by

Ernesto Espinoza – July 20, 2014

I was astonished, surprised, and at the end, angry as I received an email with a link to the Thomas Harold column. After carefully considering what to do, and asking for guidance, I decided to write this response.

In his ill-serving and questionable attempt to affirm the church position on LGBTIQ issues, Harold took yet another step in the wrong direction. While I believe that he is attempting to do “the right thing,” I also know how much pain and suffering he and others will cause by following this path even longer.
 
Let me start at the beginning. I am a 4th-generation Adventist – well, not anymore, so I guess I’m a 4th-generation ex-Adventist. I am no longer a member of the Adventist Church, nor am I in any way affiliated with the Church or SDA-Kinship or other Adventist organizations. I do, however, still have family and friends in the Adventist church. Some of them are hiding in plain sight and suffering in plain sight. On behalf of those the church forgot and ignores, I am writing today.

Harold seems to have a problem with modern acronyms like LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer) but I can live with that. Throughout his commentary he tries to play some sort of “reverse the blame” game. This makes the commentary often look like the school-bully who realizes that he can no longer bully others without facing consequences.

We need to remember something here: It was not the LGBTIQ community which crossed the boundaries and ignored, discriminated, persecuted, murdered, disregarded, violated human rights and blamed the religious community. Throughout history it was religious communities, and Christianity in no small part, which did all these things to the LGBTIQ community. Granted, Seventh-day Adventists cannot be held accountable for things which happened before the denomination got started. However, Seventh-day Adventists can and should be held accountable for pain and suffering the church still causes today and the lives lost because of that.
 
I grew up as an Adventist child and soon found myself on the receiving end of that pain and suffering. While I am not to be found in the first three letters of the acronym I am found in the acronym. It was basically a system of guilt by association. I did not ask for it; I did not choose it. I did not sin. I was a child, yet I was told by a “loving and compassionate” church that I was something less, or I should pray for forgiveness, or similar things.

So I did as I was told, and my first conscious prayer was this: “Please, God, forgive me my sins and make me normal again.” After all, I was told and taught that I am sinful and abnormal. It was far later that I learned a different side and one which is far closer to the truth than what the church told me. Years went by and my prayers did not change much, nor did the church’s message.

As I grew older I was told to study Scripture and find my answer. By that time I had given up on my prayer and acknowledged that God would not fulfill it, and that I needed to bear this “punishment,” as it was called. So I went out on a new endeavor and started to study Scripture. I knew I would not find much of an answer in it on the topic. How could I, if our pastor and my teachers at the Adventist school could not? So my effort was along a line something different from what the church had in mind. I searched for an answer or some wiggle-room or any verse or any hint that it would be OK biblically for me to commit suicide.

I was 15 years old, I knew how to do it, and I had my plan ready. I was no longer able to withstand the pressure, the pain, the behind-my-back talk, the sermons, the finger-pointing, and all the other stuff coming from a “loving and compassionate” church. I did not aim to be happy any longer; I no longer had any dreams.  I had given up on praying to be normal. All I wanted was a message which would tell me that is OK to die.

I searched Scriptures and all of the Adventist publications I could get my hands on for that simple message. Finding nothing to fulfill my need I turned to other spiritual books and religious books. I studied and compared a lot of them. It was not until I got a book by E. Stanley Jones, “The Christ of the Indian Road,1 that I found my answer. Inside the book there was one simple quote from Bara Dada: "Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians – you are not like him.2 Which got me thinking. Finally I had the answer to all my pain and questions and prayers. It was not the answer I had looked for but it was nevertheless my answer.

It was not me who was the problem; neither was my mother, for giving me birth; or my birth; or Jesus; or religion, or anything out there which was blamed by pastors and members alike. The problem was the “loving and compassionate” church. As soon as I understood this, I realized that I needed to leave, and as soon as I made my decision, something incredible happened.

That day, for the first time in my life, I felt loved. Furthermore, for the first time in my life I could love and accept myself. I finally realized that it was not me, sin, or anything out there which was the problem. The problem was that the church had become a toxic, hateful, and unbearable environment for me.

A lot of time has passed since that day. I struggled a lot in the beginning, and to this day I sometimes struggle. It was not easy for me to cut off my whole social environment and the structures I grew up in. But one thing I can say for certain: From then up until today I have never once regretted my decision.

Since that day, however, I have had another mission:  I will help those in situations similar to what I’ve been through, no matter what.

  •   I was there when the 13-year-old boy who ran away from home needed a place to stay.
  •   I was there when the 16-year-old girl sold her body on the street to survive because she was not welcome at      her home any longer.
  •   I was there when the 21-year-old transgender tried to jump off a bridge because of the messages she                 received every day.
  •   I was there when the 33-year-old intersex woman left the church because of the ultimatum she received from      the “loving and compassionate” church earlier this year.

And so many others…   I might fail or fall short sometimes, but at least I am trying, and that’s all I can do. And I will be there when the next kid, teen or adult asks for help. I do not care about religion, or race, or orientation, or gender, or identity. Why? Because what I’m doing is the right thing to do. Period. Will you be there as well?

That is the problem I have with such “Commentaries” or messages sent out into the world. The church tells everyone to read and study scriptures and inspired writings. Yet if a person does that and comes up with answers the church does not like, the person is discredited and dismissed, as was done in this column. Yet the person with the different interpretation is often correct. One must only look into the Oxford Classical Dictionary to see that we are speaking from two different perspectives when we try to read today’s standards of heterosexuality and homosexuality into biblical texts and times. People in general will empower themselves with knowledge when pressured long and hard enough. The church is crying foul, now that people have studied and found problems with what the church is teaching.  How ironic!

Right now one can argue that the church has an answer for three of the six letters in LGBTIQ.  Not a pleasant one, and not necessarily a correct one. The bickering about theological questions will go on and on.  As Harold has already said, the bickering will be fruitless as long as love and compassion do not have a place, so I will not engage in it now. But what about the other three letters? Does it seem right just to dismiss them, so that through guilt by association they are condemned?

The closest verse in the Bible that one can find regarding Transgender or Intersex persons is Matthew 19:11-12. ”But He said to them, "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it."3 That’s hardly a condemnation! Rather, quite the opposite. I ask where this message can be found in in the commentary. This verse by itself is a suitable lead-in to the last point of this response. 

Harold, in his quest for some kind of ratification, resorts to the last line of “defense” remaining”: the reproductive possibilities. Yet, sadly, he does not realize, or maybe that’s not his concern, that he is causing further pain to members and non-members alike by doing so, even as he still fails to get it right. In an attempt to bring nature into this discussion he errs on two major points at once. First, there are currently around 1,500 known animal races in nature that show homosexual behavior. None of those is even close to being extinct because of homosexuality, and some of those species are also monogamous.4 The second major error is that no more than 5% (maximum estimate) of a given population identify as LGBTIQ.5 Hardly a number which could cause the human race to be extinct within a generation, as was suggested. Among heterosexual couples the infertility rate is between 5 and 7%,6 and some couples who are not infertile choose not to have children. If we take that argument seriously, we need to worry more about heterosexuals than about LGBTIQ (who do have children in some cases, despite the obstacles).
 
Believe it or not, many LGBTIQ understand that procreation is a part of life which we miss. As do many heterosexual persons and couples. Telling LGBTIQ and heterosexuals alike that they are not acceptable or not perfect because they cannot or choose not to procreate is far from anything which is in Scripture, and a “loving and compassionate” church should never tell its members that.

Even suggesting that this is the reason they will never be in heaven is theologically and morally wrong. Unfortunately, Harold fails to see this and thus is causing pain and suffering within the LGBTIQ community, heterosexual couples and the religious community alike. Instead of causing more pain and suffering the Church(es) should try an alternate route, looking for ways to be safe, loving and compassionate church(es), instead of just labelling themselves as such.
 
Instead of further telling people that they are second class or not perfect or any other implied derogatory message, we should ask ourselves what Jesus would do. I can’t imagine Jesus’ writing the message in that column.

Stop being part of the problem. Become part of the solution!
 


Appendix:

Some things to clarify:
Religious freedom means freedom for religions but it as well means freedom from religion. Many think that the LGBTIQ Community wants to be within a church where they are not welcome. While this might be true for some, the vast majority just want freedom from religion and from religious discrimination. Seventh-day Adventism is not considered to be the “ultimate prize,” as was suggested. Adventists just make themselves a “target” of fierce opposition over and over again by ignoring the advice of Ellen G White: "We are not as a people to become mixed up with political questions. . . . Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers in political strife, nor bind with them in their attachments. . . . Keep your voting to yourself. Do not feel it your duty to urge everyone to do as you do." Those words are in Selected Messages, book 2, pp. 336, 337, and other sources. Ellen G White confirmed this stance numerous times in her writings, as did Ted Wilson recently.7 As long as Seventh-day Adventist officials and members alike keep pushing anti-LGBTIQ laws or try to impose the church’s religious views on others who do not hold the same faith, it’s no wonder that they face some opposition. Despite some recent less-harsh writings from SDA officials on those matters, it cannot and should not go unnoticed that this commandment is ignored way too often, even by Seventh-day Adventist Division presidents.8,9
 
Marriage, according to the constitution, is basically a civil contract between two people in a secular world. A church is not legally authorized to define the right to marry, or define “marriage” in general in the secular world. Nobody forces churches to perform a wedding for anyone the churches don’t want to. On the other hand, nobody, especially nobody in the secular world, wants to be denied the right.
 
Lastly, some facts which everyone should consider before giving the LGBTIQ community more troublesome statements and commentaries which serve no purpose and cause even more pain and suffering:

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.10
LGB youth are four times more likely, and questioning youth are three times more likely, to attempt suicide than their straight peers.11
Suicide attempts by LGB youth and queer youth are four to six times more likely than attempts by their straight peers to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse.12
LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.13
Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.14

Transgender people face an even harsher environment, with even more discrimination:
Among transgenders the suicide attempt rates rise to an alarming 41%, compared to 4.6% among the US population as a whole.
Family chose not to speak/spend time with them: 57%
Harassed or bullied at school (any level): 50-54%
Experienced discrimination or harassment at work: 50-59%
Doctor or health care provider refused to treat them: 60%
Suffered physical or sexual violence at work: 64-65%
Suffered physical or sexual violence at school (any level): 63-78%15

1https://www.amazon.com/Christ-Indian-Road-Stanley-Jones/dp/0687063779/ref=la_B001IXOCQQ_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405479044&sr=1-2&tag=donations09-20

2The quote is today somewhat revised and attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

3https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+19%3A11-12&version=NASB

4https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexual_behavior_in_animals

5The Williams Institute, How Many people are LBGT, Gary J. Gates, April 2011, p. 3

6https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/infertility.htm

7Ted Wilson on Church-State matters: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/ted-nc-wilson/keeping-church-at-arms-le_b_4226809.html
 
8Dwayne Leslie, writing on Uganda’s Anti-Gay law, forgets to mention that the Seventh-day Adventist Division President endorsed and supported it.: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dwayne-leslie/why-uganda-should-conside_b_4984262.html
Blasious Ruguri, President of the East-Central Africa Division (Seventh-day Adventist) in support of an Anti-Gay law, which at that time still carried the death penalty.
https://www.newvision.co.ug/news/638224-sda-church-speaks-out-on-anti-homosexuality-bill.html
John Kakembo, Ugandan Conference President, in support of Anti-Gay Bill https://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/13/699520
 
9Friendlier official responses have come from the GC more recently. However, it seems unlikely that reporters will be misled, in the light of so many statements the SDA officials on numerous occasions. So this points towards a deeper underlying problem. https://spectrummagazine.org/blog/2010/01/08/statement-communication-department-general-conference-seventh-day-adventists
 
10CDC, NCIPC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2010) {2013 Aug. 1}.  Available from:www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars.

11CDC. (2011). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

12CDC. (2011). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

13Family Acceptance Project™. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults. Pediatrics. 123(1), 346-52.

14IMPACT. (2010). Mental health disorders, psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. American Journal of Public Health. 100(12), 2426-32.

15https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/AFSP-Williams-Suicide-Report-Final.pdf