General Conference Revises Position on Homosexuality, Starts New Ministries and Adjusts Units
by AT News Team
The annual meeting of the governing body of the Seventh-day Adventist Church ended Wednesday with announcements of a number of new ministries and projects, confirmations of organizational adjustments in some parts of the world, and a revision of the denomination’s position regarding homosexuality. Although the existing statement on the topic was “reaffirmed,” it was also “softened … to offer compassion toward gays and lesbians,” stated the official Adventist News Network (ANN). The actual document distributed by ANN did not indicate the revisions.
“The original position statement drafted in 1999 was clear and based on biblical teachings,” ANN stated. The decision to revise it was intended “to relay the message that the church doesn’t accept homosexual practice but must recognize the need to minister with compassion to gays,” said General Conference (GC) vice president Pardon Mwansa, who chaired the committee that recommended the change.
“We felt we needed to close this statement with a phrase that shows that the church is willing to show a Christ-like, compassionate spirit to those who practice homosexuality,” Mwansa told the annual meeting of the GC executive committee. The final sentence of the three-paragraph document now reads: “As His disciples, Seventh-day Adventists endeavor to follow the Lord’s instruction and example, living a life of Christ-like compassion and faithfulness.” The statement does not define what it means by compassion nor explain how the church should treat gay and lesbian people, and it “was re-edited to show in a stronger stance than before that the church intends to remain faithful to scripture,” said ANN.
None of the delegates spoke to this item before it was voted, but a revised position statement dealing with same-sex marriage prompted debate. The committee was told that this statement was revised “to reflect societal trends, such as acknowledging that some governments have given legal standing to same-sex unions,” said ANN. The revision also deleted the word “disorder” because it is outdated and replaced it with “disturbance” to describe homosexuality. That line in the five-paragraph document now reads: “Homosexuality is a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world.” And the statement attempts to extend compassion. The previous version stated: “We hold that all people, no matter what their sexual orientation, are children of God.” The new version says, “We hold that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are loved by God.”
A committee member from Europe asked the group to delete the line that labels homosexuality a “disturbance,” suggesting the church should be more sensitive. Gina Brown, a committee member from North America responded, “many of us have family members who are homosexuals … we still embrace them, we still love them, we still care for them, however, as a church, we must take a stand for what is right.” Ekkehardt Mueller, a theologian at the GC’s in-house Biblical Research Institute, stated that a clear identification of homosexuality with sin “is necessary in this context [because] homosexuals today would deny any notion of sin and would say ‘this is how we are created, God has created us this way, and therefore we have the right and duty to this lifestyle,’ so I would be opposed to the amendment.”
Pastor Ian Sweeney, president of the British Union Conference, asked for guidance regarding how the church should relate to transgender individuals. “We have received requests from other parts of the world field about situations” of this kind, said Ben Schoun, the GC vice president who serves as vice chairman of the policy committee. “The Church Manual does not have a lot to say – in fact, very little to say – on this subject, so these are subjects that we’re having to address now. … Perhaps the committee will bring forth suggestions or guidance.”
The committee agreed to change the name of the Euro-Africa Division of the GC to the Inter-European Division. The Greater Middle East Union was renamed the Middle East and North Africa Union. These changes follow decisions made in recent years to take territory away from this and other divisions and form an “attached union” in the region. Also, the Burundi Association was formalized as the Burundi Union Mission. This African nation has about 150,000 Adventists in a population of 10 million.
Janet Page, an assistant director in the GC Ministerial Association, launched a program designed to meet the needs of the children of Adventist clergy called Team PK. (PK is a widely used shorthand for “Preacher’s Kid.”) An initiative to prevent child abuse called The Seven Campaign was announced by Adventist Risk Management, the insurance company owned by the GC. Special Needs Ministries was also rolled out as a new unit of the GC focusing on reaching people with disabilities. And the Day of Hope was presented as a plan for every church member to bring a friend to church on Sabbath, April 5, 2014, with a goal of 10 million visitors. In addition plans were reviewed for the 150th anniversary of the GC next year.