Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International held its 44th Annual Kampmeeting on the weekend of Nov. 9–12. Themed “We Believe” in celebration of the diverse beliefs within the Kinship community, the event involved workshops, presentations, and festivities. Kinship defines itself as “an LGBTQIA+ affirming and inclusive community for current and former Seventh-day Adventists.” The organization's goal with this year’s Kampmeeting was to celebrate the “unity, diversity, and shared experiences of LGBTQ+ current and former Seventh-day Adventists.”
Reflecting on the first Kinship Kampmeeting in 1980, Ronald Lawson, a founding member of Kinship, says, “Our big concern was, does God accept us?” Lawson was one of a handful of original members who returned to attend this year’s Kampmeeting in Riverside, California. “That's what the church clergy preached,” he recalls. Reflecting on the speakers and affirmative feel of the first gathering, he adds, “It was an important message.”
At that first Kampmeeting, former General Conference President Neal Wilson tasked six Adventist theologians, pastors, and counselors with observing and bringing back a report on the gathering. The six included James Cox, Larry Geraty, and Fritz Guy (from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary); James Londis and Josephine Benton (pastors); and Colin Cook, director of a conversion therapy ministry (which has since been shuttered because of alleged sexual molestation of clients). The presence of these Adventist scholars and pastors was not intended to endorse Kinship or homosexuality in the church, but it did place many of the individuals on a path to becoming allies.
The first Kinship meetings had a lasting impact on regular attendees as well. Kinship member Elizabeth Rogers worked for Loma Linda University in the 1980s, teaching in the Department of Physical Therapy. She had been there as a student, graduate student, and then as a member of the faculty. “I had to be deep in the closet,” she recalls. During the AIDS crisis, she began traveling nationally and internationally, offering instruction about how to minister to people with AIDS. She notes, “Suddenly, I was identified as a lesbian.” Rogers subsequently lost her job and had to relocate to find other employment. “Kinship was very important in those days,” she says.
Each gathering since the first meeting has featured similar stories from Kampmeeting attendees who have shared how they were treated by family members, friends, churches, schools, and institutions when they “came out.” Lawson remembers, “When we told our stories, everybody's story was a horror story.”
“We’re still hearing horror stories,” says Floyd Poenitz, president of Kinship. “But the way of dealing with those horror stories is much more positive. People are able to find healthy ways of dealing; whether that’s leaving the church and being healthy or reaching out and working with the church to try to help the church understand us better.”
A small sign of reconciliation between Kinship and the larger denomination was La Sierra University Church’s decision to host some of this year’s meetings on campus in the Sierra Chapel. Lead pastor Iki Taimi pointed back to the groundbreaking work done by Fritz Guy and Larry Geraty, both former presidents of La Sierra University and attendees of the first Kampmeeting. “We want to be a place that welcomes all,” he says, reflecting on the invitation to host the meetings. “What greater honor could one church have?”
“What broke my heart,” says Taimi, “is the idea that people had to go to places that are not churches to meet Jesus because people in the church would not let them meet Jesus where they need[ed] to be met. And these are not even strangers; these are our siblings, these are our kin, this is our family. How could you not say anything but ‘Let’s do this’”?
Gabriel Uribe, Kampmeeting coordinator, said that the involvement of the La Sierra University Church was one of the highlights of this year’s meeting. “[Kinship is] really a support system to people that have been victims of religious trauma,” he says. “Religious trauma is something very real. . . . Churches are places where people go for refuge.”
“Community was a really important thing,” affirms Lawson, reflecting on the three dozen individuals who attended the first Kampmeeting from all over the country—an impressive feat before the internet and social media. “It was the only time in the year that we got to be together.”
In addition to honoring Kinship’s past, attendees also considered the organization’s future. Rogers hopes that Kinship’s support is less necessary now than it was for people who had to address issues of sexual orientation and gender identity 30 years ago. “I'm not sure [today’s young people] need Kinship as much anymore. Because if you’re 30 or 35 or less, what's the big deal? We’re affirmed already. Kinship may be a thing of the past, which would actually be wonderful.”
While that assessment may be optimistic in light of recent official pronouncements from the church regarding the perceived existential threat posed by LGBTQ Adventists, Kinship will continue to provide support to its members—both old and new. Poenitz maintains, “The need for Kinship is still there. I see a good future for Kinship.”
Stephen Chavez is the director of church relations for Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International.
Title image by Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International.
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