Last week’s chapel was part of a series Union College has begun, called “Who’s at the Margins? United We Listen,” in an effort to “better understand family members on the margins,” as Dr. Vinita Sauder described it in her follow-up email last Wednesday. While the wording is rather strange, the previous sentence seems to suggest she was referring to “our college family.”
Sauder explained administration asked the speaker, Dr. Chuck Sandefur, to talk about how we can show love and compassion to our LGBT community while maintaining the official position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Sandefur did talk a little about “radical hospitality” but he focused on how he came to support same-sex relationships and later called Union to become “revolutionary in its … commitment to all-sex intimacy.”
It is important to recognize Union’s efforts, even if one thinks more could be done, and understand that Sandefur violated what is at the least a tacit agreement to speak on what one is asked.
Even if we think the disregard for common courtesy and trust is valid in this case, Sandefur’s actions still do not help in moving this conversation forward. Many of those who enjoyed his presentation already shared his position, while those with opposing views felt confusion at what seemed to be Union promoting same-sex intimacy.
After sending out an email to all campus, Dr. Sauder heard back from several students as well as faculty and staff. Many expressed relief at the clarification that Union College is “faithful to the church’s teaching on the topic.”
Union livestreamed the talk but pulled it down from the website right after. Sandefur called to apologize, not for his opinion or for changing the talk, but for the effects it caused. He also asked administration to not show the video.
Sandefur may have misunderstood what the topic was or perhaps, although less likely, those who invited him lacked clarity. I don’t know if he did it on purpose. But I do know that what happened goes way beyond a chapel talk and Union.
Last week’s incident is a reflection of how we, as a church, have dealt with our differences regarding the relationship between the Adventist church and its LGBT members. We have focused our energies on creating one-sided events to advance agendas that seem to care little for respecting each other and bringing about much-needed change.
Last year, the church held a summit in Cape Town, South Africa, titled “In God’s Image: Sexuality, Scripture and Society.” The speaker line-up featured no LGBT voices except for three “ex-gay” speakers who only help feed the stereotype of a promiscuous, alcoholic, drug addict, product-of-abusive-childhood LGBT community. As Eliel Cruz put it in an article published in the Huffington Post, “It’s the epitome of talking at instead of with LGBT people that Christian evangelical churches are known for doing.”
Even though reports on the summit show not everything said was bad, it’s alarming that the church created not a conversation, but a monologue.
Recently, the producers of “Seventh-Gay Adventists” showed their new film “Enough Room at the Table” at the Spectrum UltraViolet Arts Festival in Glendale, Calif. The production is a “companion dialogue film” to their previous documentary. Backers of the project on Kickstarter received a link to watch the film before its official release.
I backed the project because I believe in conversation. I believe in dialogue. I believe we can find a way forward despite our differences, and the dialogue film seemed like a perfect opportunity to do this.
Daneen Akers described the group featured in the dialogue as “intentionally diverse with pastors, theologians, educators, parents, and LGBT Adventists from differing perspectives. We had self-identified conservatives, progressives, soft-spoken types, major advocates, LGBT people in relationships and who practice/believe in celibacy, academics, mere mortals, clergy and lay people.”
“Enough Room at the Table” had everything to become the conversation we’ve never truly had. Yet, as much as it represents a step in the right direction, most of the group’s conversation for the feature film comes from those who support same-sex intimacy. Moreover, instead of recognizing the validity of an opposing view, the film suggest those who are stuck at the Scriptures will soon come to support same-sex intimacy if we just give it time, thought and observation.
Apart from the feature film, the producers will release special features with extended discussions on topics such as reparative therapy, celibacy, “What About Go and Sin No More,” and others. These discussions, which sound promising and are likely to deliver on its promise of dialogue, didn’t make the final cut. While I understand the difficulty of choosing what material makes it to the 100-minute cut, many who could have benefitted from such discussions may only watch a toned-down, agenda-driven film and be done with the whole thing.
It is crucial we accept our church is not the only party at fault. Many times, those on the other side give the impression of saying my way or highway, as if the only meaningful change could come from the church changing its official stance.
Does the church really need to change its position on same-sex intimacy for us to move forward? Is the church waiting for everyone to agree on celibacy before we recognize our wrongs and accept our responsibility to foster meaningful conversation?
We have failed to create spaces where true conversation takes place because, instead, we are too worried about pushing our agendas and convincing each other we are right. It would be sad if the only achievement we can place on our shelves is that of further polarizing our church on the issue.
While we try to convince each other with intolerant and patronizing language our community suffers. It might be that our zeal to change the church’s position on same-sex intimacy is holding us back from achieving tangible, realistic change that benefits the church’s relationship with its LGBT community.
As Natalie Bruzon, editor-in-chief, told me last week, we won’t achieve progress until we stop attacking each other. When we began to fight an extreme, conservative and uncompassionate monster we did not realize we could become an equally-bigoted, patronizing, unrelenting beast.
But let’s not waste more opportunities. Our church has many capable members on the many sides of the issue who are ready to engage in revolutionary conversations. We already have valuable platforms we can use like Union’s “Who’s at the Margins?” and “Enough Room.”
Let me rephrase something I mentioned earlier. It is because of our differences, rather than in spite of them, that we can find a way forward. We can learn from each other and realize in which ways our thinking may be flawed. We can move away from the harmful stereotypes stagnating our conversations. We can see God molding us and creating a beautiful community of believers.
One of my colleagues at “The Clocktower” told me I will always be disappointed; I won’t find support to create true and productive conversations. He may be right, but I haven’t grown out of my naivety yet. So, borrowing some of Sandefur’s wording I ask,
What if we did not treat our LGBT community as living at the margins of Union? What if Union was the role model for the rest of Adventism in creating productive conversations that allow us to love each other? What if this campus was revolutionary in its love and acceptance and openness, and its deep, deep trust and commitment to true dialogue to better the church’s relationship with our LGBT community? What if we were the ones who pushed the envelope and caused the rest of the church to wake up and open spaces where we let God mold us into a community resembling His kingdom?
Enrique Quezada is a senior studying music performance. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.