Dr. Ben Carson was my hero. I hail from the same Christian denomination as him, the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Born and raised in this church, I knew his name as soon as I learned to read. His autobiography, Gifted Hands, was inspiring for a lot of kids like me. His story was of the American dream, from rags to riches, and I dreamt of the same success. With my eyes set on a legal career from an early age, Dr. Ben Carson made it seem like my dreams were attainable despite my upbringing in a single parent, low-income family of color. Yes, Dr. Ben Carson was my hero, but in the past few years he has started a campaign against me.
Well not against me specifically, but my community. See I'm bisexual, and Ben Carson, my childhood hero, believes I'm no better than child molesters and people who have sex with animals.
If you know anything about my church, you wouldn't be surprised by Dr. Carson's remarks. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is continually in the news for all the wrong reasons, many times for our rigid and dated beliefs about same-sex relationships. We even just held an extremely large conference, in which 350+ delegates met, just on the topic of homosexuality. But the conference took place in S. Africa and included not one Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender identified individual. Yes, my church got together to talk about us but excluded our voices.
We have had an ex-gay presenter call LGBT people demon possessed, presentations in which "licensed therapists" assert that homosexuality is caused by "traumatic childhood experiences", and even young adult publications that insinuate that AIDS was God's punishment to LGBT people. The church even recently passed guidelines that encourage churches to disfellowship "practicing LGBT" individuals. There are actually a growing number of individuals within the church and even within denominational employment who don't support any of this extremism and actually are working in their own circles for unconditional love and respect , but they aren't the ones speaking at Prayer Breakfasts or contributing to Fox News. We don't have a good public track record, so Ben Carson's comments should not surprise me. But somehow, they do.
When you grow up reading about a man who embodied Christ while achieving the highest recognition in neurosurgery, you don't expect him to be the keynote speaker for the National Organization of Marriage. When I read about Ben Carson as a child, I read he was a Christian, and now he is in the news for speaking at an organization classified as a hate group. His comments hurt because I wish my hero was speaking from a stance of love, and not the sort of conditional love that comes with a million caveats and performance clauses. That's not the love Jesus said His followers would be known for.
Dr. Carson says he's against political correctness (I would love to remind him that common courtesy is not political correctness) and has become the tea party's favorite right wing speaker. Christianity should be synonymous with loving our neighbors, about being the hands and feet of God in the world, but speakers like Ben Carson are a major contributing factor towards the many people of my generation getting fed up with institutional religion and leaving (especially because of anti-LGBT attitudes).
There are a few things I want him to know, since it doesn't seem like he's going to quit making anti-gay headlines.
Dr. Ben Carson,
I'm a bisexual Seventh-day Adventist, and I currently attend the Seventh-day Adventist Church flagship institution, Andrews University. I want you to know that LGBT people are human. We are not a theoretical subject you can wish away with traditional theological arguments (and it would be helpful to remember that not everyone -- even within the Seventh-day Adventist Church --believes that committed same-sex relationships are sinful). Some of us LGBT folks are also Christian, and yes, even Seventh-day Adventist Christians. The things you have said about us are far from Christ-like, and they're actually downright inflammatory.
I am not asking you to theologically affirm same-sex sex. My community doesn't need anyone's affirmation but God's, and we are far more than a sex act which you seem to continually reduce us to. I'm asking you to follow our beliefs in treating all of God's creations with the same love, dignity, and respect that you yourself expect.
I ask that you get to know us, break bread with us, and quit condemning without actually listening. Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film About Faith on the Margins, SDA Kinship International, the Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition, We Are SDAs, Carrol Grady's book My Son, Beloved Stranger -- these are all resources where you can learn more and listen to LGBT people who are both queer and Seventh-day Adventist. I myself have written about the intersection of religion and sexuality (contextually within the SDA church) for almost three years.
We have voices, and we're not going anywhere. Our church is changing, and your comments about the LGBT community show the lack of understanding you have about us. And coming from a former health care provider in a church well-known for its healthcare system, that's embarrassing. You are an esteemed, respected individual in your field, and it's time your comments on LGBT individuals reflected your intelligence.
I hope you find it in your heart to listen to our stories and to work on communicating love to the LGBT community as Jesus has directed all of us to when interacting. Christians are in the headlines more for what we're against than what we're for. The Christian identity has been co-opted by the fundamentalists who have made us synonymous with judgment, exclusion, and hate. I'll bet that you don't think that's the heart of Christianity, and you can do something to help change this.
You don't have to speak at National Organization of Marriage Gala as you're scheduled to this fall. That organization is one of the most vitriolic, anti-LGBT organizations in our country. You do not have to be their public face. You do not have to pander to the far right to have a platform.
You can keep your traditional beliefs, but as a denomination with deep roots in religious liberty I ask you not to actively speak against the civil liberties of people like me. You are having a moment in the spotlight. You can use that time to further the very common public perception that Christians are anti-people they don't agree with (especially anti-LGBT people). Or you can use this time to model that someone with traditional Christian beliefs can actually engage with love and respect for all people. This chapter will always footnote your incredible accomplishments that first brought you to all of our attention and inspired young boys from single-parent, low-income homes like myself. What do you want us to remember you for?