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Is the Adventist Church's Stand in Opposition to Gay Marriage Consistent?
by Inge Anderson
|(For context of this essay, please read the Adventist
Position statement on homosexuality and the
on gay marriage.)
Some argue that the Adventist Church's opposition to gay marriage is inconsistent with the church's defense of religious and civil liberties. The suggestion is that this position is mixing politics and religion -- something the Adventist church has generally avoided during its history. But is this argument consistent with the facts of history?
The Adventist Review issue of January 2004, in its cover story, "Drying up the Stream," retells a bit of history that indicates that we do have a history of getting involved with politics when moral issues are concerned.
Then, as now, some Adventists saw this political involvement as inconsistent with the emphasis on religious liberty, but the editors responded that prohibition was a secular issue and could be defended on secular grounds. Of course, there are differences of opinion on this as well.
Ellen White Active in Temperance and Prohibition Cause
The history goes back further. Towards the end of her life Ellen White supported the temperance movement whole-heartedly.
And we can go back further yet. In earlier days, she was nationally known and much sought after as a temperance speaker since this was a hot political issue.
Ellen White spoke internationally on temperance issues. On April 30, 1893, for instance, she spoke on temperance to an audience in New Zealand, in order to attract an audience.2 Again, late in 1893, she spoke on temperance in Gisborne, New Zealand, as a means of gaining a hearing from the people when conventional means had failed.
As late as October 2, 1905, she declared publicly, "I have not gone back on one sentiment on temperance, not one sentiment religiously."3
Ellen's biography, covering 1876 - 1891, includes a number of references to her speaking in favor of temperance. And since this was the time that prohibition was agitated, it was very much a political subject. Indeed, she gave quite a startling testimony on the subject at the Des Moines, Iowa, camp meeting in 1881:
Before prohibition became a national issue, Ellen White was active in opposing local licensing of saloons, such as the 135 saloons in the city of Oakland. She threw her whole-hearted support in with the effort of the local women, and this resulted in a vote against licensing the saloons.
Does History Dictate Morality?
The pioneers of our church, including Ellen White, were clearly very active in some controversial political causes. But we need to examine this topic of consistency for ourselves. Surely we agree that both the state and the church are involved in moral issues. Most of us would not argue that the state should not be involved in moral issues and should not legislate against murder and theft. And surely we would also agree that if the state moved in such a direction, the church would need to speak out on the issues.
So the question is, Where do we draw the line? Are there biblical principles that tell us where to draw the line?
A look at the Ten Commandment demonstrates that the first four commandments deal exclusively with a person's relationship with God. As Adventists we have always advocated freedom of religion which leaves individuals free to relate to God in a manner that is dictated by their consciences.
While the last six commandments are also moral issues, they focus on societal relationships -- the relationships of individuals to one another. And all governments regulate such relationships. In fact, our western laws were originally clearly based on the Ten Commandments. Historically, the Adventist church has supported voting in favor of good government which supports laws based on biblical principles, without getting involved in individual issues -- with at least one very clear exception, namely temperance. Apparently this was such a clear moral issue that it was deemed fitting for the church to be actively involved. This was not out of harmony with the advocacy of religious liberty -- the freedom to relate to God according to individual conscience.
And that brings us to contemporary issues.
The answer to the first question should determine whether or not we believe it's appropriate for the church to be involved. The answer to the second question should tell us whether such involvement is consistent with our stand an religious liberty -- that freedom to worship God according to individual conscience.
Prayerful consideration is in order. So is courage to stand up for a cause that may very well be less popular than prohibition was in the days of Ellen White.