Recently, the Walla Walla Union Bulletin did a number of stories about gays in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Adventists are definitely an audience in Walla Walla, a town in eastern Washington of about 45,000 if you count the suburbs. Adventists operate Walla Walla University in College Place, a town next door. It has about 1,500 students, about the same amount that attend Whitman College, the other private liberal arts institution in town. The first story on March 28 starts thus:
Bradley Nelson’s “A Gay SDA Play” is coming out at a precipitous time in the Seventh-day Adventist Church as it wrestles with its traditional stance on homosexuality.
Since beginning work on the staged reading piece in 2008, the Walla Wall Valley resident used interviews he conducted over a year to portray the problems “of being gay and SDA” in a world that doesn’t always understand either, he said.
The result is a documentary-style presentation based on more than two dozen interviews that explores the real-life struggle between the Seventh-day Adventist religion — highly represented in the Walla Walla area — and people who come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender within its membership.
Next, the reporter writes two paragraphs explaining the church’s position against homosexuality, then swings back into profiling Nelson in very favorable terms. Halfway through the story, there are quotes from a theater professor at WWU.
“The church position is exclusionary,” she said. “It’s very similar to the civil rights puzzle in terms of race; I feel the rhetoric is the same.”
Venden said she is as Adventist as the play’s subjects. Her grandfather, Melvin Venden, was “a pretty famous” evangelist for the church, and her father, Morris Venden, was an international Adventist pastor, speaker and author. Speaking as the play’s director and not on behalf of the university, Venden said gay students don’t have a place or acceptance in any official capacity on the WWU campus.
After that, one might expect to hear an opposing voice from elsewhere on campus. Surely someone at WWU disagrees with the play. But there’s nothing. I wondered what the writer meant by the denomination “wrestling” with its stance on homosexuality, as that term is usually employed when there’s a vote or debate coming up on the topic. So I clicked on another story that ran the same day about a study of young adult Adventist attitudes.
Although the “Adventist Connection Study” mentioned in the story polled 1,153 SDA college alums with questions about several topics, the reporter only mentioned those having to do with homosexuality.
Asked about their acceptance of homosexuality, 71 percent of respondents said it’s “never or rarely” acceptable, while about 10 percent reported finding homosexual relationships “always acceptable.”
Yet, the authors concluded, respondents did not necessarily want the church to accept homosexuality, but to be more accepting of those who are.
“The average Adventist church is not ‘gay friendly,’ and this is a point of disconnection from the church for many young adults who have close friends and family who are gay,” the report’s authors said.
If three-fourths of the respondents find homosexuality rarely or never acceptable, that does not sound like an entire denomination is wrestling with the problem.
A third story talked about a bake sale at an Adventist college in Michigan with the proceeds to go for homeless gay youth. Then:
In the university’s official response, administrators said the “perceived LGBT advocacy role” of Project Fierce is at odds with the school’s mission.
The issue continues to gain attention as bloggers and people using social media weigh in and question how sustainable the moral underpinnings of that mission are.
Yolanda Elliot, president of Seventh-day Adventist Kinship, notes the anti-LGBT stance is not specific to the Adventist community.
“It’s all fundamentalist and evangelical Christian churches,” she said. “They seem to be hung up on ‘hate the sin and love the sinner’ kind of thing. It’s a horrible concept ... there’s not a way to really do that.”
Of the five articles I am discussing, this is the only one where the reporter seeks out an alternate response. She asks a spokeswoman at WWU what the college thinks of what’s happening at the Michigan college. She gave that response three paragraphs. Then she calls the aforementioned theater professor, who, of course, trashes the conservative response.
On March 30, two more articles appeared. One was about a gay man who remains SDA. He is Terry Rice, coordinator for the local chapter of Kinship, a gay-friendly SDA group.
He began attending Eastgate Seventh-day Adventist Church on the east side of town, ready to serve his new place of worship right away, volunteering to teach a Sabbath school class.
That lasted about a year — “until they found out I’m gay,” he recalled.
When that responsibility was removed, Rice asked church leaders if he could move into a different kind of ministry. There was no response, he said.
The message became clear — Rice was welcome to sit in the pew. Period.
OK. But where was the alternate view? Where was the quote from someone who pastored that church who may have had a different take on Rice’s experience? It was not there. This story mentioned an appearance of an ex-gay person at his church. Just maybe there's such a group in Adventism who she could interview? I did a quick search and came up with one such person.
And the Adventist Review did a story about how the makers of the above-mentioned film refused to include the story of a successful ex-gay Adventist. Now why didn't the reporter mention that? Then I clicked on a fifth piece -- also running March 30 -- about young Adventists who “pave the road ahead on church gay issues,” according to the headline. I could see right away how this article was going to be framed: Forward-looking young folks who have no problem with gay relationships doing the progressive thing in welcoming gays despite old-fogey church authorities. I was right.
The piece talked about a summit on gay issues in Lincoln, Neb., hosted by the denomination’s youth and young adult ministries division. The reporter apparently wasn’t there, but she got glowing reports about it from some of the participants. Again, no word from church officials about whether they think SDA youth are paving the way to anything. Not only are there plenty of Adventists at WWU who could have talked to the reporter; there is a press division at the international SDA headquarters in Silver Spring. It’s not rocket science to put in a call there.