Can Adventism Accept Same-Sex Marriage?

Can Adventism Accept Same-Sex Marriage? June 4, 2018

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The current position of the Adventist church is vastly out of step with its earlier traditions. If one were to take Ellen White’s old counsel to heart, the future of the Adventist church should be inclusive of all marriages, whether or not it chooses to officiate them or promote them. The question, as such, is not whether Adventism can come to accept married same-sex couples in its churches as members, but whether it will choose to do so.

INTRODUCTION

The Internet, and many parts of the North American Division, were ablaze with anger, frustration and angst this past Fall after it was reported that the Northern California Conference (NCC) recently sent a letter warning pastors not only in the NCC but in the entire church that they were, under no circumstance, supposed to baptize or accept married same-sex couples as members of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

However, this creates a real dilemma that has yet to be explored: is the NCC honestly suggesting that this married Lesbian couple cannot become members of the Adventist church unless they first get a divorce?

In other words: this couple, and others like them, cannot become members of the church unless they first go against scripture?

A “STRANGE” TEACHING

It’s a strange idea the NCC appears to be suggesting: One must first go against God’s wishes in order to best fulfill them?

It certainly seems as if this is the point the letter is making.

Because homosexual relationships are grounds for censure during church membership, a married same-sex couple cannot become members unless they renounce their relationship (not their orientation, which is accepted officially by the SDA church as natural).

Yet, this creates quite a paradox! Because the same Church Manual (in the same place!) is quite clear that Divorce for any reason other than infidelity (not even homosexuality!) constitutes grounds for removal from membership.

Which means that according to the same Manual, a legally Gay married couple, for the same reason they cannot become members due to their relationship, cannot also logically become members by disbanding it (for they are doing the very thing that the Manual also says can bar membership).

In other words: Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

If they stay married, they are barred. However, if they divorce for a reason other than infidelity to their spouse, they are supposed to be barred as well.

Clearly this is a bad argument for the NCC to make if what they propose is that in order to be in compliance with one part of the Church Manual, one must violate a different part of the same regulation they are citing!

UNEQUAL TREATMENT

Another aspect of this is the inequality present in how the Manual is implemented. Today, the Adventist church does not enforce the Manual’s rules on divorce because of how it would affect almost half the church’s membership. Yet, it appears to wishe to enforce a different rule because only a minority of its members will be affected.

This is an odd image to present to the world for it appears to imply that the only reason there is enforcement is because the LGBTQ community is a minority.

It suggests, however awful, that the NCC would not be as willing to enforce the rule if the LGBTQ community was also a sizeable community, one it did not wish to upset.

Is this the sort of image that any church, the bride of Christ, should present to others? Of course not!

ELLEN WHITE & UNBIBLICAL MARRIAGES

Ellen White wrote some important and perhaps timely counsel with regard to an issue such as this. Speaking about Marriages as a whole, she wrote this advice regarding what one should do if Adventists were involved in a marriage that did not appear to meet Biblical injunctions:

We should move very cautiously and with pitying tenderness, because we do not know all the circumstances which led to this course of action. I advise that these unfortunate ones be left to God and their own consciences, and that the church shall not treat them as sinners until they have evidence that they are such in the sight of the holy God. He reads hearts as an open book. He will not judge as man judgeth. Letter 5, 1891.
Notice carefully that Mrs. White warned that those who had entered the marriage were not to be treated as sinners until such a time (if it ever came) that “they have evidence that they are such.”
Mrs. White appears to be drawing on a passage from James 4:17 for her inspiration on this idea:

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (ESV)

If you don’t understand how she connected the verse to the situation, merely reverse the order of the sentence to understand its implication. Here’s my own paraphrased example:

Sin is defined as knowing and being convicted by what is right and yet still insisting to do the opposite.

Mrs. White takes James to heart and assumes that if a couple entered marriage in the sight of God and the Church, even if others think that what they have done is wrong, it is now between them and God and the Church should not treat them as sinners until they themselves believe themselves to be so.

Her other concern appears to be the fact that those who would seek to encourage the dissolution of an “unbiblical marriage” typically appear to cause more harm than good. She warned that these people “had the faculty to confuse, distress” and more importantly, she warned that they actually created “a most deplorable condition of things.”

In other words, the ending of the “unbiblical” marriage could often created a worse situation than the original marriage that others objected to. She warns the person she is writing that, regarding a specific case:

I hope to learn that this matter is not pressed, and that sympathy will not be withdrawn from the two whose interests have been united.

Years later, Mrs. White’s son William C. White wrote the following on the same issue, stating that he believed his understanding to have been the same as his mother’s:

My own views regarding this matter, which I believe to be in harmony with the counsel that I have heard Mother give to individuals years ago, and which I believe to be in harmony with views of the leading brethren and with the teaching of the Scripture, is that there is no blessing to come by our breaking up families who may have sinned or been sinned against before or since they embraced present truth.—W. C. White letter to Elder G. W. Anglebarger, October 6, 1911.

IS IT REALLY DIVORCE?

Some may argue that because same-sex marriages are not straight marriages, they are not truly marriages at all. In that case, such people will argue that a same-sex couple who divorces have not truly divorced at all, because in their view, they were never truly married to begin with.

While this is an interesting argument, it actually fails to understand Ellen White’s counsel.

The topic of Ellen White’s concern is unbiblical marriages. By definition, if a marriage is unbiblical, it is already assumed to not be approved by God.

If that is the case, then it would not matter whether the marriage was straight or same-sex: if it was unbiblical, a divorce in either case would not make a difference (since, as some would argue, they weren’t truly married to begin with).

This is an important principle to grasp: it shouldn’t matter whether the unbiblical marriage is straight or same-sex. The fact that it is unbiblical would make it invalid, and as such, acceptable to divorce.

Yet, this is not the argument that Ellen White makes! She argues that even if a marriage is entered into that is not approved by God (even if it is unbiblical!), the church must not request that they get a divorce.

She argues that God honors unbiblical marriages once two people have honestly committed themselves before God to have one. Even if potentially their marriage is a sin, she writes, God will not require them to divorce unless they themselves eventually believe it is.

And she argues, most importantly, that the church should not try to convince them that they have sinned. Instead, it should provide the spiritual space for them to draw closer to God, apart from judgment.

As such, divorce for married same-sex couples cannot be defended by the argument that they are not truly married. Even if the marriage is unbiblical, Ellen White makes it clear from her counsel that divorce is not to be entertained as a solution.

POLYGAMY AND DIVORCE

Similar conversations are currently ongoing in parts of Africa, where the practice of polygamy (having more than one wife) is culturally accepted and even promoted.

In those countries, the Adventist church is forced into a similar problem: should the husband of more than one wife first be forced by the church to divorce one of his wives before he and they can be baptized?

A major problem with this idea is that a woman who has been divorced in such countries may end up suffering throughout life in her society as a result.

The answer, as such, for many African Adventists (both lay and officials) has been to reject this approach. Many of them recognize, like Mrs. White, that there are severe ethical consequences for such actions, consequences that hurt Christ more than uplift.

Today, many African Adventist churches ignore polygamy as a factor in church membership, following Ellen White’s advice about how to handle such situations. If the Adventist church can do it for polygamy, why not same-sex marriages?

Moreover, if we do not apply this same thinking to same-sex marriages, are we guilty of discrimination?

CONCLUSION

There will doubtless be some who object and point out that Mrs. White never assumed the possibility of LGBTQ marriages, and most certainly they will then argue that my suggestion and application is flawed.

However, this is not a good objection to make. Mrs. White’s point was not to specify advice concerning a specific type of unbiblical marriage, but any marriage situation that could fall under the designation of unbiblical.

In that sense, all of Mrs. White’s advice naturally includes what today is the most widely discussed of “unbiblical” marriages.

Given this counsel from both Whites, and the fact that it represented the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s earliest position on the matter, does it not seem that the current position of the church is vastly out of step with its earlier traditions?

If one were to take this old counsel to heart, the future of the Adventist church should be inclusive of all marriages, whether or not it chooses to officiate them or promote them.

Members of the church, straight or otherwise, who are already married, would be encouraged to value and honor their marriage without being chastised for perceived doctrinal or theological incongruences on the part of the minister or congregation.

More importantly, if this advice were followed, the Adventist church could find a middle-ground in which it could both be inclusive as well as continue to honestly wrestle with its conservative heritage and understanding of the Bible and marriage.

Such a middle-ground might be rightly needed now at a time when so few conservative churches are willing to even discuss such issues, let alone seriously take action. Thanks to Mrs. White’s inclusive counsel, the Adventist church has the unique opportunity and heritage lead the way where others have not.

It is clear that the present position of the NCC is not logically or spiritually tenable. One cannot expect divorce as a pre-requisite for membership. Thankfully, due to Mrs. White’s wisdom, such a position is not our only option.

The question, as such, is not whether Adventism can come to accept married same-sex couples in its churches as members, but whether it will choose to do so.

Or, to put another way, let me ask whether you can imagine that Jesus (the one who banned all divorces in Mark and Luke) would first ask for a divorce before permitting a couple to become his disciples?

If the answer is no, that our actions do not match Christ’s, then that should tell us that our current course is not right.


IMG_1306Matthew J. Korpman is a minister-in-training and published researcher in Biblical Studies and Church History. Graduating from the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, he is completing four degrees in fields such as Religious Studies, Philosophy and Archaeology before continuing his studies at Yale Divinity School this Fall. He is an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist church whose research interests include everything from the Apocrypha to the Apocalypse.

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Daniel Holmstock

    With all due respect its not “damn if you do and damn if you don’t” Marriage is a religious institution that is reserved for BIBLICAL RELIGION ONLY and not the Government, in the BIBLE, GOd joins one flesh as man and women – Gen 2:24 – “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” , and Mark 10:8-9 King James
    8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”, So you see this is a religious function reserved only to religious heterosexuals that GOD joins together. I am not knocking anyone’s sexual preference, we are all BORN sinners, God is asking us and will empower us to be BORN again, having said that a GAY Couple should NOT be MARRIED because as defined by the BIble they do not meet the religious criteria. If the Government wishes to join civil unions it has the power to do so. However that is not the subject matter here and its a different question as how the Church will handle Civil Unions.

  • Ken Tichy

    In my humble opinion, I think people miss the main point when writing articles about LGBT marriages and religious repercussions. No, I’m not going to talk about “a man and a woman”, but quite the essence of that. What is a man or a woman? If a person is born with the wrong sexual organs in place, or a hormonal imbalance, what is that person? Male of Female? The problem lies in the way they are identified. People look at their faces and “know” what they are. Well, what if that manly person standing there with a beard and dressed in lumberjack clothing had women’s plumbing under all those clothes? What now? Shouldn’t we ask that person “who they are” first so we don’t jump into conclusions? If we are going to use the argument that “God created that person the way they are”, then why not let them be? People often mistake the homosexuality that happens in prisons when men aren’t allowed to see females for a long period of time with people who have hormonal issues. They are two different things. I have a friend who is a neurosurgeon who explained to me that a person can literally start liking the same sex within 2 hours if there is a problem in their brains. Are we to fight our brains and go against nature? I guess I’m normal in that regard but I still feel that people are being treated unfairly by the ones who don’t understand their struggles. I guess my comment is… who is the church to define what a man or a woman is? There are “agender” people in America, or people who don’t identify with males or females. What about them? Are they not allowed to find a partner who also loves them because they can’t say if they are a male or a female? Churches need to leave these people alone and stop judging them, because nobody knows if they are sinning or not, and that’s the real problem: medical ignorance.

  • Matthew, do you confess and believe our church’s Fundamental belief #23? It is written below. If you do not, please, for the sake of our church, humbly withdraw your membership or study your way into the truth.

    Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship. For the Christian a marriage commitment is to God as well as to the spouse, and should be entered into only between partners who share a common faith. Mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility are the fabric of this relationship, which is to reflect the love, sanctity, closeness, and permanence of the relationship between Christ and His church. Regarding divorce, Jesus taught that the person who divorces a spouse, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery. Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, marriage partners who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ may achieve loving unity through the guidance of the Spirit and the nurture of the church. God blesses the family and intends that its members shall assist each other toward complete maturity. Parents are to bring up their children to love and obey the Lord. By their example and their words they are to teach them that Christ is a loving disciplinarian, ever tender and caring, who wants them to become members of His body, the family of God. Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message.(Gen. 2:18-25; Matt. 19:3-9; John 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:21-33; Matt. 5:31,32; Mark 10:11,12; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor. 7:10,11; Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-4; Deut. 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6.)

  • Hey Wyatt, it appears that you did not carefully read the article. Nothing in this discussion contradicts or is at odds with the church’s current and tentative version of Fundamental Belief #23. I encourage you to re-read the article.

  • Andre

    This article is garbage. A marriage is a union between a man and a woman, therefore if two of the same gender gets married by man’s law, they can easily divorce which would not be going against God and the church manual. That’s because they were never married in God’s sight.

  • Daisy Shelton

    Matthew confess, Repent and search what we SDAs believe. We believe in the Ten Commandments God gave to us. It is quoted below for you to read. If you cannot accept what we believe and stand for humbly remove your membership from our church.

    “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).

    “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).

  • Scumrot Derelict

    It is quoted below for you to read

    How is a quote about adultery relevant to the question of married same-sex couples – who may well be monogamous? Perhaps you don’t understand the meaning of adultery?

    Also, that quote from Leviticus is NOT part of the Ten Commandments – you break many of the Levitical laws on a daily basis.

  • I really fail to understand what you’re attempting to say, and God knows, I’ve tried. You say that you are going to quote the Ten Commandments, but you instead only quote one and the one you quoted is about adultery, which has literally nothing to do with the topic of my article. And the second verse you quoted is not at all from the Ten Commandments and likewise does not have to do with the argument in the article (acceptance vs endorsement). Furthermore, the verse only appears to forbid male sale-sex acts, and thus it fails to apply to all same-sex issues (and as such, fails to address the topic of the article… again).

    What on earth, Daisy, am I supposed to repent of because of this article? I am saddened by your lack of Christ-like kindness, as well as your ignorance.

  • You don’t appear to interact at all with the argument in this article that specifically answers that very objection… and so I must assume that the article you call garbage was never even read by you. It appears you never even got past the first few sections. Sigh.

  • Julie Mattison

    Our church is getting set up to literally split over the issue of Women’s Ordination. If the thought of a woman pastor giving the Sabbath sermon is enough to encourage the GC to turn the North American Division into a “Mission” under direct GC control, and for some leaders to accuse WO supporters of being demonically deluded, the (needed) acceptance of LGBTQ members is probably a bridge too far.

  • Hey Julie, I have two points to make.

    First, a slight correction to an unfortunate misconception: the GC has no problem with women pastors (as hard as that might be to believe). The debate within Adventism (at the GC level) is not whether women can be pastors (they fully support that), but rather whether women can be “ordained” pastors. Currently, the GC supports women as unordained special pastors. What this means is that they are treated by the GC as second-class and are forbidden (without ordination) from marriages, baptism and receiving the same pay as their fellow male pastors.

    So as annoying as that might sound, the entire debate centers for the GC on the issue of “ordination,” not whether women can have authority, or whether they can preach, or anything else. However, many of the people against Women’s Ordination (WO) who are not at the GC level (like popular pastors such as Steven Bohr) are against women pastors at all. They tend to use the GC’s avoidance of ordination as a platform to attack women’s ministry. This is why the debate is so aggravating. The GC debate is technical, while the popular debate is far removed from that nuance. As a result, everyone argues about the wrong things. I’ll likely write a new blog post about this to help clarify things.

    Second, if the nuance of acceptance vs. endorsement (emphasized in this article) can be understood by Adventists, then I don’t believe there will be any issues. But then again, as I just showed above, such nuances tend to be difficult for many Adventists to understand when their biases and prejudices cloud their judgment.

  • I did carefully read the article, including your opening statement:

    “If one were to take Ellen White’s old counsel to heart, the future of the Adventist church should be inclusive of all marriages, whether or not it chooses to officiate them or promote them. The question, as such, is not whether Adventism can come to accept married same-sex couples in its churches as members, but whether it will choose to do so.”

    And your closing remarks:

    “If one were to take this old counsel to heart, the future of the Adventist church should be inclusive of all marriages, whether or not it chooses to officiate them or promote them.

    “Members of the church, straight or otherwise, who are already married, would be encouraged to value and honor their marriage without being chastised for perceived doctrinal or theological incongruences on the part of the minister or congregation.

    “More importantly, if this advice were followed, the Adventist church could find a middle-ground in which it could both be inclusive as well as continue to honestly wrestle with its conservative heritage and understanding of the Bible and marriage.”

    These comments are clearly in favor of gay marriage and against our fundamental belief that marriage is “between a man and a woman”. So you didn’t answer my question. Do you confess this belief and vow to represent it faithfully?

  • Wyatt, it appears that you are reading more into my statements than is actually there. I said “inclusive… whether or not it chooses to officiate them [aka. marry them itself] or promote them [aka. endorse same-sex marriage].” That means that I am outlining a path in which the church does not endorse but can be inclusive (makes room, even as it doesn’t choose to affirm). None of my statements contradict the FB #23, rather it finds a “middle ground” that can fit within FB #23’s language of how earthly marriages fall short of God’s ideals. So in short, you’ve not clearly discerned what my statements are in fact stating. Nothing in this article, to repeat myself again, contradicts FB #23.

    Furthermore Wyatt, our Fundamental Beliefs are not a Creed which one must abide by, repeat or leave. They have a small clause at the beginning which warns readers that it may change or even have parts of it removed. The 28 Fundamental Beliefs (it used to be 16 at one point) were intended to be a reflection of our current beliefs to help sustain unity, not a dictation of a creed which all must abide by. That’s something rather important to keep in mind, given your declaration that I should leave the church if I were to disagree with one of the Fundamental Beliefs. That’s not how this church works, and its certainly not how Christ works.

  • You’re still avoiding my direct question…

  • Widuran

    Same sex marriage is of Satan

  • TinnyWhistler

    I’d love to know what my Aunt thinks of this article but it’s 100% not worth never having a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner again.

  • kaydenpat

    Didn’t know that SDAs considered same sex as a natural orientation. Interesting. Why have that belief but not respect same sex relationships as also natural?

  • kaydenpat

    Please write some more articles.

  • ollie

    What is natural? Surely just 2 sexes is not natural:

    https://www.joshuakennon.com/the-six-common-biological-sexes-in-humans/

    The Six Most Common Karyotypes

    The six biological karyotype sexes that do not result in death to the fetus are:

    X – Roughly 1 in 2,000 to 1 in 5,000 people (Turner’s )
    XX – Most common form of female
    XXY – Roughly 1 in 500 to 1 in 1,000 people (Klinefelter)
    XY – Most common form of male
    XYY – Roughly 1 out of 1,000 people
    XXXY – Roughly 1 in 18,000 to 1 in 50,000 births.

    But this even is off topic while I believe that the SDA church should should with full hearts celebrate the marriage of same sex couples. Your article provides a way to bridge a gap that will be eventually changed, not because it makes economic sense but because enough old people will die and enough younger people will move into leadership roles that understand it is the right thing to do. And that the Bible is silent on same sex committed relationships.

    Thank you for the article, I was not aware of EGW’s stance on this issue. Not a big fan of her writings. Kinda a Bible only guy! But that means l need to understand what the Bible really says. And that isn’t easy! Likely makes me somewhat of a SDA heretic! 😉

  • ollie

    Though out most of written history one man and as many wifes as he could afford was the norm for all religions even Christianity.

    Actually, I believe Jesus taught that divorce was not accepted by God but only tolerated becsuse of man’s stubbornness. But of course you will likely reject this idea because it doesn’t go along with your ideal of how the world works.