Christianity and homosexuality have always been perceived to be two separate worlds. Like oil and water, they didn't seem to quite mix, one always seemingly contradicting the other. That is why it felt like the ground was taken from underneath my feet when I realized I was queer. Surely I couldn't be into the same sex -- I was a Christian, and a Seventh-day Adventist at that. I was 13 and terrified. It wasn't until years later and much time spent fervently researching scripture and reading articles by respected thought leaders and Biblical scholars that I was able to reconcile my faith and sexuality. I am a young Seventh-day Adventist, bisexual male -- and that's not an oxymoron, yet it still is an everyday struggle as I continue wrestle with how to follow both my faith and my heart.
This summer, I watched a film that covers this very ground. I had the privilege of attending a private screening of the newly released documentary Seventh-Gay Adventists: A film about faith on the margins. Seventh-Gay Adventists documents the lives of three couples who identify as members of both the queer community and the very conservative Seventh-day Adventist faith community.
The Seventh-Gay Adventists story is my story.
I grew up Seventh-day Adventist. I have only attended Adventist-affiliated educational institutions and have grown up immersed in the Adventist culture. Adventism is a lot more than just a set of beliefs -- it's an entire culture and identity. It's not uncommon for an Adventist young person (or adult) to really only know other Adventists, and the idea of leaving, even if you have good reason to, like being a marginalized LGBT member, would be as difficult as trying to change my orientation. I want both my queer community and my church community to know -- this is me. I am a bisexual person of faith. It's who I am.
First, a little history. Seventh-day Adventism grew out of Methodism and the Millerite movement and dates back to the 1800's. In addition to anticipating the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, a distinguishing belief is keeping Sabbath on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Adventists keep Sabbath much more like Jews than like other Christians, and the rhythm, belief and community around Sabbath is a core component of this faith. And then there are a host of other cultural traditions -- like (mostly) being vegetarian, abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, dancing, sometimes even caffeine and movies. It's a unique faith community.
While the Adventist church has a lot of distinctive beliefs and traditions, when it comes to homosexuality, it's as condemning of same-gender relationships as other conservative denominations. The church's official statement says that "sexual intimacy belongs only within the marital relationship of a man and a woman."* Many of our churches paint themselves homophobic, casting queer members out of the churches, queer students from academies, and leaving no room for real conversation. Yet there are those of us who fight through the persecution, sitting weekly in the pews to have fellowship with our fellow Christian brethren. As Pastor Marcos Apolonio, a main subject in the Seventh-Gay Adventists film puts it, "We pay a very high price to keep our faith."
Adventists, as well as many Christian denominations, have continually attempted to sweep homosexuality under the proverbial rug. "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" has infected our congregations. The discriminatory and homophobic policies and practices that we see all around us have their roots in our churches, which is deeply ironic, given that Jesus' entire life and mission was about love, a love so profound that he was willing to die to demonstrate its depths.
Well, I believe that it's time for Christianity to come out of the closet of close-mindedness. It's time to admit that "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" hasn't worked. Preaching fear and ignorance hasn't worked. All that the status quo has produced is extreme divisiveness and the shocking statistic that Christian LGBT youth are four times more likely to commit suicide. Think about that for a moment.
And, as Brian McLaren points out in his introduction to Andrew Marin's Love is an Orientation, "Jesus didn't say, 'They'll know you are my disciples by your firm stance on divisive social issues.'"
One of my favorite moments in Seventh-Gay Adventists is when one of the main subjects quotes Pablo Neruda: "You can pick all of the flowers, but you can't stop the spring." This is what we, the LGBT Adventists, are telling our church. You can try to keep picking all of the flowers, but spring is coming.
That spring can include room for all of us, but it takes true dialogue and respect. For too long fear of the Other, fear of the unknown, fear of being wrong, fear of the proverbial slippery slope has kept dialogue from happening. Ghandi said, "The enemy is fear. We think it's hate; but, it is fear." It is fear that has kept conversation from taking place and fear that will keep us from equality in our churches.
But that is changing. More and more people, particularly of my generation, are standing up and sharing their stories. Films like Seventh-Gay Adventists are spurring a new type of discussion through the stories of people that many of us (in the queer community and the Adventist church) didn't acknowledge or respect. It's a stepping stone for us all to practice what we preach. Can we be known by our love?**
Seventh-Gay Adventists is currently screening at LGBT film festivals (including the Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film festival, the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film festival in October), and it's also coming to New York City on October 13th.
What I appreciate most is that this film is helping bridge the gap between the faith and LGBT communities. It's helping gay people of faith see stories of others who also have to reconcile their faith and sexuality, and, even more importantly, it's helping conservative churches start realizing that they have people like me sitting in their pews.
As a young Adventist, I envision a day where, not just the Adventist church, but Christianity as a whole, will wholeheartedly participate in an actual dialogue where we listen before judging. We may not always agree, but we have to start listening and respecting each other. There should never have to be a choice between faith and sexuality. For those LGBTQIA people that are brave enough to stay in the pews of your churches for fellowship and worship, thank you. To the rest of you in the neighboring pews, please just listen. That's all I ask. Our lives literally depend on how we proceed with this conversation.
Eliel Cruz is the president of Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition and is a senior international business and French major at Andrews University. He is currently interning in New York City for Fashion Photographer Mike Ruiz. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or find the IAGC at Facebook.com/IAGCAdventist
Seventh-Gay Adventists will be screened in the New York City area on October 13th. See http://www.sgamovie.com/screenings/ for details.
**"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." John 15:12