Wednesday, August 22, 2012

SEVENTH-GAY ADVENTISTS: a film about faith on the margins

Faith, identity and sexuality collide as three gay and lesbian Seventh-day Adventists are caught between the church they know and love and their desire to be fully accepted for who they are. One young man spent five years in "ex-gay" therapy trying to become straight, but now he's falling in love with another man and wondering if that can be okay. Another was a Brazilian pastor who was fired for being gay. Can he find his calling again? And a lesbian mom from the midwest wants her daughters to grow up with her faith and beliefs, even though she knows her church might not accept their family.

This feature-length documentary follows their raw and moving journeys as they wrestle with deep questions of identity and belonging. Is there a way to reconcile their faith and identity? Can they find a spiritual home? And what does it mean to belong when you find yourself on the margins?

Screening Update by Daneen Akers

Dear SGA Film Community,
What a summer it has been! We've had screenings in D.C., Vancouver, Orlando, Leesburg, Nashville and another sold-out screening is coming up this Sunday in Sacramento. Audiences continue to fill each screening to capacity, and the spirit in which they've been showing up continues to bless and inspire us. Despite the rhetoric and in-fighting that seems to be happening in the Adventist church right now, these community screenings are profound experiences. A musician who attended our last screening in Nashville (and isn't Adventist) was amazed by what she saw. She described the space as one where something "cracked open" and you could sense a new space and openness. It's what we've started referring to as the listening space, and it's our favorite part of this screening process which is otherwise pretty grueling (Lily, in typical three-year-old candor, told us this week, "I'm tired of airplanes and car rides!"). We just wanted to share a few highlights with you.

We Heart Nashville 
Many of you likely read the Huffington Post article earlier this week about a last-minute cancellation of Carrol Grady's Someone-to-Talk-To booth at the North American Division's huge educational convention. Carrol, who has become an adopted mother and grandmother to many LGBT Adventists whose own families can't embrace them, knows from countless emails and phone calls just how difficult it is for students who are gay or who are perceived to be different. In our story booths, we've lost track of how many people have told us that they don't think they'd be alive today if Carrol hadn't been there for them. There are great resources, like The Trevor Project, that do incredible suicide-prevention work, but dealing with this as an Adventist is a unique situation that someone like Carrol can help kids navigate.

Long story short, a few days before the convention, even though she'd been signed up for 10 months with a description of her booth and she and her volunteers had non-refundable airfare and reservations, she was told that she was being "dis-invited." Her booth didn't fit with the venue because she is known to support same-gender marriage, even though her booth was focused on bullying prevention and resources for teachers on how to help their kids who are facing these challenges. We'd also been told that at least one conference had intentionally scheduled a meeting in what had been free time in order to keep teachers from coming to the SGA screening.

As you might imagine, it was a hard few days at the convention feeling very much on the outside, and we weren't sure what to expect at the screening. However, we were absolutely blown away. The screening was phenomenal. Not only was it sold out and full of teachers, administrators, and other church employees, but their the audience had a tremendous energy. It's right up there as one of my favorite screenings now. I'm not sure all that happens to create a certain group dynamic, but this one was just profound. First, teachers are highly pragmatic. They don't have patience for the abstract, purely theological arguments that have happened around this topic. They know their students deal with this, and their students want to talk about it whether or not their church does. We also had several family members of people featured in the film in attendance (they all work for the church as teachers, pastors, and administrators), and that was just a really special experience for the audience to hear from them. We were reminded anew of why we've gone very slowly with the release of the film and focused on these community screenings and conversations first.

A Comment Beyond Compare 
In the last newsletter, I let you know about a response I'd written to Andy Nash's column in the Review about the film. He'd said many positive things about the film but took exception to the film not promoting celibate gays. I'd responded in particular to his final paragraph which appeared to equate couples in loving, same-gender relationships to murderers, thieves, the ruthless, and the rest of those mentioned in Romans 1. The article generated a huge number of responses, some helpful, some entirely skippable (as is typical with blogs). But the one that has been at the very top of the comment pile for almost three weeks now (thanks to so many people liking it) is from the father of one of the main subjects in the film. He's a devout Adventist leader and a loving dad. His comment is one I've returned to several times over in these past few weeks because he so beautifully captured the entire goal of the film. I'd like to quote it in full. It's one I'm planning to print out and post over my desk when we get home.

My name is Ron Carlson. Anyone who has seen the film knows that our family is featured there because our son is gay and Adventist. As the dialogue about this topic continues, as I'm certain it will, and probably should, please remember that we are talking about people, not proof texts. I know what the Bible says. I am not rejecting it's teachings. I just hope the many people who will bat around opinions, strong convictions, simple answers, sarcasm, joking, etc., will keep in mind that the real subject is people, men and women who have grown up Adventist, attended our schools, were baptized on Sabbath morning somewhere, believe the Sabbath, look forward to the coming of Jesus, may be vegetarian, yet, in spite of knowing how most people in the church feel about them, they still want to be Adventist.

If you ever get the chance to meet a gay who still embraces Jesus and wants to be an Adventist, please listen to them. Don't lecture, listen. You may not change your Biblical belief, but you may realize the true dilemma they face and they are not rebellious, perverts, reprobates or hypocrites. They do not have a political agenda or are part of any conspiracy. They are sons and daughters, siblings, grandchildren, true friends, who are caught in a very confusing predicament which they did not choose nor ask for, but they still want to worship with us. Please do your best to show grace in what you say and what you write. Thank you.

That's really what it's about. These are people, not proof texts. And let's just take the chance to listen.
And, I think you all would also like to know that Stephen, Lily, and I spent a great evening over at the Nash household while we were in Collegedale, TN preparing for the Nashville screening. Except for a tornado warning that sent us to the basement, it was a great meeting! Truly, I'm a big believer in face-to-face conversations, and this exchange reminded me why. I don't think any of us left having changed our positions, but we had listened to each other, and we had connected as human beings who were on this journey of life and faith together. It's really all we can ask of each other, and it's my idealist vision that we can unite around the higher, bigger ideals and values that we hold in common.

Coming Up -- Hearing From Others 
I'm working on putting together a few newsletters where you'll get the chance to hear a report about how the film is impacting lives from people other than me! We're lucky to get great emails and messages from people whose lives are being impacted by the film--the the lesbian woman whose mom decided to come to her commitment ceremony this summer after seeing the film in April, and the gay man whose mom finally believes after seeing the film that being gay isn't a choice. I'll work on compiling that for you in the next couple of weeks.

Last but not least, I wanted to tell you about the wonderful screening at Kinship Kampmeeting in Leesburg, VI. This was our fourth Kampmeeting, and it was nice to be there screening the film instead of shooting! We had a great turn-out with a lot of local guests coming in from the D.C. area to see the film. It was a screening we've been looking forward to all year, and it didn't disappoint. Tears, laughter, and deep spaces of resonance were followed by comments about how the film might have just told three stories, but it still captured the experience of thousands. "These are our stories."
Lots more screenings to finish planning in the fall! Stay posted.

Love and gratitude,
Daneen and Stephen

1 comment:

  1. To all readers:
    There was a time when I was like some of you. I too, would try to see how close I could came to the line without going over it, at least that's what I thought at the time. But now I'm much older, and wiser.
    In my naivete I tried to justify my behavior by giving a plausible reason or even by attempting to redefine a word or two.
    Later on I discovered the problem is not with our God or the Church and its members.
    Because our God has promised to forgive all 'sin', and He put it in writing.
    The problem is the 'sinner' and if he is able to forgive himself.
    People who are working with "Alzheimer's" disease have discovered that everybody has recorded in their brain a copy of everything that that they have done in their life. And they have also discovered
    that subconsciously everybody knows when they are not telling the truth.
    So the problem with the 'sinner' not getting into Heaven, is not that they have sinned and our God will keep them out.
    The problem is with themselves because they know too much.
    Why did only eight people go into the Ark just before the 'Flood' came?
    Why did only 2 people over the age of 18 finally get to go into the promised land?
    In both instanceses it was because the majority chose not to go.
    And history is going to repeat itself.

    "As the crowning act in the great drama of deception, Satan himself will (im)personate Christ. The church has long professed to look to the Saviour's (second) advent as the consummation of her hopes. Now the great deceiver will make it appear that Christ has come." (GC p. 624)

    "I'm sorry, but I'm not going to be fooled by that trick", you might be thinking or saying.
    But notice what has been written a couple of pages before this one.

    "Satan leads many to believe that God will overlook their unfaithfulness in the minor affairs of life; but the Lord shows in His dealings with Jacob that He will in no wise sanction or tolerate evil. All who endeavor to excuse or conceal their sins, and permit them to remain upon the books of heaven, unconfessed and unforgiven, will be overcome by Satan." (GC p.620)

    Only those who are truly in 'Love' with their God will do everything in their power to make sure that their 'sins' are forgiven.
    Not only that, they will remember this promise that is found in their Bible.

    "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness."
    (1 John 1:9)

    Many people only pray for the first part of this promise in their lives. They overlook the second part, which is about 'cleanse us', and that's bad.
    Our God has put this promise in his 'Testament', but for some reason many don't make use of it.
    So you see, the problem isn't with our God, it is with those who haven't taken the entire promise of our God seriously.
    When you do take it seriously, you are in for a lot of trouble because Satan is of the opinion that everybody has sinned at one time or another and are just as deserving of death as he is.
    But those who 'Love' their God and go through the time known as 'Jacob's Trouble'
    get through it because of the many promises that they have memorized, and remind their God of in their prayers.
    These 'Redeemed' ones will not be fooled by Satan when he comes as Christ, but will be rescued along with many of the 'Saints' who are asleep in their graves waiting for the 'alarm clock' to go off.
    That's going to be fun.

    Thomas 'the believer'