A Visit to Building Safe Places – For Everyone
By Tanja Koppers
On March 6-8, 2017, twenty-three European and Central/South American pastors, counselors, theologians, church administrators, and lay leaders met in Odenwald, Germany, for a Building Safe Places workshop.
For Thursday evening’s session, Catherine* asked members from SDA Kinship Germany to join the group discussion so some issues could be discussed with us (as LGBTs) and not about us. Sure, Catherine is one of us; but it is always better to have more voices and answers to deepen understanding.
Like last year, Rene Tuchtenhagen (SDA Kinship member) and I responded to her invitation. In 2016, we were asked to tell our stories. This year the participants prepared three questions for us.
What was your first positive dialogue with an Adventist church member? How did it affect you?
What do you think about the Adventist Church’s recommendation that gay men and lesbians practice celibacy?
How would you like to be treated if you visited or joined a church with your partner?
I will answer the last question first. Rene and I both responded quickly. We do not expect any special treatment. We only want that we and our partners will be welcomed as every other church member; nothing more, nothing less. Without question, we are a long way from our wish becoming reality.
That said, this is what we seek: normality, no hiding, no discussion, no disapproving glances or whispering. We want to be welcomed as human, as persons, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
The second question, as well, was not hard to answer but has different levels for me. First, it is simply that a celibate lifestyle should be a matter of choice and not everybody is called for it. Another way to phrase my thoughts is that not everybody has the gift of celibacy. If Paul admits that it is not for every man (or woman), why does our church leadership expect celibacy from all homosexuals? Are we more blessed with this gift than heterosexuals?
In addition, most relationships do not end at having conversations and holding hands. We, who fall in love with each other, also long for the physical part of our relationship.
Why should this level of intimacy be denied within a homosexual relationship? It is a natural part of our love.
Personally, I also wonder why the influence of the church should reach into my privacy. What right does the church have to stick its nose into my bed? This is a very intimate part of my life; and what happens in my bed should only matter to me and my partner. Are heterosexual partners asked what they are doing in their beds, if and how often they have sex? I do not think I want to allow the church to have a voice on this issue. I also assume that no heterosexual couple would like to give account of their sex life to the General Conference. They would refuse to tolerate this invasion by the church.
Catherine had another interesting point. Statistics show that people in committed romantic relationships live longer. With this data in mind, requesting that homosexuals be celibate can sound as if the church wants them to die sooner. I do not think that people in the General Conference thought about this data and concluded: Celibacy is good; we will get rid of gays and lesbians sooner as they will die sooner. But you never know.
The first question was a very personal one and it is difficult to repeat our answers here. For me, it was hard to answer because I have had a lot of great encounters and talks over the years with SDAKinship/HAD members, which I still have in my memories.
The evening ended, as such evenings always end, with lots of one-to-one talks and questions from the participants to Rene or me. Some questions seemed to be very odd, like the one about how falling in love feels for LGBTs. I paused briefly, and then I answered on behalf of LBGTs. The pastor was surprised to hear that it sounded exactly like falling in love for heterosexuals like himself. (Really? *LOL*) But he said it was important for him to understand that it is the same.
It was clear that the participants simply wanted to understand. Some had more problems than others and needed to find a way to approach the subject. Personal conversations seemed to have a big influence. Some participants emphasized that hearing LGBTs’ stories and seeing the emotions which came with telling the stories changes views, because then they put faces with the topic and homosexuals become no longer an anonymous group of people.
I believe our stories are a helpful entrance. But we will not have any effect if the listener is not open to changing his/her mind, to rethink their position, and to let go of their fear. If only personal encounters mattered, many LGBTs would not have found such discouragement in their home churches. These brothers and sisters really did know us and nevertheless refused to accept us.
I am happy that, through the Building Safe Places event and through the empathy of the participants, insights into diversity are carried forward.
My personal wish would be that the sphere will be enlarged and participants from the rest of Germany and other European countries will join. We need for SDA Kinship members to find safe pastors to contact and safe churches over all of Europe.
Tanja Koppers is the coordinator of SDA Kinship Germany and this year's European Kinship Meeting coordinator. She lives with her partner Bianka.
*Catherine Taylor planned and coordinated the Building Safe Places workshop designed for Adventist pastors, educators, counselors and therapists, administrators, family life leaders, youth directors, Pathfinder leaders, dorm advisors, and chaplains.