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Viewpoint - Seventh-day Adventists and Sex: The Cape Town Conference

The conference titled “In God’s Image:  Scripture, Sexuality and Society” that Seventh-day Adventist officials are leading in Cape Town, South Africa, March 17 – 20, is not likely to accomplish much of lasting significance.  Both those who favor it and those who fear it can, therefore, relax.

Most of those who will attend the meetings already agree with those who have organized them.  This is why they have been invited and others haven’t.  The results of this selection process are sometimes amazing.  To take just one example, as far as I now know, the SDA professor who has done the most thorough study of homosexual Adventists has not been invited to present the findings of this research; meanwhile, people who have not given the issue much serious and sustained thought will be there.  The advantage of doing things this way is that the organizers of the conference will not be seriously challenged.  The disadvantage is that they will have few people to convert.

A related consideration is that the few people at the conference who are candidates for conversion are not likely to respond favorably to the meetings in their entirety.  These people are in the “middle” or “undecided” column precisely because they want to align themselves with one position or another only after they have considered all of them as objectively as possible.  Because it is so one sided, this conference will not help them accomplish this; therefore, they will discretely leave it without having changed their minds.  They will know that there is more than what they heard and they will want to hear it too.

Yet another factor is that the conference seems to be based on a doubtful presupposition.  This is that the best way to develop a healthy SDA consensus regarding a controversial issue is to gather a group of leaders from all over the world and then require everybody in the denomination, leaders and members alike, to conform to its consensus. 

This doesn’t work anymore.  Glacier View, a major conference a generation ago that concluded by defrocking a controversial SDA minister, is the last time this was tried and by most accounts it was a disaster.  Our top leaders can still lead; however, in the long run they will be successful only when they do so by precept and example rather than edicts and threats, by persuasion rather than coercion.

More than any other, one thing will discredit this summit in the eyes of many fair-minded people even when they disagree about other things.  This is that it will feature two no-longer-practicing homosexual SDA men who describe their previous lives as disgusting, degrading and destructive.  

Haven’t we SDAs matured to the point that we no longer transfix congregations by parading people with irresponsible pasts and luridly entertaining stories?  Also, are the lives these men once lived representative of the ones most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex SDAs now do?  By no means is this the case.  To state or imply that this is so seriously and hurtfully misrepresents them.  Those who planned this summit didn’t need to do this in order make their points and they shouldn’t have.   Bearing false witness against one’s neighbors is a very serious matter.             

As indicated by the word “summit” in the title, perhaps the purpose of the conference is not to change minds but to organize those who agree for battle against those who partially disagree.  Because it fundamentally misreads the challenge, in the long run this will fail too.  

Contrary to what some of our leaders apparently they think, they do not need to marshal the powers of good against the powers of evil in a fierce battle for the denomination’s heart and soul.  The LGBTI SDAs I know long for much less.  They would rather be talked with than talked about.  They would rather not have their honorable relationships smeared and slurred by those who now gain denominational fame and favor by parading their previous perversity.  They would rather not be excommunicated or fired. And they would rather not visit the graves of their SDA LGBTI loved ones who ended their own lives in desperate moments of loneliness and hopelessness.

Even though this time might not yet be here, it will certainly arrive no matter what happens in Cape Town.  This is because God is not dead and neither are we!

A graduate of both Claremont School of Theology (1973) and Claremont Graduate University (1982) David Larson D. Min. and Ph.D., is professor of Christian Ethics, Theological and Philosophical Ethics, Biomedical Ethics at Loma Linda University. Larson is a Spectrum board member and frequent contributor, and a former president of Adventist Forum. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Some Religion Stuff.

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