17 March 2014
Dear Elders Ted Wilson and Pardon Mwansa:
I am writing to express my concern at the beginning of the summit in Cape Town, South Africa (March 17-20) on “alternative sexualities”, a term I am not familiar with, but I believe is a euphemism for sexual orientation and gender identity. (http://ingodsimage.adventist.org/).
It is ironic that this summit is being held on the African continent, where 38 countries have criminalized homosexuality. Fortunately, South Africa is an exception, where LGBT individuals enjoy the full civil rights that are afforded to them. However, the situation in Uganda, Nigeria, and many other African nations is troubling. The Seventh-day Adventist church is one of the largest Protestant denominations in Uganda, where their Parliament recently passed a barbaric law aimed at the LGBT community, which has drawn condemnation from the majority of the international community for the blatant human rights violations it represents. A similar law was passed in Nigeria, where the summit was originally scheduled to take place. As the recent Ugandan and Nigerian laws show, LGBT people in many parts of Africa face severe discrimination and violence because of who they are. At the same time, the Adventist church has done little to distance itself from extreme legislation that threatens the safety of LGBT church members and their families.
In 2012, I wrote to you when Pastor Blasious Ruguri, East-Central Africa Division President and Vice President of the Seventh-day Adventist church, reportedly made the following statement against LGBT Ugandans at a public meeting at the Mbarara SDA Church, Southwestern Uganda Field:
“Our stand is ‘zero tolerance’ to this vice and to western influence on this crucial issue because God says no to it. We are together with the President and the Speaker and we fully support the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I call upon all religious ministers, all Ugandans, and all Africans to say no to Homosexuality. Let us stand for our sovereignty as Ugandans and as God fearing people even [though] the heavens fall.” (emphasis supplied)
Ugandan politicians were present at this meeting. Shortly after the Ugandan paper New Vision reported Ruguri’s comments, the General Conference claimed that New Vision misquoted Ruguri’s “intentions”. If that were true, his comments also misled The Daily Monitor, which quoted him making similar remarks.
While I am encouraged that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is beginning to engage itself in formal dialogue on the intersection of sexual orientation and spirituality, it is concerning that affirming LGBT Adventist voices have been excluded from this conference. If your wish is to gain greater insight of LGBT Adventists, it would be beneficial to invite us to your conference. What we have to say is important, and no one knows our stories better than we do.
I am a recent graduate of Pacific Union College. That is where I met my boyfriend of 5+ years. We are both proud alumni of Pacific Union College. He is currently a student at Loma Linda University. We are both Adventist and feel a strong connection to our denomination. During my time at PUC, I became the first openly gay person elected to the Student Senate. Because of my experience, I feel the need to be a voice for the voiceless and marginalized. I know far too many LGBT students at Adventist colleges and universities who are unable to speak out when denominational institutions systematically exclude us.
The exclusion of affirming LGBT Adventists at the Cape Town summit further highlights the heterosexism we far too often experience. It is because of this, that I am writing to you. To encourage you to reach out to us, to learn who we are, and to hear our stories. We have been here all along, and we are not going anywhere.
As this summit will not have the benefit of hearing from affirming LGBT voices, I would like to point out that you may find some of our voices on a newly created website: www.wearesdas.com. I encourage you to take the time to listen to these powerful stories. Listening is an act of love, and it is where we must begin.
As this summit opens, many Adventists around the world are praying for the presence of the Holy Spirit, that He may guide your hearts. We are joining together in the South African spirit of Ubuntu: “I am what I am because of who we all are.” It is especially appropriate to highlight this interconnectedness. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished.”
God’s love transcends our differences. We are all part of God’s diverse image, and our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.
May God continue to bless you.
Lisa Bissel Paulson
Elias Brasil de Souza