by Monte Sahlin
From Official Release by the Adventist News Network, March 19, 2014
Three Adventists who once identified themselves as gay or lesbian told their stories of journeys away from homosexual activity to the council of leaders from the Seventh-day Adventist denomination last week in Cape Town, South Africa. Addressing the gathering were Pastor Ron Woolsey, founder of The Narrow Way Ministry; Virna Santos, president of By Beholding His Love ministry; and Wayne Blakely, founder of Know His Love Ministries. “We are here tonight to listen to testimonies,” said panel moderator Pastor Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review. “We’re here to listen to believers tell the stories of how God has redeemed them.”
Woolsey said he grew up in a “good Adventist home,” but was molested as a child by a family friend. From then, he found himself increasingly focused on same-sex relationships. While attending an Adventist college, he began dating, and ultimately married, thinking marriage was a solution to his identity and relationships. When his young wife soon discovered his ongoing relationships with men, however, the marriage dissolved.
After more than 15 years in multiple gay relationships, Woolsey returned to his childhood faith and a relationship with Christ through reading a well-known book by Ellen G. White, a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. “I began reading Steps to Christ with a cigarette in my hand and a martini beside me,” he noted wryly. “By chapter 5, I had put the cigarette out.” He was re-baptized, and soon began telling his story of recovery to church groups in the United States. Now married for 21 years, he is the father of five children, and an ordained pastor in the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference.
For Wayne Blakely, early childhood rejection by his mother—who had wished for a daughter—soon drove him to seek male relationships. Placed in several families, he was raised by a succession of relatives who, based on his challenging behavior, sent him to psychologists and pastors for counseling. At age 18 he began a gay relationship with a college friend and found an acceptance he had not previously known. “That’s when I gave up on God,” he said. More than 30 years of multiple sexual partners and drug use followed, as Blakely watched 40 gay friends die during the first years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
A series of divine providences brought him back to faith, Blakely said, including the prayers of friends who had not given up on him. In his youth, Blakely said he prayed the prayer, “God, make me straight.” Retrospectively, he now realizes that a change of orientation was not the goal: getting to know Christ as His Savior was actually the goal.
Santos believes that her journey to lesbianism was rooted in a painful and dysfunctional family situation. A victim of childhood sexual abuse, “No one told me [the abuse] wasn’t my fault,” she said. Her family joined the Adventist Church in her late teens and she struggled with same-sex attraction throughout college, secretly involved in a lesbian relationship. She moved to San Francisco, became a gay rights activist, and was reportedly the first to adopt a child under a new law in California which allowed same-sex couples to adopt each other’s children. The disappointment that accompanied the passage of an initiative (Proposition 8) which disallowed same-sex marriage in California, proved to be a crisis for Santos.
A reawakened interest in the Adventist faith was accompanied by a series of profound personal spiritual experiences that highlighted for Santos the importance of the Adventist teaching about the meaning and relevance of the heavenly sanctuary. Understanding for the first time that Jesus was her advocate, she said that she began to reassess the life she had been leading. A Sabbath morning communion service became the pivot point for Santos, who recalls her surprise that the pastor’s wife washed the feet of a lesbian.
Knott asked a question about whether the panelists’ stories should be thought of as typical. “In recent weeks, there have been a number of voices raised to question the authenticity of this event because the organizers chose to hear primarily from those who are no longer practicing homosexuals. How would you respond to those comments?" Adventist Today understands this question to be a reference to a letter sent to the denomination's General Conference officers by Kinship, the largest organization representing Adventists who are LGBTI, and described in an opinion article published by Adventist Today prior to the event.
Woolsey responded, “We’ve all been there. We’ve been where they are. We gave those same arguments all our lives. We have come out of that. We’ve learned to put God first, not self.” Santos said she shared with her lesbian friends the story of her conversion, saying, “I’ve had an experience with Jesus Christ and I’m no longer a lesbian. But I’m no better than you.” She remembers a friend’s partner saying, “I’m happy for you. I can see it all over your face. You’ve found the love of your life.”
Santos reminded the delegates, “We’re no better than them.” She said that she is a friend of manyLG who wrote to express concerns about the summit. “God is about having a relationship. He pursued me…. I have faith that even my friends will be knocking on our door soon.”
Written questions from the delegates asked whether the panelists still consider themselves as gay or lesbian; how the church should treat LGBTI individuals; and the nature of the ministries in which each panelist now works. Interrupted frequently by audience applause, the three continued to describe the transforming power of Christ as the cause of their new lives. “We have seen and heard courage here tonight,” Knott concluded.
Additional from AT News Team: The reason why the decision on the part of the planners of this event to exclude testimony from any Adventist who continues to identify themselves as LGBTI is because authentic, documented cases of lasting change are so rare. The vast majority of LGBTI who have tried change therapy or recovery ministries report that the change only lasts for a period of time and then ends. There are many examples of people who claimed conversion or change and then were discovered to be secretly involved in same-sex relationships and/or sexual activities. Recently the largest conservative Christian recovery ministry, Exodus International, closed down and the leaders admitted that many reports of success over the years later proved to be false. Sources involved with the meeting have told Adventist Today that they believe that the council could have benefitted from hearing other testimonies from individuals with different experiences.