Churches called to aid those struggling with homosexuality
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (BP)--Trapped in an elevator with an inquisitive older woman who wanted to know which nonprofit office he was heading, Tim Wilkins had no choice but to tell her the ministry he works with helps former homosexuals find healing through Jesus Christ.
“How in the world did you get involved in that area of ministry?” she asked. When Wilkins told her it is because he used to be homosexual, he said her response unfortunately is all too common, even among Christians: “There was a terrified look on her face and she had a dazed expression.”
Ironically, Wilkins said, testimonies of drug abuse or even sins of a heterosexual nature usually elicit sympathy and sometimes smiles of understanding. “I’ll tell you, it’s not this way when you talk about homosexuality,” said Wilkins, founder of Cross Ministry, which seeks to equip the church to evangelize and disciple the homosexual.
Wilkins challenged those attending a one-day “More Than Words” conference Sept. 24 at First Baptist Church in Homestead, Fla., to give more than lip service in providing a biblical “loving, compassionate and responsible” ministry to those who struggle with feelings of same-sex attraction.
Unfortunately, people’s opinions of this complex issue may be misinformed or they may feel ill-equipped to clearly communicate the Gospel in such a situation, Wilkins said.
Telling bits and pieces of his own struggle and testimony throughout the day, Wilkins said he first approached a counselor about his same-sex attraction when he was 18. After 45 minutes, Wilkins said he finally got the words out, and the befuddled counselor immediately recommended the book, “I’m OK -- You’re OK.”
“Not only was I not OK, neither was he,” Wilkins said. “My problem was not really homosexuality, my problem was sin, and the Bible speaks clearly about what God has done to conquer sin.”
Wilkins said his early home life involved “a great deal of confusion and divisiveness,” which often left him perplexed. At age 6, he knew he was “different” from other children he went to school with. His father beat his mother in front of him and beat him so frequently he had to ask his mother for a written excuse to avoid P.E. classes so people wouldn’t see the black and blue welts on his body.
“I’m not sharing this to gain your sympathy. We can’t play the blame game,” Wilkins said, calling his upbringing a “contributing factor” in understanding his struggle. “I share it because it’s part of who I am.”
Decrying what he said is misinformation perpetuated by people in all denominations, Wilkins said the attraction for same-sex relationships is commonly misunderstood.
“I did not choose to be attracted to the same sex, but I did choose to act on that attraction,” Wilkins said, reminding listeners that those tempted by same-sex attraction must ultimately accept or reject homosexuality.
Turning from homosexuality is a requirement of being obedient to God’s Word, Wilkins said. When he became convicted of his sin, he said he relied on drawing closer to God in order to find healing. Dismissing the notion that individuals must adhere to any strict process, Wilkins said reading the Bible enabled him to finally understand God’s love and grace.
“We are spiritually depraved,” Wilkins said. “The path, the journey, the pilgrimage out of homosexuality ... is through an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.”
MORE THAN WORDS
Christians can become integral in sharing God’s plan with homosexuals and ministering to them, but, Wilkins noted, “When we first hear that someone in our family or friends or someone is dealing with homosexuality, we can’t wait seven seconds before we launch into what the Bible has to say about homosexuality.
“It takes more than words to guide someone out of homosexuality,” he said. “It takes more than words to guide anybody out of sin and to the Savior.”
Wilkins said, bottom line, is that believers must care about individuals. “The thing that is lacking most among Christian churches today is care,” he said. “Do we really care ... or do we want to notch one on our belt?”
Understanding why a person may struggle with a same-sex attraction is not a simple matter, Wilkins said in talking about both theological and clinical aspects of the issue.
Illustrating his point, Wilkins described a single man in his 30s who had been molested over a long period of time when he was a child. As an adult, the young man was married and active in his church but said he was not attracted to women.
“I can’t help it if I don’t want cauliflower,” the man told Wilkins, comparing his disinterest in women to the vegetable. “I need help.”
Wilkins reminded the man that he hadn’t said which vegetables he did like. “No one, including God, says you must eat cauliflower,” Wilkens said. Furthering the illustration, he told the man that if he liked potatoes, for instance, but the Bible forbade eating potatoes, “just because you like them, you don’t have to eat them.”
It is possible to be attracted to a person of the same sex, “but not be sexually involved,” Wilkins said, adding another element to the potato illustration: “You can choose to abstain from potatoes. Rest assured, with time and obedience, your taste for potatoes” will diminish.
Obedience to God’s Word, however, does not mean a person must marry and raise a family, Wilkins said. On the contrary, it is not dating, marriage or a heterosexual relationship that is proof of healing. It is our “relationship with our Creator.”
“To tell the homosexual he needs to find a girl who can make him a man is off-base,” Wilkins said.
Sharing a story about a father who bought his son a subscription to Playboy magazine, Wilkins said that is like “firing a machine gun at a tidal wave.”
“God does not heal one form of homosexuality with another [sexual sin],” he said.
In another instance, when a mother was concerned her son might have to live “the rest of his life denying his homosexuality,” Wilkins disagreed.
“We are all heterosexual,” he asserted, referring to studies on his ministry website. “The only part that is not heterosexual is the mind, and the Bible talks about renewing the mind.”
Stating that an understanding of sexuality should not be derived from clinical books or psychology, but from the Bible, Wilkins said before Adam and Eve had a relationship, God and Adam had a relationship.
“Our relationship with our Creator is a prerequisite -- it takes precedence over every relationship that we have in the world. From there on, things begin to fall into place.”
In explaining some aspects of same-sex attraction, Wilkins said a homosexual is unconsciously “trying to import more masculinity ... or femininity” into himself or herself.
Sharing an instance of when he was able to befriend a homosexual man who challenged his views, Wilkins said he sought to interject patience and a caring attitude into the conversation. He pondered aloud what might happen “across the nation if we build rapport ... rather than denigrating and dehumanizing those who are involved in homosexuality.”
Wilkins credited Southern Baptists with entering into the discussion of how to minister to homosexuals by facilitating a task force on homosexuality and encouraging work with such groups as Exodus International.
Ultimately, however, Wilkins said churches must take responsibility for how they communicate their beliefs about homosexuality and how they respond to those who struggle in this area.
“What we’ve communicated is that homosexuality is immoral and a sin,” Wilkins said.
Comparing some churches to emergency rooms that won’t treat the wounded, he said, “... the church wants to deal with clean sins.”
Imploring believers not to use a double standard in dealing with the sin of homosexuality, Wilkins said information must be shared. “It’s not what you know that counts; it’s what you do with what you know.”
Wilkins urged the conference’s attendees to take what they learned and share it with their Sunday School classes or churches.
“The church has got to move to a point where a mother and father can say, ‘Hey, our son went off to college and is experiencing some same-sex attraction,’ and we can pray for him,” Wilkins said. “Nobody laughs, nobody smirks and nobody passes out. God help us to get to a place” where that happens.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com. For information on Cross Ministry, go to www.crossministry.org or call 919-569-0375. For additional resources about ministry to those who struggle with same-sex attraction, go to www.exodus-international.org or www.lifeway.com/thewayout. For a video, "How can we help?" go to www.faithandfamily.com or call the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission toll-free at 1-800-475-9127.