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Gay Adventists in the year 2009 find themselves in a peculiar and unprecedented dilemma. For perhaps the first time in our church’s history, many Adventists seem genuinely interested in and willing to discuss issues related to homosexuality, even in polite company. Politically, the marriage equality movement is finally gaining momentum following recent developments in Iowa, Vermont, and Maine (way to take one for the team, California). And culturally, it is now, or soon will be, more offensive to be called “homophobic” than it is to be labeled “homosexual.” All this, it would seem, must surely come as good news to the majority of gay Adventists.
Yet these gains haven’t come without a cost. The increased attention towards homosexuality has cast some much-needed light into the darkest corners of our church, but the light has also served to obscure as much as it has illuminated. Since coming out at Pacific Union College, I’ve learned a few things about the current perception of gays within the Adventist church.
Perhaps the most important lesson that I’ve learned is that the majority of straight Adventists have no idea about the true reality of being a gay Adventist. The word “gay” is as likely to conjure up mental images of rainbow flags, white knots, and protest signs as it is to invoke a picture with any real connection to the gay Adventist’s everyday experiences.
Even apart from the political slant that homosexuality has taken on recently, gay Adventists must contend with the assumptions, biases, and stereotypes that have become ingrained into our subculture. I’ve had people to whom I’ve come out respond as if I had just told them I joined a political action committee. I’ve had people assume I have no interest in any relationships more long-term than random promiscuity or that being gay means that I must necessarily have abandoned the hope of having a relationship with God. I’ve had people imply that, simply because I’ve recognized certain desires within myself, I should automatically have a perfect answer for every verse in the Bible related to homosexuality. These are only the assumptions that have been verbalized to me; I can only imagine what has been left unsaid.
Coming out in the Adventist church means opening yourself up to a (mostly) untapped reservoir of biases, assumptions, and even hatred that has accumulated over time. It should come as no surprise, then, that the majority of gay Adventists remain in the closet, either unprepared or unwilling to carry the social and political baggage that has been handed to them. Most gay Adventists would prefer to avoid the peculiarities of the “gay situation” altogether and just retreat into the more universal joys and pains of loving another human being. And herein lies the question that nearly all gay Adventists ask, the question at the heart of the Gay Adventist Dilemma: Can’t I just love the person that I love without having to be "gay"?
The ironic twist to this story is that the people whom gay Adventists often fear the most - committed, conservative Adventists - are the very ones who should be able to relate to the Gay Adventist Dilemma the most. In the modern world, nearly all Adventists have had to contend with the worst biases, assumptions, and, yes, even hatred that people have developed towards conservative Christians in general: that they’re judgmental, prejudiced, homophobic, unreasonable, self-righteous, hypocritical, fanatical, uneducated, and out of touch with reality. To profess one’s faith publicly rarely invites questions about a relationship with Christ; more often, Adventists are labeled with assumptions and stereotypes about any number of things (from Intelligent Design and stem cell research to same-sex marriage and the war in Iraq), none of which have the least bit to do with the personal relationship with Jesus that remains at the core of being an Adventist. Coming up against these obstacles, it’s no wonder that many Adventists prefer to stay within the confines of their own subculture rather than venture out into the world at large. The central question of the Gay Adventist Dilemma is beginning to bear a strikingly similarity to that of the more universal Adventist Dilemma: “Can’t I just have my relationship with Jesus without all the baggage that goes along with it?”
The answer to both of these questions is, frankly, no. These frustrations are nothing new, and they’re not likely to go away anytime soon. Out of these shared frustrations, however, shines the hope of reconciliation. We’re not so different after all, non-Adventist gays and we Adventists. We both hold a relationship (or at least the hope of one) at the core of our identity. We’ve both had to swim upstream against the unfair stereotypes and mistaken assumptions that others have placed upon us. We’re both called to stand up for what we believe in by living our lives with more than mere apathetic indifference. The Gay Adventist Dilemma is little more than a repackaging of the Adventist Dilemma in different (perhaps slightly more fashionable) clothing. We’re more alike than we are different, and the sooner we realize this, the sooner we’ll be able to put away the assumptions that continue to hinder us all and learn to appreciate one another for exactly what we both are: human beings, marred by faults but redeemed by grace, and ultimately nothing less than the very children of God.