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Church Adopts Guidelines for Responding to Alternative Sexual Practices

The discussion which resulted in the passage this afternoon of GC Document 125-14G, "Guidelines for the Seventh-day Adventist In Responding to Homosexual and Other Alternative Sexual Practices," (version April 4, 2014) began shortly after the last General Conference Session, July, 2010.  A number of division presidents and others expressed concern as to the church's proper response to cultural changes, specifically the rapid growth in the acceptance of homosexuality as non-deviant and the related acceptance of gay/lesbian marriage as a civil right.  In good SDA practice, a committee was chosen and a sub-committee eventually tasked to prepare one or more documents for submission to the Executive Committee.  That subcommittee has previously submitted what became, after committee adoption, official statements on homosexuality and same-sex unions.  The document approved today was first submitted to Annual Council in 2012, tabled for further input, and finally adopted today.

The document has 8 sections, as follows:

1)   The Divine Ideal of Sexuality and Marriage; (heterosexual monogamy.)

2)   The Church and Society; (the church is called to witness to truth before all levels of society, including governments, which witness must include the church's teaching on "Marriage and the Family.”)

3)   The Church's Relationship to Civil Legislation About Homosexuality and Alternative Sexual Behaviors. ( The church periodically offers counsel to institutions, leaders and individuals when, as here, governmental claims and church doctrine conflict.  The following principles should guide us:)

a)    All human governments exist through the provision of God.  

b)   Although the authority of human government is derived from the authority of God, the claims and jurisdictions of human government are never ultimately definitive for either individual believers or the church.

c)    Because individual believers and the organized church enjoy the rights and liberties given them by God and ratified by civil government, they may fully participate in the processes by which societies organize social life, provide for public and electoral order, and structure civil relationships.

d)   Because the Seventh-day Adventist Church believes and practices a wholistic understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, its evangelistic, educational, publishing, medical and other ministry organizations are integral and indivisible expressions of its fulfillment of the commission given by Jesus.

e)    In their interface with civil governments and societies, both the church and individual Seventh-day adventists must conduct themselves as representatives of the Kingdom of Christ, exhibiting His characteristics of love, humility, honest, reconciliation and commitment to the truths of the Word of God.

4)   The Challenge of State Legislation; (which may conflict with church teaching)

5)   The Moral and Religious Freedoms of the Church, which must be maintained;

6)   Faith-base Decision Making in Employment and Enrollment (which must be safeguarded)

7)   The Church and Public Speech: (We have a right to speak, but must do so judiciously)

8)   The Church's Commitment to Training and Legal Review.

In plainer language, the document might read as follows:  The divine ideal for marriage is the loving union of a man and a woman.  That is part of the truth to which the church must witness. Previously, this wasn't much of a problem, but now various societies and governments are going in all sorts of directions, from supporting GLBT rights to criminalizing “gay practices," and the church is present in all of those nations.  Now the church has always taught governments are established by God (hard to explain Hitler, Pol Pot, et al., but that's for another day).  It seems necessary for the church leadership to speak with one voice on these matters, both to speak clearly and to prevent embarrassment by those who go too far one way or the other. In addition, we want to buttress the freedoms that the church enjoys—and should enjoy—as to its right to exercise preferential hiring and firing based on doctrinal grounds.  The church has a right, and often a responsibility, as do its members, to comment on public issues, and be involved as good citizens.  But many of our members do not understand the church's historic position advocating separation of church and government, and we, as leaders, need to remedy that lack.  Above all, the church at all levels should speak and act if not as one then at least not in contradictory ways.  That means that all, gay or straight, must be recognized as God’s children, and that all deviations from the ideal in sexual conduct must be treated equally.  That means that our pastors should not officiate at same-sex weddings, and that it is inconsistent with biblical teaching to admit or retain in membership those who live outside the standard.  To achieve a consistent voice, we urge all ministries to periodically train its employees who may speak to the public as to how to do that tactfully and correctly in accord with these guidelines.

In introducing this document to the Spring Meeting, Ted Wilson pointedly remarked, "this is not policy, just guidelines." Pardon Mwansa, assigned to summarize the document, observed that the document is congruent with "the great work done in Cape Town."  Eckhart Mueller, one of the authors of the document, then observed that the central concern of the document was the rights of the church.  Bill Knott, also an author, then added that the document had been in preparation for 18 months, and is meant primarily for leadership and secondarily for the church at large. As there were no questions from the floor, the vote was taken and the document approved by voice vote without opposition.  The entire discussion took 19 minutes.

The church is certainly not wrong to be concerned about potential conflicts between religious belief and practice, both by religious organizations and individuals, and the equality claims of non-believers whose rights are impacted by religious practices they do not share.  This conflict of rights will be clarified only after the production of far more heat than light, in many quarters.  It is gratifying to see that leadership recognizes that so many members now have very little idea of the content, let alone the theoretical basis, of the church's historic separationist position.  And certainly it is progress that would not have been possible not so many years ago to say repeatedly that whether we agree with another persons sexual practices, orientation or belief concerning such, we must always treat them with dignity and respect, acknowledging their equal status as God's children. 

Yet questions remain.  Why did the document appear without the usual headnotes that indicate the document's origin, its route through various committees, to whom it was assigned for presentation, and so on?  Several well-placed and usually informed members of the group could not provide an answer.  Why was the document brought up only 20 minutes before the previously announced adjournment hour, when only 80 or so of over 200 members were still present?  More substantively, should we expect to see members placed under church discipline for production of children outside wedlock?  The document seems to require that if LGBTQ members are placed under similar discipline.  Are faithful LGBTQ Adventists who are in long-term, committed relationships, or are actually married, now to be in fear of being dropped from membership?  What if a pastor agrees to participate in the wedding of such a couple?  Will he get a wink and a nod from a progressive president or will he be in danger of termination at the gads of a more traditional one? The real significance of these guidelines will be clear only as they are applied in real life situations.

Finally, there is one message sorely absent from this document, a message that our LGBTQ members and their supporters need to hear:  This is your church too!  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Mitchell Tyner retired in 2006 as associate general counsel for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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