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Marylanders To Face Same-Sex Marriage, Gambling at the Polls
Story by Tanisha Greenidge; Photos by Tanisha Greenidge and Michelle Bernard
This November Marylanders will vote on a referendum to overturn the Civil Marriage Protection Act.
If the referendum on Maryland’s Civil Marriage Act passes, the state would join six others and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage. As they head to the polls this month, Seventh-day Adventist Christians are wondering what passage of this law and two others could mean for Bible-believers. In 1999 and again in 2004, the world church released statements upholding the biblical view and fundamental belief that marriage should involve one man and one woman.
Over the weekend, to help members understand the significance of the same-sex marriage debate, Adventists hosted events at Potomac Conference’s Capital Memorial church in Washington, D.C., and Chesapeake Conference’s Spencerville church in Silver Spring, Md. Both drew sizable crowds.
Jerry Lutz, Spencerville’s senior pastor, said he agreed to host a panel discussion on Sabbath because, “it is important that our church members be as biblically informed as possible.”
The symposium titled “Protecting Marriage: What is the Christian’s Role?” included panelists Roy E. Gane, Andrews University (Mich.) professor and co-editor of the recently released book “Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church;” Nicholas Miller, the book’s other editor and director of the International Religious Liberty Institute based at Andrews University; Bill Knott, Adventist Review and Adventist World editor; Claudio Consuegra, Family Ministries director for the North American Division; and Harry R. Jackson, a widely-noted social conservative activist, columnist and senior pastor of the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md.
Miller said while Maryland isn’t going to force anyone to officiate same-sex unions, Adventists should be concerned that acceptance of homosexual behaviors may be forced upon private institutions. “In the last days, Christians have to stand ready to defend against laws that contradict the will of God,” he said.
Consuegra agreed and said that while he believes that the church should minister to everyone, “Accepting homosexual marriage as normal and natural denies the scriptural foundation of marriage and, therefore, undermines the validity of the Bible itself. If the Bible cannot be accepted in this area, how can it be accepted in the other areas, including spirituality, salvation and the second coming of Christ?”
On the previous evening, Metro Area Adventist Young Adults presented “A Discussion on Homosexuality and the Church” that included a viewing of the documentary Seventh-Gay Adventists. Panelists at their Washington, D.C., event included the film’s co-producer Daneen Akers; Roy E. Gane; Paul Graham, pastor of Potomac’s Restoration Praise Center in Lanham, Md.; Jason Hines, a religious liberty attorney; Richard James Sr., pastor of Potomac’s Pennsylvania Avenue church in Capitol Heights, Md.; Nicholas Miller; and Kesslyn Brade Stennis, PhD, an assistant professor at Bowie State University in Bowie, Md.
Graham admonished members to be more sensitive to the gay community’s needs. “We ought not tolerate the [gay] community, we ought to accept that community,” he said. “We should not tolerate bigoted behavior toward that community because sin is sin. It is my moral responsibility to uphold the biblical standards of sexual purity, but it is also my moral responsibility to accept all of God’s children.”
Miller, on the other hand, said, “We hope that people see that the Christian has a role in caring for the basic moral environment of society, and secondly that, as Adventists, we have neglected this issue for too long. It’s easy to ignore the issue or uncritically embrace and accept. What’s hard is to critically engage it in a biblical, sensitive way. Love isn’t complete without accountability.”
What did attendees think of the discussions? Yolanda Elliott, a member of Chesapeake’s New Hope church in Fulton, Md., attended both discussions. “The Metro Area Adventist [Young Adults] set up an honest, open conversation, and that made it possible for us to be mutually respectful and talk from our own experiences … I think our church has a long way to go,” she said. “We’re still talking about Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex people and not with them.”
As for the discussion, there’s more to come. Next week at its Annual Council, the world church, which has a committee discussing alternative sexuality practices, will update its two statements on homosexuality to more clearly articulate the denomination’s position. Additionally, Bill Knott announced at the Spencerville symposium, that a 2014 international congress is planned for Bangkok, Thailand, to discuss homosexuality and possible challenges facing the church and its clergy.
Other Ballot Issues
Marylanders will also be able to vote on “Issue 7,” which proposes adding casinos to the National Harbor in Prince George’s County. A few years ago, when Maryland first considered legalizing gambling, some Adventists voiced opposition, including Congressman Roscoe G. Bartlett, a member of Chesapeake’s Frederick (Md.) church. He asked, “What will be the human price of expanding gambling in our state?” Adventists are not as vocal this time around, however, voters may use as a guide a world church statement issued in 2000 that “calls on all authorities to prevent the ever-increasing availability of gambling with its damaging effects on individuals and society.”
Yet another issue on the ballot is the Dream Act, which, if passed, would make those brought into the country illegally as children, eligible for in-state college tuition rates.
—Taashi Rowe contributed to this story.