Cape Town, South Africa
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s top health leader said there is no clear model to understand why some individuals are homosexual, saying it is a “complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors.”
There are very significant health needs in the LGBT group. We as Adventists are ideally equipped and situated to reach out to them. We as a church need to look to ourselves and understand, 'Who is my neighbour?'
In a plenary address yesterday at a denominational conference on sexuality, Dr Peter Landless, the Adventist Church’s Health Ministries director, illustrated with both words and images the complexity of procreation and the genetic variances and disorders that sometimes occur.
He delivered his remarks at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in South Africa, where the Adventist world church is holding the summit, “In God’s Image: Scripture. Sexuality. Society.”
The four-day conference is addressing how the Seventh-day Adventist Church should respond to the experiences of homosexuality and alternative sexuality. Presenters have called attention to possible implications for the Church’s pastoral ministry to individuals, employment practices, the operation of its many educational systems, and management of its far-flung health system.
His address was a call for compassion to those in gay and lesbian relationships, and also a reaffirmation of the church’s biblical stance on marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Early on he offered a rebuke for a comment he had overheard in a convention centre hallway: “I’ve even heard it said at this conference that we’re talking about ‘those people,’” he said. “We’re talking about fellow people on the journey of life.”
Landless, who became director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department in 2013, is a native of South Africa. Internationally known as a nuclear cardiologist, he previously worked at Johannesburg Hospital and served on the late President Nelson Mandela’s cardiology team. He is also an ordained minister with significant pastoral experience.
The physician began his address with a detailed overview of the procreation process and genetic variances that can occur. He gave an example of a child who was born intersexed—a condition known as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia—and how the child’s father rejected him.
“If fathers and relatives [would] reject children born with such rare conditions, how about the church?” Landless asked the audience. “Should it be different?”
Homosexual men, he said, often have anatomical differences in their brains. Post mortem studies of homosexuals and heterosexuals have shown the differences, but it’s unclear whether the variation is causal or associated, Landless said, because the populations studied have been small. The differences show that many homosexual men have a larger superchiasmatic nucleas, which is involved in determining circadian rhythm, as well as larger anterior commissure, which communicates between the brain’s left and right hemispheres.
Some researchers, Landless said, are convinced there is a genetic component to homosexuality, with some searching for a “gay gene,” but there is no consensus on causes for homosexuality in either the medical literature or among professional psychologists. “The jury is definitely not resolved,” he said.
Homosexuals have slightly higher rates of increased non-communicable diseases, including hypertension and a higher cardiovascular age compared to their actual age. And lesbian women, Landless said, are 3.2 times more likely to die of breast cancer than heterosexual women.
“There are very significant health needs in the LGBT group,” Landless said. “We as Adventists are ideally equipped and situated to reach out to them. We as a church need to look to ourselves and understand, ‘Who is my neighbour?’”
Following Landless’ plenary session, several delegates said they appreciated his medical overview and his calls for both compassion and the church’s biblical standard to be upheld.
“He contrasted the physiological picture of what healthy looks like and also the full extent of what brokenness can look like,” said Audrey Andersson, executive secretary of the denomination’s Trans-European Division, based in England. “People can choose how they respond to others’ brokenness.”
Onaolapo Ajibade, executive secretary of the denomination’s West-Central Africa Division, based in Cote d’Ivoire, said since there is no known cause of homosexuality, there is no “cure.”
“In the meantime we have to adopt a Christian approach,” Ajibade said. “Since we don’t know the cause, we have to be sympathetic.”
Before coming to the summit, Ajibade said he questioned whether it was worth the effort and cost.
“Originally I thought this summit was not needed, but having come here and having listened to all the presentations, I’m convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that it is worth it,” he said. “The church is making a spiritual step to equip us to be able to help our brothers and sisters who are in this state.”