For eight years, Ryan Bell was the senior pastor of Hollywood Adventist Church, an evangelical, Seventh-day Adventist congregation affectionately known as the "purple church" because of a clear glaze on the building's exterior that years of sun have turned lavender. Half a mile up Hollywood Boulevard from the Pantages Theater, Bell's church was situated in the heart of the city, and reflected Los Angeles' diversity: "young and older…and now children!, multi-ethnic, poor and middle-class, gay and straight, artists, business people, teachers and civic servants," he remarked in his open letter of resignation.
Bell was asked to leave the congregation a week ago, not by its members, but by the governing body—the administration of the Southern California Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church—after his theological and ideological convictions were deemed inconsistent with the trajectory of the Adventists.
When asked if he saw the termination coming, Bell—an LGBT ally and marriage equality advocate—said, "Yeah, I would say I did. My views on gay marriage pushed some tensions over the line. There were growing tensions between me and the [governing body of the church], and not just on LGBT issues." The congregation was devastated by the news, and statements of shock and deep grief have been surfacing since the news was announced.
Bell is an adjunct professor at nearby Azusa Pacific University, but says he's not entirely sure where he's headed next. "Well," he laughed, "it's been a whole week since I found out, so I'm not quite sure yet."
Bell's hope for the future of the church is encouraging. He expressed a desire to see LGBTQ people welcomed like any other group into all congregations. "The gift that LGBT people bring to the church is an examined sexuality; straight people are not forced to do that same work," he said. For Bell, inclusion is not enough: "We need to go beyond inclusion, and we need to learn from [the LGBTQ community]."
A life-long Adventist, Bell represents a growing and encouraging trend in American evangelicalism: people who previously were silent on issues of LGBT equality courageously speaking out in support of full inclusion, even when it comes at great cost. Most recently, a different evangelical Bell (Rob, author; pastor) made clear his support of marriage equality. Earlier this year, Samantha Curley and Chelsea McInturff hosted the first LGBTQ film forum on an evangelical seminary campus.
GLAAD recognizes the bravery of Ryan Bell's commitment to establishing equality and justice, and offers its condolences to the understandably distraught members of Hollywood Adventist Church, who—undoubtedly, will feel the absence of their beloved leader in the coming months.