September 2, 2014
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Needed: broken-hearted prophets
Bob Stith
Posted on Jun 25, 2008

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This monthly column about the issue of homosexuality by various authors is a partnership between Baptist Press and the SBC Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.

SOUTHLAKE, Texas (BP)--One year ago the position of National Strategist for Gender Issues was established by the Southern Baptist Convention's Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.

LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC Executive Committee, the North American Mission Board and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission have all participated in the work of the task force. Through the synergy of these organizations, we have been able to accomplish a great deal.

But even with all of this combined effort, we are just touching the tip of the iceberg. The task before our convention -- reclaiming a biblical view of sexuality -- is overwhelming, and it will require awareness and commitment from individual Southern Baptists as well as our churches and institutions if we're to begin to turn the tide on this struggle.

Fourteen years ago I became burdened for this issue and began telling people that I believed this would be the watershed issue for the church in our generation. With every day that passes we are seeing that fulfilled. I've heard Jimmy Draper say on several occasions this is the No. 1 cultural issue we're facing today. No single issue is so perfectly poised to weaken the evangelical church as this one.

Unfortunately, we are losing that battle on almost every front.

A recent survey by LifeWay Research revealed that only 19 percent of SBC pastors and only 9 percent of staff and laity are even aware of the Gender Issues Office. This survey also showed that while 26 percent of our pastors have received some kind of specific training to minister in this area, only 8 percent of other staff and laity have received such training. (The full results of this remarkable study can be found at www.sbcthewayout.com and www.LifewayResearch.com.) This and other studies reveal a radical disconnect between what we say we know and what is being taught to our people. Far too few pastors have any training, and too few of those who do are sharing that training with their staff and members.

The SBC Gender Issues Office has participated in several workshops in cooperation with Living Hope Ministries in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. For one such event we sent invitations to more than 400 churches to attend an informational breakfast prior to the workshop. Approximately 12-15 pastors attended the breakfast, and only one actually attended the workshop.

I've since heard personally from three people who were desperate for help -- three people who are members of churches whose staff received invitations to the conference but chose not to attend.

Our people are dying from lack of knowledge. Many of our churches are solid on what the Bible says about homosexuality, but we have not done the heavy lifting to teach our people how to interact with a culture that is increasingly pro-homosexuality.

The recent book "UnChristian," by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (Baker, 2007), showed that 91 percent of unchurched young adults think Christians are anti-homosexual. What is equally disturbing is that 80 percent of churched young adults agree. Obviously, we believe homosexual behavior is sin, but we should be known as messengers of redemption, as those who hold out the hope of freedom in Christ.

Another disturbing finding from the book was that the churched group is very critical because their churches have not prepared them to minister to their homosexual friends and co-workers. Again, there is a serious disconnect in what we believe and what we're effectively communicating to the people in our pews. We are not teaching and showing how they can come alongside strugglers and help them in their walk out of homosexuality.

This seems to document the perception that we are better at speaking against homosexuality than we are at ministering to those who are affected by it. I've often said that it took me two years to realize how much I didn't know about homosexuality. Part of the reason for that had to do with my preconceptions. Sometimes I was wrong. At other times I was right or partly right but deficient in knowing how to apply what I knew in redemptive ways.

This is a difficult issue, fraught with many dangers. A survey done by Your Church magazine revealed that 23 percent of pastors of all denominations would not even preach on homosexuality because of the possible negative impact on membership. But our silence could be a death sentence for many. And sometimes, the way we have preached on it and addressed it has done more harm than good. I was Exhibit A for that. But we must face this issue. It isn't going away.

I could tell you countless stories of men and women who have called me in anguish over a struggle they did not choose, do not understand and desperately want to escape. My heart has been broken many times as I've listened to men and women as well as family members who have either been wounded by careless remarks and unwise counsel or simply ignored after sharing their pain.

It is imperative that Southern Baptists step up to the plate. We must make our churches places of refuge and healing. Our entities and educational institutions must seek the ways we can best equip our students for the challenges of this new world. Every encampment, especially those relating to youth, MUST include keynote addresses and workshops to equip our young people to deal with this issue. If we don't, our youth and our future will suffer, for the culture most assuredly will continue to spread its distorted message.

We must be driven by a passion for men and women to be made whole in Christ and not simply a passion to defeat the homosexual agenda. It is a time for the prophets to speak -- not prophets of fire but broken-hearted prophets who can identify with the brokenness of their people.
--30--
Bob Stith is the SBC's National Strategist for Gender Issues. He can be reached at bstith@sbcthewayout.com. For more information about the Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals or about the referenced poll, visit www.sbcthewayout.com.
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