I recently recorded a song and made a little video for it.
Here are the lyrics:
Rachel’s not sure but she is silent, she’s silent
She has her doubts but it is too much to tell them
What will they think, should she keep silent, she’s silent
Or be condemned and burned with fire and brimstone
She tried not to feel but now it’s too much to ignore
Though she’s been taught that it is sinful to explore
The stories taught to her since childhood depended
On where and when she was born
Now Heather’s gained her trust, she knows that this feels right
She’s dying to tell the world their beautiful secret
But Rachel’s family is too closed for discourse
Uneducated and clinging tight to their religion
It makes no sense to her ‘cause who does their love hurt?
Why can’t they put themselves in her shoes for a change?
No matter what they think, it’s R & H until the end
Fully committed to this beautiful abomination
I will love you, that won’t change
I will love you on judgment day
I came out to my family
They said I’m horrible and disowned me
And as they cast the first stone at their own daughter
Those hypocrites held up the Bible
But they’re ignorant of its history
And they’re ignorant of what you mean to me
They can’t tell what’s right from wrong
They can’t tell us who to love
While writing this song, I put myself in the shoes of a lesbian who comes out to her family and gets disowned by her religious parents.
I gained much inspiration from Dana, who was actually disowned by her parents after coming out as a lesbian, though she’s indicated that her parents aren’t overly religious. On her blog, she writes:
The last thing my mother ever said to me was that I was a horrible person… . What kind of terrible monster must I be that my own parents would disown me? Murderers and rapists and child molesters in prison have mothers and fathers who visit and write and call. I must be more evil than they.
James also provided me with inspiration. He was disowned by his religious dad after coming out as gay. He posted his dad’s farewell letter:
In his blog, Eliel Cruz, a courageous student at Andrews University—a Seventh-day Adventist school—details how the Seventh-day Adventist Church creates a hostile environment for LGBTQ individuals. His observations are based on first-hand experience, since he is a Seventh-day Adventist who has come out as a bisexual. He writes:
There is something about the Seventh-day Adventists official stance on homosexuality that has led its pastors and church members to believe that the way we as Christians have interacted with LGBT is acceptable. That is, that singling out LGBT people for ostracization, marginalization and condemnation is OK — even a Christian duty.
He backs this claim up with many examples. A look at the Church’s official stance reveals why this is the case.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Official Stance
The Seventh-day Adventist Church released an official statement, approved and voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive Committee on October 17, 2012, confirming their opposition to same-sex marriage. Here are some excerpts:
The monogamous union in marriage of a man and a woman is … the only morally appropriate locus of genital or related intimate sexual expression… . Any lowering of this high view is to that extent a lowering of the heavenly ideal.
So it’s easy to see why LGBT individuals are stigmatized in the Seventh-day Adventist community.
Morals from the Bible: Refutation by Reductio ad Absurdum
To justify its stance, the Seventh-day Adventist Church quotes Bible verses. I used to be a Seventh-day Adventist. And I used to look to the Bible for moral guidance. It doesn’t work. It leads to perverse outcomes.
If you believe the Bible to be infallible—as the Seventh-day Adventist Church officially does—and you claim that morals are determined by the God of the Bible, then you are committed to believing that God’s commands in the Bible were moral, at least in the culture and historical context they were given. But this commitment leads to absurdity.
You would have to believe that it was moral to torture women to death on their father’s doorstep if “no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found” on her wedding night (Deuteronomy 22:20–21). The Bible says that this was the direct command of “The Lord your God.”
You would also have to believe that slavery was moral back then. Straight from God’s mouth: “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves” (Leviticus 25:44–46). He goes on to tell the Israelites that it’s okay to have slaves, as long as they’re not fellow Israelites.
You would also have to believe that it was moral to torture someone to death for picking up sticks on Saturday. As the story goes (Numbers 15:32–36):
[A] man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day… . the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses.
These three examples are just a tiny sampling of God’s many perverse moral commands as reported in the Bible. So you can see how getting morals from the commands in the Bible leads to absurdity.
Believers sometimes employ the excuse that those commands were moral in that particular culture and historical context, but they are no longer applicable today. That excuse simply does not fly with me. In what world is it okay to throw rocks at a woman until she dies simply because you couldn’t find proof of her virginity on her wedding night? Or to torture someone to death for picking up sticks on Saturday? Or to own slaves? To inflict such senseless suffering is psychopathic and morally outrageous in any culture. Personally, I don’t believe that those cruel and violent commands were ever moral in any cultural or historical context.
But if a believer wants to make the excuse that those commands found in the Bible were moral in that particular culture and historical context, but that they no longer apply to us today…great! In this case, the believer is admitting that there are exceptions to the commands in the Bible, due to cultural and historical context. If that is the case, then why not add the command against same-sex sexual relations to that list? It’s no longer applicable to us today.
Some believers argue that the Biblical commands against gay sex are still applicable today because the Bible is consistent on the issue, throughout both the Old and New Testament. But, through parallel reasoning, we can see that this argument is unsuccessful. The Bible is consistent on condoning slavery, throughout both the Old and New Testament (e.g. Leviticus 25:44–46, Ephesians 6:5–9). So in order to make that argument about gay sex, the believer must also accept that slavery is morally okay, which is clearly absurd.
The Bible and Bigotry
Supporting bigotry through the use of Bible verses is nothing new. Historically, Christians have used Bible verses to justify slavery (see God’s slavery speech), but society has progressed past that, and Christianity had to play catch-up. Similarly, sexism has been—and is being—justified through the use of Bible verses. For example, here’s a verse that blames women for the fall of all humans (1 Timothy 2:11–15a):
A woman should learn in quietness full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing …
Note that the Seventh-day Adventist Church officially does not permit females to be ordained. This makes no sense to me, since I don’t see how having a penis is relevant to the work of an ordained minister. It appears that the Church is using Bible verses to support bigotry on this issue as well. But much of the rest of society is progressing past this, and fortunately some Christian sects are playing catch-up.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is using Bible verses to justify bigotry. Instead, let’s use evenhanded reasoning to condemn bigotry.
Morals are Independent of Any God that Might Exist
Above, I’ve explained why it would be absurd to claim that all commands in the Bible are moral. The only way to continue to use the Bible for morals (if you insist on doing so) is to determine, by some standard, which commands are still applicable today and which ones aren’t. Rather than picking out specific commands, it makes more sense to accept a general guiding principle that can be used to determine which commands are good and which ones “aren’t applicable today.” This principle can even be taken from the Bible, if it’s in there—and I think some version of it is. Namely: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If a command does not follow this principle, such as the three examples in the section above, then it can be dismissed. That seems like a pretty good guiding principle to me.
Some believers, such as C.S. Lewis, argue that morals can only exist if a god exists to determine what’s right and what’s wrong. However, if a god is determining what is moral, there must be some reason that the god places some things in the “right” pile and others in the “wrong” pile. There must be some guiding principle. Otherwise, it would just be arbitrary, and if the god said that murder and rape was right, it would be right…but we can see that that’s absurd. And if you say, “God would never say that rape was right,” then you’re tacitly acknowledging that there’s some reason, or some guiding principle, that the god appeals to in order to determine what to place in the “right” pile and what to place in the “wrong pile.” So if there is a god determining what’s right and wrong, there must be some sort of reason or guiding principle to it. In that case, the god is unnecessary because we can appeal directly to the reason or guiding principle that the god is appealing to. The existence or non-existence of the god would not change what’s right and what’s wrong.
This demonstrates that any morals that exist would be independent of any god that may exist. What we need to be looking for is the reason behind the morals, or the guiding principle.
A Guiding Moral Principle
Once we’ve settled on a reason or a guiding principle to determine what’s right and what’s wrong, we can determine whether same-sex sexual relations fall into the “wrong” category; if not, then the Church’s official stance is unjustified.
Above, I’ve suggested a principle that can be found in the Bible: love your neighbour as yourself. This seems like a good guiding principle that I think most reasonable believers can accept. Personally, I think a good guiding principle is: avoid causing unnecessary suffering. According to this principle, the more unnecessary suffering an action causes, the less ethical it is. This is probably a principle that most people, whether religious or not, can agree on. Whichever of these two guiding principles we choose, we’ll end up with the same result regarding same-sex sexual relations.
Do same-sex sexual relations violate the principle to love your neighbour as yourself? No. Do same-sex sexual relations inherently cause more suffering than opposite-sex sexual relations? No. So it’s okay to be gay. I know of no reasonable guiding principle that would lead to the opposite conclusion.
Whether or Not It’s “Natural” is Morally Irrelevant
Sometimes discussions on this issue lead to arguments about whether it’s “natural” to be gay—whether there’s a “gay gene,” whether it’s a choice. (Note that James’s dad, in his farewell letter above, writes, “God did not intend for this unnatural lifestyle.”) In his book The Moral Animal, Robert Wright explains why this is morally irrelevant:
One reason some people are so concerned about the “gay gene” question is that they want to know if homosexuality is “natural,” a question that—to them, at least—seems to have moral consequence. They think it matters greatly whether (a) there is a gene (or combination of genes) conducive to homosexuality that indeed was selected by virtue of that effect; or (b) there is a gene (or combination of genes) conducive to homosexuality that was selected for some other reason but, in some environments, has the effect of encouraging homosexuality; or (c) there is a gene (or combination of genes) conducive to homosexuality that is a fairly recent arrival on the human scene and hasn’t yet gotten a strong endorsement from natural selection for any particular property; or (d) there is no “gay gene.”
But who cares? Why should the “naturalness” of homosexuality in any way affect our moral judgement of it? It is “natural,” in the sense of being “approved” by natural selection, for a man to kill someone he finds sleeping with his wife. Rape may, in the same sense, be “natural.” And seeing that your children are fed and clothed is surely “natural.” But most people rightly judge these things by their consequences, not their origins. What is plainly true about homosexuality is the following: (1) some people are born with a combination of genetic and environmental circumstance that impels them strongly toward a homosexual lifestyle; (2) there is no inherent contradiction between homosexuality among consenting adults and the welfare of other people. For moral purposes (I believe) that should be the end of the discussion.
Steven Pinker, in his book How the Mind Works, writes:
[A] chromosomal marker for homosexuality in some men, the so-called gay gene, was identified by the geneticist Dean Hamer… . The gay gene has been used to argue that homosexuality is not a choice for which gay people can be held responsible but an involuntary orientation they just can’t help. But the reasoning is dangerous. The gay gene could just as easily be said to influence some people to choose homosexuality. And like all good science, Hamer’s result might be falsified someday, and then where would we be? Conceding that bigotry against gay people is OK after all? The argument against persecuting gay people must be made not in terms of the gay gene or the gay brain but in terms of people’s right to engage in private consensual acts without discrimination or harassment.
Marriage: What the Bible Says
As I’ve explained above, it’s absurd to rely on the Bible for morals. But some people insist on doing so anyways. The Seventh-day Adventist Church claims that its official stance against same-sex marriage is based on the one-man-one-woman model of marriage presented in the Bible. But what does the Bible really say about marriage? Let’s turn to the biblical experts.
Jennifer Wright Knust, a professor of religion at Boston University and an ordained American Baptist pastor, has written a book entitled Unprotected Texts, which carefully analyzes what the Bible has to say about sex and marriage.
After 30 pages of analyzing the passages in the Bible that are relevant to biblical marriage, she concludes with the following paragraph:
In the end, Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, and the Synoptic Gospels simply do not promote the same meanings and purposes for marriage. They certainly do not argue that marriage should be contracted between one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation. Exodus and Deuteronomy assume that, given a chance, men will take multiple wives and have intercourse with as many of their slaves as they like. The Gospels do not promote procreation at all, but instead look forward to resurrection bodies that do not produce children. Moreover, though the laws recorded in Exodus and Deuteronomy differ, both books suggest that marriage is a property arrangement, designed to protect the interests of free Israelite men who are responsible for the women and slaves in their care. In the Genesis creation accounts, however, the emphasis is not on property but the importance of the fertility of both the land and the people created to till it. Female desire is therefore presented as a punishment guaranteeing both childbirth and the painful labor it entails. For Jesus and the Gospel writers, the primal androgyny of Genesis 1 could be achieved either through marriage or through the practice of celibacy. And yet Jesus’s teachings regarding marriage, celibacy, divorce, and re-marriage are presented quite differently in the Gospels. The evangelists agree that a choice for Jesus should override all other family obligations, but they do not agree regarding the permissibility of divorce and remarriage. Such a diverse body of teaching simply cannot be reconciled into a single statement summing up “God’s view of marriage,” let alone “God’s view of human sexuality.” The Bible provides no clear answer to questions like “Are you for or against gay marriage?”
So there is no consistent model of marriage presented in the Bible. Rather, there are several conflicting models of marriage, none of which specify that it must be between one man and one woman. I can’t copy and paste the entire 30 pages in this blog post, so I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book if you’re interested in reviewing the analysis.
Knust’s book has received much acclaim from leading biblical scholars. She is a biblical scholar who graduated with a doctorate in religion from Columbia University. Her specialty is in the literature and history of ancient Christianity. She has published in some of the most reputable academic journals of religion, including Harvard Theological Review, and received several fellowships and awards for her academic work. If you’re a Seventh-day Adventist who is dedicated to the Bible, her work at least deserves a little bit of consideration. It’s not reasonable to offhandedly dismiss her work, and the work of many other biblical scholars, simply because it does not agree with the Church’s official stance.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s official stance is unreasonable. In addition to defying reason, it creates stigma towards LGBTQ individuals. The Church needs to change its stance if it wants to do the right thing.
At the very least, I hope that the Seventh-day Adventists out there attempt to think for themselves. You don’t have to accept everything the Church says. In order to determine the Church’s official stance, a committee of people vote. These people aren’t infallible. Their interpretations of the Bible aren’t infallible. If you’re a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and you think that their official stance on this issue is misguided, I encourage you to do something about it. Don’t just sit there. Write to the General Conference and let them know why you think they’re misguided. If you don’t agree with the reasoning presented throughout this post, please specify why in the comments.
The following are excerpts from an actual Facebook discussion I’ve had with a Seventh-day Adventist pastor:
Eventually, I responded with this to try to help him understand my point:
Here’s part of his response:
This pastor doesn’t get it.
A friend of mine—who was also raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but has since shed the faith—shared this article, which reports that the Student Life Committee at a Seventh-day Adventist post-secondary school denied a club official recognition because it promoted conversation about the acceptance of gays and lesbians. He wrote, “Makes me sad that I was once part of this.” Needless to say, I’m very proud of him for standing up for what’s right and for having the honesty and courage to leave the faith.
However, one of his Facebook friends responded to his post with this comment:
I responded with this:
She did not respond.