I'm writing this update from Denver where we had a screening of the Seventh-Gay Adventists film, and then we're heading to two quite different screenings for audiences that I wish could meet each other. The first is a screening at the Capital Memorial Church in D.C. that is part of a whole evening dedicated to talking about homosexuality in the church and will include quite a diversity of perspectives (including Nick Miller, Roy Gane, and Jason Hines). Then, this Sunday the film will screen in Albuquerque for the Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, a different audience but one that I'm equally passionate about engaging in this conversation.
I'm tired, ever worried about where funding for the next step will come from, but absolutely thrilled to finally be sharing and discussing this film in communities where it can make a difference. This is the time and space that a film like this is made for, the time when an audience turns off their cell phones, settles into the darkened room, and lets themselves enter the stories of others. I've seen the film hundreds of times now, but I don't tire of feeling the audience laugh, cry, and just connect. That's what it's about—transcending the debates and connecting as shared humanity.
Four years ago exactly, Adventists Against Prop 8 was in full swing, and my husband, Stephen Eyer, and I had no idea that the next four years of our life (and the first three and a half years of our daughter, Lily's, life) was going to be so intricately tied to this burgeoning conversation about faith, identity, and sexuality that's happening both inside and outside of the Adventist church.
It's been an experience beyond compare, both more exhilarating and exhausting than anything I've ever done. We've gone from knowing a handful of LGBT Adventists to learning about an entire community around the world connected through faith. We went from an idea of the types of stories we'd like to highlight in a film to having gotten to know the main subjects in the film so well that I consider them family. Besides giving us and the viewing audience of the film the incredible gift of sharing their stories in such an authentic way, they have personally taught me so much about being a person of integrity and commitment, about being a member of a faith community that might not always deserve my allegiance, and about being a parent. (Lily would love nothing more than to move in with the lesbian family that are featured in the film because they have two daughters that she loves to play with and because, unlike our teeny SF apartment, they have a midwestern home with a big basement that's just for playing and is generally an explosion of pink, purple, and everything princess-related that Lily and their youngest daughter can't seem to get enough of!)
This year we began a slow roll-out process for the film, and we've now done 18 community screenings both at film festivals and at advance screenings in Adventist population centers. This week we began a fall screening tour that has over a dozen screenings planned around the country (with more coming).
Thus far, we've had a problem that most independent filmmakers would love to have—more demand than we can handle. It's been very rewarding watching the film with full crowds (nothing like laughing at Adventist humor with a full house). And what's been especially meaningful to us as producer/directors is that it's not just the progressive Adventists who are showing up for screenings. Adventists (current, former and in-between) of all stripes and convictions have come to our screenings and engaged. The film itself is a very gentle film that encourages bridgebuilding and conversation even with those who hold very divergent beliefs about homosexuality, and audiences have been responding well to that tone. Of the thousands of people who have now seen and discussed the film, there has only ever been one heckler during the discussion. That's pretty amazing and a testament to how people are willing to show up. (I credit the example of the families and churches featured in the film to helping model how we can show up, engage, and be in genuine relationship even when we disagree—that's a lesson we need to learn on several other topics as well!)
Here are a just a few comments I've been given permission to share from different types of audience members:
I was lucky enough to attend the screening in Lincoln today and was blessed beyond belief. Thank you for creating this work of art and I truly pray that everyone sees this movie and feels all of the love that is pouring out if it." - Taryn Moore Rouse, mom in Nebraska. "
What was wonderful about the film was that it did not take place on a mere theological level but on the human level of individuals struggling between the church and ideals they love and their sexual orientation. Therein lies the greatest strength of the film, I think. You brought these individuals close to us, and helped put a human face on what has been otherwise dealt with as a theological problem. Seeing this film will and must have an impact on the way we as a church community have been reading and interpreting scripture."" - Abi Doukhan, philosophy professor and president of the Society of Adventist Philosophers
"Many LGBTQ folks like myself grew up in religious environments that were harmful. Seeing this film was a healing experience for me. It simultaneously connected me with painful experiences of my past, while bringing a sense of hope and redemption. I know a number of people who would be similarly impacted. I am already advocating that they see it the first chance they get." - Eric Mason, Episcopalian candidate for ordination
"As an openly gay man who grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist church, I deeply appreciate this documentary, the stories shared in it, and the significance of this film for the community. I have already felt the effects of this film through discussions with my friends and family members. It is pushing people to think from other angles and challenge some of their concepts of what it means to be gay within the church and SDA community. Please keep the conversation going!" - Timothy Elliott
"Thank you for being gracious and generous and for putting a spotlight on grace." Ray Dabrowski, General Conference Communication Director, 1994-2010
"The directors…construct a documentary that carefully lets you into the lives of the all the couples and the importance of the Christian faith in their lives, as well as show us what it means to be an Adventist…Seventh-Gay Adventists shows that being gay and Christian are not mutually exclusive." Victor Gimenez, Miami film critic
"Whatever one's position regarding homosexuals and the church may be, this film is worth seeing because it candidly probes issues with real human faces and stories." - Dr. Roy Gane, author and professor, Andrews Seminary
In addition to the two screenings this weekend, there are a dozen more screenings this fall all over the country. We'd love to engage with more Spectrum readers at upcoming screenings—all of the details are on our screenings page.
There's actually a part of me that will be disappointed when we eventually release the film on DVD because these group viewing experiences are so powerful. A Christian singer/songwriter who attended the Nashville screening described the post-screening space as a "cracking open"—you can feel the space that's been created for a new type of conversation through the lens of real people and real stories. It's what we're calling The Listening Space, and it's not about everyone agreeing on everything or all of our differences disappearing, but it's about opening our hearts to the stories and experiences of fellow travelers on the faith journey.
Hope to see you at a screening soon! And thanks to the thousands of you who have already come to a screening and furthered this conversation.
—Daneen Akers is the co-producer/co-director of Seventh-Gay Adventists—A film about faith on the margins. She and her husband, Stephen Eyer, met at Pacific Union College in Honors English and are now on the road with their "three-and three-quarters"-year-old daughter, Lily, screening the film around the country.