Guest post via Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International
During its spring meeting tomorrow, the General Conference Executive Committee will consider newly proposed “guidelines” to exclude LGBTI people from membership in local congregations, Spectrum Magazine reports. (The Spectrum comment section is now thick and over 130 responses long; we don’t recommend you trawl through it.)
The document before the Executive Committee states:
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church will encourage all its congregations, employees, ministry leaders, organizations, and entities to uphold church teachings and faith-based practices in Church membership, employment, education, and marriage ceremonies, including officiating at weddings. These teachings and faith-based practices, built upon the Bible’s instructions about human sexuality, are equally applicable to heterosexual and homosexual relationships. It is inconsistent with the Church’s understanding of scriptural teaching to admit into or maintain in membership persons practicing sexual behaviors incompatible with biblical teachings. Neither is it acceptable for Adventist pastors or churches to provide wedding services or facilities for same-sex couples.” (emphasis supplied)
These guidelines were not discussed at the LGBTI-exclusive Cape Town summit on gender and sexuality last month, and though the GC never officially responded to our letter, we were assured no policy action would take place. Every other agenda item for this week’s Executive Committee meeting has passed through a church committee, but it’s not clear which committees reviewed these guidelines before this week. It’s also uncertain who wrote the guidelines, what their goals and intentions are, or why this exclusionary policy is being sent to the denominational executive now.
Who is the Executive Committee?
The Executive Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists includes the GC president, his assistant, the secretary, the treasurer, the general vice presidents, the world division presidents, and senior headquarters staff. They meet twice a year, and the fall meeting, scheduled each October and better known as Annual Council, usually includes all senior international church leaders. The 2-day Spring Meeting is often less well attended. At the October 2012 Annual Council meeting, the church’s senior leadership voted to add the word “compassion” to existing church policy about non-heterosexuals.
All This “Compassion” is Giving Us Whiplash
Less than three weeks ago, the GC’s Health Ministries director reportedly “called for compassion,” regardless of non-heterosexuality’s “cause.” A licensed psychologist advised the church to “support and protect human rights… [LGBTI people] need your sympathy, patience, and love. Speak words of encouragement to them.” And the Adventist News Network reported the following from Cape Town:
Onaolapo Ajibade, executive secretary of the denomination’s West-Central Africa Division, based in Cote d’Ivoire, said since there is no known cause of homosexuality, there is no ‘cure.’ “In the meantime we have to adopt a Christian approach,” Ajibade said. “Since we don’t know the cause, we have to be sympathetic… The church is making a spiritual step to equip us to be able to help our brothers and sisters who are in this state.”
There is no such “help” in the guidelines being reviewed by the Executive Committee.
These guidelines use the policy term “inconsistent” because the General Conference continues to promote political uniformity. Even if our faith requires us to speak up for the care and well-being of our brothers and sisters, the GC will not tolerate Christian diversity. It says that those who are different have to go.
If this document passes tomorrow, the GC will have “encouraged” local churches, church employees, teachers, ministers, institutions, and church-affiliated organizations to reject and disfellowship LGBTI people who now worship, serve, teach, sing, work, and grow in grace in Adventist congregations and organizations around the world. And local congregations and organization will have to decide whether to comply with these “guidelines” and kick out their LGBTI members, or continue to receive them as God sends them and learn from the Spirit of Acts 8 how to regard demographic differences in the Body of Christ.
Learning with a Gun to Their Head
Attendees at the Cape Town summit seemed to have relished their opportunity to learn about sexuality and gender in an open forum. The proposed “guidelines” promote pre-emptive exclusion and do not recognize the ongoing conversation about sexuality and gender. They do not support the denominational workers and ministers who are listening and learning, and they poison the compassion the church has claimed it offers in the name of Christ.
Should this policy be approved tomorrow, the General Conference will be forcing members to try to learn while a gun is held to their head. But that’s not how learning happens.
Reactions across social media this morning ranged from cynicism and shock to disappointment:
“This is where ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will come into play. Better to live dishonestly.”
“Let’s hope this proposal is changed or denied.”
“This is saddening.”
“I’ll just show myself the door thanks!” That’s the exact reaction the church should expect from lgbt people. We are getting told we don’t deserve to be in the pews.”
“I can’t wait for this to be settled. Decide already. Tell me who can be allowed in and who should be kept outside, labeled as ‘living contrary to the law.’ For it is in that moment and in that moment alone that we will be able to clearly discern, as a follower of Him who embraced and took His place with the ‘outsider,’ who our tribe truly is.”
Our question is this: is the Seventh-day Adventist Church a heterosexuals-only church? Guidelines and pronouncements like this that aren’t based on consultation with our community suggest that “hetero-only” is what the General Conference wants the church to be.
What kind of faith do ordinary Adventists believe we’re called into? Do you want local congregations that exclude LGBTI people and our supportive relatives, friends, ministers, teachers, and care professionals? Or do you want us all to have space to grow in grace, wisdom, virtue, and mutual accountability?
If you want a Seventh-day Adventist church different from the one Executive Committee is considering this week, you’ll need to speak up. Silence will allow exclusion to thrive.
Stay tuned for updates: the story is still developing. Kinship will continue to research this and we’ll update you on the Spring Meeting decision tomorrow.