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Conference Health Ministry Banned from Vegetarian Fair Due to Church Statement

I wish I had a Spectrum journal subscription for all the times I’ve heard Adventists repeat a version of the following. “We used to be on the cutting edge of health reform, but we compromised and now the world is preaching our message better than us!”

The general sense is that Adventism has lost some witnessing chances due to a tendency to aim for the mainstream, rather than lead progressively. After all, just like our resistance to military combantancy, the prophetic health witness of the 19th century became dulled as Adventists tended to cling to conservative evangelical social values from the 20s through the 60s.

It appears that once again, the current generation of leaders is squandering the various arms of the Advent witness.

In a kindly-worded letter, the Executive Director of the Toronto Vegetarian Association (founded in 1945) points to two official statements by the church in denying the Ontario Conference’s application for a booth at the 2010 Annual Vegetarian Food Fair.

First, we wish to clarify that we recognize and value the work done by the Adventist community to promote healthy vegetarian living. We also want to stress that our objection is not to those who have tabled at the Vegetarian Food Fair in the past. We have every reason to believe that those present at the fair on behalf of the Ontario Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have provided helpful information and shown respect for all members of the public.

Yet despite our respect for this work, the Toronto Vegetarian Association must take issue with the public statements of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists regarding homosexuality. It has been brought to our attention that the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists is “opposed to homosexual practices and relationships,” and that the Church views homosexuality as “a manifestation of the disorder and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by sin coming into the world.”

As noted in the Toronto Vegetarian Association Anti-Racism, Access and Equity Policy, TVA acknowledges its responsibility to provide an environment and services that are free of racism, sexism, discrimination and bias, where all individuals are treated with respect and dignity. In order to provide a positive space for all visitors to our events, the Toronto Vegetarian Association reserves the right to deny participation by groups or individuals known to be in contravention with the aforementioned policy from our activities.

Concerns have been raised with us that the presence of an organization with anti-gay views is troubling to those who have faced discrimination and been made to feel ashamed on the basis of their sexual orientation. Our decision is to provide a positive space for all visitors by excluding those that make public statements against homosexuality. In this case, we must decline the application of the Ontario Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The same decision would be made regarding any business, organization or guest speaker that was found to have made public comments so at odds with our values as to hinder our efforts to provide a positive space for members of our community.

As indicated above, at issue is not the conduct of the individuals who have participated at the Food Fair in previous years, but with public statements made on behalf of the organization under which you have applied. Should you wish to register for space to promote healthy eating as individuals or through organizations that do not condemn homosexuality, we would welcome that application.

Alternatively, if the Ontario Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church can provide evidence that it does not endorse the positions relating to homosexuality cited above, we would be happy to reconsider our decision.

Best regards,

David Alexander – Executive Director

Toronto Vegetarian Association

Given that the “world” does hold us accountable for what our leaders say we all believe, it might behoove church leadership to think a little more carefully about how their religious “liberty” fear mongering actually undercuts our wider witness.

Clearly increasing numbers of Americans, not to mention Argentines, South Africans, Israelis and Mexicans, just know too much to get carried away with the fear anymore.

Of course some will leap at this news to argue that this anecdote proves that we will be persecuted for our anti-gay official beliefs. 1. Let’s save some hyperventilating and note that it’s just a food group – not the mark (hock?) of the beast. 2. Is this essential to the Adventist message? Have our leaders ever stopped to ask themselves (and discuss publicly) if this official belief in support of segregation of same-gender loving folks – based on an ahistorical literalism – should go the way of our college interracial dating bans? 3. And to those who continue to miss the connection between how conservatives treated African-Americans and how they continue to treat LGBT folks today, note that the Adventist church’s statements were found to violate the “Anti-Racism, Access and Equity Policy” of the organization in question.

Frankly, I think that our church has a lot more to offer the world through our health message than with carrying water for the Religious Right’s political agenda.

It’s just a matter of time. More and more Adventists will continue to become better educated on the matter and move beyond the weird notion that LGBT folks need to be singled out more than the rest of us as symbols of sin and brokenness. The Adventist church risks the conservative follies of past generations – lagging behind the “world” as we hang onto what we thought was acceptably mainstream discrimination.

News like this gives Adventists the chance to think about how serious we are about the right arm of the gospel and how our official beliefs sound to our neighbors around the world.

At any level – evangelistically, socially, health-wise – it’s a massive message failure to have professionals from the “world” pointing out that official Adventist attitudes do not contribute to creating a “positive space” for members of the community. But will our leaders make the hard decisions? After all, the church is drifting so far Right that a food organization found us to be outside their “Anti-Racism, Access and Equity Policy.”

This time, apparently our “gays symbolize sin” statement silenced the right arm of the gospel, what will it hurt next?

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