‘Coming Out’ Ministries Presented at My Child’s School

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Published:
January 24, 2023

Recently, the Adventist school my son attends hosted Michael Carducci of ‘Coming Out’ Ministries to conduct three days of presentations on sexual purity. Since there are significant debates and disagreements even within the Adventist community about this ministry, I wanted to share my personal experience.

My husband and I objected to the presentations and met with the administration to share resources showing how they could be damaging to students’ mental health, but the presentations went forward anyway. I attended two, and while I believe the speaker to be well-intentioned, I find his content and the approach of the ministry in general to be highly problematic.

The Run-Up

The first notification that parents had was a very nondescript announcement in the principal’s weekly email about a month ahead of the event. The last paragraph of this email noted that the school would be hosting spiritual emphasis presentations at the beginning of the new semester on “honoring [Jesus] with our time, our talent, and our choices.” The description continued by explaining that “our guest presenter will be sharing daily presentation's that will convey Christ's unwavering love for each person, and how the messages that our current secular culture chooses to bombard us with, havn't [sic] changed God's plan for our lives.” The email concluded by soliciting prayers for the event’s success.

The next communication about the event was sent by the school chaplain on the day school was scheduled to close for winter break. In this email, parents learned for the first time that the presentations would be on the topic of “Sex and Sexuality” from ‘Coming Out’ Ministries and presented by Carducci.

Though break was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., with dorm students leaving campus by 3 p.m., this email was not sent until a few minutes before 5 p.m. I’m specific about the time only because when my husband and I reached out to the staff to express our concerns, we received messages back from both the principal and chaplain that they were en route to their well-deserved winter vacations and would not be available to discuss this with us until break was over, two and a half weeks later. Although the principal assured me later that this was not an effort to hide anything, the timing does seem odd and, at least to me, problematic.

My husband and I immediately sent emails detailing our concerns. In my email, I included links to Alicia Johnston’s analysis of a presentation by Carducci as well as an informative presentation by Emmy Kegler on LGBTQ+ individuals, faith, and suicide.

The day before school resumed, we were able to meet with the principal, vice-principal, and chaplain. In this meeting, we reiterated our concerns about how these presentations could impact the mental health of students who might be wrestling with their sexuality and/or gender identity. We also expressed our concerns about students being invited to meet with Carducci one-on-one in the evenings (as outlined in the chaplain’s email), especially given that Carducci has no background or training in theology, psychology, human sexuality, or counseling. Although we had (and have) no evidence that he would take advantage of these meetings, there certainly are past examples of unscrupulous individuals who have taken advantage of similar situations to prey upon vulnerable youth and young adults. We also left copies of three books with the school administrators that we have found helpful:

Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church by Bridget Eileen Rivera

Unclobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality by Colby Martin—there is a “cheat sheet” intro to this book available for free on his website

The Bible & LGBT Adventists: A Conversation about Same-Sex Marriage, Gender, and Identity by Alicia Johnston

Though unswayed by the materials I had provided in my first email, the principal assured me that if I could demonstrate potential harm to students as a result of the presentations, he would reconsider allowing them to go forward. To answer this request, I provided an annotated bibliography on Adventism, LGBTQ+ individuals, and suicidality in my follow-up email. I reiterated my concerns about students meeting alone with Carducci, made it clear that we would not allow our son to attend any of the presentations, and also forwarded my message to the conference education staff to ensure that they were aware of my concerns.

In response, I received a brief email confirming my understanding of when the school’s email announcements had been sent but no further comment on the bibliography, my concerns, or my requests for supervised “counseling” sessions. The presentations proceeded as scheduled and, I assume, so did the one-on-one meetings.

On the day the meetings began, I did receive a phone call from the principal to alert me that in order to have our son’s absences from the presentations excused, we would need to provide him with our own selected alternative presentations on “sexual purity.” This is no problem; my son and husband will review relevant selections from Sheila Gregoire’s excellent Christian sex ed course for boys.

The Presentations

Though parents were invited to participate in any and all of the meetings, I was unable to attend presentations during the school day. I did attend Friday night vespers in person and watched the livestream of Sabbath’s sermon. I heard third-hand that at least one of the students found the presentations very boring and another was furious with the speaker; however, those are only two responses out of a much larger student body and may or may not be representative.

The format for Friday night’s presentation was an ‘Ask Me Anything’ (or AMA) dialogue. Students and parents were invited to submit questions via an online portal, and the chaplain selected some of these to be answered live during the meeting.

Although I had the impression from some comments on Friday night that the Sabbath morning presentation would focus on how to fill our minds and hearts with scripture (something I thought I would be able to get on board with), the sermon instead focused heavily on the end times with an emphasis on the proliferation and acceptance of “the gay lifestyle” as a disastrous sign of the end. Carducci described how God’s protection would gradually be removed from those who teach others to disregard God’s law (based on quotes from The Great Controversy, pp. 563–4 and Testimonies for the Church v. 9, p. 11 by Ellen G. White). In essence, his position seems to be that if he (and others in ‘Coming Out’ Ministries) do not warn people about the dangers of participating in LGBT+ behavior, they themselves will be subject to God’s judgments.

He defined grace as “unmerited favor AND power to overcome sin” and discussed the importance of each individual experiencing God’s grace for themselves without riding on the coattails of family members or a church community. He did continue to mention that all warnings must be given with love and compassion. His scriptural references included Luke 17: 26–29 (comparing the last days to the days before the flood in Noah’s time), Philippians 2:12 (work out your salvation with fear and trembling), Romans 14:5 (being fully convinced in our own minds), Joshua 7:10–11 (how Achan’s individual sin caused God’s protecting presence to leave the entire community of Israel), and 1 Thessalonians 5:2–11 (abandoning darkness to live in the light of Christ). He quoted exclusively from the King James Version and also gave a small plug for adopting a vegan diet for spiritual clarity.

In addition to same-sex attraction and relationships, he spoke passionately against pornography and sex addiction, though, in some cases, he seemed to conflate the three of these. He also emphasized that God gives us freedom of choice, but we must be prepared to live with the consequences of what we choose.

My Reflections

I appreciated Carducci’s emphasis on expressing love, acceptance, and grace. He is very clear that a lack of these qualities contributed to driving him away from God and out of the church as a young adult. I agree that filling our hearts and minds with God’s Word by reading and memorizing scripture is a transformational practice that can guide us in many areas, including facing temptation. He portrays sincere love and care for young people and a desire to see them in God’s kingdom. In a follow-up conversation with me to clarify one of his answers, he again emphasized connecting lovingly with people as they walk through exploring their sexuality and/or gender identity so that they can be connected with Jesus’ love; however, he also emphasized the need for boundaries with regard to specific behaviors such as adopting new names or pronouns and participating in same-sex relationships.

A few things also stood out to me as concerning throughout the presentations I witnessed.

1) Lack of training/expertise

Carducci said in a humorous self-deprecating way a couple of times, “I’m just a hairdresser; you have to make things simple for me.” Although he was joking, it points to a serious concern about ‘Coming Out’ Ministries. One of the cofounders, Ron Woolsey, is a former pastor, but as far as I could tell, none of the other speakers have training in theology, psychology, sociology, human sexuality, or counseling. This is alarming not only because they speak authoritatively on these topics but also because they are regularly given opportunities to “counsel” with young people who are struggling with sexual issues. As I mentioned above, it would be exceedingly easy for an unscrupulous individual to take advantage of this situation for nefarious purposes. Also, even if they are well-meaning, these untrained individuals have the potential to inflict massive damage. These young people are highly vulnerable and, in my opinion, should be connected with people who are not only experts in these topics but also subject to a code of ethics.

2) Reliance on anecdotal experiences in contrast to professional research

Presentations from ‘Coming Out’ Ministries rely heavily on the personal testimonies of a few individuals. Their personal experiences certainly are meaningful; however, the ministry over-generalizes these experiences and holds them up as ideal exemplars that everyone should follow. In the process, they disregard peer-reviewed research on human sexuality, psychology, etc. While personal testimonies are important, we must reject the temptation to make our own experience the standard for everyone.

Certainly, if members of the ‘Coming Out’ Ministries team feel convicted that God is calling them to a specific type of sexual and relational purity, they should honor that calling. But expecting everyone to come to the same conclusions and adopt the same behaviors is highly problematic (even specifically per Romans 14, partially quoted by Carducci in his Sabbath morning presentation).

3) Conflation of disparate concepts

There is a marked lack of distinction in the presentations between the concepts of biological sex, gender, romantic and/or physical attraction/orientation, long-term monogamous relationships, promiscuous behavior, sex addiction, porn exposure, and porn addiction. This again seems to stem from a lack of education and training in relevant fields.

Individuals who make their primary occupation presenting on such topics should be thoroughly informed about relevant concepts, definitions, and approaches, even if they use that knowledge to critique.

In Conclusion

I want to make it clear that I am speaking from my own experience and what I have witnessed. I corresponded with Carducci via email and spoke to him on the phone to clarify some of his statements, and I have also offered him and/or other members of the ‘Coming Out’ Ministries team the opportunity to engage in dialogue. As of now, I have received no response.

For me, the bottom line is this: in my opinion, any doctrine, policy, or practice that promotes suicidal thoughts, feelings, or actions is inherently un-Christlike.

God is love. This is the central issue on which the great controversy hinges: that Satan has misrepresented God's character and portrayed him as arbitrary, vindictive, and eager to sentence his children to death. Looking at the LGBTQ+ issue from this perspective, the side that best aligns with God's character of self-sacrificing love as revealed in Jesus is the one that protects, cherishes, and walks alongside our young people as they explore their identities and relationship to God.

 

A version of this article originally appeared in the author’s newsletter, 1PursuingLove.

 


 Kendra Perry, after falling in love with Jesus during high school, has spent many years participating in active ministry on her own and alongside her family. She founded Stand for Love, Inc. in 2021 to help make the everlasting good news that God is love her clarion call.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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