by Ron Lawson, Yolanda Elliott, and Bob Bouchard | 6 December 2019 |
Ben Pickell, Jr., one of the founders of SDA Kinship, an organization for gay and lesbian Seventh-day Adventists, passed away on November 11, 2019, in Palm Desert, California.
In the mid- to late 1970s, at least three gay Seventh-day Adventist men tried to find other gay Adventists by placing an advertisement in The Advocate, a national LGBT weekly newspaper. Ben Pickell, from Palm Desert, California, was one of those. “At the time, many closeted Adventists thought they were the only lesbian/gay Adventists in the world,” writes long-time Kinship member Bob Bouchard. After receiving many replies, Ben called a meeting, and they conceived the idea of forming a support group for gay and lesbian Adventists. This was the first step that led to the formation of Seventh-day Adventist Kinship, International, Inc.
Writes Adventist Today contributor Ron Lawson,
At that time, the group was limited to Southern California. Ben was the first president of the group. Meetings were mostly in the homes of the group members and involved potluck meals and discussions. One of the key issues discussed (and worried about) was whether, after they discovered that they were irretrievably gay, God would accept them. They expanded their numbers by placing additional ads in The Advocate, and later marching with banners in gay pride parades, declaring that they were gay and lesbian Seventh-day Adventists. Adventists watching shyly on the sidewalks would then come running to join them in the march, and to seek information.
Adds Bob Bouchard,
Ben had the courage to open his home so those people who responded could meet, get to know each other, and begin the process of healing. He provided a safe, warm environment when there were very few other options that weren’t bars or clubs.
Ben and Ron pulled together a meeting with church officials in 1980, which was Kinship’s first Kampmeeting, held in Payson, Arizona. Ron Lawson writes,
It was inevitable that the first issue that Kampmeetings addressed, with the help of invited Adventist biblical scholars, was whether it was possible to be both LGBTIQ and Christian. After studying the issue at our request (because none of them had previously done so), the scholars brought us much joy and relief by unanimously assuring us of God’s love and acceptance.
Current Kinship president Yolanda Elliott writes,
We stand on the shoulders of giants like Ben who worked tirelessly to raise awareness of LGBTIQ issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and beyond. The loving memories he created in and through our community from its founding will forever be cherished in our hearts and memorialized in our continued work for better treatment of LGBTIQ people in the church and beyond.