A Seventh-day Adventist Church vice president’s final wrap-up of the denomination’s sexuality summit last week was a call to see same-sex attracted church members as “brothers and sisters” also in need of God’s “saving grace”—while upholding the Adventist Church’s stance against sexual conduct outside of heterosexual marriage.
Ella Simmons used the summit’s “Final Word” address to urge a consistent view and implementation of the church’s beliefs about human sexuality.
“As long as we protect, cover-up, [and] yes, condone adultery, dishonesty, and other sins that were forbidden by God in the church and particularly in high places, we will not be able to reach members with our words of truth for the transformation of their lives—in any way,” Simmons told some 350 delegates at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on March 20.
For four days top church leaders and regional representatives discussed the church’s response to homosexual behavior in the face of a worldwide cultural shift that is increasingly supportive of gay and lesbian relationships. The “In God’s Image: Scripture. Sexuality. Society.” summit addressed the fact that LGBT issues are affecting church employment practices and operations of its educational and healthcare systems in a growing number of world regions.
Delegates also heard a presentation from a psychologist’s perspective the previous evening as Peter Swanson, an associate professor of Pastoral Care at Andrews University and a licensed counselor, addressed the audience.
Swanson began by reading the Adventist Church’s statements on same-sex relationships, emphasizing the stance against intolerance, hate crimes and discrimination.
“I strongly support the call of my church to support and protect human rights,” Swanson said. “They [gays and lesbians] need your sympathy, patience, and love. Speak words of encouragement to them.”
Swanson also told delegates that reduction in same-sex attraction and same-sex behaviors due to change therapy was “rare,” and that some Christian gays and lesbians perceive they have been harmed by change therapy.
The final 24 hours of the four-day summit also featured a plenary presentation by Miroslav Kis, professor of ethics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. Kis challenged delegates to both think clearly about the Biblical teachings on human sexuality and to act compassionately toward those not aligned with those norms.
A reflective experience led by Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, the Adventist Church’s Education director, followed Kis’ address. She summarized the summit by asking a series of questions of the audience.
Beardsley-Hardy, an educational psychologist, said participants would better learn and remember the summit’s key points by summarizing them in their own words. She directed delegates to write 60-second essays on a number of topics covered throughout the summit, including the biblical perspective on alternative sexuality, legal issues related to employment and communication, and membership requirements.