The day of departure is always more hectic than one expects. Getting myself checked in for the night flight to London Heathrow with a faltering Wi-Fi connection and trying to squeeze everything in that one carry-on suitcase took more time than I expected. Therefore for a report of the morning session by dr. Miroslav Kiš, department chair of theology and christian philosophy at Andrews University, on ethics and ministry, you have to look somewhere else. Lawrence Geraty in his blogs on the website of Spectrum Magazine does an excellent job at giving summaries of each day (www.spectrummagazine.org). I joined the meeting, after a good cup of coffee, during the presentation of the reports on the more than 10 breakout sessions.
It would take too much space to cover the complete summary and it would still do no justice to all that was said. Two things that were mentioned I thought were interesting as it shows that the issues are far more real than we think and that our response needs to be careful and considerate. During the breakout session on “alternative sexualities and university campuses” a case study was discussed to show that Adventist universities and colleges really need to also be prepared to deal with issues related to transgender, transsexual or intersex persons. A male person registered at the start of his studies at an Adventist college somewhere in Asia. I know Asia is big, but I really cannot remember the country and I don’t want to speculate about it. During the course of his studies he underwent a sex-change operation and requested after his and now her recovery to be moved from the boys-dorm to the girls-dorm. The college ran into all sorts of difficulties as they never had thought about this situation. I have to admit, I wouldn’t have either. The boys did not accept her anymore in the dorm as they saw her as a girl and the girls felt uncomfortable to accept her as they had a hard time seeing her as a girl. In the end the college decided to place her in a more private dorm, where there were les communal areas. However as they were taken by surprise they weren’t able to make the proper arrangements in accepting her back on campus.
The other summary worth mentioning was that of dr. Fox’s breakout session “relating to children and youth challenged by alternative sexualities”. The breakout session basically stressed to teach parents to manage their emotions when they are confronted by a coming-out of their son or daughter. Off course not all emotions can be easily controlled but he stressed to be the adult in the relationship when faced with these matters. Especially because these issues tend to surface in a critical time of our children’s development, where the response of the parents can either be detrimental or supportive of the child’s further development to stable adulthood.
The next, but not the final item on the agenda, was for me a little bit of a disappointment. Dr. Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, director of education at the General Conference, did an excellent job in explaining and taking us through the steps of the theory of learning. By telling us to write small 1 minute essays on each of the goals of the summit we were compelled to go through the summit in huge steps. Unfortunately this method is excellent for students to learn new material which do not necessarily have to be questioned, it is not the right method to summarize a summit which raised many unanswered questions and caused considerable discussion among the delegates. I really looked forward to a presentation that would summarize, synergize and perhaps draw some conclusions from all the presentations, breakout sessions and panel discussions. Off course this was a huge and perhaps impossible task, hence my disappointment. Still I have to commend dr. Beardsley-Hardy for her interactive manner of dealing with this presentation, even though it forced us to treat the presented material as uncontested.
Another presentation that I looked forward too, as I didn’t know what to expect, was the “last word” by dr. Ella Simmons, vice-president, the highest ranking female administrator in the General Conference. If I would say that this presentation was a pleasant surprise, I wouldn’t do it justice. I hope her complete presentation will be available somewhere on the internet soon, as her presentation was cut short from 30 minutes to 15 minutes and the content was of a very high quality. This was the speech that one could expect from an administrator of the world church on this sensitive topic. She started by saying that the core of dealing with LGBTI persons, careful to not define it as the gay-lifestyle, is about how to live out the gospel. In the core it is not about others but about us, we all are facing issues of change and choice. She continued by saying that for many societies “normal” is changing and many societies are becoming increasingly hostile towards Christianity or its values. We cannot ignore the challenges that face us and these challenges, particularly the ones discussed during this summit, are not just found in the outside world but inside the church. “They are us, they are integral of us.” Dr. Simmons could not be more inclusive, when talking about LGBTI issues, we are essentially talking about us as a church family and not just about them or those.
To many a surprise, at least mine and people around me, she then continued to honour and commend Kinship for their ministry among gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and intersex Adventists and former Adventists. She even quoted from some Kinship communication as to what this organization would really like to convey to the delegates at the summit. As soon as I get my hands on her speech I will post the quote here. For not clear reasons dr. Simmons had to cut her speech short, apparently it had something to do with people of the organization having to check out of their hotels and prepare for travel earlier than expected. I guess they hadn’t skipped the early morning session. She wanted to show how in Mark you can find 13 ways in which Jesus lived out the gospel to broken and hurt people. In the end, she stressed, that we as a religious organization and believers exist to promote understanding, peace and friendship among all people. False and true teachings are determined in action and living. I must say dr. Simmons made me proud again of my church and gave me hope that we as a church can find a way to address the challenges in a careful, loving, considerate and humane way, without damaging, hurting or dehumanizing people. I say: dr. Ella Simmons for GC president! I guess we have to then first deal with another issue where we lag behind several decades. I am up for the next summit to deal with this issue. 2015? Texas?