On Thursday, Oct. 22, Southern held a Critical Conversations session titled “Adventists and the LGBTQ+ Community,” hosted by School of Religion professor and Senior Advisor for Sexual Integrity Alan Parker, along with panelists from the Southern community. The session generated the highest turn-out rate for any Critical Conversations sessions to date, according to Vice President of Student Development Dennis Negron.
The purpose of the session was to discuss and receive feedback from participants on the university’s Sexual Integrity Policy, which is currently under revision. According to Parker, the university’s stance is based on two things—practicing commitment to biblical values as understood by the Seventh-day Adventist church, and practicing care, respect, protection and a welcoming compassionate spirit towards all students. Within the policy draft, the university reiterates the stances of the Seventh-day Adventist church’s beliefs on God’s intentions for individual’s sexual expressions, while also identifying that sexuality is a complex topic.
“However, the university also recognizes the complexity of human sexuality, and seeks to provide grace and encourage growth for students who acknowledge their sexual struggles or who have a different perspective on sexuality from that of the university,” read an excerpt from the Sexual Integrity Policy draft.
Parker said various subcommittees have been working on updated policies for a variety of topics, such as pornography, pregnancy and how to protect unwed mothers, and overall sexual integrity, which covers all students, including heterosexuals and those from the LGBTQ+ community.
“There was no precipitating event, it was just a growing realization,” Parker said. “The policies we had were outdated, and we needed to refresh those policies. And rather than just coming up with them [policies], we decided to have an interactive structure with subcommittees and focus groups.”
Students at Southern who identify with the LGBTQ+ community shared their opinions of the draft policy and Critical Conversations session, as well as their experiences on campus and within the Seventh-day Adventist church. For privacy reasons, names of students have been withheld.
A bisexual student said that while they have not experienced any form of discrimination from students or professors, they are still unsure if they would be comfortable being completely out on campus. However, they said they appreciate that the university has taken the initiative to host conversations related to sexuality and the LGBTQ+ community.
“Southern is kind of behind when it comes to the narrative surrounding the LGBTQ+ community,” they said. “But I will say I am really appreciative that they even started the narrative because for an Adventist school, it’s better than nothing. And if the Bible says that all sin is equal, then why would we treat gay people any differently than we would anyone else? We’re all sinners.”
Another student who identifies as bisexual shared similar opinions, and added that there is a possibility that Adventists and members of the LGBTQ+ community can coexist comfortably with each other.
“They [Adventists] can definitely coexist comfortably with members of the LGBTQ+ community,” they said. “Some already do. It’s just a matter of individuals asking themselves ‘what would Jesus do?’ and deciding how to show love and grace.”
A student who identifies as a non-binary lesbian said that while they were excited to see the conversation coming to Southern, they were ultimately disappointed because it was not what they hoped it would be.
“I was disappointed in the results of the new Sexual Integrity Policy,” they said. “Those hosting the discussion initially appeared to be supportive of the community, but offered no sense of on-campus safety or open acceptance. As a whole, I do not feel comfortable being out on campus.”
Parker noted that while he believes that personal convictions on any topic do not have to become barriers between people, it is not an easy task.
“I don’t think that our convictions about biblical compassion, and our convictions about biblical sexuality have to be in contradiction to each other,” Parker said. “But it’s not an easy path forward. Those who feel strongly about acceptance are going to feel that any attempt to define sexuality is going to be flawed. Those who feel strongly about what we might call the creation model are going to feel that attempts to be compassionate are often a weakness or compromise on biblical standards.” To read the draft policy that was shared during the Critical Conversations session, please scan the QR code. Please visit the Critical Conversations page on Southern’s website to view the ‘Adventists and the LGBTQ+ Community’ discussion.