Panel Members Tell Moving Stories of Brokenness, Change


A panel of three Seventh-day Adventists who lived gay
lifestyles told their stories last evening during the denomination’s summit on
sexuality, discussing their journeys away from homosexual activity.

Addressing the summit were Ron Woolsey, an Adventist pastor
and founder of “The Narrow Way Ministry,” Virna Santos, president of “By
Beholding His Love” ministry, and Wayne Blakely, founder of “Know His Love
Ministries.” The Adventist world church this week is holding the “In God’s
Image: Scripture. Sexuality. Society.” summit at the Cape Town International
Convention Centre.

A panel of three Adventists who formerly lived gay lifestyles addressed the denomination's sexuality summit on March 18. From right: Ron Woolsey, Virna Santos, Wayne Blakely. At left is Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review magazine, who moderated the panel. The Adventist Church's "In God's Image: Scripture. Sexuality. Society." summit is meeting this week at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in South Africa. [Photo: Ansel Oliver]“We are here tonight to listen to testimonies,” said panel
moderator Bill Knott, editor of the
magazine. “We’re here to listen to believers tell the stories of how
God has redeemed them.”

Knott invited the panelists to share their experiences at
several different life stages.

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 troubled identity and relationships. When his young wife
soon discovered his ongoing relationships with men, however, the marriage soon

After more than 15 years in multiple gay relationships,
Woolsey returned to his childhood faith and a relationship with Christ through
reading the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White, co-founder of the
Seventh-day Adventist Church. “I began
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.”

Woolsey was re-baptized, and soon began telling his story of
recovery to church groups around the United States. Now married for 21 years, he is the father of
five children, and an ordained pastor of the Church in the Arkansas-Louisiana

For Wayne Blakely, early childhood rejection by his
mother—who had wished for a daughter—soon drove him to seek male
Placed in several adoptive
situations, he was raised by a succession of relatives who noted his
challenging behaviors and sent him to psychologists and pastors for counseling.

Invited at age 18 by a college friend to join a gay
community, Blakely says he found there 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
Saviour 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.

Santos’ family joined the Adventist Church in her late
teens, but she struggled with same-sex attraction throughout college and
secretly maintained a lesbian relationship. She moved to San Francisco and
became a gay-rights political activist, and was reportedly the first to adopt
under the AB25 law in the U.S. state of California, which allowed same-sex
couples to adopt each other’s children. The dramatic disappointment to the gay
and lesbian community that accompanied the passage of California’s Proposition
8, which no longer allowed gay marriages, proved to be a crisis for Santos.

A reawakened interest in Adventism was accompanied by a
series of profound personal spiritual experiences that highlighted for Santos
the importance of the Church’s teaching about the meaning and relevance of the
heavenly sanctuary. Understanding for
the first time that Jesus was her Advocate, she began to reassess the life she
had been leading.

A Sabbath morning Communion service became the pivot point
for Santos, who recalls her wonderment that the pastor’s wife was washing the
feet of a proud lesbian.

Panel moderator 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?

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 many 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 concluded the 90-minute
session, and addressed whether the panelists still consider themselves as gay
or lesbian; how the church should treat same-sex attracted and practicing
individuals; and the nature of the ministries in which each panelist now
serves. 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. To persistent audience
applause, he added, “Let’s express our appreciation to those who have shared
their testimonies of redemption with us.”

Daily news bulletins from the summit provided by
Adventist Review and Adventist News Network (ANN) will be available at and