We carefully read the British Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists’ recent statement about the government’s 12-week consultation on same-sex marriage in England and Wales.
We are interested in the well-being of BUC members and the society in which they live: several of our members and relatives have lived or still live in the British Union Conference (BUC). As current or former Seventh-day Adventists, we are also keenly interested in how the church treats lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) Adventists, and how church officials interact withthe rest of civic society in our name. It is because of our connections to the BUC that the Union’s statement deeply concerns us.
The statement consistently subordinates universal “respect”, “genuine love for all”, and “moves for equality and eradication of discrimination” to administrators’ judgments about LGBTIQ people, their spiritual needs, and their relationships. The Union’s plan to spread these judgments“with some vigour” and “encourage” church members to sign a hostile petition also betrays a failure to consult with the population affected by the legal status quo and the BUC’s lobbying. Regardless of whether British law ever fully recognises their marriages, LGBTIQ people are members of the BUC, and with other British citizens will be affected by the public discussion and the union’s role in it.
Of course we empathisewith the BUC’s wish to honour current church policy. And so we must point out that the government’s civic proposal will have no impact on the policies or teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Just as our church doesn’t take doctrinal cues from any national government, we don’t believe that the British government should take legal cues from our church or its union representatives. On behalf of English and Welsh LGBTIQ people and supportive heterosexuals, we’re grateful that the British government is willing to discuss full respect for the committed, monogamous relationships of all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation.
We would strongly object to external political interference in a denominational dialogue, and must now object to the BUC’s plan to insert itself into a national civic discussion. We don’t foresee and wouldn’t support the emergence of a Britain that forced reluctant churches to wed same-sex couples: nothing comparable to mandatory marrying has occurred with other legal changes in the last two centuries. Progressive amendments to British law since 1857 have allowed private citizens to divorce and remarry—yet denominations whose doctrines prohibit second marriages are not required to marry divorcees and are not sanctioned for their beliefs. After more than 150 years of legal private divorce, the only citizens who divorce and remarry under the law are those whose moral convictions permit them to. Other citizens are not obligated to divorce, and no churches are mandated either way.
We believe that the Union’s plan to promote public discrimination in the name of British Seventh-day Adventists would breach the civic and religious liberties of LGBTIQ and supportive heterosexual Adventists, as well as the liberties of other citizens outside the Adventist church. Like many in England and Wales, our religious and individual convictions inspire us to support adults who choose to participate in the commitment, self-sacrifice, and social responsibilities of married family life. Therefore, when BUC administrators announced their intent to influence the national discussion in our name, we were compelled to speak for ourselves: the Union did not speak for us or the British LGBTIQ people we serve.
As part of an autonomous religious group, the BUC remains free to withhold sacramental rites from certain members in its territory, including ordination rites from called female ministers and marital rites from some heterosexual divorcees and all LGBTIQ people.
Nevertheless, there are LGBTIQ and supportive heterosexual Seventh-day Adventists in the British Union’s territory, and we are open to dialogue with Union representatives on this issue. We are available to discuss our lived experience with the matters raised in the Union’s statement: how our families, children, and community lives are affected by the current law and proposal, and what opportunities our church now has to serve our population more effectively.
It’s important to us to support the people in our community as well as the well-being and integrity of the church at large. We feel strongly that the British Union cannot do its best work with us—and may in fact do great harm—if it fails to engage its LGBTIQ members in respectful conversation over time.
We remain the BUC’s children, siblings, and friends.
In Kinship and love,
Yolanda Elliott (For the Board of Seventh-day Adventist Kinship, Int’l)
Terence Rice, M.Div. (Director of Church Relations)
Mike Lewis (Former regional coordinator, United Kingdom)
Marcos Apolonio, B.Th (Chaplain)