As I examine the Seventh-day Adventist literature on LGBTIQ, I do see an emerging consensus on a number of challenging issues. My report is not the final word, by any means. But it is better to have an educated position on difficult topics than a knee-jerk or naïve position. I am open to further research and deepening understanding, but there has developed a strong political element in relation to this topic. There are many issues researchers will not touch because of their fear that the results may work against the political consensus, or that they may be ostracized by their research community. So the research needs to be attended to, but with a certain amount of healthy skepticism in a politically-charged research and educational environment. Give appropriate deference to those who have spent their lives researching on issues of sexuality, but think for yourself and don’t buy conclusions where the evidence seems suspect. And be very suspicious of any result that is clearly contradictory to Scripture.
Having said that, many ideas that claim to be based on the Bible are actually based on either selective reading or a distorted reading lens. One of my teachers loved to say, “It isn’t hard to have strong convictions on any topic, as long as you are willing to ignore some of the evidence.” On top of that, all readers of the Bible, including conservative ones, tend to read the Bible through a hermeneutical lens that can distort the outcome of their study. I have spoken to this latter point at some length in chapters three and four of my book The Deep Things of God. I refer you there for more detail. Below I share some things that Seventh-day Adventists (and other conservative Christians) who are knowledgeable on both the Bible and science are coming to agree on. I believe these kinds of agreements need to be the foundation of further study and practice.
One emerging consensus among educated Adventists (including both conservative and liberal) is that one’s sexual orientation in most cases is not a choice. The behavioral sciences have always debated the issue of nature versus nurture. Is a condition inherited or does it exist because of experience and training (intentional and otherwise)? Is a homosexual orientation genetic or otherwise inherited? Or is it something that happens because of parental relationships, abuse, or certain family dynamics? Is it a choice or is it determined in some way? From my experience and understanding, these debates often swing back and forth between the two options, but most often the evidence leads researchers to “both/and.” Most conditions can be traced to a combination of both inheritance (genes, etc.) and upbringing. And inheritance does seem to play a role in same-sex attraction and orientation. Be that as it may, even if homosexuality was solely a result of nurture rather than nature, Adventist understanding is that the character of a child is largely formed something between the ages of three and seven. And how many seven-year old children got to choose their parents?
So while the adoption of a gay or lesbian identity involves a choice, homosexual orientation is rarely, if ever, a choice. There are some exceptions and we will address those in the following blog. This conclusion is very significant for the church. Regardless of how it happened, if orientation is not a choice in most instances, the church must be careful not to demand of people something that they are not capable of, even with prayer and fasting. If the science is correct, that would be like demanding that someone born without a leg produce a natural one before they can be accepted into the church. To require such would be abusive and cruel. At the same time, orientation should not be confused with identity. To accept a person with physical, mental or emotional challenges is not the same thing as “condoning sin.” To accept a person who is “different” through no choice of their own is not “condoning sin.”
When I shared this consensus with an Adventist friend, he became upset with me. “To live with a homosexual orientation and not try to change it is to live in sin,” he proclaimed, “I believe that it is a choice that people make, and wrong choices are sin.” While I have not met a homosexual person who felt that they had a choice (many have prayed for years that God would change them) that story would not be convincing to him. So I simply asked my friend, “When did you choose to be heterosexual?” He had no answer. Where we stand on this issue determines to a great degree how we treat all kinds of people whose life and struggles are different from our own.