It was Saturday afternoon at 3:38 pm: the doors to the auditorium had been open for 18 minutes, and we already had a filled room. We talked about streaming in one overflow room, but we ended up with three rooms. This was the first program Andrews University, the flagship institution of the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church, had with LGBT students.
In fact, this was the first officially recognized program with out-LGBT people in the history of the SDA Church.
This has been years in the making. It was three years ago that I helped start the unofficial Gay-Straight Alliance (AULL4ONE) at Andrews. The group has flourished with dozens of out individuals all over the spectrum, and now, these LGBT students had a venue to share their stories and experiences being both queer and growing up Christian.
The program started with stories from brave students—my friends, my peers. I cried in the hallway as I listened to them tell their stories to complete strangers.
From a bisexual girl asking herself, “Is my very existence wrong? Should I remove myself from the equation to make the universe a little more right?” to a story by someone who attempted suicide: “My sexuality is no longer an issue of what to do to keep the church happy—it’s an issue of staying alive.” One student shared his story of what he was told by his mother: “You’re an abomination to me, I just can’t look at you anymore.”
Yet still, these students affirmed that after arriving at Andrews University, they were able to find supportive friends. As one student said, Andrews “allowed me to love myself for who I am, and to want to live—not just survive.”
It’s a scary thing to share your experience—it makes you vulnerable—but we are resurrection people.
We’ve survived to silence, being kicked out of homes, and attempted suicides. We have seen some of the darkest parts of the church as people who claim to be Christians have kicked us out of the pews, and we still come back. We’ve stood at the edge of cliffs and have been pushed off of them, yet, like Lazarus, God continues to bring us back.
In the end, over 600 people came to attend the program, with people sitting on the steps and more left standing. The entire scene reminded me of Mark chapter 2 when Jesus healed the paralyzed man.
They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:2-5)
The attendees had faith—this was no longer a debate.
It was a conversation with the LGBT community, instead of at us. We knew there had to be a better way to have this conversation, and we set our theological differences aside to see the humanity in each other. For too long people have been paralyzed with fear from the way this conversation has taken place. That evening we had faith and found reconciliation.
It’s fitting that this all happened on Sabbath of Easter weekend. Easter is a time to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and a time to reflect on the most beautiful gift of salvation. Christ’s death was a gift of reconciliation. His death was the remedy, and it promises us healing. We sought healing.
There was queer folk who participated and attended with deep scars, but it seemed it wasn’t only queer people who had moments of healing. Through my own tears, I saw that there was barely a dry eye in the crowd as we finished the program with the praise song “How He Loves.” He is jealous for me.
The auditorium was packed and the air was vibrant, electrified with God’s presence.
We found community in a place many of us have felt homeless. We shared stories, cried tears of joy and sadness, and connected as people of faith. It was a hard road to get this program to happen, but in the end love prevailed—love will always prevail.
Image via flickr user Purple Sherbet Photography