Seventh-Gay Adventists, a documentary film advocating for the acceptance of gays and lesbians in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, asks Adventists to think twice about what it means to love their neighbor. The independent film follows three gay and lesbian individuals, as they attempt to reconcile their Adventist identity with their sexuality. David, Marcos and Sherri express their struggles with coming out in an Adventist community, yet attempting to remain in it. All of them relate that at one time they had tried to become straight, but with no success. David tried for five years, eventually leaving fellowship with the Adventist church and finding a non-denominational church with his new partner Colin.
Marcos also leaves the church after being fired as a minister for cheating on his wife with another man. He eventually finds and begins attending Second Wind, a church created by Greg & Shasta Nelson. Later in the film the church closes for financial reasons, and seizing the opportunity, Marcos realizes his dream of being a pastor again and begins his own church.
Sherri and Jill’s story is different because they continue to fellowship with a Seventh-day Adventist church. They tell of the mixed reactions they received from members, but that over all, the church has been very accepting, even allowing Jill to head up the new Adventurer club, which no one was willing to lead out in. There is some initial apprehension when their current pastor Loren Seibold leaves, because they are unsure how the new pastor will treat them. Their eldest daughter is baptised by the new pastor later in the film.
Producers and married couple Daneen Akers and Stephen Eyer do a masterful job at provoking an emotional sympathy for the struggles and pain each couple experienced at the hand of individuals and leaders within the church.
“The ultimate question we wanted to ask is how do we treat each other,” Eyer says. “We wanted to begin a conversation that would break stereotypes, and allow gays to tell their story, and not just have a film talking about gays.”
Akers and Eyer originally had planned to do an issues film, inspired by the political buzz generated by Proposition 8 in California. The proposition says only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. They initially were angry with Proposition 8, but after delving into the personal stories they were following, they decided to tone the film down and focus exclusively on the individuals.
“We wanted to start a thoughtful conversation through story,” says Akers.
The couple spent three years following the lives of about 12 individuals, eventually narrowing it down to the three seen in the film.
Stories are a powerful form of propaganda. The film tells stories in a very non-confrontational style, but the message is loud and clear. With the exception of a few intimate scenes of the couples kissing and a protracted scene of David receiving a backrub from Colin without his shirt, there’s not much to take offense at. The film shows the very mundane activities of each couple. The stereotypes of gay and lesbians as uncommitted, promiscuous sex fiends are absent.
While the film did produce some food for thought, the manner in which the subject is presented is biased against the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s understanding of the biblical view on homosexual behavior. The film is deceptive and artful in its normative presentation of homosexual behavior. It presents homosexual behavior in the most benign way with little regard for the plain texts in the Bible, which prohibit it.
The premise of the film shows you can be gay and Adventist. However, it is impossible to reconcile homosexual behavior with being a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, and here is where the film completely misses the boat. Christians cannot identify with sin while calling themselves Christian. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (NASB). A gay Adventist is an oxymoron. When we’ve died to self and become a new creature in Christ, we will no longer identify ourselves with the sins of our past. Yet the film attempts to place sexual identity and the desire to be with someone over the Bible and our need to place God’s will before our own. It’s not a film about dying to self and coming into a loving and obedient relationship with Jesus, it’s about taking any measures to please and appease self.
Consider Akers, a fifth generation Adventist, who hasn’t attended an official Adventist church in years. Due to their work on this film, Akers and Eyers have found it difficult to find a church to attend, according to Akers. While she and her husband appear to identify themselves with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they are opposed to the church theologically regarding homosexuality, which puts them at a disadvantage in the conversation about the intersect of Adventism and homosexuality.*
“Ultimately it’s a question of hermeneutics--how do we interpret the Bible,” Akers said during the Palm Springs screening.
She couldn’t be more correct, but the film doesn’t address what the Bible says with any depth, relying exclusively on emotion appeal.
And the lack of representation from individuals who have overcome homosexual behavior is concerning.
“Initially Daneen [Akers] told me I was the person they were considering to represent those who had been living the gay lifestyle and were now celibate,” Wayne Blakely of Know His Love Ministry said. Blakely is also participating in a merger of ministries dealing with homosexuality called Coming Out.
Blakely said he and his colleagues offered Akers and Eyer their stories of freedom, but the producers didn’t want anything to do with them.
“If [Eyer and Akers] are calling for a reconciliation, is it a reconciliation to God or to the world?” said Blakely. “God's word is not a message of hate, but a message of love. Some Christians are accused of being homophobic, because they’re not placing their stamp of approval on someone's lifestyle. You say you're unable to love your child without condoning their behavior? My parents’ loved me while I was living a gay lifestyle, but they never stopped praying for me and they never condoned my lifestyle.”
Blakely is concerned the film doesn’t give any representation to those who have started a new life in Jesus, and who have overcome homosexuality through the power of Jesus’ healing and restoring grace. This doesn’t mean anyone has labels of gay or straight; it means they are a new creature in Jesus, denying self, ready to be obedient to what a loving God asks in His word.
In response to this lack of representation, Akers said: “A film is really an exploration of a question, and our questions were: how does someone reconcile being both Adventist and gay, and is there a home in the Adventist church for those who are on the margins? The story of celibate gays also deserve attention, as all of our stories do, but it's a very different story because celibate gays live within the church's prescribed standards. That just wasn't the intersection we ultimately wanted to explore because that's not where the real identity challenge is.... We didn't connect with anyone who seemed appropriate to profile in depth with the rigor that participating in a film like this requires.”
It doesn’t appear the producers were interested in how Blakely and others had overcome their sin, but were more interested in promoting stories that nicely condone homosexual behavior in the church, while at the same time desensitizing people to the serious nature of sin. The film pushes a homosexual-behavior-is-acceptable agenda, and doesn’t give a gay person any resources or hope for overcoming sin.
There is no doubt the church has not always dealt with the issue of homosexuality in a loving manner. The church needs to ask forgiveness, and those who have been wronged need to forgive, even if not asked.
Too often “love the sinner but hate the sin” is repeated, but without any knowledge of how this plays out practically. What does it look like to love a brother or sister in Christ who chooses to participate in homosexual behavior and yet hate the sin? It’s a challenge all Christians ask who have friends or family choosing a gay lifestyle.
What’s dangerous about this film is its treatment of homosexuality. Unlike other sins that are universally recognized as such, homosexual behavior is no longer being considered a sin by an increasing number in the church. That poses a problem for the church. The church has not educated its membership adequately, and hopefully this film will stir the laity and church leaders to be more proactive in teaching what the Bible says about how we should love each other and what appropriate boundaries should be made both in the church and in personal relationships with people who choose to live in sin.
Unfortunately, this film will do more to desensitize members to sin than anything else, and if the church remains complacent about the film’s influence, it will also hold some responsibility for the souls it did not educate or help. Even if the producers are misguided, at least they are speaking. We are to be hot or cold, not somewhere in the politically-correct middle.
* UPDATE 5/7/12 Clarification as to why Akers and Eyer no longer regularly fellowship at a Seventh-day Adventist Church.