Major Media Outlets Pick Up Adventist LGBT Stories

Jared Wright
Spectrum Magazine

Stories of LGBT+ Adventists and their families have caught the attention of major news organizations, pointing both to the power of the stories and their uniqueness as accounts from within the faith community. Two stories in particular—one about an Adventist pastor who came out as bisexual and another about the Adventist parents of a transgender daughter—have received national media coverage.

Last month, Alicia Johnston announced to her congregation, the Foothills Community Church in Chandler, Arizona, and to her employer, the Arizona Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, that she was resigning from her full-time pastoral role over her “complete disagreement with the Adventist Church on its teachings on LGBT people.” Johnston revealed that she identifies as bisexual, and described the story leading to her resignation in a 27-minute video message.

Johnston’s video went viral on social media, and after coverage in Spectrum, the story was picked up by Religion News Service, NBC News and other major outlets.

Johnston said the experience of sharing her story with such a wide audience has been ultimately a positive one. “I have never been as honest about myself and spoken with as much frankness about my experience with God than I did in that video, and to have it resonate so deeply with so many people is truly affirming,” she said. However, Johnston sought to deflect the spotlight. “It’s not about me and my sexuality at all,” she said. “It’s about discussions that desperately needed to happen and queer people in our communities that need to be seen and heard.”  

She said that any number of closeted Adventist pastors could have made a similar video and said she was “overwhelmed with the honor and responsibility that it was me.” Noting that she is one of many people in the Adventist Church to have come out, she said, “God used my coming out to bring hope and courage to a lot of people.” 

In the month that has followed her coming out, Johnston has taken time for self care—a trip to the ocean and the opportunity to “meet and reconnect with some incredible people in the Adventist queer community,” she said. She has focused on writing and public speaking engagements, but without anxiety about what might come next professionally, she said.

NBC News also picked up the story of Teagan Widmer, a transgender software engineer from the Bay Area, and her parents, Kris and Debbie Widmer, after their story was featured in the “Outspoken” video series. Kris Widmer has served as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor for more than three decades. In the video, Debbie and Kris describe the struggle they experienced coming to terms with the changes their family experienced and the paradoxical way their faith community left them feeling isolated after Teagan came out.

Teen Vogue, Refinery29, and LGBTQ Nation were among the outlets that covered the Widmers’ “Outspoken” story. That the stories of Alicia Johnston and the Widmer family hit national media was no accident. Eliel Cruz, an LGBT activist, faith organizer and Andrews University alum, used extensive connections with religion reporters and LGBTQ reporters to help the stories spread.

“Realistically, mainstream media doesn’t care about Adventist stories. They don’t pay attention to it,” Cruz said. He attributed the oversight to Adventism’s insularity and its relative foreignness to most North American media. However, Cruz noted that journalists have picked up stories he pitched them both because they are “really interesting stories” and because he can contextualize Adventist stories in ways reporters unfamiliar with Adventism might not be able to.

The upshot has been many eyes on the two stories in a short time, something that left the Widmers taken aback.

“Debbie and I are amazed at the response to the video—41K views in three weeks,” Kris Widmer said. “We realize it is a unique perspective in Christianity to hear the struggle from parents, especially those who work for the church, to share their journey,” he said. Such openness about LGBT+ experiences is indeed rare for people of faith in general, let alone the Seventh-day Adventist community.

However, the media attention also had some negative repercussions for the Widmers. Kris noted that the “Outspoken” video went live the day before he preached his final sermon at the Antioch Seventh-day Adventist Church in Antioch, California, prompting at least one attack website to opine that he was resigning over a conflict with the Adventist Church. “That is not true,” Kris said. He stated that he resigned from the Adventist pastorate to pursue chaplaincy work with Adventist Health.

“I have not been defrocked as an ordained minister. I go forth with [the church’s] continued blessing and approval and ordination…to be present with the sick and the dying as a chaplain, rather than administrate and preach and try to grow a local congregation as a pastor.”

Kris, Teagan and Debbie Widmer. Photo by Stephen Eyer / Watchfire Films.

Debbie Widmer lamented the online sharing of a condemnatory video by people who never bothered to get in touch, “even people we know,” she said. “None of them have ever gotten in touch with us to hear our story or our reasons or what we meant by what we said.”

She added that the coverage was initially overwhelming. “It felt a little bit like a pressure cooker, since the media outlets need their story ‘now’,” she said. “We didn’t have a lot of time to think through our responses like we might have wanted. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster.”

Still, Debbie expressed optimism about the film’s potential. “We hope that many lives will be impacted by our story and relationships will be healed.”

Kris added, “We are greatly encouraged by the notes, emails and messages that have said, ‘Your video was amazing, it prompted me to have a conversation with a mother, a father or other family member. I came out to my parents…and then I showed them your video. And it has been OK after that.’”

“Since our video has helped more than one LGBT person in this way, we know it has truly been worth it,” he said.

For Daneen Akers and Stephen Eyer of Watchfire Films, the producers of the “Outspoken” video series who also helped film and produce Alicia Johnston’s video message, the media response has been important for its potential to effect change. In a newsletter to supporters, they wrote,

Of course it’s always nice to have great media coverage, but that’s not why we are so thrilled with all of these articles. What this coverage means is that the likelihood of a LGBT young person (or their parents) coming across these films is higher, and seeing a story like these when you are struggling is a huge help in realizing you are not alone. One of the trans advocates who wrote said directly, ‘This film will save lives.’

That is the power of honest, courageous storytelling.




See ‘God’s Peculiar People,’ a new musical play by Marilynn Loveless of Redlands, May 11, 13 and 14 at La Sierra University

Redlands Daily Facts

La Sierra University Drama will present a new musical play, “God’s Peculiar People,” opening at 7:30 p.m. May 11 in Matheson Hall on the La Sierra University campus, 4500 Riverwalk Parkway, Riverside.

Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. May 13 and 14, also in Matheson Hall.

“God’s Peculiar People,” written by Marilynn Loveless of Redlands with music by Merlin David, is set in 1962 and is about a family dealing with a returning son who has left the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The prodigal son returns home and he’s not alone. David’s family thinks he’s bringing a girl home for the weekend — but Leslie turns out to be a boy. Mayhem ensues in this gently satiric examination of the vagaries of organized religion in a time of innocence.

The play pokes gentle fun of the peculiarities of the Seventh-day Adventist Church while provoking a discussion of the role of women, patriarchal authority, tribalism, dogma, grace and inclusion vs. exclusion in a church setting.

The cast includes Deborah McFatter and Ali Rafter of Redlands, Carl Canwell and Ariel Lynch of Yucaipa and Scotty Ray of Calimesa.

Others are Jim Bock, Merlin David, Kelly Reed, Bryce Vails, Aydin Mallery, Joel Michael David, Paul Mallery and Alexandra Escobar.

Set design is by Brady Greer Huffman and costumes are by Marti Olson, both of Redlands.

Marilynn Loveless is the artistic director of the theater program at La Sierra University, where she teaches acting, directing and writing classes.

She has directed and produced more than 70 plays, earning several meritorious achievement awards for direction from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

Her previous career as a writer and producer in television involved the production of more than 135 half-hour television shows in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

She has received several screen-writing grants, and one of her screenplays made the short-list for the Sundance feature film project in 2001.

She received a doctorate from the School of Arts at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

She has lived in the Loma Linda and Redlands area on and off since 1971.

“God’s Peculiar People” is her first full-length stage play.

Merlin David, who wrote the music for “God’s Peculiar People” and plays the Guardian Angel, is the owner and publisher of M Music & Musicians magazine and has been writing, recording and performing music since 1979. He won a best supporting actor award from the Inland Theater League in 1990 for his performance in “Solid Gold Cadillac.”

His songs for “God’s Peculiar People” are in a variety of styles and genres, including a reggae “28 Fundamental Beliefs.”

Tickets are $20. For tickets, call 951-785-2241 or email drama@lasierra.edu. Ask for directions to Matheson Hall, a former chapel, at the security kiosk at the main entrance to the university.

Source: Marilynn Loveless, La Sierra University




Adventist Leaders in Russia Address Fake News on Church Status

Adventist Review via Spectrum Magazine

Leaders in the Euro-Asia Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a church region that includes the Russian Federation, released an official statement last week, as they try to counter false news circulating about the status of the church in that country. The statement, signed by the church regional president M. F. Kaminsky, and public affairs and religious liberty director O. Y. Goncharov seeks to allay fears after misinformation circulating online stated that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was about to be banned from that nation.

Below is the official statement released by the regional Adventist leaders.

Official Statement Regarding Misinformation on the Activity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Russian Federation

In light of the information that has been published on the Internet on the plans for placing a ban on the activity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Russia, we officially communicate that any such information from unofficial sources is not consistent with reality.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Russian Federation is a community-focused denomination, with more than 130 years of service in this territory; a fellowship of law-abiding believers, who are striving, in their life and ministry, to make a positive impact on the surrounding society.

In recent years, the Church has built, in the spirit of mutual respect,constructive dialogue with state authorities that allows for opening new possibilities to use the resources of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for meeting the needs of society. Indeed, the program “Family Health, Nation’s Health,” aimed at preventing lifestyle-related diseases, is being implemented thanks to a public grant under an ordinance of the President of the Russian Federation. It is something that attests to the fact that state authorities have in high regard the Adventist Church’s participation in public life.

In view ofthis, we again solemnly declare that there is no reason to believe that any justified or sensible reason exists for restricting or banning the activity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Russian Federation.

M. F. Kaminsky, President of the Euro-Asia Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

O. Y. Goncharov, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Director, Euro-Asia Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and Member of the Advisory Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations Under the President of the Russian Federation




Netherlands Union Conference Postpones Ordination of Female Pastors

Alisa Williams
Spectrum Magazine

In a surprise effort to appease the General Conference and its Unity Commission, the Netherlands Union Conference (NUC) Executive Committee has “decided to postpone the ordination of female pastors until after October 2017 to contribute to the process of dialogue and reconciliation” within the Adventist Church.

The statement came as part of a 25-page question-and-answer document for NUC delegates, written in preparation for their upcoming Constituency Session held on May 4-6. The document was uploaded on April 21 to a secure part of the union’s website accessible only by delegates.

The response regarding the postponement of women’s ordination followed the question (translated from Dutch):

“Many are under the impression that the Union is trying to slow down the reconciliation process with actions that delay acceptance of the San Antonio decision on the matter. To avoid more difficulties in the church, why hasn’t the Union embraced both the San Antonio decision and the reconciliation process, by implementing a moratorium on women’s ordination to the Gospel ministry?”

The response, written by Wim Altink, president of the NUC, read in full (translated from Dutch):

“A. The Dutch Union regularly consults with TED on this issue; B. On April 27-28, the Executive Committee will hold a meeting with the GC Commission on Unity In Mission – Procedures in Church Reconciliation; C. The Dutch Union is always open to discussion and prayer; D. The Executive Committee has decided to postpone the ordination of female pastors until after October 2017 to contribute to the process of the dialogue and reconciliation.”

The announcement, as noted in Altink’s response, came just days before the GC Unity Commission attended the Trans-European Division’s (TED) Executive Committee session held on April 27-28. Present at the meeting were Elder Tom Lemon, head of the Unity Commission, TED officers, and the officers of four unions within TED.

Long-time proponents of women’s ordination, the NUC Executive Committee voted in November 2012 to support the ordination of women and stated in an announcement that they had “decided to ordain female pastors, recognising them as equal to their male colleagues.” In September 2013, the Netherlands became the first union in Europe to ordain a female pastor.

Immediately following the discussion and vote on ordination at GC Session 2015 in San Antonio, the Netherlands issued the following statement, holding firm to their decision from almost three years prior:

“The delegates of the Dutch churches voted at their Session in the autumn of 2012 to ordain women in an equal way to their male colleagues. The vote took effect in June 2013 and will remain in effect. The decision of the General Conference Session in San Antonio does not change this.

Female pastors will continue to be ordained in the Netherlands Union Conference. We thank God that he calls men and women to serve him. We want to enthusiastically confirm that call by the laying on of hands.”

The Trans-European Division (TED), which oversees the NUC, unanimously voted in February 2017 a “strong request to the General Conference that consideration be given to issuing a single credential for those in ministry or to alternately amend existing credentials making them more inclusive.”

The situation within the European divisions is more complex than in other world divisions due to legislation under European Union law that requires men and women to be afforded equal opportunity for advancement. Because of this, European unions have taken their own routes to fulfill this law. While the Netherlands and Germany voted to ordain women, Norway, Denmark, and Belgian-Luxembourg unions suspended ordination for both male and female pastors following GC Session 2015.

In its February statement, the TED Executive Committee expressed a desire “to work closely with the GC to find a solution that will both fit within the needs of national legislation and resolve those variance issues. Within that remit the committee also requested unions within the TED to put on hold any variation to working policy in regard to credentials while discussions are in progress up until the time of GC Annual Council.”

So although the Netherlands new hold on ordination has come as a surprise to many, officials within the NUC and TED say the NUC is simply showing good faith by upholding TED’s previous commitment to the GC.

When asked for comment, Victor Hulbert, communications and media director for the Trans-European Division, stated that the aim of TED remains the same as it was in February, and that while the latest meeting was a “significant part of the continued process of dialogue,” it was also “a low-key consultation that took place in an atmosphere of mutual respect, understanding and prayer.”

He added that, “we call on all people of good-will to continue in prayer and positive dialogue as we continue to seek ways to share God effectively across the 22 countries of the Trans-European Division.”

Another official, who requested anonymity, stated that the NUC’s compliance with the hold on ordination was decided in March by the outgoing Executive Committee whose 2012-2017 term ended during the Constituency Session held May 4-6. This is the same committee that voted to ordain women in the first place.

An almost entirely new team was voted in during the May Constituency Session. The elections include Rob de Raad, who replaced Wim Altink as President, Enrico Karg (new Executive Secretary), and Istrahel Schorea (re-elected Treasurer).

The postponement of ordination has had a direct impact on at least one female pastor who inadvertently became caught in the middle of the ongoing policy debate. Last year, the NUC voted to permanently employ Tabitha Cedenio-Cummins, known as Pastor Purple to her congregants. Her date of permanent employ was set to begin in March 2017, and in keeping with the NUC’s previous policy, this meant that Pastor Purple would be ordained at that time.

However, the pressure from the GC’s Unity Commission, and the February statement from TED, complicated the situation. The NUC decided to postpone Purple’s ordination until after Annual Council in order to fall in line with TED’s request. In the meantime, the NUC decided that a commission would serve as a placeholder to ordination, thus allowing her to exercise the full abilities necessary to do her pastoral work. For instance, a commissioned minister has the authority to baptize, lead communion, and perform weddings.

Several officials within the union confirm that the commission ceremony was originally scheduled to occur at Pastor Purple’s local congregation. However, because of the highly charged political atmosphere surrounding the recent meetings between the Unity Commission, TED, and the unions, several pastors fought to have her commissioning occur at the union level instead. They felt this would add a level of transparency and show that Purple’s commission is fully backed by the NUC. The pastors succeeded and the commissioning was moved to Sabbath, May 6, following the Constituency Session. Markedly absent from the event was the laying on of hands that an ordination ceremony would have included.

“[Pastor Purple’s commissioning] caused a lot of confusion internationally due to a number of factors,” an official close to the situation admitted.

The official continued, “It is perfectly logical that internationally, this would raise questions whether the new leadership has changed current policy. This is absolutely not the case! Nor is the (almost) complete change of leadership tied in any way with the topic of women’s ordination…The newly elected administration will meet after the 1st of June for the very first time. Up until that time, nothing has been decided nor discussed. They have been elected with extremely huge support from the delegation.”

It should be noted, the official added in closing, that “a very large majority of the membership in the Netherlands is highly in favour of women’s ordination. That hasn’t changed.”

Regarding her commissioning, Pastor Purple stated (translated from Dutch), “I thank God for this moment of blessing. My family and I are thankful that the Dutch church and Pastor Audrey Andersson have created such a special moment. I’m looking forward to continuing to serve God in His churches.”

Departing President of the NUC, Wim Altink, said, “A growing church is blessed by the calling of new ministers. I am particularly pleased that Tabitha, together with her family, has successfully strengthened the work of God. We wish her much wisdom and ambition.”

It remains to be seen whether TED will get its wish to unify its unions under a single, inclusive credential during the GC Annual Council, scheduled for October 5-11, 2017. Meanwhile, NUC officials say that Pastor Purple’s ordination is still scheduled for October, after Annual Council concludes.

Alisa Williams is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

Image: Tabitha Purple’s commissioning ceremony. Photo courtesy of www.adventist.nl




Adventists and Muslims Meet for Learning and Fellowship

Sarah McDugal
Adventist Review

Adventists and Muslims from all over the San Diego area in California, United States, recently gathered at El Cajon Seventh-day Adventist Church for “One San Diego,” a day of mutual learning and fellowship.

The day was the brainchild of Richard Smith, pastor of El Cajon church, as well as of Peter Thomas and Tawfik Abdalla, Muslim ministry coordinators; and Gerald Babanezhad, volunteer coordinator of Muslim outreach for the Pacific Union Conference church region. They recognized that if people wish to become better neighbors to those around them, they should first attempt to understand each other better.

Posters advertising the event were placed in local mosques and Adventist churches, and emails were sent to area imams—a kind of Muslim spiritual leader. Adventists and Muslims from Sunni, Shia and Baha’i backgrounds came to the event, as did a Jewish woman who heard about it and asked if she could join in.

Good Neighbors

Creating a mutually welcoming and comfortable environment was a top priority for the organizers. Before the event, an imam visited the El Cajon church sanctuary so that leaders could discuss how to best accommodate the Muslim prayer times throughout the day. They also discussed ways that Muslims and Adventists can be good neighbors.

The program included prayers from leaders of Adventist and Muslim faiths, music from the San Diego Academy—a local Adventist-operated primary and secondary school—choir and bell choir, a question-and-answer time and a panel discussion about shared Muslim and Adventist history, values, goals, and needs.

“I loved this experience and would enjoy having another panel discussion,” said Amir Imam from the Al-Salam Mosque.

Leman Hamid, a Muslim, described the event as “a wonderful meeting between Muslims and Christians.” He said he would like to hear more about Christianity and what Christians feel and believe about Muslims.

Shared Beliefs

Organizers were pleased by the positive response of those who attended. “The day began with a measure of apprehension on both sides of the cultural divide which eased as attendees discovered how many beliefs both Seventh-day Adventists and Muslims hold in common,” Smith said.

Some of these shared beliefs include a strong emphasis on showing compassion, a deep desire to treat others as good neighbors, a refusal to eat pork and the desire to live a healthy lifestyle.

The mutual interest in health led to a follow-up health expo at a mosque a few weeks later. Also, Muslim women invited Adventist women who attended the One San Diego event to visit their mosques for worship time to experience their tradition and culture. The Adventist women responded positively, feeling that it would be helpful to the community for both groups to meet more and work together.

Plans include organizing sports activities for Adventist and Muslim school children, starting a home fellowship where Muslims and Adventists can learn from each other by sharing stories from the Bible and Quran, and planning future panel discussion events.

An original version of this story was published in the Pacific Union Recorder.

 




Former SDA “Pastor” Alicia Johnston begins New Ministry, makes War on SDA Church, takes her LGBT Activism to NBC & World Stage

Andrew & Hilari Henriques
Saved to Serve

“The world is watching Seventh-day Adventists because it knows something of their profession of faith and of their high standard, and when it sees those who do not live up to their profession, it points at them with scorn.”[1] In recent months, Seventh-day Adventists have been brought into national and even international spotlight, sometimes for good reasons and other times for reasons that bring reproach upon God’s name, his cause and the Seventh-day Adventist Movement.  Most recently, Seventh-day Adventists have received national attention for something that is an embarrassment to the cause of Christ and the belief system that Seventh-day Adventists historically hold to, which can and will be used by Satan to cause individuals to look with disdain upon the biblical messages that are borne by faithful Seventh-day Adventists who hold solely to the law and the testimony (Isaiah 8:20).

In the ongoing fiasco surrounding Alicia Johnston, a formerly employed Seventh-day Adventist “pastor,” who came out as bi-sexual and then resigned, NBC News has picked up her story, giving her a wider platform to disseminate her faulty, soul-destroying theology that one can identify as a member of the LGBTQ community and not be in violation of the laws of God. The NBC article, under the headline “Adventist Pastor Resigns after coming out as Bi-sexual” reads: “Still, Johnston said the response to her video and her resignation from her church has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. ‘Many people have told me that they realize watching the video that I am truly joyful now, and there was always something missing before,’ she said. ‘They can see what an important shift this is for me, and they have chosen to be supportive of me and my new ministry instead of angry at the difficulty it has caused them. I am amazed by their love and grace.’”[2]

This must be Alicia Johnston’s first step in what she calls her new “ministry,” namely bringing national attention to herself to garner sympathy for her story and those that can identify with it and to have a wider platform for her to teach the perverted gospel that LGBTQ individuals should not strive to overcome their lifestyle, because it is not possible for them to overcome their proclivities to and activities of homosexuality. It is apparent that is her objective to apply enough pressure to the  Seventh-day Adventist denomination to force them to accept the LGBTQ agenda. Make no mistake, Ms. Johnston is carrying forward ministry, but not the ministry of Christ; she is an evangelist for the anti-Christ. Consider the message being conveyed to the countless individuals that will come across her story through NBC News and other media outlets, who otherwise would never have encountered her video (to which all provide a link to Alicia Johnston’s original video), especially for those who have known Seventh-day Adventists to be highly conservative students of the Bible, and even for those whose first exposure to Seventh-day Adventism will be these news reports.  This story will cause individuals to ask pertinent questions of the Seventh-day Adventist leadership, which will demand answers.  Such questions as “Does the SDA leadership despise LGBT individuals?”  “Why was Alicia Johnston ‘forced’ to resign?”  “Would this not constitute discrimination, especially since the SDA church is a 501(c)(3) organization?” These questions from LGBTQ activists from the world, will add to the growing pressure already being applied by LGBT sympathizers within the denomination, for SDA leadership to accept their agenda. Alicia Johnston has indeed begun her new ministry.

Another inquiry that will likely be raised regarding discrimination would be, “Did Alicia Johnston resign because she was being discriminated against as a woman?” And of course the follow-up question would be, “What is the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s position on the ordination of women as pastors?” It must be reiterated, Alicia Johnston has embarked upon her new ministry, and knows that if she is going to be successful, she must enlist the aid of LGBTQ activists from the world, along with women’s rights activists to push forward the agenda by applying this outside pressure. To further fulfill this mission, Alicia Johnston accepted  an interview with NBC regarding her “coming out” as a bisexual SDA Pastor. Ms. Johnston knew that this video would go viral and would put a spotlight and makes war on the SDA Church, its leaders and its biblical stance on the LGBTQ issue. This outside pressure might be an excuse used by some of the Seventh-day Adventist leaders to accept the agenda of the LGBTQ and Women’s Ordination movement. 

Aside from NBC picking up her story, some gay websites such as Gaystar news and LGBTQ Nation, are also praising Ms. Johnston and running her story, along with other “Christian” websites, like The Christian Post, Religion News, and Renewed Heart Ministries among others, just “Google it.”  Alicia Johnston is very aggressive in her evangelistic campaign and has found friends and allies in high places, who carry a lot of influence in the world.  It is yet to be determined, how the SDA corporate leadership will respond. Every dedicated Seventh-day Adventist should continually supplicate the throne of God for discernment and spiritual strength in order to withstand the LGBT movement within the SDA Church and to endure the fast approaching spiritual crisis.

“Now is the time for God’s people to show themselves true to principle. When the religion of Christ is most held in contempt, when His law is most despised, then should our zeal be the warmest and our courage and firmness the most unflinching. To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few–this will be our test. At this time we must gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardice, and loyalty from their treason. The nation will be on the side of the great rebel leader.” [3]

[1] White, Ellen. Testimonies for the Church, Volume 9, (1909), page 23

[2] http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/adventist-pastor-resigns-after-coming-out-bisexual-n753391

[3] White, Ellen. Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, (1909), page 135




Bible App for the Marginalized to Launch in June

Spectrum Magazine

Crystal Cheatham—writer, entrepreneur and Andrews grad—is working to create a hub for progressive Christians who may have felt excluded and judged by more traditional, conservative spaces.

Question: The Our Bible App,  an app you are creating with devotionals, Bible translations and a forum, is set to launch in June. You describe your project as pro-women, LGBT-affirming, and social-justice oriented. When did you start this project?

Answer: I guess I started this idea in 2010 with the IDentity Kit Project. That was a resource to help queer Christian fundamentalist youth access information about gender identity and orientation. Really, I was just trying to bring together an isolated community. And I think isolation is what any believer who isn’t a conservative Christian has found themselves in.

Fundamentalists (aka closed-minded Christians), have hubs like the National Religious Broadcasters or the Trinity Broadcasting Network to pump their exclusionary theologies to people around the globe, but those of us who have a more accepting approach to spirituality and religion only have access to like-minded believers and tools that are within reach.

Our Bible App is a direct descendent of the IDK Project. In fact, the book I wrote for LGBT youth will be available on the app.

So you feel that other such resources are not inclusive, progressive, and affirming? Are there other apps that Our Bible App is modeled on?

Yeah, I modeled it after YouVersion’s Holy Bible App. It’s probably on your phone right now and the number one way you access the Bible in church and at home. Unfortunately, YouVersion shares the same values as Focus on the Family, Rick Warren, and the Family Research Council (organizations that have been included on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups). In fact, they regularly publish devotionals written by those organizations. That’s why I created Our Bible App, because I couldn’t take the exclusionary theology anymore.

Are you the technical expert behind the app? Have you developed apps before?

Haha! I wish! No, I’m an expert at everything else and have learned many trades in order to get to where I am today with the app. When it came to coding, I decided it would be better to hire professionals. The App Institute is puzzling together the working pieces of the app while I recruit authors, hire people, and build the other side of the project.

Can you tell us a little bit more about what resources will be available through the app and how you are sourcing these?

I’m creating a platform to help bring together the parceled community of progressive Christians out there. I want the app to be a place, unlike the Christian section in a Barnes & Noble bookstore, where those looking for progressive podcasts, video blogs, books, and devotionals can come and find what they need. I’m encouraging writers and creators to submit their podcasts, devotionals, books, and blogs for consideration. Just go to OurBibleApp.com and click on submissions.

How are you working to get the word out about the app?  Do you have a target for the number of people you hope will download it?

I’m working with organizations and people all over the country. Organizations like Reconciling Ministries Network are teaming with us to spread the word. Rachel Held Evans and Kevin Garcia are tweeting and messaging their followers. We need all the help we can get.

Our goal is to launch with 10,000 pre-subscribers, and we are at 4,000. We want to be at 100,000 by the end of December. We are asking everyone to share news of the app with five friends. I think that way we can reach our goal and make a huge impact when we launch. I invite anyone who reads this to share the OurBibleApp.com link.

What do you hope the app will accomplish?

I think the app is bigger than me and my team. It’s churning up all kinds of feelings in people. I’d call it a business for social change.

How are you funding the development of the app? Will you charge for the app?

I ran two fundraisers last summer. With family, friends, and the help of many strangers, I raised $84,000. Most of that was spent just creating the app and paying for licenses. Now that I am working with a team, I need more funding to get this thing up and running.

Of course I’m looking for the right investor, but in the meantime folks can make personal donations online or they can buy a T-shirt of our mascot the Zebracorn. Go to the site and take a look because I love it. It reads, “For Believers of All Stripes.” Get it?

The app itself is free, but if folks want to get premium content and ultimately help keep the lights on and keep authors contributing then they can pay to subscribe to the app.

Are you mainly targeting the app to people in the LGBT community

Absolutely not! While LGBT people have been targeted by the conservative right, they are not the only group to feel that burn of judgment. This app is for anyone who wants the tools to take back their spirituality and strengthen their personal walk with their God.

Your editor-in-chief is agnostic? Isn’t that rather curious for a spiritual app?

I think that as Adventists we spend a lot of time looking down on other kinds of beliefs, forgetting that the people who hold them can be every bit as loving, giving, and capable as we are. I know because I’ve been there. It took a while to shake off. That’s why Our Bible App promotes the affirmation of other faiths and belief systems.

In keeping with this mission, our editor-in-chief is worth her salt. I’ve watched her work tirelessly and oh-so-lovingly with the devotionals that come her way. To her credit she is quite tender in all the right places and pushes authors to give a little more when she knows they aren’t quite hitting their mark. And I’m convinced that being agnostic doesn’t necessarily mean that she isn’t more learned about faith and spirituality than I am. She truly is fantastic.

You are an entrepreneur with two big projects you worked on previously. Can you tell us about those? What else do you do currently?

Yeah, I’m always dreaming up something. This is by far the biggest endeavour I’ve taken on. Up until now, I was working as a ghostwriter. I spent some time as a singing artist as well.

You are a graduate of Andrews University. Do you still consider yourself an Adventist? When you were an Andrews student, would you have used an app like this?

I’m culturally Adventist, and I tend to have more conservative ideas about my lifestyle. I think 18 or 19-year-old Crystal Cheatham desperately needed this app. I think she would have benefited from knowing there were people in the world capable of unconditional love the way Jesus portrayed it.

Did you feel marginalized in the Adventist community?

The answer is yes. To be told that there wasn’t a place for me in leadership because of my orientation was heartbreaking to hear. I think the Adventist church is cutting off the hands and feet of Christ by pushing out diverse believers like myself. Unless 1 Corinthians 12:27 is wrong, then that’s no way for a church to survive.

Will you be targeting the app to Adventists? 

Those who know me in the Adventist community won’t have a choice about knowing the app exists! I’ve always been a vocal person. But as far as targeting? I don’t think I’ll do that. I will, however, pray that God will melt the hearts of those leading the church.

In my mind, the men who lead the church have become a sort of Pharaoh of the Old Testament, refusing to allow God’s word to touch them tenderly, the way that only He can in order to change hearts and minds. I will pray that they hear the ever closer chant ringing from the empty pews: “Let my people go.”

How do you think the Adventist church could or should treat members of the LGBT community differently than they do?

Adventism was my first home, and I miss it dearly but you gotta know there is no such thing as loving the sinner and hating the sin. That’s what the church doctrines promote and is ultimately what drove me and so many others out. Adventists should reconsider number 23 of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs and include LGBT voices when they do. If you can find a way to incorporate the queer community in your doctrines, then you can truly practice what is preached about loving thy neighbor.

Crystal Cheatham graduated from Andrews University in 2009 with an English degree then earned a Master’s in creative writing at Antioch University-Los Angeles.