November 26, 2017: A recent letter was sent from the president of the Northern California Conference of the Adventist Church to the pastors in his conference on the issue of sexual orientation.
In the October 10 letter, James E. Pedersen reminded pastors that the official policy of the denomination forbids receiving into membership anyone who is in a practicing homosexual relationship. It also cited a recent violation of this policy.
The letter stated that although the local church has authority about who it admits into membership “there are still potential consequences when a congregation accepts someone into membership that does not follow the teachings and practices of the church.”
It added that pastors “can be disciplined for not following the SDA Church Manual, SDA Fundamental Beliefs, or the counsel and instruction of conference leadership.”
After elaborating on other consequences of deviating from policy on the matter, Pedersen provided an update on a controversial action taken by the Chico Seventh-day Adventist Church in 2016 when it accepted into membership a person who is in a same-sex marriage.
Despite the fact that the current pastor of the church did not perform the marriage or the baptism of the person concerned, the letter said that “NCC administration met with the pastor and a disciplinary process was instituted.”
Although nobody has been removed from the pastoral team at the church, the letter warns that “Other actions may be taken in the future, if deemed necessary.”
A retired Adventist minister performed the baptism in the summer of 2016, prompting a statement from the Adventist Church in North America.
The statement affirmed church manual policy which requires members to commit to what the statement called a “biblical view on human sexuality.” However, it also called for the church to be welcoming of all people, regardless of their views on human sexuality.
The NAD statement expressed confidence that the Chico baptism was being addressed by the Northern California Conference.
Pedersen’s October 10 letter to Northern California Conference Pastors is included below:
Greetings to you in the lovely name of Jesus. My prayer is that your ministry is blessed.
As you know, we live in very challenging times. The issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity raise difficult questions as we endeavor to carry out the calling to reach everyone with a message of grace and God’s love, while staying true to Biblical teachings and to the policies and practices of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I believe it is important to address some things that relate to this in the specific context of the Northern California Conference.
1. The official position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is that we do not receive into membership anyone who is in a practicing homosexual relationship. SDA Fundamental Belief #23 (“Marriage and the Family”) and the SDA Church Manual, page 62, give clear instruction.
2. While it is true that the local congregation has authority over membership, there are still potential consequences when a congregation accepts someone into membership that does not follow the teachings and practices of the church. Pastors can be disciplined for not following the SDA Church Manual, SDA Fundamental Beliefs, or the counsel and instruction of conference leadership.
3. Often the unintended consequences of a local church decision impacts other Seventh-day Adventist congregations and the conference as a whole. Please consider carefully the reality that the decisions your church makes may indeed affect others.
4. Please be careful what public statements you make with regard to the church’s teachings. You may not agree with everything the church does or decides, but what you say publicly in your preaching or even in conversations with individuals can have consequences that are potentially negative to your ministry or challenging to the faith of someone else.
It is with these thoughts in mind that I share the following statement with regard to a specific situation that occurred in our conference about a year ago. At the time, we shared information with you about the matter. We ask that you share this with your church’s leadership and others who may ask about it.
In 2016, the Chico Seventh-day Adventist Church accepted into membership a person who is in a same-sex marriage. The pastor did not perform the marriage or baptism of this person. NCC administration met with the pastor and a disciplinary process was instituted. We are not able to discuss what that discipline was. Other actions may be taken in the future, if deemed necessary. The person (a retired minister) who performed the baptism is not credentialed or licensed through the Northern California Conference. We advise that all our local congregations consider carefully Fundamental Belief #23 (“Marriage and the Family”) and page 62 of the Church Manual before proceeding with accepting anyone into membership, and consider how your actions/decisions will impact other congregations and/or the church at large.
Thank you for taking time to read this information. May God bless and guide us all as we seek to be faithful to His calling in our lives and ministries.