A short item in a recent Dutch newspaper. A Roman-Catholic priest in one of the southern provinces of the country refused to baptize a baby. Why? Because the parents are a lesbian couple. The priest concluded that his conscience did not allow him to perform the baptism. A colleague in another parish, however, was willing to baptize the infant. The bishop commented that the priest had not asked the advice of his superiors. He has the freedom to use his own judgment, even though he may, under these circumstances not have acted in the wisest possible way, the bishop added.
In any case, Adventist preachers will not face this particular dilemma. The Adventist church does not baptize infants, regardless whether the parents are homo or hetero. But Adventist pastors increasingly face similar problems. More and more often Adventist ministers face the question how their church thinks about same-sex matters, and must ask themselves what they think themselves and what choices they will make.
I know of a number of cases that currently play out in the Adventist Church, in the Netherlands as well as in Belgium. Can a lesbian woman, who has been living for years in a stable, monogamous relationship, be baptized and become an Adventist church member? Must we tell a homosexual couple that wants to receive a blessing on their relationship, that they ‘live in sin’ and that therefore the church cannot bless them? Can an Adventist homo safely come ‘out of the closet’ and retain his/her responsibility in the local church?
The discussion about homosexuality and everything that relates to it has hardly started in the Adventist Church. The church is still too busy with the commotion surrounding ordaining female ministers, and the problems concerning a literal six-day creation. But in the meantime it is clear that the questions regarding same sex relationships (which according to many Adventists are unequivocally condemned by the Bible) can no longer be ignored. It is also clear that these various issues have one common denominator. It is the basic question: How does one read the Bible? Can you only read the Bible in such a way that you have little or no room for maneuvering in these matters? Or can you, in good conscience, (and with the unwavering belief that the Bible is the Word of God in tact), also read the Bible in a way that leaves room for a non-literal approach that also takes into account that we live today in a world that starkly differs from the world of Bible times?
Not too long ago I saw the film Seventh-gay Adventists—a fascinating documentary that followed three Adventist same sex couples over a period of some years. The film pictures in a clever, sometimes surprising, and often sad, manner what homosexual men and women must go through when they want to be full members of the Adventist Christ.
One of the partners of one couple asks his brother who is an Adventist pastor, to officiate at their marriage ceremony. He goes through a lot of inner turmoil. He does not know how to handle this situation. But, eventually, he decides to respond positively. ‘Because,’ he says, if I make a mistake, I rather err at the side of humanness and mercy, that that I make a mistake by giving too much emphasis to rules and organizational policies, without due regard for real people of flesh and blood.’
It will be a while, I guess, before we can have an open discussion about these matters at all levels of the church, in all countries and in all cultures. There is indeed a great number of theological, cultural and historical issues to consider. Might it be that, for the time being, we could follow the example of the two Dutch priests and his bishop, who stated that the priests could make their own independent decision in this matter. Could it be possible that we give the Adventist minister, and the individual Adventist congregation, the same kind of space and freedom? I suspect that most of those with a ‘different’ sexual orientation will understand that not all pastors and church committees will, in good conscience, come to the same judgment. But it may, at least for now, provide a pragmatic and yet spiritually responsible way out of many terrible dilemmas.
It may be that my thinking may change again in the next year or so. It has changed in many ways in the last few years. I continue to struggle with several aspects. But I have concluded that always saying ‘no’ when brothers and sisters with a ‘different’ sexual orientation want to be full members of the church, is no Christian option.