In an attempt to respond to the cultural conversation on the LGBT community, the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University published a 21-page document showing just how unfit they are to contribute to the conversation. The document, An Understanding of the Biblical View on Homosexual Practice and Pastoral Care, lacks basic understanding of human sexuality as its authors conflate sex, gender, and sexuality.
But that’s just the tip of the titanic sized iceberg that sunk this document before it even left the Seminary’s harbor. The document took six months to develop by the Seminary Dean’s Council and Faculty. It included “input from Seminary town hall meetings, Andrews University administration, the Lake Union Conference, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists and the Biblical Research Institute.”
Frankly, it’s embarrassing that dozens of individuals with graduate level education wrote a document which lacks basic understanding on gender and sexuality. This isn’t a critique on their non-affirming theology of same-sex relationships (which was expected). This is commentary on the fact these authors with PhDs (and a JD) could not fill in as a substitute teacher on a single Gender and Sexuality 101 class.
In the opening paragraphs, the document purports to address “homosexuality, bisexuality, and the variety of transgender identities.” Except, sexuality and gender identity are two separate things. Moreover, nowhere in the document do they actually discuss trans issues. The word transgender is haphazardly thrown in to make sure they got all the letters in the LGBT acronym.
The document discusses “homosexual practice” which–I’m assuming–means same-sex sex. I’m not sure how to “practice” homosexuality and the document doesn’t elaborate. These language issues are small but important in illuminating the lack of fluency with which its authors discuss the LGBT community.
So, the context for this document is severely lacking – and so is the content.
The document has two sections: one on the official Seventh-day Adventist interpretation on six verses that describe same-sex sex. The second section offers a pastoral approach to LGBT people.
The first section simply regurgitates the go-to scriptural understanding of same-sex sex. There is nothing there besides the same positions the Seventh-day Adventist Church have propounded time and time again. The Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Adventist Theological Seminary have yet to engage, in any official capacity, interpretations that differ from their long-standing position. That is despite the fact there are pastors both working in the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist and at the Seminary that hold (albeit secretly) affirming positions on same-sex relationships.
This section is redundant to the past conferences and resources that have been produced by Seventh-day Adventist official organizations. There are books that debunk this position (my favorite being “Bible, Gender, Sexuality” by James Brownson), so I won’t spend time doing so here.
A more interesting question is why the Andrews University felt the need to restate their position in the first place. The answer is simple: the cultural shifts in our church regarding the LGBT community has made them feel the need to respond. Yet, they have nothing new to share so the document repackages old content.
Case in point, the second section on pastoral care. This section doesn’t actually provide tangible examples of pastoral care. There are a lot of words but no actual content.
The entire section argues that pastors need to bring “behavioral change” to make LGBT people celibate, but be loving at the same time. There’s lots of talk of grace and love and sensitivity towards LGBT people. However, there are no tangible suggestions for how one practically does so. This is in part due to the fact that the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists hasn’t provided examples either. The Seminary can’t go and propose ideas that the GC hasn’t already provided.
For instance, the document says “we must also be sensitive to the reality of high rates of homelessness and suicide among gay youth.” It also discusses the bullying, hate crimes, and murders of LGBT people and encourages pastors to extend pastoral care. But, how exactly? If my time at Andrews University taught me anything it’s that even just listening to LGBT stories from LGBT students is scandalous. And LGBT students just this last year weren’t allowed to fund raise for LGBT homeless youth – a decision many in the Seminary co-signed.
Indeed, there were no practical examples of pastoral care besides encouragement to lead all people attracted to the same gender to lead a celibate life.
The lack of tangible examples of pastoral care points to the conflict in the Seventh-day Adventist church. Dozens upon dozens of former “ex-gay” leaders coming out and saying the practice not only doesn’t work but is harmful. Yet, it’s still not been fully condemned in the church as many Seventh-day Adventist leaders promote it. Even the document holds out hope for change despite reparative therapy being dangerous to LGBT people.
There is severe cognitive dissonance when the very rhetoric used in the first 15 pages condemning same-sex relationships is what drives many of the disparities the document admits LGBT people face. How is one supposed to address an epidemic – be it homelessness, bullying, or spiritual abuse – that they have caused in the first place?
The Andrews University Seminary is ill equipped to address the LGBT community themselves let alone be giving any advice.
Eliel Cruz is a speaker and writer on religion, (bi)sexuality, media, and culture at The Advocate, Mic, and Religion News Service. His work has also been published in the Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, Washington Post, Soujourners, DETAILS Magazine, Quartz, Rolling Stone, and various other international platforms.
He's the co-founder and former president of Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition, an organization that advocates for safe spaces for LGBT students at Seventh-day Adventist colleges. He has a BBA & BA in International Business and French Studies from Andrews University. This article originally appeared on his website, ElielCruz.com, and is reprinted with permission.
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