Redeeming Our Sad Gay Situation: Awareness
by Christopher Blake
At the time of our encounter, Jack and I didn't know each other well. I lived in a cozy water tower apartment in San Luis Obispo, California. and he lived somewhere across town. Despite our lack of familiarity, we were enjoying a relaxed, meandering conversation; he lounged in my one overstuffed chair. I perched on the edge of my bed.
I had begun my fifth year at a public university, and our talk reflected a world still reeling from Viet Nam and Patty Hearst and Watergate. Suddenly Jack fixed me with a look that communicated a deeper level of intensity,
"You know," he said, I'm gay."
I was stunned. What was that he's said? My thoughts catapulted, and an unnamed terror jolted through me.
"Well," I finally managed with a a tinge of defiance, "I'm not."
Seventeen years later the memory of Jack's revelation still evokes confusing emotions. Was I angry or afraid? Why did I feel somehow betrayed?
Beginning in 1981 a church-sponsored treatment center called Quest Learning Center located in Reading, Pennsylvania, was promoted as the Seventh-day Adventist Church's chief response to homosexuality. In 1985 Quest's director, Colin Cook, appeared on the Phil Donahue Show in connection with Homosexuals Anonymous, a support ministry related to Quest. The response was overwhelming. Over the next 17 hours more than l,3OO calls requesting more information poured into Andrews University's Adventist Information Ministry (AIM).1 We (the church) seemed to be on our way toward dealing with "the problem."
However, tangible results-- meaning documented cases of "cured" homosexuals--still were not appearing. An article in the March 15, 1986, Columbia Union Visitor cautioned, "The church needs considerable patience and sensitivity in its ministry to homosexuals, as well as in judging the results of the Quest program."2 Two months later Cook, an ex-gay, issued a correction to a quote of his from that same issue. He denied that "seeing a handsome man can present a temptation to him" and announced, "I do not experience this kind of temptation today."3
A year later Quest Learning Center was closed. During interviews with Ronald Lawson, a professor of sociology at Queens College of the City University of New York, clients of Quest revealed matters that led to its closing.4 Colin Cook later acknowledged in print that he had indulged in very inappropriate physical intimacy with some [his] counselees."5 Although Homosexuals Anonymous continues operating, the ministry of Quest Learning Center ended on a tragic note.
One evidence of the true largeness of a person or an institution is the ability to admit: "I made a mistake. I'm sorry. Here's what I'm going to do, as far as I'm able, to make up for it" And so I waited for my church to issue a proclamation or an apology or something that began: "Though we acted in good faith, we could have made a mistake by suggesting that Quest was the answer to homosexuals' problems. We need to do more for this group of church members. For the future, here are some tangible ways we're going to help homosexuals ..." So I waited, and waited, and waited.
I'm still waiting.
It's spring 1990, and amid budding cherry trees I'm attending a conference titled "Adventists and AIDS: Our Stories, Our Response" at Sligo church in Takoma Park, Maryland.
As a youth magazine editor, I consider myself fairly aware of the AIDS epidemic and its related anguish. What I'm not prepared for at this conference is the pain and hopelessness that pour from the homosexual community in attendance. These aren't angry, profane protesters -- these are hurt-filled, humble people, and most have been wounded by fellow church members.
One young homosexual describes his childhood, when from his first thoughts he knew he was different: he was attracted only to males. Then he points out the absurdity of believing that anyone would choose such an orientation. "Why would I choose to be excluded?" he demands, "Why would I choose to have my family ashamed of me? Would I choose to be subjected to constant persecution? Tell me this," he asks a stunned audience, "When exactly, did you choose to be a heterosexual?" I couldn't say. Can you? An older homosexual man recounts how three Seventh-day Adventist churches denied him membership despite his having been celibate for about 15 years. With tears in his voice, he asks the audience, "How long do I have to be celibate before I can become a member again?"6
I'm in St. Louis, Missouri, in April 1991, at the annual meeting of Adventist Editors International. The AFI members are interviewing Robert Folkenberg, General Conference president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He has just expressed his view that he would appreciate knowing about especially sensitive and controversial articles before they are printed, so that he might provide some broader input. It appears to me that this could be a good time to seek that input.
"All right," I say politely, "INSIGHT is going to he tackling the topic of homosexuality some time in the future. What input do you have for us?" The room is quiet.
Elder Folkenberg states his opinion, then responds to questions for clarification. For my final question I ask, "How should the church treat people who are homosexual but who do not practice their homosexuality?"
He pauses to reflect, then says, "I cannot imagine God condemning someone for overcoming a sinful tendency."
A letter arrives for me at the INSIGHT office. It is written by a Seventh-day Adventist mother of a homosexual. The following excerpts reveal her agonized journey.
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