For years I've been intrigued by languages. Being raised bilingual, I had Spanish and English languages underneath my belt, yet I was always dreaming of traveling, experiencing different cultures and learning new languages. That interest quickly turned into desire, which is why one of the bachelor degrees I'm currently working toward is in French studies. Through my education at my current university, Andrews University, I've had the incredible experience of living abroad in France for an entire school year and traveling through South America for a month, and Europe for another. Any language professor will be the first to tell you that learning and mastering another language is the key to even beginning to understand the "other" -- their culture, their worldview and their experiences.
On Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, the Seventh-day Adventist Church's Executive Committee, at the Annual Council, changed their half-page stance on homosexuality, reaffirming "[their] stance against homosexual activity and same-sex marriage, but also [softening] the denomination's position statement to offer compassion toward gays and lesbians." Naturally, there was a buzz in the "Seventh-Gay Adventist" world about this change that directly spoke to how the Seventh-day Adventist church viewed us.
The vice president of the Executive Committee told the attendees, who represented church leaders from six continents, that the statement needed to show a "Christ-like compassionate spirit to those who practice homosexuality." The previous version, which was drafted in 1999, stated, "We hold that all people, no matter what their sexual orientation, are children of God." The new version says, "We hold that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are loved by God."
As a student of language, I respect language deeply. The key in communicating with one another, expressing one's thoughts and understanding the unknown all lies with language. It is clear from this statement that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has labeled the LGBTQ community as the "other." You don't have to look far to see this; just the lack of knowledge seen in the verbiage and language choice is telling. This is the type of compassion that looks down on the other. It is not trying to enter into the language, experiences or perspectives of the other; its tone is more, "Poor, sinful other. I feel sorry for you, but from a distance." Just as an anthropologist would when approaching another culture, the least that the Adventist church might attempt is to understand another culture through study, discussion and language.
I'm ecstatic that the Seventh-day Adventist Church felt compelled to include compassion in their stance on homosexuality; that shows that the church leaders are feeling pressure to change the status quo, which has only resulted in rejection, marginalization and even suicide. Yet I'm appalled at the lack of commitment displayed in having a genuine discussion and conversation with the LGBT Adventist community. For example, Dave Ferguson, my dear friend and a church liaison for SDA Kinship International, a support ministry for current and former LGBTI Adventists, offered insight and personal experience directly to church leaders about these policy updates and was dismissed.
Tellinging, according to the Adventist News Network, none of the delegates in the auditorium spoke on the issue before voting. A quick and unanimous vote of over 200 attendees decided the fate of over tens of thousands of current LGBTQ church members and students at educational institutions without having the respect of having a prior conversation even amongst themselves. This is clearly a topic that leaders want the outside to think there is complete unity on, or maybe they're scared of what would happen if people were to speak freely.
Further more, according to the news report (the actual revised statements aren't available yet):
The statement also deleted the word "disorder" -- calling it outdated -- and replaced it with "disturbance" to describe homosexuality. That line in the five-paragraph document now reads: "Homosexuality is a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world."
An conveniently unnamed European delegate attempted to omit the word "disturbance" in describing homosexuality, arguing that it expressed the clear lack of compassion that the committee was attempting to integrate into their official stance. Unfortunately, the unnamed delegate's concerns were unheard. Yet he was right to point out not only the lack of compassion that the word "disturbance" expresses but the lack of inclusivity.
In the past few months the Seventh-day Adventist Church has dealt with "unilateral" decision making with different conferences on the topic of the ordination of women. Our global headquarters has since released a "call for unity." As an LGBTQ person and a student of language, I'm a bit confused as to why the committee would choose the word "disturbance," which clearly expresses the belief that their brothers and sisters in Christ are disturbances to the "unity" of our church, even though the church believes that all are loved by God. I have seen little to no "disturbance" from the LGBTQ members of our church over their lack of voice and acceptance in fellowship with other church members. As a Christian, I am offended that any church, let alone my church, would choose to describe any person, let alone an entire group of people, as a disturbance. Really, think about what that means. You don't even have to be a linguist to sense the deep connotations and denotations of that labeling.
According to the report:
The final sentence of the three-paragraph document now reads: "As His disciples, Seventh-day Adventists endeavor to follow the Lord's instruction and example, living a life of Christ-like compassion and faithfulness."
How does one do this after labeling so many people a disturbance? What are the pastoral implications of this? According to 1 John 2:9-11:
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
Christ-like compassion hasn't always been shown in conservative Christian denominations. This recent change in stance shows that even the administration of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has taken notice, feeling the need to publicly and officially write in compassion toward the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, it is not until we practice what we preach and truly use language that is inclusive, compassionate and loving toward all people that we will live as the example Christ left us. It is then that we will become fluent in the language of love.