EDITOR'S NOTE: This monthly column about the issue of homosexuality by various authors is a partnership between Baptist Press and the Southern Baptist Convention Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.
January 29, 2014
June 14, 2012
January 11, 2012
December 1, 2011
October 14, 2011
August 29, 2011
June 30, 2010
October 7, 2009
July 23, 2008
May 30, 2008
MIDLAND, Texas (BP)--Midland, Texas, home to Stonegate Fellowship Church, is in the middle of the West Texas desert. It is a dry and dusty place, the landscape dotted by oil wells and conspicuously absent of any natural body of water.
Yet this spring, Midland once again became a refuge and oasis for 65 couples hailing from 20 states, Canada and the Philippines, each in search of hope, sustenance and refreshment for their marriages.
In April Stonegate Fellowship hosted its third annual Marriages and Mentors Conference and over three days lived out its mission to see lives changed by Jesus Christ. The conference is an initiative of Stonegate's Cross Power Ministries (CPM), a ministry to people impacted by homosexuality.
To our knowledge, the CPM Marriage Conference is the only marriage conference in the world specifically focused on marriages where one or both spouses struggle with same-sex attraction, but where the couple desires to work through their issues and save their marriage.
Couples attending this unique conference are invited to bring a "mentor" couple with them. Mentor couples are simply friends who are walking with the struggling couple through their issues. Stonegate works throughout the weekend to educate and equip the mentors on how to best help their struggling friends.
The conference attendance has grown phenomenally -- from 13 couples in its first year to 65 couples this year. Of those 65 couples, 52 were couples impacted by homosexuality and 13 were mentor couples.
Stonegate goes to great effort and expense to make the conference accessible to everyone. Participants pay for travel and lodging, but the conference itself is free and includes all meals. Stonegate covers travel and lodging costs for mentor couples.
Over 80 Stonegate members volunteered over the course of the weekend, in areas ranging from transportation to small group facilitation to hospitality to snack preparation. The hospitality and love extended by Stonegate may well be the most important part of the weekend. Many of these couples come from churches where they do not feel safe sharing their struggle, and many have been hurt in churches where they have shared their struggle.
The people of Stonegate truly love these couples and love hosting this conference. They see them as incredibly brave and shining examples of real people who are going against the culture and fighting for holiness in the midst of trying circumstances and deep struggles.
The Stonegate volunteers are in many ways as impacted by the conference as the attendees. Patrick Payton, Stonegate's senior pastor, describes the CPM Marriage Conference is one of his favorite church events: "I love nothing more than talking to a group of people who are completely aware of their brokenness and desperate for Jesus to transform their lives."
One participant shared afterward that coming to a Southern Baptist Church for a conference dealing with marriage and same-sex attraction conjured up nothing but unpleasant thoughts. "I was sure it would be hurtful at worst, and a waste of time at best," she said. "The church had been a condemning and hurtful place in my experience. But Stonegate poured oil into those wounds and let me see the church as it needs to be. My heart was overwhelmed and I cried many tears. You knew my name, you wore a band with my name on it around your wrist, you looked me in the eye, you did not hide your children from me, and you loved me in ways that broke my hardened heart. For the first time in my walk with Christ, I felt safe in church."
She went on to say that while she came to the conference planning divorce, she left with a decision that her marriage was not negotiable, and recommitted to allowing God to work in her and to restore their relationship.
Some were surprised to learn the CPM Marriage Conference is not primarily about homosexuality, but about one's relationship with Christ and with their spouse. Couples who came feeling isolated and hopeless left feeling connected and hopeful.
One man said, "I came to the conference feeling like the fatherless, the shameful, and the unloved. I left knowing who my real father is. I know he has redeemed me and made me like pure water, and that he loves me without condition. My wife and I have decided to trust God like we never have before, and we each made a commitment to invite God into a deeper place in our marriage and our personal relationships with Him."
Stonegate has no great experience in ministering to people struggling with same-sex attraction. But Stonegate desires to see all lives changed by Jesus Christ and believes that no issue is too great for Him. While Stonegate certainly cares about protecting the "institution" of marriage, we care more about protecting actual marriages.
And even as Stonegate exerted great effort and expended many resources to help these struggling couples, Stonegate was the true benefactor. Being around honest, vulnerable people who understand their desperation for Jesus only served to remind everyone of their own desperation. Patrick Payton told the Stonegate congregation, as the conference participants joined them for worship, that he wondered if the rest of those present would go to such lengths to attend a conference addressing their issue. He challenged the body to get in touch with their own deep need for transformation, and to open their hearts to all God had for them.
One volunteer expressed the sentiments of the others when he said, "My heart grows more tender every time I am around these wonderful, loving people. I long for the day when we can have this same feeling within the entire church body, where people share their hurts and struggles and we can love on each other without any judgment of any kind."
Love does indeed open and soften hearts for the message of the Gospel that can change any life. No matter the issue and no matter the circumstance, Stonegate is committed to being a place where all persons are free to come honestly and experience the life-changing message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mike Goeke is the associate pastor of counseling at Stonegate Fellowship Church in Midland, Texas. He can be reached at email@example.com. Information on the SBC Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals can be found at www.sbcthewayout.com.