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Rocky Mountain Conference Threatens Boulder Church Over Gay Member Transfer

Dave Ferguson attends the Boulder Seventh-day Adventist Church

On January 16, 2024, Dave Ferguson met with Geoff Patterson, senior pastor of the Boulder Seventh-day Adventist Church in Colorado, and Mark Johnson, its board chair. Ferguson and his husband, Peter, had been part of the congregation for almost a year, and he felt it was appropriate to request to transfer his membership there. “Is this going to be a problem?” Ferguson (pictured) recalled asking the two church leaders.  

They didn’t think so. “We have probably been more welcoming than most Adventist churches,” Johnson said of the church’s acceptance of LGBTQ people. 

Less than a 10-minute drive from the University of Colorado Boulder campus, the 667-member congregation has tried to foster a culture of openness and love. It has a reputation within the Rocky Mountain Conference as welcoming and forward thinking, Johnson said in an interview. “I have heard people call us the gay church. I have heard people say, ‘Boulder, all they do is love, love, love.’” 

The church’s core mission, according to its website, is to “follow the greatest commandments given by Jesus in both the first and second testaments: love God. Love others.” Still, a similar request lingered in the memory of the church’s leadership as they discussed Ferguson’s request.

Nearly a decade ago, a lesbian couple tried to transfer their membership from the La Sierra University Church in Southern California. While the Boulder Church’s board voted to recommend the acceptance of their membership transfer, Johnson said pressure from the Rocky Mountain Conference, the North American Division, and the General Conference derailed the process. The couple became “partners” of the church rather than members—a compromise that offered some membership benefits, like a church school constituency discount, but withheld others. The solution caused tension among some members, but Johnson said “the conference was happy.” 

As Johnson and Patterson reviewed this history with Ferguson, they signaled that the majority of the church would be accepting of Ferguson. “There was no secret to anybody that he was a gay man, married to a gay man,” Johnson said. They were uncertain, though, about how the conference would respond. A new administration had been elected since the last time they had broached this topic. “We discussed that perhaps things had moved along to where if we did accept him as a member, we might be able to convince the conference to let us work through the ramifications of all of that.” But they still weren’t sure.

Ferguson submitted his transfer request and church leaders vowed to follow the membership transfer process outlined in the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual. Then came a larger question: What say does the conference have over who is a member of a congregation?


When Ferguson was born, one of his mother’s aunts decided his parents needed spiritual advice. “You really should be taking your son to Sabbath school,” she told them. His immediate family had grown up in and around the Adventist church but weren’t active members. Eventually, the entire family unit—including Ferguson’s Presbyterian-raised father—started attending their local Adventist church. In an interview with Spectrum Ferguson recalls, “At age 12, when it was time for me to be baptized, I said, ‘I will be baptized, but I want to be baptized with my father.’” The church’s leaders were surprised—they thought his father, a long time attendee, was already baptized! After his father completed Bible studies, they were baptized together. 

Ferguson wanted to be a pastor. He studied at Union College, majoring in theology and music. But something loomed over him—and he didn’t quite understand what it was or how he would define it. It called his future into question.

“I knew very early on, probably when I was three or four years old, that I had an attraction to men, but I had no idea what it was,” he said. “It wasn’t until my second year in college that I came across the word “homosexual” and realized, ‘Oh, that’s me.’” It was kind of scary—and, at the time, unacceptable. “I confided in some people in the religion department, and they said, ‘Oh, it’s alright. Just find the right girl, and you’ll be fine.’” 

Ferguson knew he’d need to get married to be sponsored to attend the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University and become a pastor. He got married and recalls thinking, “this would take care of everything because that’s what they said.”  He adds, “I was naive enough to believe that what they said was true.”

However, his attraction to men remained. He talked to a professor in the psychology department at Andrews who prescribed him counseling. After a series of sessions, his psychologist told him he was cured. “Well, a couple of weeks later, I knew that wasn’t true,” Ferguson recalls. 

He and his new wife struggled to find something that would “change” him. He worked with a variety of therapists. Some would ask why he wouldn’t just accept that his sexual orientation was simply part of who he is. To him, such a suggestion seemed like a siren call. “I’d say to them, ‘Thank you very much, I won’t be back.’” He knew that if he didn’t change, it would be the end of his ministry as a pastor.

In the 1970s, Ferguson became an associate pastor at the Boulder Church. Desperate for a solution, he tried an anointing and even an exorcism. After his time in Boulder and some church planting in Colorado, he moved to Sacramento where he continued to pastor. He attended a “change ministry” partially funded by the General Conference and supported by additional denominational entities. (This reparative therapy program led by Colin Cook was later shut down when sexual abuse allegations against Cook surfaced, after its efficacy had been repeatedly questioned.) 

Out of options, Ferguson realized that all the denomination’s resources, and even God, wouldn’t change this part of him. He sensed the impending end of his marriage and he feared he would never see his young son again. He experienced suicidal ideation. It was a dark time—he had spent his adult life trying to minister in a professional and religious context that defined him as an especially flawed human, and fundamentally, a spiritual failure. 

Ferguson left pastoral ministry in the late 1980s to become a financial broker at EF Hutton. Friends and former colleagues on the Loma Linda University Church pastoral staff encouraged him to maintain his church membership by transferring it there. 

Ferguson’s mom had been supportive through his journey, but she was worried now that he was out how his father would react. As Ferguson’s divorce finalized, he told his father while driving to a ski resort. Ferguson recalls his dad asking him to pull over and get out. “I came around, and he gave me a big hug.” It was unusual for his father to hug anybody, making it all the more profound. “Rather than killing him, it was the real beginning of a wonderful relationship for the rest of his life with me” Ferguson says.

Over the next four decades, he found church communities that welcomed him and pastors who were accepting, or at least tolerant. He was offered leadership positions and speaking engagements, but refused speaking opportunities, wary of backlash from church administration. However, while a member of the Crescenta Valley Church in California, he found fulfillment directing their three choirs and organizing music programs.

When he moved his membership and joined the Glendale City Church, he was asked to be head deacon. He was surprised—his appointment was technically against church policy. Still, they insisted he accept the position as a sign of acceptance and involvement. Later, he became the president of the Glendale City Church’s outreach endowment. “I felt like I had come full circle at that point,” Ferguson said. “I was so grateful to be involved.” Ferguson also served for over 20 years as the director of church relations for Seventh-day Kinship International, where he advocated for LGBTQ people within the Adventist Church. He also founded a youth orchestra sponsored by Glendale City Church.

After he retired, Ferguson moved back to Colorado. He returned to Estes Park, where his grandfather had built an old cabin. The Boulder Church was only an hour away, so in April 2023, Ferguson and his husband began attending. Their experience would differ from the other churches they attended in one key way. “At each of the churches that I’ve been out at, there have been pastors who knew that I was gay, and they weren’t trying to kick me out.”


After the initial mid-January conversation about membership, that included senior pastor Geoff Patterson, debate heated up. By February 6, the Boulder Church had received Ferguson’s membership transfer from the Glendale City Church. Boulder’s elders met to discuss the transfer. While no vote was taken then, Johnson said he sensed the elders were split five to two on accepting Ferguson’s transfer. 

The rift deepened when the Rocky Mountain Conference caught wind of Ferguson’s proposed membership transfer. Conference President Mic Thurber told Spectrum in a phone interview that the first time he was told of Ferguson’s request was on February 5, while attending the North American Division’s yearly conference president meetings. Patterson—whom the Boulder Church declined to make available for an interview—had called to inform Thurber of the pending transfer. Thurber’s first reaction, he said, was that conference leaders would not receive it well and he wanted to meet with Patterson to discuss the issue. 

On February 13, Thurber summarized his thoughts in a letter to Patterson. “Our church believes (and I support) that the Scriptures teach that sexual expression is reserved for a man and a woman in a marriage relationship, and that is the basis of the Adventist expressions on this issue,” he wrote. He stated that church membership was “not appropriate” when “homosexual relationships are practiced.” He suggested Boulder receive him as another believer in fellowship, but not as a church member. “I am more than sure that the Boulder Church can do that very well,” Thurber wrote. 

What Thurber did not convey in the letter but told Patterson, according to Mark Johnson, the head elder, was that conference leaders felt as though they were being “played,” as though Ferguson had an ulterior motive or agenda for transferring his membership.

The next step was for the board to recommend whether the church’s members should vote to accept Ferguson as a church member. According to the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, the process for transferring church membership begins and ends with the vote of the church at large. The sending church—in this case, the Glendale City Church—must hold two readings of the proposed membership change. At the second reading, the transfer is approved or denied by a simple majority vote of the members present. Alternatively, the church can opt to vote during a business meeting rather than the weekly worship service. Then, the receiving church follows a similar process, but only after the church board has issued a recommendation to accept the member. The transfer is effective following the final vote. 

Most transfers come and go with little noteworthiness. The authority to determine church membership lies with the local church. Objections, though rare, can be brought during the week between the first and second reading. Most have no procedural standing. 

“The receiving church must receive the member unless it knows a valid reason it should not extend the privilege of membership,” the church manual reads in its membership section. Additionally, “qualifying statements” are “out of order” unless the person requesting to be a church member is a known perpetrator of child abuse. 

Boulder’s board voted seven to four to recommend Ferguson’s membership transfer. “We had about a three-hour discussion of the ramifications of this, and we determined that all we could do as a board was either recommend to accept, transfer, or recommend not to accept the transfer,” Johnson said. “We could not make that decision ourselves.”

At the end of the March 2 worship service, the church held the first reading for Ferguson’s transfer. It happened after the livestream cameras were off. Johnson said Patterson took special time to explain the process for church membership transfers and the uniqueness of this specific transfer. 

Meanwhile, Ferguson received a warm welcome in the Sabbath School class where he occasionally led out. He had decided to press forward with his membership transfer, even though he was concerned because he felt the conference was encroaching upon the local church’s control over who its members are. “That group wanted me to be involved in the congregation,” he said. This made him feel better, especially as the next Sabbath, March 9, neared when the final vote would happen during a specially called afternoon business meeting.

It was a “potluck Sabbath.” Patterson’s sermon, “The Call of The Spirit and The Bride,” drew from Revelation 22:17. Ferguson noticed more people than usual at potluck. Before the business meeting began, a woman approached Ferguson to express how grateful she was that he would be a member. Her nephew (who lives outside of Colorado) is gay and feels isolated. She told Ferguson that his official membership would mean so much to her family. 

The business meeting had exactly 100 church members in attendance. It began with an overview of the transfer and its potential consequences. The Rocky Mountain Conference still opposed it and communicated to Patterson that the church could be disciplined if they voted in favor. This included the possible dissolution of the Boulder Church. 

They also reviewed the denomination’s practice of offering “fellowship rather than membership.” 

“We also discussed some of the other side of why we may want to move ahead, some of the compassion and mercy side, the way the world has moved, and some of the disagreements on some of the biblical statements that are used to combat same-sex marriages,” Johnson said. 

The ninety-minute discussion tested the congregation’s harmony. Some said they would vote with their feet and leave if Ferguson was granted membership. One person read a passage from Leviticus 20. Some teenagers spoke on behalf of families who were opposed. Others defended Ferguson, noting his reputation and service to the Adventist church. “We were very clear throughout the process that we were voting on the membership transfer of one individual, not a class of individuals,” Johnson said. “Dave’s personal history influenced many of our members and how they voted.” 

The discussion closed with a secret ballot vote. 60 members voted in favor of the membership transfer. 40 members voted against. Ferguson was now a member of the Boulder Church.

According to Johnson, Thurber was not pleased with the action. “He said that there would almost certainly have to be some sort of disciplinary action and that it would be taken up by the executive committee of the conference at their meeting in April.” 

Thurber put it this way: “They made an active decision to do something that’s outside of our doctrinal practice, and they knew this. As long as you’re voting things that are within our scope of practice, nobody would say anything, but this is not within that scope, and so that then required the representative body of the constituents, which is the executive committee, to take a look at it and decide if that merited further action.”


The first official response from the Rocky Mountain Conference came a month later at the executive committee’s April 9 meeting. They invited Patterson and Johnson to speak. 

“It became rather clear from the tenor of the discussion and the questions that were raised that this was not going to be left to the local church to work through, and there would be some sort of action taken against the church,” Johnson said. The committee questioned whether or not the church understood church policy, and why Patterson guided the church “down such a dangerous road.” They suggested the church “didn’t understand that this was clearly an abomination to the Lord,” Johnson said. 

The committee recessed for lunch, and reconvened without Johnson and Patterson. They voted to warn the Boulder Church that if they didn’t rescind the membership transfer, the conference would begin the process of disciplining the church. They threatened a special constituency session to disband the congregation because “church status is not necessarily perpetual.” 

“Though the Glendale City Seventh-day Adventist Church considered the person in question to be a member in regular standing, the clear doctrinal position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church says this cannot be so,” the executive committee’s response read. They gave the church a June 18 deadline for rescinding  Ferguson’s membership transfer in time for their next executive committee meeting. 

The Boulder Church had several options. They could vote to discipline Ferguson–a move with little support. They could continue to push forward against the conference executive committee’s wishes, and risk further dividing members and face the threat of dissolution. Or, they could work with Ferguson to reverse the membership transfer.

If the Boulder Church were disbanded, the church’s members would become members of the “conference church,” a holding body typically for members who move to isolated regions without an Adventist Church nearby. If the church was disbanded at a special constituency session, Ferguson likely would be disfellowshipped. 

Johnson notes that the church accepted Ferguson as a member because of who he is—a gay man in a monogamous committed relationship who lived out the doctrines of the church. Still, Thurber said, that reasoning conflicts with Adventist Church policy. “This is really odd to me that we’re being put on the defensive for defending the doctrines of the church here, and I think that’s an unfair place to place us,” Thurber said. “I can’t find in our doctrinal positions an exception for what Dr. Johnson has presented in his rationale.” 

The Rocky Mountain Conference’s compliance argument on this issue differs from its approach to issues like women’s ordination. At their last constituency meeting, the conference voted to start ordaining women. Thurber rejected any comparison, stating, “I think the argument is a false equivalency, and I do not accept it.”He argued that one is a policy issue, the other a doctrinal issue.

“I do not accept that the only way that we can prove we love somebody is to dismantle our doctrinal boundaries to accommodate them,” Thurber said. “I think we can accommodate them in worship and fellowship, but there are lots of boundaries that are drawn in scripture, and this is one the Adventist Church has drawn, and as such, I believe in supporting that,” he added. 

Framing the issue as a test of the church’s core principles–especially regarding marriage and the family–Thurber points to the church’s fundamental beliefs, which say marriage was “established in Eden” as a lifelong union “between a man and woman.” 

The issue, Thurber believes, “is that the world church has made a decision,” and the Boulder Church must be in harmony with it. “Local churches, local conferences, we don’t get to make up doctrinal practices on our own,” Thurber said. “We do this as a worldwide body.” 

The conference’s responsibility to “make sure that local churches are active in harmony with the rest of their sister churches,” he said, noting that local issues affect the entire body of believers. “A local church is a member of the conference family by the good graces of their sister churches.” 

As conference president, Mic Thurber does not think he can make anyone reach a consensus on the issue. “It’s not my job to change somebody’s mind, but it is my job to help the church find its way in deciding if it wants to uphold the worldwide church’s stance in this area. And that’s what I’ve done,” he said. 


The Boulder Church never had to decide whether to press forward or not. On Patterson’s advice, Ferguson opted to transfer his membership back to the Glendale City Church. 

The cloud of controversy still hangs over the Boulder Church. Two of the church’s elders have stated they will transfer out  to other churches. According to Johnson, one elder attempted to initiate church discipline upon Ferguson by making a motion during a board meeting to “censure [him], give him a year to change his lifestyle, and if he did not, to disfellowship him.” The board voted down the motion.

Some members wish the church would have fought harder to protect Ferguson. And some question whether the issue was worth the brouhaha. “It appeared that no matter what we did, there would be continued divisiveness,” Johnson said. 

Patterson has attempted to mend the tears in the church fabric by speaking on disagreeing in a Christian manner. “Nobody feels like they won. Everybody feels like something’s been pushed over on them either by the church in business session or by the conference.”

For Ferguson, the entire process has been very hurtful. “Emotionally, I went through a lot of pain from it,” he said. But he was not surprised. “Since I’ve been involved in trying to be supportive of the members of the Adventist LGBT community for over 20 years, it’s not something that comes to me unexpectedly from the conference, especially knowing that the General Conference has put on a lot of pressure.” 

Ferguson also knows that he is not the only married gay person in the Rocky Mountain Conference. “I want people to understand that the church is having some issues, not just with me, but with basic biblical teachings.” He points to the rule he sees as fundamental: “love your neighbor as yourself.” “The church is not doing that at this point,” he says.

The first reading of Ferguson’s membership transfer happened on a communion Sabbath.  Before the church divided into groups for foot washing, Patterson gave a short homily, titled “With One Mind.”

Being “of one accord,” he said, is an easy concept, but it is difficult to implement. 

“We’re taking the emblems today that are the symbol of the broken body and the blood of Jesus,” Patterson said. “We’re receiving them into ourselves so the reality of Jesus figuratively becomes a part of who we are, so that we might also receive the mind of Christ.” 

He told his parishioners that while they do not all agree, they can have love for one another. They are all at a single table as equals before God. 

The second reading to transfer Ferguson’s membership back to the Glendale City Church happened on April 27. He knows that many people would be willing to offer letters of support for him if he wanted to persist. He can list current and former conference presidents who would vouch for him. “I know that they would give high recommendations for me, but I’m not to the point of trying to fight.” The issue is out of his hands. He adds, “The local church congregation will take care of these things.”

Samuel Girven

About the author

Samuel Girven is the Special Projects Correspondent for Spectrum. You can email him at More from Samuel Girven.
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