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In unscripted comments Friday, Roy Gane, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Languages at Andrews University, explained to some one hundred fifty attendees at the conference on Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church why he and Nicholas Miller created the conference.
During the November 2008 elections, California voters approved Proposition 8, a ballot measure that eliminated the right of same-gender couples to marry. In the run up to the vote, a group of Seventh-day Adventists created a web site in opposition to the measure. The Adventists Against Prop 8 website was followed closely by a clone site created by Adventists who supported Prop 8.
Following vigorous online debate of Proposition 8, it was clear that committed Adventist Christians were split on the issue of same-gender marriage. This conference, Gane said, was a response.
Further compounding the issue, Seventh-day Adventist scholars, ministers and laity collaborated on a book released in 2008 entitled “Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives.” The book laid out biblical, biographical, and biological data that demonstrated the tenability of supporting same-gender couplehood, even marriage.
The Seventh-day Theological Seminary at Andrews and Adventist religious liberty representatives felt the need to say more. This week provided the opportunity. The Marriage, Homosexuality and the Church Conference brought together over fifty scholars, lawyers, writers and lay persons and attracted between 150 and 200 attendees, mostly pastors, Andrews students, and church leaders.
The conference opened Thursday evening with remarks from Nicholas Miller, Esq., Director of the Andrews University International Religious Liberty Institute, and chairman of the conference steering committee. Miller would run the show throughout the weekend.
Nicholas Miller, Esq.
After words of welcome from Andrews University president Niels-Erik Andreasen, and remarks from General Conference vice-president Neal Wilson, Dr. Mark Yarhouse, a clinical psychologist, endowed chair and professor at the Regent University School of Psychology, laid out research and constructs in the debate on gay marriage and the church. Yarhouse addressed his comments to “we conservatives” of the church. He challenged the assumption that homosexuality is impossible to change, countering the idea with his research on participants in Exodus International, a program designed to “free” homosexual individuals from their homosexuality.
Yarhouse analyzed and sought to point out flaws in research that demonstrates that having older male siblings correlates with higher incidences of homosexuality among younger brothers, that homosexuality in non-human species reveals biological information that sheds light on human homosexuality, that there are higher rates of homosexuality in both twins if one twin is homosexual, and that there is a “gay gene.”
Dr. Yarhouse’s several presentations throughout the conference focused on the possibility of meaningful change along a continuum from homosexual self-identification to heterosexual self-identification. [See David Larson's formal response] From his longitudinal study of participants in Exodus International, Yarhouse concludes that change is possible for some individuals some of the time, though the reasons for change did not clearly emerge from his research. In a subsequent Q&A session, Yarhouse revealed that in his research on Exodus International participants, some previously self-identifying homosexuals identified as heterosexual at the programs conclusions. Other individuals, however, became more, not less, firm in their homosexual self-identity as a result of participating in the program.
Dr. Mark Yarhouse
Following Yarhouse’s remarks, Nicholas Miller interviewed Seventh-day Adventist pastor and music evangelist Ron Woolsey, a self-described ex-gay. Woolsey described his upbringing in an Adventist home and his bitterness toward God for his same-sex attractions. Woolsey became aware very young age of his attractions to men.
“When I was 4, I was robbed of innocence by trusted farm hand,” Woolsey said. From early age on, Woolsey described having fantasies he was unable to control.
“Yes, I was interested in girls,” Woolsey noted, but “I was only person I knew who liked boys. I did my part to fit right in.” Woolsey befriended girls, but had this conflict: Sometimes he was more attracted to their brothers.
Woolsey went to Southern Missionary College where he studied theology, premed. He spent time as a missionary and married one of the student missionaries he met overseas. Foolishly, he says, he thought marriage would be solution. The marriage collapsed and Woolsey began engaging in promiscuous homosexual living. Then, he says, in almost a dream-like manner, God convinced him to leave that lifestyle, which he did.
“When I heard Sodom was destroyed for inhospitality, I was insulted,” Woolsey said. “The Bible doesn’t say anything about inhospitality.” “I knew I was lost. I knew I was a sinner. Don’t love people to death. Love people to life,” Woolsey told the audience, drawing a chorus of “Amen.”
On Friday morning, religious liberty representatives laid out legal and historical arguments against same-sex marriage and in favor of Adventist participation in the debate. Barry Bussey, the SDA Church’s liaison to Congress, chaired the panel that included Gerald Chippeur, Bill Knott, and Alan Reinach. Bussey suggested that if Canada’s approach to same-sex marriage is adopted in the U.S., the church’s religious freedoms could be curtailed. Chippeur elaborated, citing cases in Canada that expanded the rights of same-gender couples. Reinach continued by pitting the rights of homosexual couples against the rights of religious institutions and predicting dire consequences for faith-based organizations if same-sex couples won. Reinach took California and its recent skirmish over Proposition 8 as an indicator of where the country may head.
Bill Knott, the editor of the Adventist Review, offered a historical survey of Adventist stances on civil issues. Adventists involved themselves in civil issues that they believed had moral implications. Adventists lobbied against alcohol for some forty years for both moral and economic reasons, Knott noted. In an open letter to Warren G. Harding on disarmament signed by GC President A. G. Daniells, the church stated, “We favor the abolition of war.” Knott cautioned that Adventists did not and should not be involved in every issue. Adventists saved their “weight” and “freight” for significant issues, such as the current discussion of homosexuality and marriage. Knott also acknowledged the church’s conspicuous silence on civil rights during the 1960’s.
Audience members posed questions to the panel afterward in a brief Q&A discussion. Among the questions from the floor came concerns about homophobic ministers. “What are we doing to address that?” one attendee wondered. “How can we foster compassion…kindness, not homophobia?” Alan Reinach responded by admitting it is “an enormous challenge as we seek to advocate on Prop 8 to maintain balance to make gospel accessible to all. It’s primary. We have to avoid inflammatory language,” Reinach insisted. He further called for dilligence, care and sensitivity. “Loving the sinner, hating the sin does not work,” he said. “It communicates hate, not love.”
Barry Bussey followed up alluding to Red Letter Christians by Tony Campolo, in which Campolo related the story of Mother Teresa coming to the U.S. She spoke in a packed NYC stadium with great urgency on the issue of abortion. Campolo said she had authority to speak because she was in the ghettos of Calcutta ministering. “We need to be careful as a church,” Bussey said. “Do we have legitimacy to speak, showing the love of Christ? Or are we pontificating?”
Another participant pulled evolution into the mix saying, "The Bible is clear on evolution, but we still need to teach evolution in order to be accredited. On homosexuality,the Bible is clear" she said, but wondered what schools can legally teach on homosexuality.
Reinach answered, "We don’t have mandated curriculum requirements." But suggested that curriculum issues are at play in public schools, and offered controversy on a book entitled Heather Has Two Mommies as an example. Reinach also mentioned Schwarzenegger's recent approval for Harvey Milk Day. "Schools are being urged to promote homosexuality," Reinach said.
Miller asked the audience to note the difference between teaching about evolution and teaching the moral value of homosexuality.