living is “taking the wheel,” but I’ve experienced it as something less mechanical and fraught than highway driving can be. For me, shaping an adult life is more like tending a garden, noting how seeds and plants grow, which kinds of nurture and resources they need, how good they are as neighbors to other plants, what outcomes they produce, and how each plant is its own kind of beautiful. It’s about development and learning in place, harvesting and stopping to smell the flowers; sometimes, too, it’s about sneezing from the pollen and uprooting plants that don’t fit. I’m still in the midst of the tending process as I write this article, and I expect to keep tending and enjoying this garden for the rest of my life.

Caring for Our Mother: Sexuality and the Seventh-day Adventist Church II

In Part 1 of this series, I described the Seventh-day Adventist church’s approach to sexuality as a “spell” that dissociates members from themselves, confines them to different-sex relationships or self-suppression, and encourages them to lobby against civil laws for LGBT people in North America and internationally as well. [1] With a handful of doctrinal premises, a few has controlled the many.

But this isn’t the only part of the story that I want to tell. One of John J. McNeill’s contributions to my thinking is the idea that it is psychologically critical for a child to come to terms with his or her parents’ limits—and this acceptance must apply to our religions of origin as well as to our biological families of origin. According to McNeill, our Church Mother also merits our recognition and acceptance; she too reaches the outer bounds of her capacity as we grow; she too fails us and not always out of conscious malice. Her efforts have caused us objective harm, but as we mature, we have opportunities to care for her regardless of what she has said and done. The last few generations of LGBT children have lived out this model vividly: an increasing population of declining parents looks to these far-from-the-tree children for their elder care, and most of us are providing it.

I wrote that the Adventist church administration withdrew from healthful and helpful service to its gay members after its first official meeting with SDA Kinship a few years before I was born. This may have been the worst possible choice for the church and yet it was probably the best outcome for LGBT Adventists. By abandoning the LGBT community during decades that involved deep, significant changes in psychology, medicine, church history, theology, public health, and public law, the church forced LGBT people and the heterosexual Adventists around them to go beyond the church’s borders for fact-based insight, the latest research, thoughtful biblical interpretation, principled exegesis and application, and practical policy and pastoral guidance for homes, schools, and congregations.

I view the church’s treatment of non-hetero sexuality as a more extreme edition of its approach to human sexuality overall. But as McNeill has written, the failures of our church mother can spur us to grow up. Without coming to the outer limits of her capacity, we might never have learned to seek, to engage reality directly and without using her as mediatrix for our unfolding understanding of ourselves or our callings. In growing up, we develop moral sensibilities and ethical agency. And we can choose how to apply what we’ve come to know in our relationships with other people and those institutions that shaped us.

Green things grow.

Green things grow.

It is now 2013. SDA Kinship will host its 34th international meeting this year. I am 30. And the Seventh-day Adventist church is still a full two years away from reporting on “alternative sexuality practices”—a remit that, at best, represents a gross misapprehension of the science of orientation and gender and frames human variation in terms of misbehavior. The committee conducting that study was announced at the 2010 General Conference session and is due to produce its report in the next two years. Without any information on this committee’s membership beyond its chairman, and with its only preliminary contribution a doubling down on the church’s 1996 statements, I can’t vouch for the value of its outcomes or its relevance to my generation or the younger people who follow us and wish to remain a part of the church. [2]

Would my denomination ever dare to call Blackness an “alternative ethnicity”? I’d hope not. Yet some of its most vocal speakers and authors over the years have framed European and White American worship styles and music customs as the norm from which other cultures vary at their spiritual peril: ethnocentrism is an old art. Even if current membership trends continue and South American, African, and Asian divisions move to the center of the institutional wheel, their centering after years of marginalization will still fall far short of “unity in diversity” or any other model of organic collective flourishing. Imbalanced relationships among constituents undermine the grounded, healthy development of any group deemed an aberration rather than a variation. The church’s heterosexism has long produced these outcomes.

Cartoon of animals—monkeys, elephants, and others—being tested on their ability to climb a tree.

It doesn’t matter to me which of us get to live at the center of the wheel if some of us are relegated to the outer ring. I don’t believe the Incarnational Kingdom of God is about inner and outer rings, and, unlike the orientation change ministries I described in Part I, I don’t hold a theology of sexuality based on separation from our Creator and Source, regard a hetero orientation as the inverse of others, or represent LGBT people as “heterosexual people with a homosexual struggle.” That is not what they are.

Yet I believe it’s important for the General Conference’s committee to complete its work and report on sexual and gender minorities 35 years after ministers first recommended the study.

Even if

  • the church has preemptively described orientations other than heterosexuality as “a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world;”
  • a number of church members and LGBT people have already plugged out of this conversation because it does not reflect the realities of gender, intersexuality, or orientation;
  • the committee intends to represent heterosexuals as normative and all others as deviant;
  • by 2015 we’ll still have no rounded theology of relationship, creativity, commitment, or celibacy, and still lack a model for organizational and spiritual vocations that evaluate members based on gifts rather than gender or marital status; and
  • no LGBT Adventist has been invited to join the General Conference’s committee in studying the Bible, Adventist tradition, or current knowledge about the LGBT community

—it is still important that the church administration continue its process.

The next generation of Adventists deserves the best its denomination can offer, not as the end of conversation but as the start of it. The church’s contributions in the next few years will influence the climate in which youth grow and adults endeavor to shepherd them: even as our societies change, the church’s statements, retractions, explanations, and pronouncements will continue to matter.

Unwillingness to discuss openly is devastating: silence and shadows never saved a soul. So the 2015 study is important for the health of my church and its members. I have wondered whether it’s even more important that pastors, teachers, counselors, parents, and friends continue their personal learning and dialogue, though they’ve explored their questions so far with very limited support and in some cases active resistance. As Protestants, we have no Magisterium, and we also share with the various Catholic and Orthodox traditions a reverence for discernment and conscience. Neither discernment nor conscience is based on stubbornly abdicating continuous learning.

So, whatever the church’s judgments in 2 years, everyone in the wider Adventist community has opportunities to co-learn today. Some church members and former members are returning to this common learning table thanks to their relationships with LGBT people and to the documentary Seventh-Gay Adventists (SGA), which has screened in small groups since February 2012.

Poster for Seventh-Gay Adventists (2012)The movie does not pretend to see or tell all; it is situated in particulars and as such it has limitations (I’ve  discussed my thoughts with the director personally so am not writing out of turn). SGA‘s focus on couples, gay and lesbian individuals, and the lives of people resident in North America means that the Adventist community has yet to hear from unmarried, bisexual, intersex, or transgender people, and we’ve not heard the range of experiences that LGBTI Adventists have outside the United States or Canada, sometimes supported by their ministers and sometimes publicly demonized by them.

Despite these limits, SGA doesn’t seek to end the conversation: it is an extremely charitable contribution to a relationship that needs more charity, and it has resonated with people from all sides of the table. I know the filmmakers hope that others will tell their own stories just as Jill and Sherri, Marcos and Obed, and David and Colin told theirs. The isolation of the status quo isn’t good enough for any of us, and our church, our “Mother,” will benefit from learning with us.

“Homosexual people eagerly wanting to live the Christian faith, could they do it in their specificity, not in isolation or [outside the law], but also in the shared wealth of the ecclesial community? Would it not be desirable that these brothers and sisters in Christ are respected and accepted as people with an infinite value in God’s eyes?

… No one can be forced into belief and response.” —Ethics Committee of the Franco-Belgian Union of Seventh-day Adventists, March 2013

In the third and final part of this series, I will share how this context has shaped my life and relationship with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.


[1] Sample lobbying in North America: VermontCanada, California [AB 1976 & Proposition 8], Maryland, and Washington state; sample international SDA lobbying: the Netherlands, KenyaUganda, and England. Additional links were shared in Part 1 of this series.

[2] Shortly after this article was first published on June 5, I received a copy of the committee’s appointed membership. The 50-member group is dominated by General Conference and world division church administrators, and includes only 1 woman.