Recently released film depicts personal journeys of faith
More than 10 million adults in the United States, or 4.1 percent of the population, identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT)—an increase from 3.5 percent in 2012—according to a January 2017 Gallup report. The growing LGBT community has gained social prominence in recent years, and the community’s issues are discussed widely in secular media, on college campuses, and in the workplace. Responding to the needs of both individual members and requests from congregations, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is now making strides to dialogue on this issue and to offer counsel and guidance based on biblical principles to Adventist members, particularly youth and young adults.
Representatives from the church’s 13 divisions attended a four-day summit in Cape Town, South Africa, in March 2014 to address “homosexuality and alternative sexualities” and to “gain a greater understanding of the issues surrounding” them. Then in May 2017 more than 400 church delegates from some 60 countries participated in a milestone global conference held in Budapest, Hungary to study, explore, and discuss LGBT-related issues, among other topics.
Committees focusing on LGBT matters have been established not only at the General Conference level but also at divisions worldwide. A statement on transgender issues was voted at the world church Spring Meeting in April 2017, emphasizing the belief that “Scripture provides principles for guidance and counsel to transgender people and the Church, transcending human conventions and culture.” It also focused on the need for understanding and compassion for all people.
Findings from a landmark study by Adventist researchers were recently published in the Journal of Social Work and Christianity. The study addressed the concern that “coming to terms with one’s sexual identity is a particularly complex process for Christian LGBT + youth, many of whom are at high risk for negative outcomes.” Seventh-day Adventists believe that “sexual intimacy belongs only within the marital relationship of a man and a woman” as this was “the design established by God at creation.” Researchers found that Adventist youth and young adults are not insulated from the challenges and “may have greater difficulty navigating these issues because of ‘the very high behavioral standards of our church.’”
Despite the increasing tempo of discussions, committees, and research, the church appears to lack sufficient practical resources and materials designed to answer members’ questions and help them navigate such life issues. To assist with meeting these needs, ‘Coming Out’ Ministries was formed.
“It just made sense to have an organization that would promote the Word of God as it relates to our human feelings and emotions and how we identify in Christ today,” says Wayne Blakely, a cofounder and codirector of the ministry, established in 2011.
Together with Blakely, cofounders and codirectors Ron Woolsey and Michael Carducci, and associate director Danielle Harrison comprise the leadership team.
“The Lord is using us to produce the very resources that would have been so helpful to us in our youth,” Woolsey notes. “I’ve written a couple of books; we’ve produced several DVD series; we have pocket tracts—and now we have the movie Journey Interrupted.”
Why a Film?
Journey Interrupted, produced by Brian and Anne Savinsky with filmmaker Danny Woods, features the four leaders of ‘Coming Out’ Ministries sharing their journey from living active gay lifestyles to what they describe as “walking in new lives with Christ.” It also features the story of Anna, whose own journey has also been “interrupted” but who is still seeking God’s leading in her life.
“We met the members of ‘Coming Out’ Ministries five years ago at ASI [Adventist-Laymen’s Services & Industries] and knew right away that this was a ministry we wanted to support,” Anne told Adventist Review in an e-mail. “Today’s culture is grappling with the issues of homosexuality and gender, so we felt their stories needed to be told via film. Our intention is simply to make these stories of the transforming power of God available to the world as testimonies of His love and grace.”
Sharing the Film’s Message
The documentary premiered in September 2016 at the Berrien Springs Village church in Michigan, United States. It was screened the following month at the world church’s Annual Council, held at the General Conference office in Silver Spring, Maryland; and later was shown on 3ABN and Amazing Facts, at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University, and in local churches throughout the U.S. and other world regions. It has recently been made available for purchase through the ‘Coming Out’ Ministries Web site.
“We wanted to share our testimonies via the film media to give greater exposure to the idea that there is victory through Jesus Christ,” Blakely says. “The film highlights each of our lives, our history with God, and where God has brought us in dealing with same-sex attraction. It’s a conversation we haven’t had often in this denomination.
“Many in the church have suggested that the opposite of homosexuality is heterosexuality, and for some that’s been the main goal. But what Jesus is really seeking is a heart conversion.”
Woolsey, a pastor and the only one of the group to have married and raised a family since leaving a homosexual lifestyle, adds that the film is nondenominational and “totally gospel. It is totally the Seventh-day Adventist message but without any Adventist labels,” he says. “It creates so much hope and encouragement that God is mighty to save everyone. Through our personal testimonies people see clearly that God loves us where we are, but that He leads us to a better place. It gives people hope.”
A question-and-answer session routinely follows the presentation of the documentary, generating much discussion, group leaders say. Film showings also result in numerous phone calls to the ministry directors from people dealing with same-sex attraction.
“The real question out there today—the one I’m putting into all my presentations,” says Blakely, “is, Can we trust Jesus? Is His Word for all time? Is He asking too much of us? What has happened is that people are using human knowledge to equate to God’s knowledge and are making compromises to the Word of God.”
Describing ‘Coming Out’ Ministries as a “dynamic supporting ministry” that is helping people who are struggling with critical problems and dilemmas, General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson says he is strongly urging that their film Journey Interrupted be shown at churches, schools, hospitals, on college campuses, and “wherever it can be a blessing. Invite the dedicated members of ‘Coming Out’ Ministries to your venue,” he says, “especially to Seventh-day Adventist college and university campuses, so they can assist in helping young people who are searching for answers to find true victory in Christ. Please pray for this special ministry as it upholds Bible truth.
“The Scriptures tell us that ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ [Phil. 4:13],” Wilson adds. “This is the undergirding theme of this very helpful and positive film. This documentary helps us to understand that whatever challenges and sinful tendencies we face, we can turn to Christ and His power in our lives to overcome sin, and that we can do all through His power, grace, and righteousness.”
The Ministry’s Mission
Leaders of ‘Coming Out’ Ministries—a donation-based organization—say their most common criticism is that they are trying to “make gay people straight,” an accusation they deny. Although they agree this may be a “fruit of conversion” for some people, the goal is to be in accordance with God’s will, and that may or may not include marriage.
“When someone’s heart is changed, then their behavior also changes to live in agreement with God,” Blakey explains. “That doesn’t mean that you’re going to fall in love with someone of the opposite sex, but you do fall in love with Jesus.”
The group’s goal, they say, can be broken down into three steps: to inspire, to educate and enlighten, and to equip people with resources.
“The Lord is using us to produce the very resources that would have been so helpful to us in our youth.”
“We’re trying to share the truth about the issues,” Woolsey says. “We try to help people understand that God does not remove temptation; instead, He promises that His grace is sufficient to meet it and to overcome it.”
“It’s not our mission to come in and change someone’s sexuality; that’s not our job,” Blakely adds. “Instead, we present Jesus in a way that the viewer or listener can fall in love with Him and be motivated by His love. Only His love can bring about change in someone’s life.”
Growing in Grace
Codirector Michael Carducci, raised in the Adventist Church, lived an active gay lifestyle for 20 years before he heard God’s call to enter a relationship with Him. The transition from what Carducci described as serving self to walking in God’s will wasn’t immediate. Citing the biblical experiences of Mary Magdalene being healed of demons seven times and Naaman having to dip into the river seven times, Carducci describes growing in grace as a process.
“We’re all in the midst of that growth process, and Jesus has the patience to stay in the game with us until we get it,” he says. “I would often come back to God and say ‘Well, are You ready to go? Everybody else has left me. Do You want to go now too?’ But what was so profoundly changing for me is that Jesus’ answer was always the same. Even though I was looking for an out, an excuse to return to my old way of life, His answer was always: ‘No, Mike; I still want you. Walk with Me. Let’s do this together.’ And that started to change my heart.”
From his home in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee, Carducci travels to numerous cities within the United States as well as to such world regions as Peru, Cuba, Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Austria, and Germany to “help change hearts and lives.” Carducci says that the biggest change that needs to happen, however, is the attitude of the church.
“We need to create an environment where gays can come and find healing in the church,” he says. “We must change our attitude so we can provide healing for the LGBT community. I believe the film Journey Interrupted will help initiate that process of change.”
Carducci contends, however, that the focus of Journey Interrupted is broader than what most people might think. It’s about sexual purity and the freedom that Jesus offers for all people who are struggling with sin, he says.
“People come up to us all the time and say, ‘Listen, I thought this movie was just about homosexuals, but it’s about all sin, including all sexual sin.’ Its message also relates to premarital sex, pornography. It sheds light on what the Bible says on all these issues.
“The devil is trying to normalize the notion that God and His Word are not valid, not relevant, to today’s culture,” he adds. “But as Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun. His Word is just as relevant today as it was in Bible times. God says, ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.’ It’s all a matter of trusting God and taking Him at His word.”
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.