On August 22, 2008, members of the ClubAdventist.com community interviewed Mitch Tyner, who served as associate general counsel of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists from 1993-2006.  Special thanks to site moderator Stan Jensen for making this available to RLTV.

Here are some questions and answers from the online interview:

Is there any move at all to change the adversarial nature of our legal system in which winning the case becomes the all-consuming goal often with the real truth becoming incidental and justice sacrificed? 

If only someone could come up with a nice, neat way to do that…

People don't usually go to court unless they have very strong motivation to win. It's expensive, it's time-consuming, etc. So the motivation, by the time you get to that point, is to get what's coming to you and teach the other guy a lesson for causing you all this cost and difficulty.

However, there is a movement called alternative dispute resolution, that seeks to use mediation and/or arbitration as substitutes. Mediation is especially appropriate when what is sought is not just money, but rather a reconciliation and accounting. Sadly, these methods are not used to the degree they might be.

Should Adventists encourage their children to become lawyers? Is it a noble profession?


I know of no area of the law that a Christian cannot practice in good conscience. Usually, that question envisions criminal defense work, which requires holding the government's feet to the fire, forcing it to meet all its obligations as to necessary proof before incarcerating an individual. To do that is to protect all our rights, not merely getting a bad guy out of a jam.

 

Are there circumstances when it is acceptable for believers to sue other believers? When is it better to suffer a wrong done than sue another believer?


There are times when legal rights can only be established by a court. Property boundaries are just one example. There are instances when one becomes a plaintiff involuntarily because your insurance company brings suit on your behalf. In other instances where the decision is yours alone, you must weigh the importance of what can be achieved against the harm the suit may cause. Obviously, that's easier to say than to do, and it is inherently subjective.

What are the upcoming challenges when it comes to religious liberty and what can the average person do about them?

The big challenge I see facing us is the growing mistrust of religion. After 9/11, people are much, much more prone to argue that people who take religion very seriously fly airplanes into tall buildings: you can't trust very religious people. It has cast a pall over all efforts to gain more protection for the free exercise of religion. The idea of religious neutrality, a bedrock assumption of true religious liberty, is being questioned. Religious people have a huge challenge: to constantly demonstrate that religious freedom is both necessary and in the best interest of all.

 

Probably a very simple and obvious question, but I'm sure you're much more up on the policy platforms of the candidates in this area than any of us. Do you believe Obama or McCain would be the President most likely to expand religious liberty (or the reverse)?

The protection of individual rights, the rights of minorities against majorities, has historically been a liberal project, not one favored by conservatives.

 

Voltaire's famous quote about disagreeing with what someone says but defending to the death their right to say it has become commonplace in some ways in our society. But what do we do with it as a church? I know that in the US, for example, the ACLU is widely reviled for its perceived support of NAMBLA. That's a pretty extreme example, but do SDAs support the right of people with whom we disagree (I know you've written on the issue of homosexuality, for example)? Or do we apply our limited resources to supporting causes that we can fully get behind?

 

You ask an interesting question: Do SDAs support those rights. As a matter of fact, the church organization usually does. I fear that a lot of members do not. We have too many members, especially in the US, who think Christians – and they usually mean Protestants – should be in a superior position. Sort of 'all are equal but we are more equal than others'. It doesn't work that way.

In my view, if we are not prepared to protect the rights of those with whom we disagree, we are not serious about religious freedom. That said, it's one thing to support in principle, quite another to put money into a case. One of the frustrations of representing plaintiffs is that there are so many more deserving plaintiffs, with good cases, than money to support the effort. . . .

Will the legalization of gay marriage harm religious freedom? What about the right of churches to discriminate?  

I believe that opposition by churches to equality based on sexual orientation is one of the leading causes of opposition to advancing religious liberty protections. For a lengthy treatment of the subject, see my chapter in the recently released book, "Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Adventist Perspectives," published by the Association of Adventist Forums.

Does the legalization of gay marriage in California mean that pastors have to perform the marriages?

No pastor, at least in the US, can be forced to marry anyone. The Adventist ministers manual says that I can marry two members or two non -member, but not one of each. That is pure religious discrimination, but it is not illegal. On the other hand, if a pastor is a public employee, such as a chaplain, we might have a different situation.

If a government decides that pastors should not preach about a certain topic, such as homosexuality as a sin, what would the legal department do?

That depends on what country you're talking about. In the US, we would have a winning lawsuit. There is no way a US court would approve government efforts to dictate sermon content. My impression is that the same result would be reached in Canada, other common law countries, and virtually everywhere except the most repressive regimes, where the ability to successfully contest government intrusion doesn't really exist anyway. Thus all the verbiage about the danger of churches being muzzled and pastors being required to perform gay marriages is, in my view, mere hype.

 
 

13 Comments

  1. Ryan Bell says:

    Thanks for this interview! The fact that we cannot distinguish between hate speech and moral speech is a sad testimony to the state, not only of our church, but of our society. These is such a thing as hate speech that is criminal, am I right? Or does hate speech have to result in another crime in order to be prosecutable?

    This would be the same distinction, it seems, between preaching gospel non-violence and even speaking out against a particular war and telling church members they should do harm to military recruiting centers, or something like that.

  2. Ryan Bell says:

    Thanks for this interview! The fact that we cannot distinguish between hate speech and moral speech is a sad testimony to the state, not only of our church, but of our society. These is such a thing as hate speech that is criminal, am I right? Or does hate speech have to result in another crime in order to be prosecutable?

    This would be the same distinction, it seems, between preaching gospel non-violence and even speaking out against a particular war and telling church members they should do harm to military recruiting centers, or something like that.

  3. Sean says:

    The Issue of law and Religion is such an important one – especially when it comes to Civil Rigths. It is so easy in a time of fear and panic to push one into the other and destroy both.

    http://www.sabbathtube.com

  4. Sean says:

    The Issue of law and Religion is such an important one – especially when it comes to Civil Rigths. It is so easy in a time of fear and panic to push one into the other and destroy both.

    http://www.sabbathtube.com

  5. ja says:

    My brother, Mitch Henson, died recently from a brain tumor. I believe that this was an act of God. For the past 10 years as pastor of his church he did all that he could to promote the homosexual agenda. He wrote the preface to the book on this subject by Mitch Tyner. His church was known as "the Gay SDA church" by members of the local community. Giving the homosexual agenda a "voice" is wrong. God calls the act of homosexuality a sin. There is no reason for sin, else it would not be sin. As such,God destroyed the earth by flood for the practice of homosexuality.(see RH Nov 10, 1884 by Ellen G. White) Answer me these questions Mr. Tyner. How could you go from defending church members who lost their jobs for Sabbath keeping, but then defend the practice of homosexuality? You believe, some how, that the act of sin is defensible. For those who love the Lord, how can that be? If homosexuals wish to repent from their sins (like all of us) they should be welcomed in to our church. They (for the most part) do not. Rape, murder, robbery, incest,homosexuality, etc are all sins. Does not the Bible state that we should repent from our sins, and be baptized? Will you now in all of your "righteous ardor" sue SDA Churches on behalf of homosexuals so that they can gain membership? How far the mighty have fallen.

  6. ja says:

    My brother, Mitch Henson, died recently from a brain tumor. I believe that this was an act of God. For the past 10 years as pastor of his church he did all that he could to promote the homosexual agenda. He wrote the preface to the book on this subject by Mitch Tyner. His church was known as "the Gay SDA church" by members of the local community. Giving the homosexual agenda a "voice" is wrong. God calls the act of homosexuality a sin. There is no reason for sin, else it would not be sin. As such,God destroyed the earth by flood for the practice of homosexuality.(see RH Nov 10, 1884 by Ellen G. White) Answer me these questions Mr. Tyner. How could you go from defending church members who lost their jobs for Sabbath keeping, but then defend the practice of homosexuality? You believe, some how, that the act of sin is defensible. For those who love the Lord, how can that be? If homosexuals wish to repent from their sins (like all of us) they should be welcomed in to our church. They (for the most part) do not. Rape, murder, robbery, incest,homosexuality, etc are all sins. Does not the Bible state that we should repent from our sins, and be baptized? Will you now in all of your "righteous ardor" sue SDA Churches on behalf of homosexuals so that they can gain membership? How far the mighty have fallen.

  7. Ernest Takeuchi says:

    Same sex marriage supporters have played the "victim" role in portraying the Catholics, Mormons, or other Christian faiths as "hateful" and "discriminatory".

    They demand "respect" through force while indoctrinating our school children, having marriage licenses issued unlawfully, overturning the overwhelmingly supported Prop. 22, rushing to get married "legally" before Prop. 8 was decided, then challenging the will of the people on Prop. 8.

    People of faith will defend their beliefs upholding the moral principles of marriage and protecting their children from the promoters of an immoral lifestyle. This moral battle will continue. Immorality is not "equality". "Respect" is not force. "Education" is not indoctrinating kindergartners. Defending religious beliefs is not "hate speech". Protecting marriage is not "discrimination".

    The "alternative life style" typically attacks viciously, smearing persons or institutions be it governments, politicians, businesses, corporations, religious bodies, or educational institutions opposing any part of their agenda. They play the "victim" to gain sympathy for being a "discriminated minority". The "real" victim will be people of faith who they label as having "hate speech" or "discrimination." Look what has happened in Massachusetts or Canada for challenges to faith.

  8. Ernest Takeuchi says:

    Same sex marriage supporters have played the "victim" role in portraying the Catholics, Mormons, or other Christian faiths as "hateful" and "discriminatory".

    They demand "respect" through force while indoctrinating our school children, having marriage licenses issued unlawfully, overturning the overwhelmingly supported Prop. 22, rushing to get married "legally" before Prop. 8 was decided, then challenging the will of the people on Prop. 8.

    People of faith will defend their beliefs upholding the moral principles of marriage and protecting their children from the promoters of an immoral lifestyle. This moral battle will continue. Immorality is not "equality". "Respect" is not force. "Education" is not indoctrinating kindergartners. Defending religious beliefs is not "hate speech". Protecting marriage is not "discrimination".

    The "alternative life style" typically attacks viciously, smearing persons or institutions be it governments, politicians, businesses, corporations, religious bodies, or educational institutions opposing any part of their agenda. They play the "victim" to gain sympathy for being a "discriminated minority". The "real" victim will be people of faith who they label as having "hate speech" or "discrimination." Look what has happened in Massachusetts or Canada for challenges to faith.

  9. Alexa Rian says:

    I have been a SDA all of my life, I have drifted away from the church several times for different reasons, I have had over the years had the oportunity to become very close friends with several homosexual persons, I lived in NY for a while and once attended a gay pride parade, and I was so completely horrified at the way that professed christians were shouting and demonstrating that God hates Gay's "Turn or Burn" I had never really studied my bible for myself, but I knew that God would not condone such hateful behavior, we as persons trying to be Christ-Like need to first pray and ask the Lord to guide us and then study the word. The Lord says to Hate the Sin but to Love the Sinner. I have studied the Bible and I know that homosexuality is a sin, the bible is very clear on this, so as a Church we should not approve the practice of Homosexuality or Gay Marriage, that being said, I do not think that these members should be ostracized or be treated with anything other than respect, Love, and dignity, there is ONE GOD, There is ONE JUDGE and God states that we are to LOVE one Another and Judge not lest we be juged. there is not one person in church who is perfect and righteous enough to be able to say that they are without sin, should we turn out the un-wed mother's and father's? should we turn out the alcoholic's, gossip mongers, thieves, hypocrytes? We are all sinners, that is why Jesus came to deliver us and I am not a bigger Sinner than he is a saviour and neither is anyone else. We should all ask ourselves how would Jesus act in each situation, he gave us many examples of how he treated persons who were leading sinful lives, His actions were of genuine love, mercy and alway's treating mankind with dignity – He is coming very soon, Satan is using all of his forces to tear apart God's people and to scatter the sheep of God's Fold, I pray that we will live according to the truths that he left for us in the scriptures and that we will uphold the Standard that he gave to us – He can Make us in his image no matter what our sinful nature has become. My deepest Love and Prayers to all – Love Alexa

  10. Alexa Rian says:

    I have been a SDA all of my life, I have drifted away from the church several times for different reasons, I have had over the years had the oportunity to become very close friends with several homosexual persons, I lived in NY for a while and once attended a gay pride parade, and I was so completely horrified at the way that professed christians were shouting and demonstrating that God hates Gay's "Turn or Burn" I had never really studied my bible for myself, but I knew that God would not condone such hateful behavior, we as persons trying to be Christ-Like need to first pray and ask the Lord to guide us and then study the word. The Lord says to Hate the Sin but to Love the Sinner. I have studied the Bible and I know that homosexuality is a sin, the bible is very clear on this, so as a Church we should not approve the practice of Homosexuality or Gay Marriage, that being said, I do not think that these members should be ostracized or be treated with anything other than respect, Love, and dignity, there is ONE GOD, There is ONE JUDGE and God states that we are to LOVE one Another and Judge not lest we be juged. there is not one person in church who is perfect and righteous enough to be able to say that they are without sin, should we turn out the un-wed mother's and father's? should we turn out the alcoholic's, gossip mongers, thieves, hypocrytes? We are all sinners, that is why Jesus came to deliver us and I am not a bigger Sinner than he is a saviour and neither is anyone else. We should all ask ourselves how would Jesus act in each situation, he gave us many examples of how he treated persons who were leading sinful lives, His actions were of genuine love, mercy and alway's treating mankind with dignity – He is coming very soon, Satan is using all of his forces to tear apart God's people and to scatter the sheep of God's Fold, I pray that we will live according to the truths that he left for us in the scriptures and that we will uphold the Standard that he gave to us – He can Make us in his image no matter what our sinful nature has become. My deepest Love and Prayers to all – Love Alexa

  11. Ernest Takeuchi says:

    Alexa Rian:

    I agree that many of the actions of Christians have not been always of a charitable response. Unfortunately, it is one thing to have a situation with alternative life style and another to have that life style and remain in the church as a person in regular standing and expect to be accepted in that life style without any need to follow what Jesus said, Neither do I condemn thee, Go and sin no more….. Those who follow and support the alternative life style hear only the first part of the counsel of Jesus….. and conveniently forget or ignore the second part….. Jesus wants to accept all of us and he loves us inspite of our sins…… but he admonishes us to sin no more with his power……. Unfortunately, some Christians and supporters of alternative lifestyles confuse the issues and take the interpretation of go and sin no more as Jesus loves me in my alternative lifestyle no matter what….so the Christian church and members should accept my lifestyle because Jesus loves me in my lifestyle….. And they wonder why members of the Church are offended with their lifestyles and their interpretation of the love of Jesus confusing this with continual acceptance of their lifestyle and actions….. So, I am sorry that you are confusing the list of other types of sinners as a way of excusing those who support alternative lifestyles in or out of the church. No, the fact that the church have people within with those sins that you listed does not mean that Jesus wants them continue in those sins. Otherwise, where is the power of Jesus to give liberty to those who are in bondage to these sins? No, don't confuse the love of Jesus and the grace of Jesus as him accepting us to cling and remain trapped in bondage to our sins. Yes, Jesus can make us in His image only if we yield to his spirit and not cling and remain in bondage to our sins be it the list of sins you mentioned or the alternative life style that you mentioned. I find it curious to learn that you participated in gay pride parade in NY. Perhaps you have not participated in those in the Bay Area where Gay Pride can be defiling and mocking the symbols of Christianity with open sexuality and perversion in public in full view of families and children while peace officers turn a blind eye to public nudity and public sexual acts. It is any wonder why some misguided Christians take great offense at the open attack by supporters of alternative lifestyle perpetrated on the Christian symbols and react with inappropiate actions. I do not condone violence or hatred but the type of public perverse acts on the radical fringes of alternative lifestyles may push some of the less charitable Christians to lose their Christian experience.

  12. Ernest Takeuchi says:

    Alexa Rian:

    I agree that many of the actions of Christians have not been always of a charitable response. Unfortunately, it is one thing to have a situation with alternative life style and another to have that life style and remain in the church as a person in regular standing and expect to be accepted in that life style without any need to follow what Jesus said, Neither do I condemn thee, Go and sin no more….. Those who follow and support the alternative life style hear only the first part of the counsel of Jesus….. and conveniently forget or ignore the second part….. Jesus wants to accept all of us and he loves us inspite of our sins…… but he admonishes us to sin no more with his power……. Unfortunately, some Christians and supporters of alternative lifestyles confuse the issues and take the interpretation of go and sin no more as Jesus loves me in my alternative lifestyle no matter what….so the Christian church and members should accept my lifestyle because Jesus loves me in my lifestyle….. And they wonder why members of the Church are offended with their lifestyles and their interpretation of the love of Jesus confusing this with continual acceptance of their lifestyle and actions….. So, I am sorry that you are confusing the list of other types of sinners as a way of excusing those who support alternative lifestyles in or out of the church. No, the fact that the church have people within with those sins that you listed does not mean that Jesus wants them continue in those sins. Otherwise, where is the power of Jesus to give liberty to those who are in bondage to these sins? No, don't confuse the love of Jesus and the grace of Jesus as him accepting us to cling and remain trapped in bondage to our sins. Yes, Jesus can make us in His image only if we yield to his spirit and not cling and remain in bondage to our sins be it the list of sins you mentioned or the alternative life style that you mentioned. I find it curious to learn that you participated in gay pride parade in NY. Perhaps you have not participated in those in the Bay Area where Gay Pride can be defiling and mocking the symbols of Christianity with open sexuality and perversion in public in full view of families and children while peace officers turn a blind eye to public nudity and public sexual acts. It is any wonder why some misguided Christians take great offense at the open attack by supporters of alternative lifestyle perpetrated on the Christian symbols and react with inappropiate actions. I do not condone violence or hatred but the type of public perverse acts on the radical fringes of alternative lifestyles may push some of the less charitable Christians to lose their Christian experience.

    • alexarian says:

      Ernest:

      There are several points that you made in your reply that lead me to think that you may have misunderstood my previous comments.

      First, when I attended the Gay Pride Parade, I was not an active Christian, there have been many times in my life that my path has diverted from my Heavenly Father, My biggest concern with our Churches Today is that we have lost the fundamentals of Christianity and we worry too much about "Looking like Christians" instead of "Being Christians" When we say things like "how the mighty have fallen…we indicate that there are others who are less than we are.

      This is a sinful world filled with anti Christ things everywhere and I think that we tend to fear that which we do not believe and or agree.

      What do you think Jesus would do if he were confronted with the situation that you listed above?
      I woulod like to firmly state that I do not believe that it is acceptable to condone ANY sinful behavior, we should all be allowing the Lord to work in our lives and to change in to HIS Image but I think we enjoy telling others what to do when that is the place of God, If a person is a sincere follower of the Lord he will be transformed and if he is not, then no matter what the Church says or does he will not be changed, so who in the Church is going to make those Judgments? how are we to know what stage a person is in in his walk with God, and who is qualified to read the mind and heart of any person – we can not afford to judge one another, that is the place of God – only he can convert a heart – and we must all read and study the WHOLE word of God so that we do not take parts out of context and so that we are sure in out beliefs, then the opinons of the world will not threaten us as we will be firmly planted in the WORD of GOD. We should Love our fellow humans but our worry and concern should be focused INWARD not OUTWARD we all have to stand before him as individuals.

 
 
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