by Jack Hoehn | August 7, 2023 |
Elderly evangelist Mark Finley has wrinkles on his once-boyish face that even makeup artists at the Adventist Media Center can’t take away. But YouTube’s computer-generated artificial intelligence feeds me new videos they think I might be interested in, and put his face on my computer feed this evening, right after the latest news of the terror-aggression by Russia against Ukraine.
And frankly, I was interested.
Many elderly Adventist pastors and educators use their retirement or pending retirement as a time to “come out” about topics they have avoided while in church employment. They confess to hidden discomforts with the age of the earth and the facts about evolution, or the weakness of the 1844 Investigative Judgment doctrine, or the fallibility and humanity of Sister Ellen White.
So when the title of evangelist Finley’s August 4, 2023, presentation was “LOVE, COMPASSION, AND TRUTH: A Biblical View on Homosexuality,” I was interested. Perhaps Mark will admit our simplistic homophobia was wrong, and we must be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” to accepting that moral same-sex monogamy is God’s plan for humans with atypical genders or homosexuality.
To my dismay, with long-practiced public evangelistic gestures and typical polished smiles, Finley presented a speech that could have been given had he been wearing a MAGA hat or “DeSantis for President” button on his lapel—all based on right-wing fearmongering, while claiming to speak for the Seventh-day Adventist church.
He then reveals that he was now “coming out” against homosexuality because he believes the right-wing political fake news that “Homosexuals have an agenda to convert children to homosexuality.” He documents this with a quote from the worst newspaper in New York, the New York Post—owned by Australian-born Rupert Murdoch, who has become one of the world’s wealthiest liars with his Fox News Network of radical right-wing scandal.
He also is dismayed that school children are allowed to read I Am Jazz, a 2014 story about the actual life of Jazz Jennings, a transgender personality and human rights youth ambassador, that suggests that transgender people exist and should be accepted for who they are. He mentions his discomfort with preferred pronouns—as if using he, she, they is something of importance to God.
In case our worldwide church didn’t notice, he clearly stated that this great spiritual issue is the challenge by “LGBTQ+” to “the culture of America” and an attempt to change the opinions of “mainstream America”—as if “mainstream America” is heaven’s main interest. What he’s revealing is where his information and concerns come from: right-wing American politics. Finley is worried about “mainstream America” but even more so, now that he suspects that even in our churches, and with Adventist young people, minds are being changed in favor of LGBTQ+ rights. I hope he is right about this.
Let’s look at his so-called “biblical view” that he says motivates his fresh fear for American Adventists.
The creation argument
Evangelist Finley’s video is almost an hour long, so I’ll focus on his foundational argument: that God didn’t make gay and God didn’t make trans.
In the 19th minute of his video, Mark quotes Genesis 1:26,27, reading the words off the screen, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish…” With perhaps a Freudian male-headship slip, he misreads “let him have dominion” for them—but his main point being that the Genesis 1 creation song only says “male and female He created them.” It does not say “male and female and gay” He created them. It does not say “male and female and trans” He created them. And Finley is absolutely sure that in Eden Genesis does not say “male and female and LGBTQ+” He created them.
There is one thing we should all be able to agree upon about Genesis chapter 1: that none of us now live in Eden.
In Finley’s America a 2021 Gallup poll states that 3,319,000 women will say they are lesbian; 4,978,500 men will say they are gay, 13,276,000 will say they are bisexual, 2,232,300 will claim to be trans, and another 995,700 will claim some other combination of nontraditional gender or sexuality.
In America and in the world, Eden no longer exists. The question Christians face is not what did God do then, but what do Christians do now for non-Edenic realties?
There was no polio in Eden. But at age 36 my father contracted polio, a year before a vaccine against polio was released. He was in an iron lung, unable to breathe for months, and then spent the rest of his 79 fruitful years in a wheelchair and using hand controls to drive his car. No one suggested, “Gus, God didn’t create anyone crippled in Eden, so there is no place for you in this church—thanks for your mission service, now goodbye!” No, church and society sought to make the best of the imperfect. Besides wheelchairs and crutches, we made all buildings have doors wide enough for wheelchairs, and all sidewalks to have ramps at intersections, and all buildings like churches have ramps or elevators to permit access for the handicapped. We passed laws making it illegal to discriminate against the handicapped.
So here is my question: why do Adventists not focus on how to make church fully accessible and life as easy and healthy as possible to those with gender and sexual atypia? Since none of us now live in Eden, how do we adapt to out-of-Eden realities? Why have we not fully embraced monogamous, lifelong homosexual marriage as a wonderful solution to lives unable to function in heterosexual relationships?
The church’s standard for sex is monogamous Christian marriage. Why do we not have the identical standard for the homosexual sex: monogamous Christian same-sex marriage? Mark Finley suggests we can “permit” homosexuals to be homosexual, as long as they don’t have sex. Can he show any evidence that enforced celibacy has ever been helpful for anyone in the history of Christianity? Would the history of enforced priest celibacy in Catholicism not help us answer this question?
“Homosexual” isn’t a biblical word
Finley quotes all the standard Bible texts misused as “anti-homosexual” texts, ignoring the well-established fact that in all cases both Old Testament and New Testament rules were not written against homosexuals—that is, people born incapable of sexual feelings for the other gender. All the Bible texts, Old Testament and New, are prohibitions against religious or criminal prostitution of both girls and boys, abuse by straight males or straight females against slaves and social inferiors, or just plain sexual adventurism by straight people.
There is no Hebrew or Greek word in the Bible that should be translated as homosexual, sodomite, queer, lesbian, or gay. “Homosexual” in English was coined only about 100 years ago and first appeared in the Bible in the 1946 Revised Standard Version. An educated evangelist like Finley should know this. Instead, he continues to propagate the homophobic mistranslation of these words.
There are many reference books available to him explaining this. The multi-Adventist-authored Christianity and Homosexuality, Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives, was published in 2008. The Bible, Christianity, and Homosexuality was published in 2012 and is an excellent concise explanation. My favorite, of course, would be Adventist Tomorrow—Fresh Ideas While Waiting for Jesus. pages 137 to 172, with suggestions for Adventists on rethinking gender, sex, homosexuality, and abortion issues. (It has just been republished in a new easier-to-read paperback edition this year.)
Judging all by a minority
Seventh-day Adventists do not like to be judged by the words or actions of fringe Adventists such as David Koresh. He was a Seventh-day Adventist, and many of his followers had been Seventh-day Adventists. But his outrageous physical and sexual abuse of children, his promiscuity with multiple single and married women, and his distortions of biblical prophecies into justification for gun violence ending in multiple deaths, offer no insight into the hearts or minds of ordinary Seventh-day Adventist Christians. His “agenda” was not our agenda.
Some have suggested that the gay agenda is expressed by “drag queens”: men who dress as women and do an outlandish theatrical show. Some drag queens are professionals who earn a living by performing in clubs. Others are amateurs who enjoy the attention, the loss of inhibition, the fun that comes “in costume”—a feeling familiar to all who have dressed up with masks for Halloween, post-Lent Carnival, as Santa Claus, costumed historical reenactments of the Civil War, or dressing as a clown.
Clowns are entertainers who exaggerate human features: huge floppy shoes, big bellies and suspenders, big ears, big noses, wild and outrageous colored balding hair styles, for the purpose of entertainment. For many of us it is culturally unsettling to see gay men similarly exaggerate female features as drag queens. But they are clowning around too: how they costume, how they behave, is meant to be outrageous and not be taken seriously.
But most LGBTQ people aren’t drag queens: they don’t perform in clubs or seek attention in that way. Many Christian LGBTQ people don’t even consider these performances entertaining; some find them insulting to women, and sometimes racist.
To describe homosexuality by referencing drag queens is as dishonest as it would be to create fear of Seventh-day Adventists by referencing the words and actions of David Koresh. It’s not fair, and it’s not true. To use the “in your face” provocative or raunchy comments of the singing, dancing, lip-synching, and chanting of drag queens to understand and judge all LGBTQ people is an outrageous claim on the part of both right-wing politicians and Adventist evangelists.
For Mark Finley, supported by Ted Wilson, to approve and repeat right-wing lies about homosexuality is more than a mistake: it becomes a sin, because they should have known better. To suggest that this is God’s will to require homosexuals to avoid intimate monogamous life-long relations with a partner of the same sex is taking the name of God in vain by misrepresenting God and the Bible. They are promoting fornication and adultery by denial of legitimate outlets for sexuality, and bearing false witness against millions of LBGTQ+ family, friends, neighbors, and church members.
The “LGBTQ+ conspiracy” is a fake conspiracy that should be actively contradicted by our church leaders, instead of being promoted and promulgated. Gay people are not “grooming” children. Gay people are not pedophiles because they’re gay. Pedophiles are 11 times more likely to be heterosexual than homosexual.
Finley’s misquote of the San Francisco Gay Men’s satirical song was not about converting your children to becoming gay. Gay isn’t catching. You don’t become gay by seeing or listening or reading about gayness. Gay is born. The song was about converting your children from hatred and homophobia to tolerance, acceptance, and kindness about gayness.
No one is made ungay by prayer. God does not change a leopard’s spots or an Ethiopian’s skin (Jeremiah 13:23) by “the power of the Holy Spirit.” Being “not conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2) is the Holy Spirit’s work available to Mark Finley, Ted Wilson, and Jack Hoehn to learn that gay is not a sin, but a reality that needs to be accepted to find its expression in a loving stable marital relationship, fully supported by society and by the church.
We Seventh-day Adventist members are being misrepresented when our leaders claim to be promoting a false anti-gay theory that Jesus never talked about and our denomination has never approved. In addition, the General Conference has a moral obligation before God and the church to confess publicly their sin of homophobia with past support of ineffective, dangerous, harmful, and fraudulent reparative or conversion therapies—the dangerous practice that targeted LGBTQ+ youth and sought to change their sexual or gender identities.
When Mark Finley and Ted Wilson do that, and stop promoting right-wing political fake conspiracy theories, then a true “miracle of conversion” will have occurred to the glory of God and the healing of his wounded LGBTQ+ children.
Jack Hoehn is the author of the best selling book that Adventist Today has published, Adventist Tomorrow—Fresh Ideas While Waiting for Jesus. It is available in Kindle electronic versions or as a newly published paperback version with more readable type from Amazon.com.