David Ferguson, Fritz Guy and David Larson, editors, Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives. Roseville, CA (USA): Adventist Forums, 2008--370 pages; price $ 19.95
Review by David Potter, Australia
Are same-sex relationships natural? Do homosexuals
and heterosexuals deserve equal treatment in the church? Is sexual
preference chosen, or is it biologically determined? Are the Leviticus
18 and 20 edicts timeless moral laws that apply equally to Christians
as to Israel? Do Paul’s comments on “unnatural” relations
(Romans 1) cover all same-sex relations, or only the perverse practices
of the godless Gentiles? These questions and many more are addressed
in this book.
Most of the 18 papers in the book were presented at
a 2006 conference organised by Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International,
set up in the 1970s to nurture gay and lesbian Adventists. Eight were
written by current church academics. Most question aspects of the traditional
church position on same-sex relations. The reader faces two challenges:
firstly, to properly assess the growing body of literature that suggests
homosexuality is a predisposition, not a choice; and secondly, to re-examine
what Paul is really saying in Romans 1.
Part one is biographical, presenting the stories of
Sherri Babcock, the great-great-granddaughter of one of the founders
of Atlantic Union
College; Leif Lind, former SDA pastor and missionary; and Paul Grady,
son of a church pastor, missionary and administrator. All three are
gay. According to Lind, coming out of the closet was “the hardest
thing I have ever done.” Lind lost his marriage, his career,
and his respect and acceptance in the church – a terrible price.
But he had to be honest about who he was. “Who would choose to
pit themselves against all odds and make life as difficult as possible
if it were really a matter of choice or sexual ‘preference’?
Not too many people I know,” writes Lind.
Part two examines biomedical perspectives. Research
continues to suggest that homosexuality has a genetic predisposition
and is biologically
determined, a conclusion that was widely resisted. One of the last
impediments was removed in 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association
unexpectedly declared that homosexuality was not an illness. As Fulton
asks, if homosexuality is neither a choice nor an illness, how is
the church going to deal with its anti-gay bias?
Part three presents insights from behavioural science.
Change ministries have failed repeatedly. The church that has called
caring church” and a “welcoming church” has not given
evidence of these claims in its treatment of gay members and workers,
most of whom have been forced to live deeply closeted, lonely lives.
To come out risks ostracism and dismissal. To express sympathy is to
be treated with hostility.
The church attempted to distance itself from Seventh-day
Adventist Kinship International when in 1987 the General Conference
for “breach of trademark.” The church lost. Later, in 1994,
the GC administration committee voted that GC personnel were not to
speak to gatherings of homosexuals. As Lawson notes, the official church
position was becoming more polarising at a time when law courts were
recognising the equality of homosexual and heterosexual persons.
Part four examines scriptural and theological perspectives.
Jones writes, “Romans
1:24-27 contains the Bible’s only substantive consideration of
homosexual conduct.” But it is not a complete discussion. It
is a preliminary comment that serves to introduce Paul’s thesis
that Jews and Gentiles are equally lost in sin and in need of salvation.
Those that read Leviticus 18 and 20 literally, bring a preformed perspective
that distorts Paul’s message. Homosexuality is not the central
issue in Romans 1. Furthermore, in discussing homosexuality, it is
not clear that Paul’s conceptual horizon and ours coincide. Indeed,
there has been a serious confusion of categories.
For Guy, “It is Scripture as a whole that is properly the ‘rule
of faith and practice.’” Applying this principle leads
him to conclude that “Scripture does not condemn all same-sex
love.” Gane’s literal interpretation of Leviticus does
not let him entertain pro-gay views. Nevertheless, he concludes that
the church has some work to do to restore itself as “the trusted
friend rather than the enemy of sinners.” Rice notes with approval
that in recent years the church has “become more open to the
complexity of human sexuality and willing to consider more helpful
Part five contains four papers on Christian social
perspectives, in which the writers press the church towards greater
fairness and compassion,
towards becoming the “just, open, caring” community it
should be. “God puts a tremendous value on human freedom.” We
must do no less.
We all have our responses. Perhaps these are well-informed;
on the other hand, they could be tainted by prejudice or by misuse
Whatever your current view, this book will inform and challenge your