Adventist Responses to United States Supreme Court Decisions about Same-Sex Marriages Reveal a Wide Range of Opinion
by Adventist Today News Team
After the United States Supreme Court last week announced ground-breaking decisions on two cases related to same-sex marriages, a number of statements representing the views of Seventh-day Adventists were released. The statements ranged from negative to positive reactions, while others attempted to take middle ground.
"We reaffirm, without hesitation, our long-standing position … following the biblical principles and patterns … for marriage between one man and one woman," said the official statement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. Pastor Dan Jackson, president of the denomination's North American Division, expressed concern with "growing attacks on the biblical institution of marriage," but also said, "all people, no matter of their sexual orientation, are children of God. We do not condone singling out any group for scorn and derision, let alone abuse."
Advent Truth Ministries, an independent Fundamentalist group, stated that "one man/one woman marriage is creating a deep divide even among Christians [and] many see what God has ordained as an affront to their personal feelings and choices." The statement placed the issue in an apocalyptic frame, claiming that "the Bible has predicted the conflict over one man/one woman marriage," citing Romans 1:26-27 and 2 Timothy 3:1-3. It also connected the issue to "the debate over God's Sabbath, the other institution established by God at creation" and ended with an advertisement for a book entitled God's Sabbath Truth which the organization has been distributing for some time.
Adventists Against Proposition 8, a coalition in California that opposed the initiative four years ago which was ruled unconstitutional last week by the Supreme Court, welcomed the decision. The statement cautioned that it expressed the views of a few of the organizers and not necessarily all 1,300 Adventists who signed the petition against Proposition 8 in the fall of 2008. Among the signers are Adventists who oppose the practice of same-sex marriage and also think it is wrong for believers to use the law to enforce a religious belief in much the same way that Adventists have always opposed Sunday laws.
The statement by Adventists Against Proposition 8 applauded both Supreme Court decisions on the basis of "our distinctly Adventist commitment to cherish the dignity of each human being as a child of God and safeguarding the liberty and conscience of all people." It also pushed for change in the denomination's official position. "Our church continues to promote an attitude and a theology that views gays and lesbians as second-class members of God's family. We must stop promoting a 'shut door' theology of ignorance and prejudice."
Matthew Staver, an Adventist who is dean of the law school at Liberty University in Virginia, joined with Catholic Deacon Keith Fournier in drafting a statement that was signed by a long list of right-wing Christian leaders. "We are united in our common faith in Jesus Christ," the statement said, and in efforts to uphold the Biblical definition of marriage as "a bond between one man and one woman, intended for life and open to the gift of children."
The statement declared that "the Supreme Court has no authority over marriage" which is defined by moral and spiritual principles, although "the future of a free and healthy society [depends] on marriage and the family." Staver was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination before he went to law school. He has made a career of advocacy for conservative political positions, including arguing before the Supreme Court on several occasions. He once opposed a law that requires that anti-abortion activists stay at least 36 feet away from patients and staff entering a clinic.
No one will be required to perform same-sex weddings as a result of the Supreme Court decisions, Nicholas Miller told Adventist Today. Miller is a specialist on religious liberty and a church historian on the faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He has a law degree from Columbia University and a PhD from Notre Dame University. He is coeditor of Homosexuality, Marriage and the Church published by the AU Press.
Asked if the two decisions last week pose any immediate problems for the Adventist Church, Miller stated that churches and pastors do not have to perform a ritual that would be against their religion. The "problems will be around counseling and employment."
California last year enacted a law forbidding the involvement of children in counseling intended to modify their sexual orientation. Churches "can preach what they believe, but can't actually provide assistance to parishioners under 18 who are struggling with these issues and wanting to live what they believe is a biblical lifestyle," Miller said. Restrictions of this kind are likely to increase.
It will become more difficult for education and health care institutions affiliated with the denomination to require certain standards of sexual behavior for employees and students, Miller told Adventist Today. Current standards state that sex outside of marriage is not appropriate for employees or students, and same-sex marriage complicates this guideline. If the institutions are more specific about the type of marriage, there could be legal problems.
In the future, another issue that could become a problem for Adventist schools has to do with how the topic is addressed in classes, Miller stated. Public schools will teach the acceptability of same-sex marriage and over time attempts will be made to get private schools to do the same. "At the college level, I think we're going to have trouble getting programs certified [in] social work and psychology if we don't teach the moral acceptability of homosexual behavior." He noted that this is already happening in Canada and other nations.
Miller was asked how the Adventist Church can maintain its theological position on homosexuality and avoid getting involved in anti-gay politics. "With difficulty," he said. "No one wants to be involved in anti-gay politics, but the church may need to be involved in pro-family politics." There are arguments to be made that having both a mother and a father is important to children and should be viewed as a favored arrangement in public policy, "even while we're tolerant and allow others to make other moral choices for their sexual behavior." Any defense of traditional marriage could be considered anti-gay bigotry, but Miller does not think it necessarily is. He pointed out that in recent protests in France, some in the gay community were not in favor of same-sex marriage.
Where is the line between the denomination's position and the use of laws to enforce that position on non-members? Miller recalled that Adventists had to deal with this question early in their history when temperance reform and laws about alcohol were being debated and changed in America. "They engaged in public policy campaigns to change laws that impact non-church members. Where appropriate we can advocate for public policy, not on spiritual grounds, but on grounds that is good for society."
There are risks in this area. "We have to help the overseas church see that we should not be advocating for criminal laws against homosexuality," Miller stated. "We should not be supporting discrimination and harassment in the workplace." Gay and lesbian people "need to be protected as all citizens are."
The Supreme Court decisions have opened the door to a new line of discussion among Adventists. "Much as it might like to, the church can no longer evade questions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, for society is, with increasing stridency, forcing Christians to confront them," he wrote in the preface of the book he co-edited.