I grew up in a wonderful home, in a pleasant valley, the third child of four, during the 1960s and 70s. I am a product of an Adventist home, Adventist education, Adventist church life. I am deeply in love with Jesus. I am wholly devoted to the God of the universe, the creator of all we know.
Growing up I was taught the basics of God’s love, law, and doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church at home, at school, and in my community. I was baptized while in the fourth grade by my uncle who, at the time, was the senior pastor of the large college church where we lived.
During my time in the Seventh-day Adventist elementary school I attended for all seven years (yes, seven!), I was blessed with wonderful friends, amazing teachers, and a great education. I can truly say that I am blessed to have grown up with the adult influences that I had at home, in my community, and at school. It helped form who I am and how I see the world, God, love, other individuals, and how to relate to them.
One of the memories that has recently been jolted into my consciousness is how we frequently spent our lunch time at school. In order to maintain some semblance of order, my teachers would play audio story tapes during our lunch hour. These tapes were frequently Your Story Hour episodes. I cannot specifically remember a single story from these tapes, although they each contained some moral or value.
There is, however, one story tape that I clearly remember (not by Your Story Hour). It started circulating somewhere around third or fourth grade and continued until I finished elementary school. The tape was about end time events, and the persecution of Christians by the government and other non-faithful or complicit “Christians.” We all fancied ourselves as faithful, standing for right though others strayed. Our Seventh-day Adventist eschatology having assured us that it was our faithful keeping of God’s law, and more specifically, a faithful “Adventist” keeping of the fourth commandment (the decalogue of Exodus 20) that would lead us to prison and torture, and for some even death as a martyr. We were taught that we would need to become so righteous that we would be able to stand through the “time of trouble” without divine intercession as we had no way of knowing when our own “close of probation” might happen, although still living in this world filled with sin. This fear-inducing imagery haunted me well into adolescence, as I expect it did for some of my classmates, though not all, I’d guess.
What caused this “jolting” of my consciousness? The ongoing conflict over the past several years about the ordination of women and its progression into the conflict about Seventh-day Adventist Church governance, the specific marginalization of myself by the General Conference Executive Committee votes, my experience attending The Reformation Project1 Annual Conference (October 18–20 2018), and the current U.S. Administration’s working to create a change in Federal policy that would seek to erase transgender people from the United States. Not that a change in U.S. policy would cause them/me to suddenly go away. The proposed policy would take a stance hostile to civil rights for transgender people, increase the challenge of obtaining healthcare and health coverage, making it much more difficult for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex people to live safe, productive lives in the United States.
The driving force behind these changes are the evangelical, fundamentalist “Christians” that stand behind the current U.S. administration, regardless of the lack of Christian values shown by the leaders, and policies it puts forward.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, at the General Conference policy level, voted a policy regarding transgender people in April 20172, that places the church more in line with the proposed new U.S. policy than a generous loving reading of scripture. I believe that the broader conflict of church governance, as brought about through the conflict regarding women’s ordination, has more to do with the church’s failure to be the voice for the marginalized, and having embraced the view of a male-dominated world, to which all should be subjugated. This view was on full display in recent General Conference actions during Annual Council (October 2018) and the July 20183,4 Seventh-day Adventist Church’s General Conference Administrative Committee (ADCOM), establishing “Compliance Committees” on a variety of subjects, including one regarding LGBTQI individuals. The General Conference has chosen to pursue a path that promotes discrimination based on gender and LGBTQI status, much like that of U.S. evangelical fundamentalist Christianity today.
It is not mainstream Seventh-day Adventists who are fully compliant with General Conference policy that will be jailed, tortured, and killed. It will start with targeting the likes of migrants/immigrants, transgender people, and racial minorities, and those who are “multi-minority” (fall into more than one category).
I spent three days worshiping with LGBTQI Christians from a multitude of Christian backgrounds, listening to preaching, singing praise to the God of heaven, Jesus our Savior, and the Holy Spirit, all from the frame and perspective of being marginalized Christians. It was truly amazing to worship with these wonderful Christian siblings, a foretaste of heaven. This group and other similar groups are the ones facing the “pointy end” of the dominate evangelical, fundamentalist Christian church’s spear and the government action at the behest of those “Christian” forces.
It is with this backdrop that I have come to the conclusion that during the pursuit to create a human, Seventh-day Adventist Church policy, relating to ordination, and the expansion of rights within the church, we lost sight of the bigger push that goes beyond just gender and the “license” to lead within the church here on earth, to the broader question of liberty and justice for all.
We have failed to recognize the radical call of the gospel to upend the social order that leads to tyranny and oppression, and traded it for a much smaller, although worthy goal. Our failing to seek that creation of a truly just and inclusive church, that seeks to upend the injustice in our legal, economic, and social orders has brought us to our crossroads today. We have failed to embrace the diverse and amazing creation of God in favor of a small god that we can control and fit neatly into the small box of our human making.
Here is my challenge to the Seventh-day Adventist Church: will we turn from our ways of human, male headship leadership? Will we turn back to a Christ/God-centered leadership that embraces all of God’s children? A leadership that creates and finds generous space, and advocates for the truly least of these, that seeks justice for all? Will I and my LGBTQI siblings be the target of the SDA faith, followed by women, and other minorities, or will we choose otherwise and be the shelter from the storm? Will we choose the God big enough to create all the universe, to include LGBTQI people, or the tiny god that seeks to create human hierarchies and subjugation?
Our collective answer to these questions, will either keep us comfortable where we are now, or will paint a target on us as Righteous Troublemakers worthy of incarceration, torture, and execution.
Notes & References:
1. The Reformation Project is a Bible-based, Christian grassroots organization that works to promote inclusion of LGBTQ people by reforming church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. Their vision is of a global church that fully affirms LGBTQ people.
Randi Robertson writes from her home on the Florida Space Coast. She is a retired United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and Command Pilot. Currently she stays busy as a simulator and academic instructor for an international aviation training company, teaching pilots to fly the Cessna Citation 560XL. She also spends time working as an advocate, speaker, and consultant seeking to create a more inclusive and understanding world for transgender people. She and her spouse of 34 years have two wonderful, twenty-something children, who choose to live at home. Randi is a life-long Seventh-day Adventist, and is active in her local congregation.
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