Eliel Cruz is the president and co-founder of the Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition, a 501(c)3 organization which represents six unofficial LGBT-straight alliance groups on Seventh-day Adventists educational institutions nationwide. You can find Eliel on facebook : facebook.com/elielcruzwrites or on Twitter: @elielcruz
Out of all the commandments, Jesus highlighted how to “love one another,” and to do “to the least of these” as the highest priorities. As the gay debates continue to happen in our pews, our interpretation of the Bible about how we interact and dialogue becomes all the more pertinent.
I attended a presentation on pastoral care for homosexuality at the Seventh-day Adventist seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI. This wasn’t the first—I’m sure not the last—presentation on this subject on my campus and within the Seventh-day Adventist church, but it was definitely the best presentation I’ve ever attended in my last five years at Andrews University. During my time in school, I have seen many conversations that speak at LGBT people instead of with them, perpetuating religious homophobia and thus discrimination, usually with no practical approach about how to interact with the LGBT community.
If you want to see the division of the Seventh-day Adventist church on the topic of homosexuality, look no further than the seminary.
At this presentation, three speakers shared their insights on a pastoral approach to homosexuality. The pastors emphasized sharing love and compassion to LGBT people in a very productive and somewhat scandalous presentation by seminary standards. The presenters held to the church’s current theological stance, but unlike many others in the past, they emphasized that we need to speak with LGBT folk, even with this belief. One said we must realize we have painted ourselves as homophobic. Another presenter even went so far as to say that not everyone believes that homosexuality is a sin.
The crowd erupted with whispers. For some, it was as if the presenters were showing too much compassion and love towards the “homosexuals”. For the majority, it was everything they had been looking for in a presentation. For others, it was not enough.
During the Q&A, one seminarian stood up and proclaimed, “Sin is sin.” Immediately, one of the presenters interceded with, “See right there, you just cut yourself off to people that do not believe it’s a sin.” Interestingly enough, the few pastors that vocally condemned being in a same-sex relationship always prefaced their statements with, “I know a homosexual.” One seminarian compared homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, and there was even a heckler who yelled, “But it’s a sin! It’s wrong!”
Future pastors of my church heckled, condemned, and threw the first stone.
At the end of the presentation, many people remained to question the presenters. Some who were familiar with my work asked for my input. The common response used over and over again was, “Go and sin no more.” I’ve heard this used a thousand times as a way to condemn one another about many practices we consider “sinful,” although it’s almost exclusively used as a scriptural weapon against LGBT people. Yet where in the Bible does it give authority for us to condemn one another?
Romans 2:1 states, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” We’ve used God’s words against each other and have completely bastardized His model of love.
Daneen Akers, producer of the film Seventh-Gay Adventists: A film about faith on the margins, gave an anecdote on when her mother had a revelation on this commonly used “Go and sin no more” mantra. Each screening of the film was unique, sacred, and became a safe space for dialogue on the intersection of faith and sexuality; there was even this one time that a redneck loved a queer**. The mantra “Go and sin no more” is used at many of the screenings’ Q&A from Christians who are honestly trying to get it. What they don’t realize is the use of this mantra is placing the blame of religious homophobia on a story that was about redemption, not condemnation.When Christians tell LGBT people to “Go and sin no more”, they act as Pilate, washing their hands of us.
Jesus did say, “Go and sin no more.” The often forgotten fact is that it was only Jesus who said that, prefacing it with “Ye without sin, cast the first stone.” In a story that is all about not throwing stones because we are all sinners, we’ve identified with God. No wonder we are missing the point! It wasn’t until everyone else left that Jesus privately spoke with the woman and said, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
Our human tendencies make us want to be that seminarian student, standing up to condemn each other. But that is not the model Christ left for us. We must leave room for the Holy Spirit to do Its job. The model that was left for us is one of reconciliation, not condemnation.
When sexual and gender identities intersect with religion, we have many theological interpretations of what the Bible says and doesn’t say about the word now translated, in modern English, as homosexuality. Earnest and sincere Christians read the same texts and come away with different convictions, much as we have on other major social issues that still prove challenging.
I understand the Seventh-day Adventist church’s position and current interpretation of this topic. I understand that the church believes same-sex sex is a sin. But where in the Bible does it say that we, as humans, are allowed to condemn one another? And, especially, where does it say we can condemn one another based on assumptions? Without listening to the perspective of those we are condemning? Should we police every relationship to prevent shortcomings? Violate spiritual liberties? We risk wresting authority from God, who alone can say, “Go and sin no more.”
* Seventh-day Adventism grew out of Methodism and the Millerite movement and dates back to the 1800’s. In addition to anticipating the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, a distinguishing belief is keeping Sabbath on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Adventists keep Sabbath much more like Jews than like other Christians, and the rhythm, belief and community around Sabbath is a core component of this faith. And then there are a host of other cultural traditions — like (mostly) being vegetarian, abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, dancing, sometimes even caffeine and movies.