As the world celebrates Pride Month, we turn our attention to a few current events concerning the LGBTQ Adventist community. The Adventist Church has long wrestled with questions of identity and inclusion, often leading to a division of opinions among members and within leadership. While progress toward official inclusion and growth in empathy and grace seem slow, we can also celebrate the steps that the church has taken toward equality.
The Uganda Crisis
The most devastating recent news regarding the relationship between the LGBTQ community and Adventism comes from Uganda, where on May 29 the country’s president signed a bill to "crack down" on homosexuality. Though anti-homosexuality laws already existed in Uganda, this bill adds more severe punishments, including life imprisonment for consensual same-sex relations and the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Family and friends are now obligated to turn in suspected acquaintances to the authorities, and there are reports of police and others threatening accusations about individuals’ sexual orientations to extort them financially. Institutions, organizations, and even the media are in danger of punishment for the “promotion of homosexuality,” and property owners risk punishment for prohibited sexual activity that takes place on their property.
The passing of this bill has brought widespread international condemnation over its infringement on fundamental human rights, and it has put the lives of LGBTQ people in danger. While LGTBQ people will bear the brunt of this bill’s violence, history tells us that the walls of oppression built by hate are always porous, and injustice directed toward one community will undoubtedly seep into others.
In a message shared by the advocacy group SDA Kinship International, the organization's leader in Zimbabwe calls for the Adventist Church to craft a statement urging the Ugandan government to recognize God's love toward all his creation. "Can we, as SDA Kinship, make a call to the Adventist Church in Africa to protect the dignity of Adventist LGBTQI+ persons?" the leader writes, also suggesting that SDA Kinship urge the General Conference to set guidelines for respecting the humanity of LGBTQ people in Uganda and other African countries with discriminatory laws.
The Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, a conglomeration of clergy and members from different denominations in Uganda, played a direct role in the passing of the bill. Notably, the president of the Uganda Union Mission of the Adventist Church, Moses Maka Ndimukika, is a high-ranking member of this group.
When asked by Spectrum to respond to the alleged involvement of an Adventist leader with the law, the General Conference declined to comment. The silence of the Adventist Church sends a troubling message of consent, as life and death for Ugandans lie precariously in the hands of lawmakers. The alleged support of the president of the Uganda Union Mission sends a disturbing message that one's life is only valued when aligned with General Conference’s beliefs. Despite differing levels of awareness and acceptance on issues surrounding the LGBTQ community, believers should be able to agree that Christ did not only value the lives of those who agreed with him. The Ugandan bill feels like the enemy of progress, and it is certainly the enemy of equality.
Guiding Families Out of Print
In North America, the recent unavailability of a book intended to provide support and resources for Adventists with LGBTQ family members raises concerns, according to Floyd Poenitz, president of SDA Kinship International.
The Guiding Families of LGBT+ Loved Ones booklet is a publication distributed by the North American Division. The booklet was available as a free resource through AdventSource but has been out of stock for months. "It is Pride Month, and it would be ideal to have the only semi-affirming publication from the North American Division available for Adventists members, especially parents, families, and allies,” Poenitz said. Perhaps it is an unfortunate coincidence, he says, since the NAD has portrayed itself as being open to welcoming LGBTQ members as long as they remain celibate and do not marry the same gender. Poenitz fears, however, that pressure from General Conference leaders may have caused the NAD to take steps to slow the production of the books. Poenitz hopes this resource will be available again soon.
While Guiding Families remains inaccessible, the GC continues to support Coming Out Ministries, which critics accuse of sharing anti-gay presentations at Adventist venues and schools. "They are indoctrinating children from Kindergarten about the sin and shame of identifying as anything but traditional cis-gender heterosexual," says Poenitz. "Meanwhile, mental health and wellness [problems] skyrocket in queer Adventist kids growing up, trying to make sense of their internal feelings. The things they learn in school and church lead to a disconnect between how they feel and what they hear. It is no wonder why so many youths leave the church—because it just doesn't compute for them."
Though it is essential to acknowledge the shortcomings and challenges of the Adventist Church concerning the LGBTQ community, it is equally important to recognize the positive strides and successes that have emerged within the community.
In January of this year, Saša Gunjević, pastor at the Hamburg-Grindelberg Adventist Church in Northern Germany, came out to his church as bisexual. In March, the Hanseatic Conference voted to retain his ministerial credentials. Since then, both the conference and Gunjević have received significant backlash. Still, he continues as the senior pastor of the congregation in good standing with the Hanseatic Conference.
Another step in the direction of progress comes from the Danish Union, which held a camp meeting at Vejlefjordskolen with a two-part workshop on LGBTQ Adventists. The presenters were David-Kingsley Kendel and René Bidstrup. The description for the workshop says:
Part 1: A better conversation begins with us listening. We get the opportunity to listen to a conversation between René Bidstrup and David-Kingsley Kendel. David will share and tell his story about being gay and Adventist. Thomas Müller will begin by telling what we want to achieve by having a better conversation about and with each other in relation to the meeting with LGBT+ people in our congregations and in our families.
Part 2: Panel discussion and reflections in the aftermath of the conversation between David and René. We will have a reflection time with the impressions from listening to David's story. How do we learn to be active listeners with respect? How can our values of generosity, empathy, and a community of openness, and more room at the table come into play in this sphere? What have we learned? What experiences of the church would we hope that members of the LGBT+ community and their relatives will meet and/or grow up and live in?
When Adventists create safe spaces for open dialogue, even when broader progress slows, we can pause to celebrate. Recognizing, witnessing, and honoring these stories is a part of the struggle for equality. This Pride Month, we take the opportunity to witness both the successes and the pain of that struggle.
Ezrica Bennett is a writer, public speaker, and coach passionate about working with young adults to help them navigate life and faith. She is also committed to helping churches, and church leaders, find innovative ways to integrate young adults into church leadership and empower them to honor God's calling on their lives.
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