I did not know exactly what to expect. I had seen the trailer and suspected I would see a film that was confrontational, even hostile, to the traditional Adventist Church. I drove two hours each way to see it. I wasn’t sure if I would know anyone there. I almost didn’t go, but I am profoundly glad I did. There were so many times I found my eyes tearing up and I am just now beginning to understand why.
It is a movie every Seventh-day Adventist ought to see. If you are a liberal leaning Adventist, it will likely not be hard hitting or confrontational enough. If you are conservative, it will provide food for thought and there will be things you disagree with, things you think are wrong, but you will not likely find it an “in your face” affront to your beliefs.
Seeing people with new eyes
Twenty plus years ago my family moved to a new town and a new church. It was under difficult circumstances. I had recently come back to Christianity and Adventism. My wife was a lifelong atheist and my reconnection with Adventism was putting considerable strain on our marriage. We walked into a new church and, by the time church was over, we had an invitation to Bob and Becky’s house for pizza and games that evening.
In getting to know Bob and Becky we learned that, as the result of genetic bad luck, both of their boys had hemophilia, meaning that, when they bled, the blood did not naturally clot to stop the bleeding. As a result, an injection was required to stop every single bleed, including those internal broken blood vessels that most of us never even notice. The injected clotting factor is extracted from donated blood. Each dose coming from dozens to hundreds of donors.
Each time the clotting factor was administered; there was a very real possibility that one of those units of blood and therefore one of the doses of clotting factor would contain the AIDS virus. It was a real and terrible risk, but it was the only way to stop a bleed. (Today with better science this risk has been essentially eliminated.)
A few years after we first got to know them, we heard that Nicolas, the younger of the two boys, was in the hospital with a persistent high fever. I went to see him and his family. After a short visit and prayer, I headed for my car but, before I reached the elevator I heard footsteps and my name being called; Bob wanted to tell me that Nicolas had AIDS.
Because it was still early in the AIDs epidemic, scientists were struggling to find ways to treat the disease. Nicolas was enrolled in a series of drug trials with the National Institutes of Health. While there were many ups and downs his health condition continued to deteriorate.
One very hot Sunday afternoon my family went to visit their family. Nicolas, his brother Paul and my children wanted to go swimming. We all headed to the pool and I started launching my children off my shoulders into the pool. Nicolas wanted to try it. I wasn’t at all sure this was a good idea. He looked frail, he had tubes sticking out of his chest to deliver medication to his body and he had AIDS. I looked to his parents and they were fine with it.
This was at a time when we still did not quite understand how contagious AIDS was. We weren’t sure if sharing a soda or getting bitten by a mosquito might be all it took to become infected. I wasn’t too worried about swimming because of the chlorine, but the first time I tossed Nicholas into the air, he hit the water right in front of me and came up sputtering and spitting pool water and saliva into my face, saying “do it again” I had a moment of internal panic. Was I going to get AIDS? What about my wife and my children? Then I thought, he is God’s child and he needs this. I need to trust that God will take care of this.
It was a transformational moment because I was forced in an instant to face the unthinkable. I had to deal with something that I never wanted to deal with. I had to choose: protect my fears and my cherished beliefs or love my friends and their child.
I never wanted to wrestle with the issue of homosexuality, Christianity and Adventism, but I discovered that a number of people I knew well and cared about were gay. I had to reconcile being their friend, their youth leader, and still relate to them as a Seventh-day Adventist.
Over the next few, short years, before Nicolas died, Bob and Becky learned lessons that they passed along to me and my family. When old, close Adventist friends turned their backs, hearing the dread word AIDS, people they never would have known in their old, insular Adventist world stepped up to befriend and support them. Other AIDS victims, their families and loved ones embraced their family. My horizons continued to expand.
Later, as a youth leader, I heard teenagers pour out the pain in their hearts. Most were experiencing “normal” teenage angst, what we think of as the usual adolescent identity crisis. Others, though, were struggling with a crisis on another level. Their sexual identity and feelings were outside the Adventist norm and they were suffering as they attempted to reconcile the two.
Random thoughts on the film—why it is important
1. I would describe the movie as a sweet, gentle non-confrontational look at the struggles of three individuals and their partners who, from their very earliest moments of life and at their very core, are Christian, Adventist and gay.
2. It was revealing that all three put considerable time and effort into being straight. They offered their sexuality up to God in the best way they knew how and yet, for reasons they could not fathom and the film did not attempt to resolve, God choose not to remove their desire for someone of the same sex.
3. The depth of their devotion to Jesus and their love of Adventism was profound. Two of the individuals/couples were not able to find an Adventist Community to develop their Christianity. The third couple found a safe harbor in Adventism, but live with the constant knowledge that a single pastor change could wipe it all out.
4. I was touched by willingness of a conference president and his wife to put love in front of his job and the scorn of those who have control over his ministry and position as a church leader to attend the wedding of their son to another man. And I was further touched by the Adventist pastor brother who was willing to stand up as the best man.
5. I found great irony in the fact that, in one church, the only way an Adventurers Club was going to happen was if a gay woman stepped up to the plate to take the lead.
My tears flowed because these three couples were so ordinary, almost boring. They celebrate the Sabbath, birthdays and Christmas. The sew patches on Adventurer uniforms and help kids with homework. They prepare meals, wash dishes and look remarkably like the typical heterosexual family.
My tears flowed because I am not sure there is a place for gays to find love, to grow closer to Jesus in the Adventist Church. When the movie was over and the audience was invited to come to the front and pray a blessing over Stephen and Daneen, who produced this movie, I found myself standing next to a young man who, years ago, was part of my youth group and who I knew to be gay. I found myself wondering if he will be welcomed back into his home church, if he will be able to find Jesus in any Adventist Church.
The movie, more than anything else, asks if we as individual Adventist Christians and we corporately as the Adventist Christian community have the willingness to love those who have a different sexual orientation. It is easy to say that Jesus loves them and wants them in heaven, but the unanswered question the movie asks is: will they see Jesus through us?
Steve Moran is a lay member of the Adventist church and he writes from the Sacramento area where he is working on building a youth group that will be committed to Jesus, Adventism and “the least of these”. He was a delegate to the 2010 General Conference Session in Atlanta and has served on the Central California Conference Executive Committee.