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Earlier this month I had the distinct pleasure to participate on a panel of pastors and professors discussing the referendum on marriage equality in Maryland. In conjunction with the panel, the Metro Area Adventist Youth Association screened the film Seventh-Gay Adventists. I’m not quite sure what I expected from the film or from the evening. I was certainly excited to see the film, but I was certainly more focused on what I was going to say during the panel discussion afterwards. I knew going in that there would be people on the panel who disagreed with my religious liberty position and would be advocating for people in the audience to vote against marriage equality. I was certainly nervous, but I was generally confident.  It made sense for me to be on the panel. But the one thing that became clear for me over the course of the evening was that the religio-political implications of this particular question are small in comparison to the weightier questions raised by the film.

The evening began with a brief introduction by Daneen Akers, one of the film’s producers. The film is about 3 gay couples and their struggles with their sexual orientation in light of their Adventism. At some point, each of the people featured decided that their sexual orientation was not going to change, and they are all in committed relationships. I found the film to be particularly moving, watching these people struggle to find religious communities that will accept them, and live their lives in ways that honor who they are as human beings and also honor God.

The panelists were given the questions in advance, and before we prayed the moderator told us that her first question would be very general – “What is homosexuality and what is your moral position on the issue?” I think before watching the film my answer would have been to do what everyone else on the panel before me did – which was to ignore directly answering the question and move to whichever of the side issues interested the speaker (i.e., religious liberty, love, etc.)But I had been in the presence of so much honesty and truth in the preceding film that I felt I could not avoid this issue any longer, and that I had to tell the truth. So I found myself in my opening statement admitting to the audience (and to myself) that I couldn’t define “homosexuality” well enough to make a moral pronouncement about it, and that I didn’t think anyone else on the panel could either. Not because we don’t have information, but because that information, biblical or otherwise, is incredibly inconclusive on homosexuality itself. In my closing statement I found myself talking about how sexual orientation is the ultimate other – heterosexuals (who believe that homosexuality/homosexual conduct is a sin) can feel ultimately confident in their condemnation of the gay community. Homosexuality is a “sin” for which the heterosexual has no temptation. It is practically the heterosexual Christian’s only opportunity to condemn others without condemning ourselves. I challenged the audience to think of whatever they consider their greatest sin and how they would want to be treated in the church if they had that sin plastered on their forehead. Right after I said that, Ms. Akers challenged us to actualize the love that we say we want to show to the LGBT community. In those moments, I became uncomfortable. I was no longer comfortable with the thought that I knew enough about the spiritual life of someone else to say whether they were right or wrong in accepting and living out their sexual orientation.

There were 2 things that struck me about Seventh-Gay Adventist. First, the couples in the film all have a relationship with God. I think we often believe that if gay people would just pray harder, they would be able to overcome their “sin.” What the film made evident was that these people had prayed, had tried to overcome who they are. One of the other panelists insinuated this when he analogized homosexuality to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” (Interestingly enough, this was the same panelist who admitted that I was correct in saying that we don’t quite understand sexual orientation.) What gives anyone the authority to make that determination for anyone else? I can’t answer that question, and I’m determined not to be one of the people who thinks that he can make that determination for anyone but himself.

The second thing that struck me about the film was the sense of family. Whether it was one person’s son, or another person’s brother, there were members of families that overcame their own theological reservations in order to keep and strengthen the bonds of love. If they can do it, I don’t see why it should be difficult for a church family to do the same. Churches are supposed to be families. We don’t call each other brother and sister strictly out of tradition, or at least we shouldn’t. Churches are supposed to create bonds amongst those who believe in Christ. If there is one thing that is true about those in the gay community that want to continue to be a part of our community, it is that they believe in Christ. Regardless of our theological positions, we have a duty to love these brothers and sisters in Christ simply because they are our family. And if they are our family, our love for them should be just like God’s love – a love that accepts and draws us all in – without condition.

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