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Ryan J. Bell

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Seventh-day Adventists To LGBT Members: 'It Gets Better!'

Posted: 08/02/11 03:36 PM ET

I'll never forget the night I really talked to Matt (not his real name) about his sexuality and what that meant for him. He was the son of one of the prominent couples in my church. Matt had come out to his parents and his church years before. But they were new in our town and at first all we knew was that their son didn't attend church.

Eventually I learned that Matt was gay and heard the painful stories that always go along with that discovery. He was a remarkably talented pianist and used to play for his church when he was younger. I and other leaders of our church reassured Matt that he was welcome at our church anytime and that we'd love to hear him play the piano in worship. It took a while, but he finally did join us and even played the piano on occasion.

One night I finally mustered the courage to ask Matt about his life experience. It was the kind of conversation that presupposes a trusting relationship. He described a fun and exciting world of clubs and bars, but with a twinge of sadness. He confessed that for him it had become a self-destructive environment but it seemed like the only place where gays and lesbians could find any peace and acceptance in our culture.

Now it was my turn to be sad. I remember that moment like it was yesterday because I said to Matt, "Isn't that what the church is supposed to be? A community of love and grace and acceptance that can't be found anywhere else on earth?" Matt laughed politely but I could tell he found the idea naive if not downright preposterous.

A lot has changed since I had that conversation with Matt. I have changed, the culture has changed and yes, the church has also changed -- in most cases, for the better. Which is why I am excited that a group of Seventh-day Adventist filmmakers and activists has come together to create an It Gets Better video for Adventists (and as part of the larger It Gets Better campaign).

There is also a longer version of this video, where you can experience more fully the power of these stories to inspire hope in the hearts of young people about their future.

Through the years I have had the privilege of hearing dozens of stories like this first hand. In spite of the variety, some elements are almost always the same. For instance, I have not met a single person who has, in any sense, chosen to be gay. They have all discovered it about themselves, just as we all discover our sexuality in adolescence. More importantly, and in spite of what I have heard some pastors claim, I have never met a single person who is "thumbing her nose" at God. I do, however, know many gays and lesbians who feel God has rejected them, thumbing His nose at them! Where could they have possibly gotten that idea?

It is the responsibility of churches -- and church leaders -- to create safe and accepting communities of worship and fellowship for everyone, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Many churches will read this as old news and perhaps scoff at their more conservative counterparts in the church. But I think we can all agree that any progress toward more welcoming and safe Christian communities is something to celebrate. Throughout the New Testament Jesus is both loved and hated because his welcome -- which he understood as a direct extension of God's welcome -- included everyone.

This It Gets Better video is a major step for Seventh-day Adventists. Though it doesn't presume to speak for all Adventists or the official church, it does represent a trend toward the love and compassion of Jesus being more fully displayed in Adventist congregations. In an important sense, the appearance of this video is, itself, an evidence that it does get better.

 

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