On September 13 at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington, two young ladies, Rande McDaniel and Britney Moss, joined in marriage under the state’s recently-enacted same-sex marriage bill. The occasion was an intimate dinner in a modern, minimalistic event room with some forty to fifty close friends and family members. After a catered meal and stories about the couple, Rande and Britney exchanged vows.
The next day at a park, the two signed their marriage license, making the nuptials official. That would have been the end of the story, except for the participation of Brett Hadley, who is Rande’s stepfather and school chaplain, Bible teacher and Campus Ministries director at Highland View Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland. Hadley is also an ordained Adventist minister. He was one of three speakers who shared anecdotes about the couple during the event, and the following day he signed the marriage certificate as officiant.
Wedding guests who described the ceremony noted that it did not include any features of religious ceremonies. Indeed, both ladies are avowedly non-religious, and accordingly prepared a tacitly civil ceremony.
That point made little difference for Susan Rodeheaver, Rande’s aunt. Rodeheaver, who did not attend the ceremony, learned of Hadley’s participation from her brother and Rande’s father, Ray Rodeheaver, who did attend. Susan Rodeheaver said in a phone conversation that in the weeks following the event, she contacted officials from the Chesapeake Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the Columbia Union Conference and the North American Division. She reported Hadley’s involvement to the respective administrators and demanded to know how that could be reconciled with the Adventist view of marriage--that it is to be shared between a man and a woman.
Conference officials asked for evidence that Hadley participated in the ceremony. At length, Rodeheaver found photographs on the wedding website, including the marriage certificate that Hadley signed, she said.
On November 15 and again on November 22, Miranda Hadley (Brett Hadley’s wife and Rande’s mother) posted a two-part series on her personal blog, amorningmuse.com, entitled "The Club of Christianity." In the two posts, she proposed that if Jesus were here today, he would have attended her daughter’s wedding.
“My daughter got married recently,” she wrote in part one. “Rande is a sweet girl and I really like her new wife, Britney. Yes, I did say Britney. Yes, I am a Christian. Yes, I believe that the gay lifestyle is a sin.”
She went on to say, “I did go to the wedding. I love my daughter and this was a big moment in her life. I wasn’t going to miss it. I believe that if Jesus were physically present in Seattle that Friday night He would have been at Rande and Britney’s wedding as well. Why? Because He loves them.”
“People who don’t have a personal understanding of a loving God pick up the Club of Christianity and use it to beat others because it makes them feel better about themselves,” she wrote.
The second post continued where the first left off:
“While many religious people would not attend a gay wedding, I believe that Jesus would because His religion is love. He laid down His life for all sinners. Why would he put down His love and pick up a club of hate against gays? It makes no sense to picture Jesus standing outside a gay wedding holding a sign that says, ‘God hates gays.’”
In a phone conversation, Ray Rodeheaver suggested that the loving thing would have looked different. “I love my daughter,” he stated emphatically, and added that he respected Hadley. However, Rodeheaver suggested that had Hadley truly wanted to do the loving thing, he would have declined to participate in the wedding or sign the marriage certificate. He confirmed that he also discussed the wedding with conference officials--when they called him, he said.
On November 26, the Chesapeake Conference issued a press release stating that Highland View Academy had placed Hadley on administrative leave for an unspecified length of time “because Chaplain Hadley participated in a same-sex ceremony, signed the marriage license as the officiant, and misrepresented his role when asked about it—calling into question his ability to serve as the spiritual leader of our school.”
In an email of clarification, a spokesperson for the conference stated that while Hadley admitted participating in a dinner, he denied attending a wedding ceremony or officiating one.
Concurrently, a letter identical to the press release, save the introductory paragraph, went out to parents of Highland View Academy students. The letter bore the name of HVA board chairman Rick Remmers.
According to HVA freshman Caleb Atherly, students received news of Hadley’s suspension that day as well.
“The president of the conference told us the day of Thanksgiving break. At first I was in pure shock,” Atherly said. “Then I grew depressed at the concept of me never seeing him again, and losing a wonderful drama and Bible teacher. Students were sitting there with their mouths gaping in horror. Some were crying, others had very angry looks on their faces.”
Atherly went on: “His leaving has deeply impacted the Adventist Christian Theater (ACT) team. He was ACT and ACT was him. Unfortunately he was the best person for that job. He is irreplaceable.”
Aly Carbaugh, a junior at HVA, expressed similar sentiments. “He was the Junior Class sponsor. As our sponsor, he believed in our class. He believed we could actually accomplish things,” she said. “When I found out that he was being disciplined my initial feeling was anger towards the conference.”
For its part, the conference in its statement pledged support for students like Carbaugh.
“Our commitment is to provide a quality Seventh-day Adventist Christian education to the students you have entrusted to our care. We will provide extra support for the students in Mr. Hadley’s classes to help them process the inevitable frustrations this situation triggers.”
Rita Atherly Engen, Caleb Atherly’s mother, wrote a letter to Rick Remmers pleading for reconsideration of Hadley’s suspension.
“A week ago we visited the campus and attended the church service for which Pastor Brett was responsible. It was excellent. I left saying, ‘I could enjoy coming to church if this was what I could experience.’ I have the absolute highest regard for Brett Hadley and for the Holy Spirit’s leading in his life. The fact that he [participated in his step-daughter’s] gay marriage in no way diminishes that. And it especially does not mean that my son would not be provided with ‘a quality Seventh-day Adventist Christian education,’ if [Hadley] were allowed to remain at HVA.”
Highland View principal LeRoy Snider also received letters. One came from Daneen Akers, who with her husband Stephen Eyer created the film Seventh-Gay Adventists.
Akers wrote, “From what I can gather, his theological convictions about same-sex relationships do not differ from the official Adventist position, but he simply believes in unconditional love. He's being a father, even if he does not fully agree with his daughter's decisions. It seems very problematic to discipline parents for unconditionally loving their children.” Her letter went on to point out that LGBT children in religious homes that reject them are eight times more likely to commit suicide.
The school board did not acquiesce.
On December 4, the HVA board voted to dismiss Hadley. This prompted a response letter to Principal Snider from Dave Ferguson, Director of Church Relations for Kinship International.
“As a former pastor who focused on youth and young adults,” Ferguson wrote, “I have seen an increasing number of our members leave the Church because they believe it is more interested in upholding a position than in caring for and loving members of the church family. I believe that concept is reinforced when such actions are taken against a beloved pastor and spiritual leader on the campus, whose only transgression is love [for his daughter].”
The Chesapeake Conference subsequently issued a letter to school principals concerning Hadley’s firing and its cause. After reading the letter, one church member in the conference suggested it served as a warning shot, noting that not even in cases of sexual misconduct had the conference seen fit to write such letters to school administrators about personnel issues.
Just before press time, the Chesapeake Conference updated its November 26 press release to say that Brett Hadley submitted his resignation, and on December 4 the Highland View Academy Board of Trustees accepted it.
It has also came to light that Hadley was released from participating in the upcoming International Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Hadley had been selected to direct drama presentations for that event.
If not the first instance of public dismissal over involvement in a same-gender wedding, Hadley’s is certainly the most prominent and widely discussed for the Adventist denomination to date.
Brett Hadley declined several requests for comment due to contractual obligations.