Since my first blog on HuffPost, "I'm a Seventh-Gay Adventist," my email has continually been flooded with people wanting to have a dialogue with me. People of all different backgrounds, religions and beliefs on sexuality have sent emails wanting to have constructive conversations on human sexuality and religion. Above all the other questions I receive in those emails the one that always gets asked is "Why are you still Seventh-day Adventist?"
First, let me give you a little bit of history: Seventh-day Adventism grew out of Methodism and the Millerite movement, dating back to the 1800s. In addition to anticipating the second advent of Jesus Christ, a distinguishing belief for Adventists is keeping "Sabbath" on Saturday. Adventists keep Sabbath more like Jews than like other Christians, and community around Sabbath is a core component of this faith. There are also quite a few cultural traditions—like (mostly) being vegetarian, abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, dancing, sometimes even caffeine and movies. It is a worldwide denomination, and according to USA Today, Adventism is the fastest growing denomination in the United States.
I have attended Adventist educational institutions my entire life, from pre-school to the university level. I was involved in Pathfinders, a spiritually based group similar to Boy and Girl Scouts with a spiritual emphasis on mission work. Music ministry is my passion: singing in the pews since I was three-years-old, playing the flute in orchestras and singing in choirs. I have been connected to this religion my entire life. It is more than a community of believers; it is my family. Yet, for the majority, my sexuality has severed my relationship with many of them both spiritually and literally disowning me.
Earlier this week my friend messaged me on Facebook:
I say this all objectively because I don't even consider myself an Adventist [anymore]. But I have a hard time understanding why LGBT folk would want to be part of a denomination that condemns them ... What's the problem with starting something new?
I've asked myself the same question for years. When I first came out to myself at an early age, I was riddled with disgust and hate for myself—a mindset that was formed from a narrative given to me by my spiritual leaders. Pastors continually condemned "homosexuals" and their "lifestyle" using phrases like "love the sinner, hate the sin" with an emphasis on hating the sin and very little loving the sinner. Teachers in grade school told me to act less girly to escape being bullied. A pastor at a local grocery store looked at my hand and walked away as I greeted him, shortly after my sexuality was common knowledge. I have many stories of constant marginalization by Adventist pastors and teachers. Recently, relationships have been severed due to my lifestyle and my advocacy for LGBT Adventists. Yet just as I identify with being bisexual, I identify with Adventism theologically and culturally.
I believe in the Seventh-day Sabbath as the day of worship. I believe in the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ and the great controversy between Christ and Satan. I believe in the gift of prophecy, and above all I believe in God's gift of salvation, mercy and infinite love. I know what I believe; I cannot simply choose a different faith any more than I can choose my sexuality.
Although it's true that I've been condemned, ex-communicated (although we Seventh-day Adventists don't officially practice it) and hurt by Seventh-day Adventist people, I understand that they are human. Truly people of any faith or religion will be given many reasons to leave at the hands of others. But shouldn't leaving and staying should be based on belief in one's heart and not solely on the words or actions of other people?
These past two years I've dealt with political walls in my mission to make Adventist universities safe for LGBT students. Many Adventists have used an interpretation of scripture to allow dehumanization and inequality of LGBT students. My entire life has been a fight for my right to fellowship with my church family despite my sexual orientation. Through it all I hold to this promise:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Although many hurtful things have happened to me, I've also had great experiences. The Adventist educational system has taught me to think spiritually and academically about my beliefs. It's because of Adventist education that I'm still Adventist. Some of my most respected mentors are in the church. My freshmen year at Andrews University, my spiritual life was revitalized by a vespers named "Fusion" that placed its emphasis on bringing all of the diverse nationalities and backgrounds on campus to one common ground to worship. It is the Seventh-day Adventist church that taught me about God's love and it is God who shows me love every time I'm hurt by other Christians.
Daneen Akers, a friend and also director of "Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film About Faith on the Margins," was recently quoted by Believe Out Loud, an online network that empowers Christians to work for LGBT equality, elevating the people and places where Christianity and LGBT justice intersect.
Why should someone have to change their religion if that's the language and view of God that brings them clarity and peace.
Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13: 35). I had a chance to leave the church a long time ago. Even now, as my blog posts create waves in the Adventist church and I'm faced with losing relationships, my personal life completely torn apart by the general public, and even legal threats, I still remain Adventist. We may disagree on what the Bible says about human sexuality, but I still love them. When I was little, my mom would not allow us to go to bed angry at each other. Even through teenage years we would stop whatever argument we were having long enough to let each other know we love each other before going to sleep. The Adventist church is my family. So no matter how much people try to "other" me and tell me I'm an abomination—I will still stay. I don't care the consequence, I will not abandon my family.
—A student at Andrews University, Eliel Cruz is President of the Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition. This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.