Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Edwin Manuel Garcia/ANN

The Seventh-day Adventist Church on Wednesday reaffirmed its stance against homosexual activity and same-sex marriage, but also softened the denomination’s position statement to offer compassion toward gays and lesbians.

The half-page policy statement on homosexuality was approved overwhelmingly by a hand vote of more than 200 pastors, lay people and other denominational workers attending the final Executive Committee business session of the 2012 Annual Council at the denomination’s world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Church leaders said the original position statement drafted in 1999 was clear and based on biblical teachings. They chose to update the document to relay the message that the church doesn’t accept homosexual practice but must recognize the need to minister with compassion to gays, said Vice President Pardon Mwansa, who chaired the policy committee that recommended the change.

“We felt we needed to close this statement with a phrase that shows that the church is willing to show a Christ-like compassionate spirit to those who practice homosexuality,” Mwansa told attendees who represented church leaders in six continents.

The statement – which does not define compassion nor explain how the church should treat homosexuals – also was re-edited to show in a stronger stance than before that the church intends to remain faithful to scripture.

The final sentence of the three-paragraph document now reads: “As His disciples, Seventh-day Adventists endeavor to follow the Lord’s instruction and example, living a life of Christ-like compassion and faithfulness.”

None of the delegates in the auditorium spoke on the issue before voting.

But a more controversial agenda item, the revised position statement dealing with same-sex marriage, prompted a more passionate response, sometimes focused on the issue itself, and at other times on the grammatical nuances involved in the group-editing of a controversial paper.

The committee leaders said they elected to revise the same-sex union statement to reflect societal trends, such as acknowledging that some governments have given legal standing to same-sex unions.

“The institutions of marriage and family are under attack,” declared Willie Oliver, policy committee member and co-director of Family Ministries for the global church, quoting from a line that is now part of the new statement.

The statement also deleted the word “disorder” – calling it outdated – and replaced it with “disturbance” to describe homosexuality. That line in the five-paragraph document now reads: “Homosexuality is a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world.”

And like the statement on homosexuality, the statement on same-sex marriage attempts to extend compassion.

The previous version stated: “We hold that all people, no matter what their sexual orientation, are children of God.” The new version says, “We hold that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are loved by God.”

One delegate from Europe attempted to amend the statement to delete the line about homosexuality being a “disturbance,” suggesting the church be more sensitive.

His proposal was rejected by North American Division lay member Gina Brown, and eventually the entire body. “Though many of us have family members who are homosexual, we understand the thought process, we still embrace them, we still love them, we still care for them,” Brown said. “However, as a church, we must take a stand for what is right.”

Ekkehardt Mueller, deputy director of the Biblical Research Institute, praised the committee for including a phrase in the line that was proposed for amendment that links homosexuality to the “entrance of sin” into the world.

“We feel that this is necessary in this context, especially since homosexuals today would deny any notion of sin and would say ‘this is how we are created, God has created us this way, and therefore we have the right and duty to this lifestyle,’ so I would be opposed to the amendment,” Mueller said.

The theme of homosexuality, and transgender issues, prompted one delegate, the president of the British Union Conference, to ask church leaders for guidance with a situation his region recently experienced.

“We have had a brother who two weeks ago came back to church as a sister. Legally, in British Law, he is now sister, he has had the operations. I have never encountered anything like this in my ministry,” Ian Sweeney said in an address to the policy committee members. “We would need some help on that one.”

Sweeney didn’t get the answer he was probably hoping for, but it became obvious the church will grapple with the issue again in the future.

“We have received requests from other parts of the world field about situations in their church. The church manual does not have a lot to say – in fact, very little to say – on this subject, so these are subjects that we’re having to address now in the church body,” replied Adventist Church Vice President Ben Schoun, vice chairman of the policy committee.

“Perhaps the committee will bring forth suggestions or guidance,” Schoun said.