In a recent article published in the Journal of Social Work and Christianity,* Adventist researchers shared their conclusions after conducting a special study: “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 such as depression, substance abuse and suicide.” According to survey findings, Seventh-day Adventist youth are no exception, and may have greater difficulty navigating these issues because of “the very high behavioral standards of our church.”
The study conducted by Curtis VanderWaal, David Sedlacek, Nancy Carbonell, and Shannon Trecartin surveyed 310 Adventist adult Millennials in the United States (18-35 years old) on their perceived levels of family acceptance or rejection of their sexual orientation or gender identity during their teen years.
The methods used in the study include choosing the target population, developing the survey, collecting the data, and dividing the sample into various demographics. Findings reported centered around religious backgrounds (97.4 percent grew up as Seventh-day Adventists with 76.8 percent describing their family as “very religious or spiritual”); and independent variables of family acceptance and rejection as the young adults surveyed answered questions about how they “came out as LGBT+ to a parent or caregiver,” the responses and consequences from the parent or caregiver, and the impact religion played in how respondents and families interpreted and responded to issues of orientation and identity. Social support from friends and family were part of the dependent variables in the survey.
This research was conducted to foster better understanding of LGBT+ Adventists — many church members talk about LGBT+ individuals, but few actually talk directly to them. According to the article, the Adventist Church has been “challenged to address the reality that there are members who have a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender sexual orientation or gender identity. . . . Many parents struggle to reconcile their understanding of biblical teaching and the official positon of their church with the sexual orientation of their children.”
The research team believes that no study to date has been published that examines LGBT+ acceptance within families within a Christian denominational context. According to the article, they hope that more studies will be conducted to examine the role acceptance or rejection plays in depression, suicidality, substance abuse, at-risk sexual activities, etc.
It is hoped that Christian social workers and counselors will be able to help parents and children by facilitating conversations in which both parties learn “to respond in grace and to be an objective voice in their lives during this difficult time in a mission unique to Christian social work.”
And researchers also believe that Adventists, who agree that the greatest commandment is to love, must discuss how that love is demonstrated. The team surmised that this must “start with conversations that make room for greater levels of understanding and compassion. . . . And, as we are trying to manifest this love in meaningful ways, we must remind ourselves that we are all beneficiaries of God’s continuing grace.”
*Journal of Social Work and Christianity, vol. 44, no. 1 & 2, (2017): pp. 72-95.
— Prepared by the North American Divison Office of Communication