This weekend at the Spectrum UltraViolet Arts Festival in Glendale, California, the new film project from Daneen Akers and Stephen Eyer, the producers of Seventh-Gay Adventists, will debut. The film entitled "Enough Room at the Table" is created to be a companion to the SGA Movie, and seeks to answer the question, "What Next?" Daneen and Stephen will not be in attendance, but arrangements have been made for a conversation following the screening to be facilitated by Chris Blake. In November of 2014, when the film was in the formative stages, I spoke with Daneen Akers about her hopes for the project ("Makers of Seventh-Gay Adventists Say New Film Project Answers Qustion 'What Next?'). Below, Daneen talks about the film's coming to fruition, and about the topic of LGBTQ Adventism today.
What's the story behind the title of this film?
We didn’t have a title for this film going into it but hoped one would emerge over the course of the filming. This new film is really meant to be a model of intentional, respectful, and inclusive dialogue about the intersection of faith, gender, and sexuality in the church. We invited 12 Adventists from around the country to participate for a weekend of conversation, and we intentionally invited a diverse group. The group included pastors, educators, parents, and LGBT Adventists (one who wouldn’t now identify as gay but same-sex attracted), all from from differing theological paradigms, experiences, and perspectives. Nobody except the facilitator knew who else was going to be participating, but they all were the type of people who, no matter their beliefs, were open and willing to dialogue in a genuine and authentic way with others. Our hope is that this group would model what is possible when we can talk and share as people and not just labels or positions statements. And that’s what happened—and it was a huge privilege to watch that happen.
The space we were filming at near Angwin, California was a great space, but it had a table that I didn’t think would fit the whole group at once. This group proved me wrong. The first evening together after a day of incredible bonding and sharing, this group all pulled up chairs around the table and managed to fit and continue sharing.
The next morning, the facilitator talked about how the previous evening “we discovered that we had enough room at the table for all of us.” And that phrase, “Enough Room at the Table,” just really jumped out as a perfect title that encapsulates the goal of dialogue like this. For too long the only people invited to the table to talk were a select few. In particular, LGBT people have been intentionally shut out of conversations about LGBT people. And that causes much harm, both for our LGBT brothers and sisters and their families, and for anyone who cares about how we treat each other, regardless of our differences. Less than a day into the dialogue, one of the pastor participants said, “It hasn’t even been a full day and already I can’t imagine this day not happening. My life is so much richer and my view of God so much better having just met everyone here.” That’s the beautiful and profound space that is created when we truly engage with all of the voices who need and want to be at the table of conversation. We find that there is enough room at the table. And it’s a beautiful thing! It’s church at its very best.
You won't be able to be in attendance for this screening. If you had been able to be there, what would you have wanted to say to the audience that will be watching it?
I’m eight months pregnant with another daughter, and so I’m beyond my capacity for traveling very far at the moment. Part of me is really disappointed about that because I love the conversational spaces that Spectrum creates, and I’m particularly thrilled with the artists presenting this weekend (Jennifer Knapp’s incredible rendition of “Jesus Loves Me” plays over the credits of Seventh-Gay Adventists, and I’ve heard her perform and speak before and am bummed to miss this in Glendale!)
However, our goal with this companion dialogue film was really to model what we hope the community will now do. It’s time for individuals to take control and be empowered to start conversations in their own circles, families, and churches. Our vision of this film isn’t a cinema experience but a small group of five to ten people connecting and sharing in living rooms and around dining room tables. I know it can be a hard and scary thing to intentionally talk about topics that are often incredibly divisive. But these conversations are the crucial first steps for healing and helpful shifts, and the ripple effects of each of us taking up the call to provide a space for those conversations will be powerful. I love how this group models that. It is not a requirement at all to be in full agreement—it simply takes being open to walking with others in a mutually respectful and authentic way to start talking. And that conversation will lead to closer relationships, more authenticity, more healing, and more people at the table of fellowship that none of us owns but that we’re all invited to. So I would simply encourage people to watch, listen, find others to engage with, and use the resources we’re developing to host your own small group conversations. It’s time for each of us to be the change that we want to see, and that starts with listening and talking together in intentional, authentic, safe, and inclusive spaces. This film is meant to model how that can happen.
Besides the obvious fact that you have a background in film making, what makes film your medium of choice for exploring the topic of LGBTQ experiences within the Adventist context?
I think there’s something about looking into each other’s eyes and hearing each other's voices that has great power to connect us, even when we don’t always agree. The medium of film humanizes and personalizes what has far too often been a purely abstract and disconnected theological debate. But the incarnation of Jesus and his ministry, which was intentionally personal, really highlights the importance of connecting as people, as fellow beloved children of the Divine. Jesus engaged on a personal level, and he actually seemed to care little about theological debates except around how God and the values of the Kingdom were depicted. His main emphasis was about how we treat each other. And so we want to model really seeing each other and engaging in that space of personal relationships in this conversation.
How do you feel about the present and the future of the Adventist Church's relationship with its LGBTQ membership?
It depends if I’m looking at the corporate church or what’s happening in local congregations and between people. At the corporate level, it’s been a depressing summer all around. San Antonio felt like a push to further define, contain, and draw firm boundary lines—for women, LGBT people, scientists. And I’m still regularly hearing really hurtful stories about how churches and families often respond to someone coming out as non-heterosexual or non gender-conforming. But there’s also more awareness than ever before that the status quo isn’t working and something must change, that regardless of the differing theological paradigms and experiences, it’s wrong to continue as we have. People in the pews are absolutely stepping up and starting to take risks in the name of love and listening to those currently excluded by the corporate church.
Thematically, the UltraViolet Festival is asking the question, "Where do you find hope?" How would you answer that question?
I find hope in people. More and more local churches and, most importantly, individual Adventists, are committing to doing the hard work to bring about real changes in how we listen and engage, particularly with those who our current system is not just excluding but hurting. As a pastor in this dialogue film points out (referring to a Christian theologian’s analogy), LGBT people are really the canaries in the coal mine. If our churches aren’t safe for them, are they really safe for any of us?
Production notes and loose ends--Say just a bit about what went into the film's production, and how it will be rolled out.
I’d like to thank the grassroots community that made this film possible, and I just really want to encourage people to commit to taking this conversation to the next level in their own homes, churches, and communities. We know what we need to do, and it’s time to do it! Watch Enough Room at the Table, download the facilitator’s guide we’re putting together at http://www.enoughroomfilm.com, commit to getting a diverse group around your table for a day to simply begin talking and connecting as people and fellow companions on this journey. The film premieres this weekend at the UltraViolet Arts Festival, and then we’ll be releasing it widely at the end of the month with the accompanying materials that we hope will give others the tools they need to grow this conversation, beginning in their own living rooms.
This film was very difficult to edit as hearing this group talk is a real treat--I just haven't seen this sort of conversation before. Our cut of "must have" content was five hours long! (The run time is an hour and 40 minutes now.) So we are going to have extensive special features available along with the film when we release at the end of the month.
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