It is already some eight or nine years ago that I was invited by the Kinship organization to present a few worships to European Kinship members during a few days somewhere in the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant. I have forgotten the name of the place where we were together in a small seminar hotel. For those readers who do not know what the Kinship organization is all about: Kinship wants to provide support to (mostly) Adventist people with a ‘different’ sexual orientation.
Of course, I knew, before I went to this place, something about homosexuality. I had met gay people or persons whom I suspected of being gay or lesbian. And I was aware of the fact that there are also Adventist church members who are ‘different’. But it was during this meeting that, for the first time in my life, I was together with Adventists who were very open about their sexual orientation. These days proved to be a tremendous eye opener for me. I listened to the, often tragic, stories of men and women who had been awfully treated by their church. Some even had been denied membership in our church, even though they had been attending church and had supported their church for decades. Up to that time I had not made any in-depth study of the topic and had hardly thought about the theological aspects. I still had the idea that it might be possible for a person to change his/her orientation. And there were also other major gaps in my knowledge of what it means to be ‘different’.
Since that time I have regularly attended Kinship meetings and have been in frequent contact with Adventists who are gay or lesbian. I have read about it and at times written about it. Some of the comments I received were positive, but some were also quite critical (to phrase it very euphemistically). In recent times I have been invited in various places to explain how my views have developed over time, and why I think that my church ought to give full space for members who are gay or lesbian, so that they will not only feel welcome but may also participate fully in the life of the church.
Last Monday, quite early in the morning, my wife and I got in our car to drive to a small town in Germany, some 50 kilometers south-east of Frankfurt-am-Main, for the annual meeting of a group of Kinship-‘allies’—people who have some influence in the church and who want to have a better understanding of what it means to be gay or lesbian and want to plead for more understanding and tolerance in the Adventist Church (considering that this still leaves much to be desired.) My week was not going to be very hectic. I was scheduled to give two 30-minute worships and to give two presentations about the theological issues around homosexuality. Most of the time I spent listening and took part in the discussions.
I must admit I still have quite a few questions for which I have no answers. As a heterosexual I still do not really understand what it means to be gay. But in recent years I have discovered that the percentage of gays and lesbians in the Adventist Church is not smaller than elsewhere in society. Quite regularly people (who sometimes have not yet come ‘out of the closet’) tell me of their experiences, or fathers (and especially mothers) tell me about their son or daughter . . . They appreciate meeting and talking to someone who knows something about the topic and does not stand ready with a judgment. This has stimulated me to be an ‘ally’ (of ‘friend’ might be a better word) of Kinship and to continue my study of the issues—even if not all people think that this is a good idea. This week has given me an even stronger commitment to do what I can to make my church a ‘safe place’ for my brothers and sisters who are ‘different’.