Seventh-day Adventist Church threatens filmmakers
June 23rd, 2010
Daneen Akers comes from a long line of Seventh-day Adventists. The church was, for her, more than just a sharing of faith; it was also culture and community and a large part of identity. But while Adventists believe that “the Bible makes no accommodation for homosexual activity or relationships” and expect life-long celibacy, Daneen and her husband Stephen Eyer found this to be inconsistent their own personal faith discovery.
In 2008 some leaders within the SDA church began to pressure members to support Proposition 8, a California initiative to remove civil marriage rights from same-sex couples. As San Franciscans who had become friends with several couples whom Prop 8 would impact, Daneen and Stephen felt that they needed to be involved in Adventists Against Prop 8 to try and present a counterpoint. Out of this experience, they began to see the unique challenges which gay Adventists face.
Although there are a large number of resources available for gay Christians, from accepting mainline denominations to specific congregations of gay believers with more conservative theology, being gay in the Seventh-day Adventist church provides unique challenges. While Adventists are part of the family of Protestant Christians, they have specific worship practices, dietary expectations, and theological beliefs about eternity that set them apart from other Christians and often leave gay Adventists feeling as outsiders even within pro-gay Christian settings.
And so Daneen and Stephen decided to tell the stories, the challenges, the conflicts that gay Adventists face. They began the process of producing a small documentary film, Seventh-Gay Adventists: A film about love, sex, and eternal life.
But the Seventh-day Adventist Church got word of their project and was not pleased. Unable to stop the project entirely, they decided instead to object to a technicality, their name. The church’s law firm sent a cease and desist letter that read in part:
“Your use and modification of the SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST mark in this manner is without permission of the GCCSDA and/or the church, and is likely to cause dilution by blurring the distinctive qualities of the SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST mark and by tarnishing the reputation of the mark. Your use of the mark in this manner is also likely to cause confusion among consumers who may mistakenly believe that the Church has authorized or approved your use of the SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST mark,” the letter read.
Now, it is rather unlikely that calling your film “Seventh-Gay Adventists” is going to blur distinctive qualities or tarnish the reputation of the church. Nor is there likely to be any confusion among the SDA Church’s “customers.” Nor is it likely that any court would demand that a film about members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have no use of the church’s name.
And the leaders and legal counsel of the Seventh-day Adventist Church know it.
But the legality of the name is irrelevant. This isn’t about protecting the trademark of the church. This is about a large, powerful and well-funded organization using the threat of legal action to bully those who dare question the consequences of their policies. This legal hassle is an attempt to silence Daneen and Stephen, to punish them for speaking up.
Ironically, this film is not an attack on the church or its beliefs. Rather it is an attempt to start a conversation, to present a voice and face for those who love the church but whom the church cannot or will not hear.
We’re trying to make a film that captures how much people want to be a part of the church. Which means we need to show why they are attracted to it in the first place. Our critique, if you want to call it that, is simply that there exists a barrier of entry for those who are classified as “willful sinners” — in this case, gay and lesbian members who make the personal choice to be in relationships, rather than live celibately.
I believe that it is time for the Adventist leadership to invest in some self reflection, time to ask themselves tough questions about the message of Christ. Do they believe that God calls them to bully the weak, to threaten the outsider, and to expel those who are different?
If not, then they should immediately stop their challenge to the film and choose instead to listen closely to the heart of the project and voices of the GLBT men and women who want to call this church their home.
p.s. Those who wish to make a tax-deductible contribution to help towards the completion of this film may do so here.