The Swedish Union of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has created a document about LGBT+ individuals and the importance of taking care of “all people in a loving way, regardless of sexual orientation or identity.”
Titled “Room for Everyone,” it was created by the Union’s Executive Committee with the help of a study group, and approved on May 12, 2019. “The work has been marked by prayer and sincere talks, we have interviewed representatives of the LGBTQ [community] about their experiences and aspirations in relation to the church and engaged the community pastors and Bible workers to comment,” stated Rainer Refsbäck, executive secretary.
The work for the guidelines outlined in this document first began at the 2017 Union Session, when the Executive Committee was commissioned to provide information and guidance for churches on how to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ members. The study group was appointed in the fall of 2018 and has met over the last several months. The study group consisted of Rainer Refsbäck (convener / union executive secretary), Bobby Sjölander (union president), Lillemor Brandum (deputy chairperson of the Executive Committee), David Cederström (pastor), Liane Edlund (editor / pastor), Jonathan Karlsson (ministerial student / Bible instructor), Christopher Laubscher (pastor), and Anna Tegebo (youth director).
According to the document, the study group based its work on the Bible, reviewed the various statements and studies done by the Church and church-related organizations in regards to LGBT+ individuals, and “interviewed five persons who in different ways have personal experience with LGBTQ and who are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church or are in some way associated with it.” The Executive Committee did not wish to re-examine the Church’s theological views on sexuality and marriage, but rather sought to equip local churches and members on how to better understand and treat LGBTQ members.
The five page document discusses the challenges faced by LGBT+ individuals, stating “Many LGBTQs have learned to live with a feeling of exclusion from an early age, which makes it difficult for them to believe that the Church really welcomes and accepts them.” The document continues,
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sweden has failed in its relationship to LGBTQs and has neither promoted confidence nor created conditions for constructive dialogue. For a long time, the Church has had a hard time recognizing and managing the complexity of the LGBTQ issue. Although the Church has clear theological explanations concerning sexuality and marriage, these often lack guidance for pastoral and spiritual care in congregations. This lack of knowledge and insight means that members and employees often fail in their response to LGBTQs. There is a lack of clarity about concepts and phenomena, and often the definitions of terms such as sexual orientation, gender identity and sexual practice are confused, which can lead to condemnation of LGBTQs solely for their sexual orientation.”
In a section titled “What Do We Want to Achieve?” the document states, “We want to overcome as many obstacles as possible so that the Church can become a safe place where everyone — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity — can get to know God and grow as His disciples.”
Eleven “We Want to Affirm…” statements are included in the document:
• We want to affirm that God loves everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. We do not condone singling out any group for scorn and derision, let alone abuse.
• We want to affirm all those who have experienced injury or unloving treatment in the church community because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We want to express our grief and ask for forgiveness when this has happened.
• We want to affirm the biblical teaching that God created humanity in His own image, as male and female, and that He instituted marriage between a man and a woman as His original will and ideal for sexual relations. At the same time, we want to affirm the needs of all persons for closeness, meaningful fellowship and loving relationships.
• We want to affirm that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, falls short in relation to the Creator’s ideal and need God’s grace and power. We need humility when relating to one another’s struggles and the pursuit of Christlikeness.
• We want to affirm that the sexual orientation of a person is not a sin in and of itself or a cause for condemnation or guilt. Sexual orientation describes whom a person is attracted to and should not be confused with having an immoral desire. Jesus Christ gives us power and grace to live to His glory regardless of our sexual orientation.
• We want to affirm that only Jesus Christ can save and form a person and that the church’s mission is to invite everyone to closer fellowship with Him.
• We want to affirm that issues of sexuality in general and LGBTQ in particular are complex and not as simple as they often appear. Sexuality is part of every person’s unique personality and affects many parts of life and not just sexual intercourse.
• We want to affirm that Adventist pastors, Bible instructors, leaders, and members wish to support LGBTQ’s need for spiritual development and commitment to Christ in a safe community regardless of their theological notion of sexual orientation or sexual practice.
• We affirm that pastors, Bible instructors and church leaders need education and in-depth understanding of LGBTQs and their spiritual longing and need for fellowship.
• We want to affirm that sexual orientation and gender identity per se are not an obstacle to becoming a member and serving. The local church has the authority and responsibility to make decisions, in each individual case and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, on who will become a member, serve, and represent the church according to the biblical principles we share.
• We affirm that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sweden needs to continue to work on the challenges and opportunities faced by the Church in relation to LGBTQs. Church leaders and congregations need to continue to study the Word of God and to promote conversation with LGBTQs and about issues of sexuality to make the Church a safe and welcoming place for everyone.
The document concludes with five recommendations from the study group:
• to approve the document “Room for Everyone” as the official statement on values in relation to LGBTQs for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sweden and its churches;
• that the material “Guiding Families of LGBT + Loved Ones” produced by the North American Division is translated into Swedish and adapted;
• that the study group is tasked with producing study material for members in general about the values that are included in the document “Room for Everyone”;
• that pastors and church leaders receive some form of training by knowledgeable lecturers, a list of literature recommended for reading and a list of organizations that can be engaged for educational purposes in the churches;
• that an overall plan for continued work on the LGBTQ issue is produced by the Administrative Committee in its annual planning
The “Room for Everyone” document is just one part of the work, said Refsbäck. The study group will continue to meet to produce additional material for study and discussion.
The full document is available in both Swedish and English on the Swedish Union’s website. The English translation is also included below:
Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
Photo by Rajshri Bharath KS on Unsplash
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