July 20, 2012

The Missing Story in "Seventh-Gay Adventists"

Irecently viewed a new feature-length documentary, “Seventh-Gay Adventists,” which explores “the spiritual quests of three subjects who wrestle with the difficult issue of reconciling their religious and sexual identities.” Originally conceived as an “issues” film—with a broad range of perspectives—the project evolved into its final narrative form.

Producers Daneen Akers and her husband, Stephen Eyer, are indeed skilled storytellers, and the film’s gentle tone softens its in-your-face title. The subjects of the film include two longtime couples—male-male, female-female—and one new couple: a young man and his boyfriend-turned-fiancé. We’re brought into their everyday lives—grocery shopping, making supper, family worship, Sabbath school—in a way that feels all too familiar, if not mundane. The message is clear: gay couples are pretty much like anyone else, and they should be welcomed and loved by our churches, not left out in the cold.

The film’s most iconic scene is the wedding of the two young men, with their loving but conflicted family members looking on. “This has been a journey for us as well,” remarks his father, a church official. “This isn’t what we’d imagined for David.”

What this film does very well is help viewers see gay people as . . . people. These six Adventists aren’t just gay; they’re also smart, funny, and kind. And though the film doesn’t depict this nearly enough, they have relationship challenges just like you and me. At the screening I attended, the room was filled with emotional people who clearly resonated with the three stories being told on screen.

2012 1520 page29But I found myself wishing for a fourth story: the one in which a gay Adventist loves someone of the same sex, but who loves Scripture even more. In 2009 Wayne Blakely—a gay Adventist who after 37 years in a gay lifestyle recommitted his life to Christ and chose celibacy—asked the producers if his story could be included in the film. “It seemed apparent,” he writes on his Web site, knowhislove.com, “that they were not seeking any testimonies from same-sex attracted individuals who have been redeemed and are choosing to live sexually pure through Christ.”

When I asked the filmmakers why a celibate gay Adventist wasn’t included, Akers said that they ultimately decided that the film’s focus should be on gay Adventists whose lifestyles were in conflict with the church’s position, because conflict is what makes a story.

So there isn’t enough conflict in a celibate gay Adventist whose flesh and spirit daily wage war? Whose courageous scriptural stance flies in the face of contemporary culture? Ironically, it’s still gay Adventists being left out in the cold, except now it’s the gay Adventists who choose sexual purity.

Blakely’s isn’t the only voice of purity—not by a long shot. His Web site links to other “redeemed” Adventist men and women who have put their eternal destinies ahead of short-term tendencies. A beautiful new memoir, Out of a Far Country, by a gay man, Christopher Yuan, and his mother, Angela, also shouts purity from the shelves of mainline bookstores. These stories are the truly heroic ones.

Not to include even one of them belies this film’s more subtle message: acceptance of the gay lifestyle. Akers and Eyer say that they are supportive of gay relationships, as long as they’re committed and monogamous. “How could a God of love,” says Eyer, “ask people not to be in a loving relationship?”

It’s a hard question that more and more Adventists are sincerely asking. But God is not only a God of love—He’s also a God of holiness, and He calls us to both during our sojourn on this sin-plagued planet. When any of us struggles with a sinful tendency, as we all do, the last thing we need is for those entrusted with Scripture itself to say “Go ahead and do it.”

Which of the other tendencies named in Romans 1 would supporters of a gay lifestyle also encourage struggling people to live out? Worshipping created things? Greed, envy, murder, strife? Gossip, slander, insolence, arrogance? Dishonoring parents, heartlessness, ruthlessness? Why is it only this tendency that’s now OK to practice? Because it doesn’t hurt anyone else? Or because it hurts only those who practice it? n

Andy Nash is a journalism professor, pastor, and author of Paper God, a spiritual memoir. This article was published July 19, 2012.