A powerful new documentary explores the spiritual journeys of gay Adventists
Our primary conception of documentaries comes rooted in the notion that they are issue-based films told from one perspective with all of the supporting facts and figures to make an airtight case. We go in to be informed, mainly from an ideological standpoint that we are likely already drawn to. It is rare for audiences to approach a documentary espousing a stance that runs counter to our pre-conceived ideas or beliefs, because to do so sets up a situation of conflict and confrontation. With our defenses raised, how can we expect to listen with an open mind or heart, let alone learn about the other side?
All of which makes “Seventh-Gay Adventists,” the new documentary from the husband and wife team of Stephen Eyer and Daneen Akers, so fascinating. The pair, with multi-generational connections to the Seventh-Day Adventist faith in the San Francisco Bay area, began considering the plight of gay Adventists back in 2008, during the heated political battle over Proposition 8, which eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry. The debate leading up to the vote garnered national attention and rallied groups of either side of the issue – both within the state of California and beyond – one of the strongest and most vocal constituencies being people of faith (and in particular, the more conservative voices within a variety of religious groups).
During a recent phone interview, Eyer and Akers kindly shared details with me about their journey to produce the film. From the outset, it was conceived as an issue-oriented take on the Adventist community, which “tended to steer clear of all that (mainstream political involvement) because they consider themselves a minority among other Christians because of their different day of worship. So, there was more tolerance for other minorities.”
Along the way though, the pair started to hear stories about a progressive groundswell that intrigued them. Akers recalled, “Our little church started getting refugees – gay and lesbian refugees from other churches in the area. We were hearing stories about how people were being treated.” The stories – of long-term and fully invested members of churches who were coming face-to-face with discrimination among the congregations and blatantly anti-gay sermonizing from the pulpit – revealed a sad and ugly reality that could no longer be ignored.
A healthy degree of “righteous indignation” inflamed Akers and Eyer, which led to them embarking on a three-month road trip – with their infant daughter in tow – “to every major Adventist population in the United States – which,” Akers highlighted, “included Dayton/Kettering.” They set up booths at each stop along the way, allowing people to share their experiences, to form an investigative basis and context for an issue-styled exploration of the Adventist perspective on gay members and same-sex marriage.
But a funny thing happened along the way. They ultimately found themselves with too many stories to follow, so they ended up narrowing the focus down to the three featured in the film, and rather than littering the proceedings with social/cultural commentary, they simply allowed their subjects – including Columbus resident Sherri, her partner Jill and their two girls – to give voice to their own truths. It is potent and powerful stuff with strong hints of other hot button issues (immigration and identity re-education), but made more so because it is unadorned and devoid of an argumentative bent.
Audiences can and will come to this film, whether gay or straight, from any religious affiliation or none at all, and, if they are willing to listen, they will learn to see, hear, and possibly walk along the margins in another’s shoes for a short while.
Editor’s Note: “Seventh-Gay Adventists” is scheduled to premier in California at the Frameline LGBT Film Festival in San Francisco prior to the Dayton screening. Additionally, Daneen Akers was recently named by The Advocate as one of the Top Ten pro-gay Christian women to know.
“Seventh-Gay Adventists” will screen on Sunday, June 2 from 6-9 p.m. at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North. The filmmakers (with Sherri) will be on hand for a Q&A following the screening. For more information, please visit sgamovie.com.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com