The recent GYC Convention in Orlando, Florida featured a series of sermons by three men who claim that God has delivered them from homosexuality and who now operate a ministry devoted to helping others overcome similar struggles. One sermon in particular has suddenly become a newsworthy event because of Eliel Cruz’s outraged response article on the Spectrum website, which was later picked up by HuffPost under the sensation headline “Seventh-day Adventist Youth Conference Presenter Calls LGBT People Demon-Possessed.” The point of contention is a pair of statements toward the end of one of Michael Carducci’s presentations: “For anyone who believes that homosexuality is an alternative lifestyle, I am truly a testimony to let you know right now that you are under demonic control.” And, “If we allow homosexuals to bring their lovers into church, and we start letting teach them Sabbath School, you’re allowing demons to come in with them …” Cruz’s article has been well-circulated and, not surprisingly, has stirred shock and outrage to the point where Michael Carducci published an apology on the Spectrum website for any hurt he may have caused and clarified that the statement was in the context of his own experience.
Admittedly, on finding out that the venue for the statements was GYC, I chalked it up to extreme conservative rhetoric. My impression of the “movement” has been that it fosters extreme conservative theology and rhetoric and this statement, while regrettable, was hardly out of character. However, the exchange piqued my interest enough that I decided to listen to the sermon in order to understand the context of the statements. I accidentally listened to Carducci’s other presentation before this one, but the two were complementary in tone and content. (I recommend listening to them for yourself.) Together, they amounted to Carducci’s account of his own struggle with homosexuality, including feeling condemned and forsaken by God. The center of his message was the idea that “everyone is entitled to love and belonging in the arms of Jesus.” From that foundation, he shared, quite openly, how God helped him overcome his struggle with homosexuality. In this context, almost as an aside, he makes the argument first that he did not understand how powerful God was to help in the overcoming of sin. Then (based upon his belief that homosexuality is a sin, and his experience of God helping him overcome it) he makes the argument that anyone who has not experienced that overcoming (of homosexuality and other sexual sins) is still under Satan’s power (“demonic control”). Given his presuppositions, this is hardly an unreasonable claim, and the formula seems consistent with the Bible–if you are under the control of sin, you are under demonic control. But the point was not the homosexual lifestyle, persay, rather that God is able to deliver us from sin. (Homo)sexuality simply happened to be the sin he addressed.
Now, before you crucify me, let me clarify a few things. I’m not trying to justify any claim that LGBT people are demon-possessed. I don’t believe that. However, I don’t think that is what Carducci said. Given the context of his presentation, and his continual focus on his own difficulty understanding the depth and power of God’s love (as opposed to the condemnation he expected as a homosexual), I think the reaction is based on a misreading. Interwoven with those very statements are these: “Whatever you struggle with, he promises to deliver immediately.” “God wants to cleanse us from all of that.” “God is powerful. He says, ‘Don’t call the good evil and the evil good.'” These statements are consistent with and representative of the focus of both presentations, not that “LGBT people are demon-possessed.” Now, I think there is a risk that what he said could be misused and hopefully he will be more careful in the future. LGBT people are particularly sensitive to the pain inflicted by careless words. We should not contribute to that. Our response to LGBT people, as to any others, must be love and compassion, not condemnation.
However, I fear the inflammatory nature of Cruz’s response and the ensuing attention has not engendered love and compassion, but condemnation. Indeed, I struggled for a long time to write this post for fear of attack (and I don’t think I’m even saying anything particularly offensive). But what I’ve seen has been this: “God help us. How could anyone be so inhuman(e) to say those things? We must make them stop.” Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t see how this differs from “God help us. How could anyone be so inhuman to do those things (be LGBT)? We must make them stop.” To me, the argument and emotions expressed are essentially the same, and essentially dehumanizing–and that is a problem. If we are to speak for love and compassion, we must speak in a loving and compassionate way. Evil in the name of a greater good is still evil. Whether it be for “God” or “tolerance” it is unacceptable.
Now, I am not particularly familiar with Cruz’s work, but I appreciate that he has had the courage to tell his story and attempt to build community for LGBT Adventists where our church has so often failed. That takes great courage and great determination. I expect God is moving in his life, especially in that. I understand Eliel was at the Collegedale showing of “Seventh-Gay Adventists” (which I found deeply moving) and I would have appreciated the opportunity to speak with him there, but I had to leave. To me, the film points the way forward from this mess–not more rhetoric, not more arguments, not more outrage or condemnation, but simply people sharing their stories, people being vulnerable. That is what I’ve missed in this series of events. Michael Carducci made himself very vulnerable as he shared his own trials and triumphs with homosexuality and how encountering God’s love changed his life in profound ways. I wish I’d seen that in Eliel’s response, or in the responses of others involved.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe such a (violent) reaction was necessary. Too often we are silent when we should not be, and too often we fail to consider the impact of our words. But I think we can do better. I think we must do better. It is not enough to win the argument–how we disagree matters. As Samir Selmanovic said at last year’s Spectrum conference: There is a way to disagree against someone, and there is a way to disagree for someone. If we are to continue as Adventists and as humans, we must learn to disagree for each other, not against.