When it comes to the LGBT community and the Christian church, it's not good enough to say we want to show love, we need to actually start doing it. This concept is lost to many who believe that the faulty "love the sinner, hate the sin" mantra is an effective way of communicating with the queer community. But as Justin Lee (Gay Christian Network) so beautifully states in a recent blog, it's not good enough to say you love queer people; you have to prove it.
Last week I wrote about the Seventh-day Adventist summit, In God's Image, asking my church to denounce the laws recently passed in Uganda and Nigeria that criminalizes queer love and queer support groups. These laws have been shown to be rooted by Western Evangelical theology on homosexuality. In a recent op-ed piece for Huffington Post, Dwayne Leslie, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Seventh-day Adventist World Church, seemed to respond to the concerns I expressed in my piece, a petition brought up by Pacific Union College's Amnesty International Chapter, and the recent article from Yolanda Elliott, President of SDA Kinship International. Dwayne's article called for love to be the Adventist church's official response to laws like these.
In "Why Uganda Should Consider the Greatest Commandment," Dwayne denounces the newly passed Ugandan laws, without mentioning anything about similar laws passed in Nigeria, and leaves out our own church's vocal involvement with the Ugandan law. He calls for Uganda and people of faith to "recognize that if our foundation is love, the hatred represented by the persecution of those who disagree with us, the hatred that causes life to be taken in the name of religion, the hatred embodied in Uganda's anti-gay law... cannot be allowed to go unchallenged." He concludes by asking "how are we to behave in the face of behaviors with which we disagree? Clearly, with love. Love is always the answer." This has been the best public response to date on Uganda's anti-gay laws from a Seventh-day Adventist church official. Previous responses have been complacent at best. It should be noted that this Dwayne's article is a step in the right direction for a church that has been virtually silent in the past. However, there are inconsistencies between what Dwayne says in this piece and what the Seventh-day Adventist church actually does.
For example, at the opening key note of the In God's Image summit, the President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ted Wilson, had a few things to say about queer folk.
Additionally, the summit also encouraged reparative therapy, a pseudo scientific practice that has been denounced by every reputable scientific organization. This practice causes irrevocable damage and should be seen as an act of violence against queer people, especially queer youth.
Ugandan presidents Museveni has called LGBT people "disgusting" but we Adventists continue to call them broken or demon possessed, and have reduced their orientations to a sex act. Our homophobic conferences, presentations, and materials are contributing to these heinous laws and without recognizing our involvement we are simply washing our hands as Pilate did. Actions speak louder than all our words, and as a queer Seventh-day Adventist I have to tell my church that we're not walking the walk.
Keisha McKenzie, Development Director for SDA Kinship International, expressed similar sentiments in the comment section of Dwayne Leslie's op-ed:
• 2004: Canadian religious liberty director: civil marriage for "our neighbors who are struggling with immoral sexual inclinations" is part of "the greatest assault on religious freedom in recent memory."
• GC's ADCOM issues "Response to Same-Sex Unions." Pacific Union supports Prop 8 and NW Religious Liberty Association "urge[s] all state governments in the Northwest to reject any attempt to re-define marriage."
• 2006: Southern Africa Union opposes South Africa's constitution.
• 2011: British Union tells members to petition against civil same-sex marriage. One staffer calls the law "a personal challenge to Adventists." BUC president claims LGBTI people have a "strategy" to "desensitize" the public about "the gay agenda."
• 2012: GC & NAD staff promote "no" votes on civil referenda in MD & WA, allowing NOM banners, pamphlets, & t-shirts to be distributed at Spencerville church.
• 2013: Jamaica Union says LGBTI civil rights aren't human rights: "The Churches in Jamaica has [sic] been very strident in its opposition of any softening or repealing of the buggery law."
• Yesterday: GC's General Counsel tells church delegates that he wishes more countries would move towards criminalization.
Keisha asked "So how does your position relate to the General Conference's custom and practice against LGBTQI people?"
Her question is a valid one. How can the Seventh-day Adventist church be telling others to respond in love when there is ample evidence the church itself hasn't been doing so? Especially when one of the summit presenters has told attendees the church has an easier time with hiring and other laws in countries that criminalize homosexuality, and should work to "opt-out" in countries that don't criminalize LGBTI people?
The church made some changes to its language in October 2012 in an attempt to show more love to the LGBT community when it revised its half-page statement on homosexuality. The Adventist Review reported:
The statement also deleted the word 'disorder' -- calling it outdated -- and replaced it with "disturbance" to describe homosexuality. That line 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.
So the church deemed the word disorder "outdated" yet just this past week the same word was being used as the title of a break-out session for the In God's Image summit. The shift from disorder to disturbance still doesn't communicate love to the queer SDA community. What we want to say, what we say, and what is perceived to be said are three different things. If the target community we're attempting to communicate with isn't receiving our message: something about our verbiage is wrong. It's our duty as Christians to communicate that love to the queer community. If the queer community is telling you we're not getting that message -- something needs to be changed.
Adventists may not be imprisoning LGBT people but let's not for a second believe we are any better when we are excluding queer voices from important conversations, using language describing them as "broken," and subjecting them to harm. Love doesn't harm and the suicide rates are incredibly high for LGBT youth in rejected families -- we cannot sit complacently. It is not by accident that World leaders are using our theological views to enact anti-gay laws. They too see the inconsistency between our words and our actions, and they're using our sermons to defend their laws.
The Seventh-day Adventist church has called for Uganda to remember the greatest commandment but the queer Seventh-day Adventist community is waiting for the church to remember it herself.