by Monte Sahlin
From the Adventist News Network, March 31, 2015
The two presenters that brought closing summaries to the council on sexuality in Cape Town were women who are "firsts" in denominational leadership. Dr. Ella Simmons, the first woman to serve as a vice president of the General Conference (GC) of Seventh-day Adventists, used an address entitled “Final Word” to urge a consistent view and caring implementation of the denomination’s teachings on the topic of human sexuality. Dr. Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, the first woman to serve as director of the denomination's global school system, asked the assembled leaders to participate in an exercise in which they wrote summaries of what they had learned during the council.
Simmons called for LGBT church members to be seen as “brothers and sisters” also in need of God’s “saving grace” while upholding the denomination’s stand against sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. “As long as we protect, cover-up, [and] yes, condone adultery, dishonesty, and other sins that were forbidden by God in the church and particularly in high places, we will not be able to reach members with our words of truth for the transformation of their lives—in any way,” Simmons told some the 350 participants.
The council was called to study how the denomination should respond to a worldwide cultural shift that is increasingly supportive of gay and lesbian relationships. It addressed the fact that these issues are affecting church employment practices and the operation of its educational and healthcare institutions in a growing number of nations around the world.
A psychologist presented his view of the issues on the evening prior to the last day of the council. Dr. Peter Swanson, an associate professor of pastoral care in the seminary at Andrews University and a licensed psychologist, began by reading the denomination’s official statements on same-sex relationships, emphasizing its stand against intolerance, hate crimes and discrimination.
Swanson told the gathering that reduction in same-sex attraction and same-sex behaviors due to change therapy was “rare,” and that some Christian gays and lesbians perceive they have been harmed by change therapy. “I strongly support the call of my church to support and protect human rights,” Swanson said. LGBT people “need your sympathy, patience, and love. Speak words of encouragement to them.”
The final 24 hours of the council also featured a presentation by Dr. Miroslav Kis, professor of ethics at in the seminary at Andrews University. Kis challenged delegates to both think clearly about the Biblical teachings on human sexuality and to act compassionately toward those not aligned with the norms.
Beardsley-Hardy closed the council with a reflective experience following Kis’ address. She asked the participants to summarize the meeting by answering a series of questions. An educational psychologist, she said participants would better learn and remember the summit’s key points by summarizing them in their own words. She asked the delegates to write 60-second essays on a number of topics touched on throughout the meeting, including the biblical perspective on sexuality, legal issues related to employment and communication, and church membership.
Adventist Today has not yet been told if the papers presented at this council will be published or released in some form. A number of sources have told Adventist Today "this is an historic event," evidently the first time that denominational administrators have addressed many of the issues on the agenda. "The Adventist denomination has been so conservative over the years that it has generally refrained from discussing sex," one retired administrator said.
Adventist Today will publish a news overview of the council and its impact on the denomination. The editors are in the process of collecting input from a number of sources, including key groups of Adventists who were not invited to the event. "What is the larger meaning of this council into the future?" sources are being asked.
Adventist News Network (ANN) is the official news service of the denomination and it supplied regular bulletins to Adventist Today throughout the event. The staff of the Adventist Review participated in the writing of these bulletins. Adventist Today published them with minimal editing and additions. This is the last in a series of eight bulletins.