Tag Archives: LGBT and the Church

The Bible and Compassion

What can we learn from Scripture about how to treat those who do not meet the ideal (which includes every one of us at one time or another)? It is critical to begin by acknowledging that LGBT+ people (along with the rest of humanity, of course) bear the image of God (Gen 1:26-27. While the image of God may be marred in all of us, it is not fully eradicated by sin. To disrespect the image of God in anyone is to disrespect the One who created and sustains us all. But, more than that, LGBT+ people are “brothers (sisters) for whom Christ died” (Rom 14:15; 1 Cor 8:11). When we disrespect anyone for whom Christ died, we disrespect the cross, and the high value God placed upon the human race there. We also look to the example of Jesus Christ, who in His earthly life treated sinners of all sorts with dignity and respect, including tax collectors, whose very profession was offensive to followers of God at the time (Matt 9:10-12; Luke 15:1-2; 19:1-10). Jesus refused to look down on any sinner or condemn them (Luke 7:36-50), but invited them to re-orient their lives in relation to God’s ideals (John 8:11).

To know someone is to love them. When we take the time to know and love LGBT+ people, they are no longer abstractions, they are human beings who want to be understood, respected, treated fairly, and loved like anyone else. LGBT+ people have been disproportionately affected by stigma, discrimination, and abuse. The church and its institutions, often motivated by fidelity to Scripture, have nevertheless caused significant harm to LGBT+ individuals. So, any outreach to them must begin with repentance and heartfelt confession, followed by careful listening to their life stories and their struggles. It is from a context of love and understanding, acknowledging the brokenness we have in common, that we earn the right to invite them to consider the advantages in a life of sexual purity and self-control (1 Thess 4:4-7; Rom 12:2). “Our neighbor is everyone who is wounded and bruised by the adversary. Our neighbor is everyone who is the property of God.” Desire of Ages, 503.

The Bible and the Science of Gender and Sexuality

While the Word of God is the foundation of our understanding of God’s will, it does not address all the issues and challenges that a Christian faces in regard to human sexuality. We also gain insight into the realities of human existence through God’s other book, nature. We are encouraged in this approach by Scripture, which declares that God’s creation is a revelation of His handiwork, even in the midst of a broken world (Psa 19:1-4; Rom 1:20). Scientific study helps us understand the trauma that human beings experience as a result of sin. While what we learn from nature must be submitted to the clear teachings of the Scriptures, it can enlighten us particularly in areas where Scripture has not spoken, and it can help clarify issues where Scripture is not clear.

The best, current, scientific information indicates that many, if not most, LGBT+ people did not choose the orientations in which they experience life. While Seventh-day Adventists and other Christians are divided on whether or not LGBT+ is a choice, I feel compelled by evidence-based science to acknowledge that those who claim LGBT+ orientation have not necessarily chosen that condition (Jesus may have hinted at this possibility in Matthew 19:12). This evidence has major implications for addressing this issue. If LGBT+ is not a choice in even some situations, it would be cruel and judgmental to automatically assume that any given individual made that choice in some perverse sense. Where LGBT+ orientation is not a choice, sin does not reside in the orientation, it resides in how one responds to that orientation. I find the issues in this regard to be complex and real. And I deeply appreciate that church leadership through the years has given institutions like my own freedom to wrestle prayerfully with issues like these on the basis, not only of Scripture, but of the best scientific and experiential evidence available to us.

The Bible and Human Reality

This is the second blog in a series on LGBT+ and the Bible. The biblical ideal articulated in the previous blog post is, in a nutshell, as follows: Human beings were created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28). The image of God is introduced in the context of male and female, God’s original ideal regarding gender. God’s ideal on sexuality is then expressed in Genesis 2:24 as occurring in the context of a lifelong marital relationship between a man and a woman. From the creation perspective, sexual relationships outside of such lifelong male/female partnerships fall short of God’s ideal. And all this was re-affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:4-6.

There is another side, however, to the biblical witness regarding sexuality. While Jesus does not directly address issues related to LGBT+, in Matthew 19:7-8 (ESV) He addresses the contrast between the ideal and the real in the human response to Scripture: “They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away (reflecting Deut 24:1-4)?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.’” With the entrance of sin into the world (Gen 3:1-13), the ideal remains in place (cf. Matt 19:9), but things often go seriously awry. The same Moses who articulated the ideal in Genesis 1 and 2, reports how quickly and deeply the human race fell from that ideal (Gen 4:1-24; 6:5; 9:20-23; 11:1-9, cf. many deviations from God’s ideals by the patriarchs). Under inspiration, he upheld the ideal while not ignoring the real. Even after the first advent of Christ, the church struggled to implement the ideal (note, for example, the series of “but ifs” in 1 Corinthians 7:1-40, cf. texts like Matt 19:12c; Rom 8:22-23; 1 Tim 3:2, 12; Tit 1:6). So, a biblical approach to LGBT+ issues must address the depths of the human condition at the same time as it seeks to encourage the ideal.

While the Bible does not directly address issues of sexual orientation, as we understand them today, it does indicate that all human beings have an orientation to sin (Rom 3:23; 13:14; Gal 5:24; Eph 2:1-3). In Romans 13:14, Paul does not say that sinful desires are eradicated at conversion, but that those who put Christ at the center of their lives will not “act out” (Greek root: poieō) those desires (Rom 13:14; Eph 2:3). Wrestling with our sin orientation is a lifelong process. We are, therefore, called to embrace God’s ideal for human sexuality “more and more” (1 Thess 4:1-7). This indicates that those seeking to follow Jesus will be at various stages of the “more and more” at any given time. Attempting to enforce the ideal is, therefore, often an exercise in hypocrisy. The brokenness of human beings, as a result of sin, is a brokenness common to us all. It may take different forms, but a biblical approach will avoid an attitude of moral superiority toward anyone failing to attain the ideal.

From Principles to Practice (LGBT 21)

The three biblical principles outlined in the previous blog are often in tension with each other when an institution faces real-life issues. People and relationships are messy things. Balancing biblical integrity with biblical compassion may seem easy in principle but they are not easy in practice. In everyday life, one often faces situations where it seems one has to choose between compassion and other biblical values. Jesus faced many such situations and overcame them with a brilliance that most of us don’t have (see John 8:3-11 as an example). And it gets much more difficult at the institutional level. The tension between integrity and compassion is quickly compounded when institutional policies and legal complications enter into the mix. Let me share three scenarios of how the three biblical principles could be applied to specific situations.

Supposed you have a top-rank candidate for one of your graduate programs. But you do a little research online and in social media. And you find out that the prospective student has not only adopted a gay identity, but has been a leading and disruptive campus activist for LGBT issues at the undergrad level. Should you deny the student admission even though his or her grades and test scores are at the head of your prospective student list? Denying admission would not be a problem with the law in most places, since academic institutions are allowed a lot of freedom in terms of who they admit or deny to their programs. Compassion would not be an issue in this case, as the student would likely be able to get into a similar program elsewhere. So following the church’s teaching in denying admission to a gay activist would not be in tension with the other two principles in this case. But one program director handled a similar situation in a different way. She invited the prospective student in for a personal interview. Among other things, she shared the institution’s values regarding marriage and sexuality and asked the prospective student whether abiding by these while at the school would be a problem. The student said “no,” was admitted, and behaved in a manner consistent with the institution’s values throughout the program.

Suppose an Adventist health care entity received an appeal from one of its nurses. The nurse discloses that she is legally married to a patient with late stage cancer being treated in the hospital. She requests that the hospital extend spousal health insurance benefits to the gay partner. The hospital could respond by firing the nurse (and terminating her own health care benefits), thereby also abandoning the dying spouse to minimal or no treatment. In many places firing the nurse would be considered discriminatory and therefore illegal. In some places denying insurance benefits to gay partners is also illegal. One could decide to do so anyway in the name of fidelity to the church’s values. But such an action would need to be weighed against the danger to the entire mission of the institution. Compassion in this case might be the biblical principle that breaks the impasse. As noted by Ellen White, when in doubt, err on the side of mercy. When thought through, it could be decided that extending insurance benefits to a gay spouse is probably not, in itself, a compromise of the church’s larger mission. Obviously, decisions like this are not easy and are best made by people who both know the Bible and are also close to the situation.

Suppose a student in medical school approached the dean and informed her that he would like to undergo a sex-change operation. The church is at the beginning stages of its explorations of the complicated issue of transgender, where the gender of the body and the brain are in conflict. At this point the church recommends that the best approach to “gender dysphoria” is counseling in order to help the person deal with the inner conflict and accept the physical gender of his or her birth. Sex-change surgery is a radical therapy and many who undergo such therapy regret it later and may be even more prone to suicide than transgender people in general. But counseling does not always resolve matters and most Christians see a difference between restorative surgery and physical mutilation. So an institution may not wish to reject a decision in favor of sex-change surgery that is made thoughtfully and prayerfully in consultation with specialists. But it might be wise for the student to drop out of med school, spend a year dealing with the outcomes of the surgery and the psychological challenges associated with it, and then return to school in a different class so the change will be less awkward for the student and less disruptive to other students.

Every situation is a little different and all require a great deal of prayer, counseling and careful weighing of the three biblical principles that apply most closely to matters related to LGBTIQ. By no means do I consider this series of blogs the last word. I have based my considerations on the best conservative biblical scholarship and scientific studies and also my own experience. It is my hope that opening such discussions with what thinking Adventists can agree on will provide a starting point for addressing areas of concern that are much less clear. There are many points at issue that faithful Adventists still disagree on. We have many things to learn and many, many to unlearn (CWE 33). But we need to be thinking intelligently about these issues and talking respectfully with each other. LGBTIQ people are children of God twice over. They are children of God by creation and children of God by redemption. They are souls for whom Christ died (Rom 14:15). May the rest of us view them through the just and compassionate eyes of God.

LGBTIQ and Adventist Institutions (LGBT 20)

There is no part of the church that finds these issues more challenging than the church’s educational and health care institutions. In health care there is the assumption that all people will be treated equally regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or gender. But what is perceived as equal treatment often seems to challenge the church’s biblical positions. In the educational arena you have large numbers of young people who grew up in a different environment on these issues than did those who are trying to educate them. Because of financial aid, accreditation, legal complications and state oversight, both health care and educational institutions are often hampered in their ability to apply a traditional approach to LGBTIQ issues even if they felt it was the right thing to do. As an administrator at Loma Linda University (which combines the challenges of both types of institution) I have experienced these challenges first hand. And there is no “one size fits all” in most situations. Having said that, it seems to me that there are three core biblical principles that need to be carefully consulted whenever an institution faces specific dilemmas in these matters. The three biblical principles follow:

1) Integrity/ Moral Purity. The leadership, mission and values of SDA educational and healthcare institutions need to be unashamedly Seventh-day Adventist. This means that core values such as integrity and purity/self-control must inform where the institutions stand in matters of gender and sexuality. To abandon core Adventist teachings in relation to marriage and sexuality for the sake of political or economic advantage would be a violation of personal and institutional integrity. The SDA Church affirms the biblical ideal that marriage in God’s eyes is between a man and a woman and that sexual activity between individuals who are unmarried falls short of God’s ideal. As I have discussed earlier, such a position is defensible, both biblically and experientially. Institutions that identify with the SDA Church should continue to teach and practice the church’s position regardless of legal standards they may be required to meet. But that is not the only biblical position health care and educational institutions need to affirm.

2) Compassion. Central to the campus at Loma Linda is a sculptural display that illustrates the story of the Good Samaritan. The teaching and healing ministry of Jesus calls Adventists “to make man whole.” The value of compassion, therefore, is at the core of the church’s mission. This means that the policies and practices of the church’s institutions must, as far as possible, express compassion for any who are hurting or disadvantaged. Many or most homosexuals did not choose their orientation, and people of God will sympathize with their unique struggles to achieve purity in a broken world. In the words of Rom. 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor” (NIV). Likewise, the first rule of the health sciences and of education is to “do no harm.” Compassion toward the other, even when we do not share the same values, is fundamental to the mission and values of SDA institutions.

3) Legal Compliance. Adventist health care and educational institutions cannot avoid engaging the realities of the real world. In any case, Romans 13 also teaches us that the governing authorities of this world “have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1, ESV). To resist these authorities is to resist “what God has appointed” (Rom. 13:2, ESV). The leaders of the state are God’s servants for our good (Rom. 13:4). This means that actions of the state, even if they seem misguided or oppressive, may be used by God to teach us things we might not learn otherwise. So Adventist institutions need to comply with the laws of the land in which they serve, with the caveat of Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men” (ESV).

It seems to me that Adventist institutions should attempt to comply with the laws of the land to the degree possible in light of the first two principles. Exceptions to such legal compliance must be decided on a case by case basis in ongoing consultation with appropriate church leadership. The people of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, will seek to determine in the context of practical realities what it means to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17, ESV, cf. Matt. 22:21; Luke 20:25).

The Gray Areas of Sexual Expression (LGBT 19)

Over the decades there have been issues in relation to sexual expression that fall into the middle between the clearly acceptable and the clearly unacceptable. These are the “real” issues of the local church. And as time goes on the church has often felt the need to accommodate situations that are less than ideal. One example would be dysfunctional marriage. Certainly a dysfunctional marriage falls short of God’s ideal. And in a perfect world we probably wouldn’t want a pastor or an elder to serve if their own marriages are deeply under strain. But we have come to realize that there are no ideal marriages and that all marriages suffer from the consequences of sin. So the church has come to accept the reality that its leaders will have less than perfect marriages. A dysfunctional marriage, therefore, is not the death sentence for ministry that it might have been in the past.

Another challenging type of sexual expression has to do with marriage and divorce. At one time divorce and remarriage amost guaranteed that one’s service for the church was at an end. People were quickly censured and often even disfellowshiped on that account. And many felt justified by Scripture in taking such a position toward the divorced. But as divorce has claimed a larger and larger percentage of church members, people have also noticed in Scripture that there is an ideal and real. That God’s messengers (Moses, Jesus, Paul, Ellen White) lay out the ideal in principle, but the same messengers, when confronted with specific situations tended to be quite merciful. In light of this many churches and institutions, right or wrong, have taken a more redemptive approach to the divorced and remarried, even allowing second chances to those who seem to have genuinely repented. The church should never encourage divorce, except in dangerous situations (which are more common than people think), lifelong marriage is still the ideal. But there are situations where divorce is better than other options. As awareness of reality increases in the church, there is often a shift in what aspects of Scripture get noticed and these “gray areas” can look different over time. Whether this is a work of the Holy Spirit or a work of apostasy is subject to debate, but such shifts of understanding are evident in Scriptural narratives such as Acts 15. And such decisions are best made at the local level.

Another challenging area outside the western church is the problem of polygamy. What does a church do when a family presents itself for baptism and it becomes evident that the husband has more than one wife? Such a marriage is clearly contrary to the creation ideal, but was not uncommon among even the Old Testament saints like Abraham, Jacob and David. It is not an arrangement that should ever be encouraged in the church, the misery that polygamy causes is all too evident. But the practical issue is, how should the church relate to the various members of that family? Should baptism be refused to all unless they divorce? But if you consider that option, is it really OK for the church to be encouraging divorce? Should the women be baptized because they have only one spouse, while the husband is refused because he has several? Again, in many parts of the world, situations like this are very challenging and are best handled by those who know the people involved.

That brings me to the issue of the day. I think there is a general consensus among church leaders, at least, that LGBT people who choose a celibate lifestyle are welcome in the church and LGBT people who choose a life of promiscuity should not expect to be welcomed as members (people who try to do the right thing and fail from time to time are in a different category). But what should the church do about the reality of same-sex marriages? Isn’t lifelong commitment an improvement over promiscuity? Is it better for people to die alone than to be in the comforting presence of someone who loves and is committed to them? Is a violent or dysfunctional heterosexual marriage more desirable than a tender and gracious gay marriage? Should the laws and declarations of the state make a difference in how we look at things? What about a husband and father who undergoes a sex change but the marriage stays together? Do we now consider that a gay marriage? We would wish that things were less complicated. And in a simpler age it was easy to draw black and white lines in nearly all situations. But is that what Jesus would do?

At this point in history the church is unlikely to grant membership to people in same-sex marriages. But will that shift too as time and experience go by? My sense is that the younger generation is in a very different place on this issue than people of my generation. My generation largely grew up aloof from the struggles of LGBT people. We were told not to ask and they were told not to tell. So it was possible to act as if there were no issues. But my children grew up with LGBT friends and had many frank conversations with their friends about gender and sexuality, even in the context of Adventist academies and colleges. It is easier to exercise compassion when an issue becomes a face. And my children early on were in a different place than I was raised to be. Adventists everywhere are learning their way into this issue. In all that I say or write about the topic, I want to leave room for where my children and grandchildren will sense they need to be. And I certainly hope they continue to ask what Jesus would do in our place. How would the God who stooped down to wash the feet of Judas react if He found out Judas was gay? Something to think about.

Types of Sexual Expression (LGBT 18)

When it comes to sexual expression and the Bible, there are many things that are perfectly clear (in terms of the ideal), but there are some things that are not so clear. Let’s start with clarity on the positive side. First of all, sexual expression between a man and a woman in a healthy marriage is approved and even encouraged in the Bible. At its best, sexuality in the context of lifelong commitment is more satisfying because it deepens as the years go by (the ideal). It can lift a couple to the open gates of heaven in their love for each other. It was designed by God and is for our good. While Bible scholars continue to debate the meaning of the texts that address homosexuality, two things are clear in the Bible. Whenever heterosexual marriage is mentioned, it is always positive, approved by God. Whenever homosexual activity is mentioned, like activities seen on sites like https://www.hdpornvideo.xxx/, it is always in a negative context. Some might wish it were different, but we have to assume that the God who gave us the Bible knows better than we do how He designed us and how we can best function. A second, positive type of sexual expression is abstinence or celibacy. While such may not be advisable in some cases (1 Cor 7), where it is freely chosen and entered into as part of a person’s commitment to Christ, it is a valid choice with no spiritual consequences. The person’s sexual energies are diverted in to the service of God and others. Churches know how to deal with people who exercise these two types of sexual expression.

The church also knows how to deal with many other forms of sexual expression. The Bible is clear that sexual promiscuity, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is destructive, with devastating consequences for the human personality and the ability to truly bond with other people. There can be no compromise on this issue. Much of the troubles that bring people to psychologists and counselors are rooted in the fallout from promiscuity. We do people not favors at all when we condone promiscuity. The same goes for sexual violence, which adds to the sexual fallout the damage that comes from forcibly violated another person’s body. Sexual violence is even more reprehensible than promiscuity. Churches also know how to deal with bestiality, where human beings express their sexuality with animals. I can’t imagine that being condoned in any religious community. But there is one type of sexual expression that is even more heinous than the others in this paragraph, sexual exploitation of children. The church is so concerned about this that in many parts of the world elaborate background checks are done before anyone can take responsibility for children. So the church has positive and negative clarity on many sexual issues.

But over the decades there have been issues in relation to sexual expression that fall into the middle between the clearly acceptable and the clearly unacceptable. These are often challenging and even painful. But local churches have to deal with one or another of them all the time. This is where we need to go next. Stay tuned.

Local Churches and Less Common Orientations (LGBT 17)

In the previous blog I have listed seven levels of deepening engagement any person can have with a local church:
1) Attendance
2) Participation
3) Membership
4) Local Leadership (unordained)
5) Local Leadership (ordained)
6) Teaching in the Church School
7) Ordained Minister

Let me lay out three of many possible scenarios that might confront a local church. I will not be offering opinions of what a local church should do, those decisions are best made at the local level. I will use these scenarios to illustrate some of the challenges churches and LGBT people face in engaging each other. These are the kinds of scenarios that churches will face more and more as LGBTIQ people “come out of the closet” and confess both their faith and their difficult circumstances in life. The first scenario is a situation where a person in the local church has a homosexual orientation, but whose identity is clearly in Christ and whose behavior and beliefs are in harmony with the church. Most churches I know would be completely comfortable with such a person attending and participating in church life. The challenge comes at levels three to seven. If most members believe that a homosexual orientation is, in itself, sin and rebellion, they would not be comfortable offering membership or any deeper level of engagement. But if orientation is not a choice in most cases and the person’s life and beliefs are in harmony with the church, why should that person be treated any differently than a heterosexual person with the same beliefs and behaviors? To do so could open the church to charges of discrimination, like churches that would deny membership to Blacks, Hispanics or Asians, who likewise have not chosen the characteristics that make them a target. So the crucial issue here is how people of faith understand orientation. Traditionally it was thought to be a choice, but if that belief is wrong, it can be grounds to justify abuse and discrimination, not things the church wants to be known for.

A second scenario is similar yet somewhat different. How should a church respond to a person who has a gay or lesbian identity, but it not “practicing” that identity in a sexual way at that point in time? As noted earlier, a Christian who embraces a genuinely gay identity is in a state of conflict between two masters. While many members of the church followers of Christ have a similar conflict, because of addiction, unwise choices or Laodicean lukewarmness, their struggles will usually not be in the open in quite that way they are in a person of gay or lesbian identity. While such a person may believe and behave in harmony with the church otherwise, many in the church may choose to draw the line on membership or even participation. But a church that does so had better be prepared to draw some lines on heterosexual identity issues as well (a person addicted to pornography in secret is just as conflicted in their identity, yet may continue to function at any of the seven levels of church engagement). To make an issue out of gay or lesbian identity and not address the issue of pornography seems like pure discrimination to me. The latter is just as much a spiritual identity crisis as the second scenario is.

The third scenario is a same-sex couple that is married according to the laws of the state. There is no hiding in the closet or secret relationship. How should the church relate to that? In the past, churches would not have faced this kind of issue, but now it is increasingly with us in many parts of the world. Should churches allow such couples to attend? To participate? If the same-sex marriage is the only issue in their relationship with the church, should a church consider membership or even leadership? Christians are law-abiding citizens. Does the approval of the state in this case, therefore, change anything? In other words, does state approval in such things matter? How much does it matter? Is it not better for people to be in a committed relationship than to be promiscuous? You may have a strong opinion on this from a distance. But when the issue has a face, it is the people with strong opinions (they would call them convictions) that often make things more difficult for all concerned.

Regardless of one’s view on these matters, churches that attract LGBT people have difficult questions to answer and the type of person they are dealing with is a crucial part of that. There are so many possible scenarios and nuances of scenarios that engagement in the local church is a matter best decided by the local church. Higher levels of the church can wrestle with theology and larger principles (which I have tried to address in this blog series), but the real challenge is how to wisely navigate the tension between doctrine and compassion with real people in a local church. When it is clear that a person knows and loves Christ, it affects how the church makes decisions regarding that person, and it should. But such decisions should never let go of the divine ideals. Those are the primary reasons to have a church in the first place.

LGBTIQ and the Local Church (LGBT 16)

In a sense, everything that we have covered in the first 15 blogs is just introduction. Doctrine is important, it provides a solid foundation for our thinking about the practical issues of everyday life. But on a controverted topic like this, what really counts is how these things are applied in the context of a local church. When you look into the eyes of real people with struggles that are different, yet Scripture indicates are similar to your own, the theories that seem so clear in abstract may not be as useful as one had hoped. I am grateful that in the SDA Church issues like church membership are reserved for the local church, which is closest to the situation. It is in the local church, where people are known truly and deeply, that decisions regarding faithfulness to Christ and adherence to the teachings of the church are best made. So let’s explore how the insights of Scripture, science and experience play out in some local church scenarios.

First of all, there are seven levels of possible engagement with the local church, each more fraught with potential consequences than the one before it. 1) Attendance at church services and others events of the church community. What kind of belief or behavior might cause a local church to exclude someone from even attending? Certainly if someone is known to be a serial killer or rapist, a church would need to protect its members by barring proximity for such a person. Under what circumstances should that apply to LGBT people? 2) Participation in church activities, such as leading games at a picnic, singing in the choir, involvement in Sabbath School activities, and playing instruments or leading the singing at worship. These levels of involvement raise the stakes over mere attendance. At this level there is real participation in a church community. 3) Membership. In the SDA Church membership is taken very seriously and individuals who are flagrantly violating sexual standards or promoting bizarre beliefs are likely to be denied baptism and membership. But what about an LGBT person who is celibate and clearly loves the Lord? Membership judgments in such cases should be made locally by mature Christians on the basis of the best biblical and scientific principles available.

4) Local Leadership (unordained). This involves things like teaching Sabbath school classes, chairing the Social Committee, or using specialized skills to lead out in work bees or construction projects. One would not need to be ordained to hold such positions, but churches would normally want someone taking on such leadership to be a member in good and regular standing and highly esteemed by the church. 5) Local Leadership (ordained). This kind of leadership involves offices like elder and deacon and clearly spiritual tasks like counseling, Bible studies, home visitations, and leading in worship. Ordination to these roles certainly implies a strong mutual commitment between a local church and an individual. 6) Teaching in Church Schools. Each level requires higher degrees of responsibility and includes more risk for the church, particularly in areas related to sexuality. Molding the minds of children is a sacred trust, not to be granted or entered into lightly. Normally the choice of teachers in church schools is not solely a decision of the local church, higher church authorities (conference) are rightly involved as well. 7) Ordained Minister. This is the highest level of responsibility and trust that any local church can participate in granting. Decisions regarding pastoral ministry are, therefore, made largely at higher levels, right up to the union (which is above the conference). Local churches can make decisions regarding who they wish to pastor their churches, but they choose out of a list of individuals who have already been vetted at higher levels. Having said this, one could argue that teaching in the church school might be a position of equal or even greater risk than the pastoral ministry.

What levels of involvement in local churches are appropriate for LGBTIQ people in light of the biblical, scientific and experiential data available to us today? Certainly people with intersex conditions have done nothing to cause the condition (unless they have willfully mutilated themselves). An intersex person’s beliefs and behaviors should be the only basis for determining their fitness for church engagement. Dealing with transgender persons could be much more complicated, as local churches may not have anyone who understands the various dynamics. I make no attempt in this series to speak directly to that complicated issue, which probably affects less than one per cent of the population. In this series I am primarily addressing people with gay and lesbian identities, or homosexual and bisexual orientations. How shall local churches address LGBT individuals who desire participation and membership in SDA churches?

Why Can’t They Just Pray It All Away? (LGBT 15)

Many will be troubled by the direction of my comments in the previous blogs. They assume that if LGBT people would only pray and commit themselves to Christ, their orientations would be taken away and they would become “normal” people. But there are some considerations we need to give attention to before applying these expectations in a real situation. First, in practice that happens rarely, if at all. I am aware of individuals who claim to have been “changed” by God and are now living a fulfilled, heterosexual life. I do not doubt their testimonies (although such testimonies are sometimes premature), and I am happy for them. But I know many, many people who never wanted to be gay and pray earnestly to be otherwise, but nothing seems to happen. I have heard their anguish and know that God hears them too. In my experience as a counselor and in the scientific studies I have observed (particularly those done by Bible believing Christians), orientation change is rare at best, and may simply reflect bisexuals, whose journey to change is considerably shorter than those with a full-bore homosexual orientation. In most cases, orientation truly seems as unchangeable as physical defects. If we would not encourage a one-legged person to pray for God to grow a new leg, we probably should not encourage a gay person to pray for a new orientation. Orientation is not sin. It is a consequence of the Fall that is likely to be with us until the Lord comes.

There is a theological basis that explains this reality, at least to some degree. Seventh-day Adventists believe in the inspiration of Ellen G. White. In her book Steps to Christ (and supported by the Bible), she describes a loving God who desires relationships of love with the creatures He has made. But genuine love cannot be forced, it must be freely chosen and freely given. To be free to love, means to be free also to not love or even to rebel. A loving God so respects the principle of freedom that He allows His creatures to rebel against Him and He also does not interfere in the consequences of that rebellion.

So we all suffer from the consequences of sin. Many of those consequences are directly related to the choices we ourselves have made. But many consequences are related to the choices others have made (such as abusers, murderers, rapists, salve-owners and the Holocaust). Not only so, many consequences of sin are collective to the whole human race; pollution, environmental disasters, birth defects and orientations that are contrary to God’s original design. While prayer can certainly change our hearts and our attitudes, it does not often remove the consequences of sin. To do so would be a limitation on human freedom, which would place a limitation on love. So we struggle for life and purity in the midst of our various orientations to sin. This reality is not God’s ideal, but is a necessary real in the context of a cosmic conflict over the character and government of God. In this context, we can pray for miraculous recoveries and changes, but should not demand or expect them. We are called to serve God as best we can where we are. To place unnecessary burdens on LGBT people, whose lives are already incredibly hard, is to make their lives even more difficult than they are, and it makes the church an unsafe place for them to wrestle with their challenges.