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Sex and the university

Published:Sunday | April 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Carolyn Cooper

Carolyn Cooper

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is suffering from a terrible case of performance anxiety. It is wrestling with 'alternative sexualities'. Last month, a summit was held in South Africa to address the problem: 'In God's Image: Scripture, Sexuality, and Society'. The website describes the purpose of the meeting in this way: "to have a conversation with key people in the global leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to gain a greater understanding of the issues surrounding alternative sexualities, and to counsel together regarding the challenges the church is facing in this area, in order to find a way to be redemptive as well as obedient to the teachings of Scripture in a more consistent manner around the world".

No known, LGBT Adventists were invited - except for three 'ex-gay' converts to heterosexuality. This makes absolutely no sense. The church's conversation about 'alternative sexualities' cannot be limited to finding a middle ground between redemption and obedience. Queer Adventists are coming out and claiming the right to full sexual freedom within the church. Not outside. They don't want to be redeemed from the 'sin' of same-sex love. And they certainly don't want to obey outdated Old Testament laws that condemn them to death if they don't conform.

The titles of some sessions at the summit confirm the one-sideness of the conversation. It seems as if church leaders already have all the answers and are just going through the motions. Long-discredited prejudices are being revived: "Alternative sexualities a disorder or a choice". There's no question mark, so I suppose it's a clear case of both/and. Then there's the expectation of 'conversion' to heterosexuality: "A continuum of care with inclusion of pastoral counselling to conversion/reparative therapy." And, finally, it all comes down to just plain old sin: "Neither do I condemn you: Go and sin no more."

Jesus gave that blessing to the woman caught in the act of adultery. Many serial adulterers simply refuse to stop sinning - it's just so much fun! Adventist or not, they are unlikely to feel any empathy for queer people who really don't have a choice about their sexual identity. And it doesn't matter that adultery and homosexuality are equally condemned in the Book of Leviticus. For most fundamentalist Christians, adultery is a forgivable weakness, definitely not of the same order as an 'unnatural' sexual identity.


Northern Caribbean University, a Seventh-day Adventist institution, appears to be having a hard time dealing with what it perceives as 'alternative sexualities'. Last Thursday, I had an instructive conversation with Ms Sha-Shana James, the NCU student accused of kissing the hand of another female during a cheerleading routine! The case is simply ludicrous.

Ms James, a mass communications major, told me her side of the story with great conviction, as she did on CVM 'Live@7'. In my opinion, her account makes much more sense than the adulterated PR version offered by the university. The Citizenship Committee vets cheerleading routines. But for last month's performance at NCU's sports day, the full routine for Ms James' team was not vetted. The pyramids that bring the routines to a climax were excluded because some team members were absent.

The team was disqualified and no reason given until two weeks later when Ms James was summoned to appear before the Citizenship Committee. No other member of the team was investigated. Ms James was asked to explain the routine that ended with a pyramid supporting a bride and groom as if on top of a wedding cake. She depicted the groom and dressed appropriately. Ms James was chastised for varying the approved routine. But if the pyramid was not vetted, on what basis could a claim be made that the students had deviated from the agreed formation?


Furthermore, a member of the committee argued that Ms James appeared to be making a same-sex marriage proposal. This was a violation of the university's ethos. Ms James insists that she did not kiss the offending hand. She used it to cover her mouth so that it would not be obvious that she was telling her teammate to keep her balance. But suppose Ms James had even kissed the hand? She was simulating heterosexual desire!

During the interrogation, the representative of the United Student Movement asked her, "Do you have a boyfriend?" She took offence and retorted that she had come to speak about the routine, not her personal life. She was asked to leave the room. The male cheerleader who accompanied her for moral support told her that they asked him if he'd ever seen her with a boy or wearing a dress. He responded that those were personal questions that should be directed to Ms James. He was asked to leave the room.

When the committee concluded its deliberations, Ms James was informed that instead of expelling her, NCU would be lenient, suspending her for two weeks and banning her from all student activities for the next two years. When she laughed at the judgement, her tongue ring was exposed. She was reminded that wearing jewellery was against the rules. She insisted that the ring was not on her outer person, but inside.

I wonder if NCU would suspend or expel a faculty member or administrator who broke the rules and claimed an 'alternative' sexual identity. Or is it only vulnerable students who are expected to toe the sexual line? The Seventh-day Adventist Church needs to be much more inclusive if it intends to sustain a serious conversation about sexuality today - beyond the low level of the South African summit.

Carolyn Cooper is a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Visit her bilingual blog at Email feedback to and