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SOUTHLAKE, Texas (BP)--Comments on the issue of homosexuality made by Southern Seminary President Al Mohler have been a hot topic recently. Having listened carefully to his comments several times and then read his explanation of those comments in Baptist Press, I must confess I'm a little mystified. The views he expressed seemed perfectly consistent with his previous clear writings on this subject. I fear that some may have fixated on his choice of words and ignored the intent of his message.
The Southern Baptist Convention formed a Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals in 2001. The motion which brought about the Task Force included this sentence: "to inform, educate, and encourage our people to be proactive and redemptive in reaching out to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions."
While many of our churches have dynamic and relevant ministries to these strugglers, most of our churches are unprepared to confidently and competently stand with these men, women and young people and help them find their way out.
Lifeway Research did a survey for the Task Force in 2008. They found that only 26 percent of pastors and 8 percent of other church leaders acknowledged having any training in dealing with this issue. Given the enormity of the cultural challenges surrounding homosexuality, this is a disturbing statistic.
Some people were disturbed with Dr. Mohler's comments about "choice." The Task Force has been saying this same thing for several years. Countless men and women have told me "I never chose these feelings. I've prayed, cried and begged God to take them away." I think of the numbers who've told of being sexually and physically abused by an adult in their lives and who subsequently developed a skewed view of sexuality and gender. Can you imagine the frustration and anger of being told "it was just a choice"?
Many times I've told precious people "I'm so sorry that happened to you, and I'm so sorry you didn't get the help you needed."
I've often heard these same people make the statement, "I never chose this temptation. But I did choose whether to act on it." Sin is always a choice. What you're tempted by is not.
Have we gotten so entrenched in our resistance to homosexuality that we can't acknowledge that we haven't always responded as we should? For much of my ministry I rarely if ever talked about the subject of homosexuality in ways that were not harsh and condemning. On many occasions I've asked forgiveness for those words.
This is not inconsistent with the words spoken by SBC President Bryant Wright to the activists with whom he met during the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix. Certainly we should not ask forgiveness for teaching the clear message of Scripture. But we can and should repent for doing it in such a way that people are wounded rather than healed.
There is a reason why David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in their book "unChristian" found that 91 percent of unchurched young Americans and 80 percent of churched young Americans believe the church is "anti-homosexual." They understand we believe it is a sin, but they think we have a bias against those who struggle, that we want to condemn same-sex strugglers. The authors discovered in interviews that many of those who held these views had either personally experienced this or had friends who had.
Interestingly, young Americans who were in church also were critical of their churches because they were not equipping them to minister to their gay friends and co-workers. In other words, their experience was that they had heard negative assessments of homosexuals but had not been given any help in ministering to them.
We have done a great job of standing firm on the biblical teachings on homosexuality. But we haven't been as effective in helping people walk out of this bondage. Dr. Mohler commented that we have been only half right in the issue of homosexuality. For several years now the literature of the Task Force has asked the question "Is your church only HALF-right on homosexuality?" Our attitudes too often have conveyed the impression that we are more concerned about winning the culture war than we are winning men and women to Christ. This is a case where perception is reality to many people.
I once had a man in a small group I led who told me an amazing story. He had been a very successful executive in a Texas city about 200 miles away. He was in his mid-30s and had battled same-sex attractions most of his life, although he had never given in to them. But he longed to overcome those feelings. Finally he made an appointment with one of the associate pastors and told him his story. The pastor listened intently and was very kind and compassionate, but from that day avoided the man completely. He would actually look away or turn and go in a different direction if their paths converged. Finally this man quit his job, moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and took a part-time hourly job -- just so he could give his full attention to going through Living Hope Ministries (which helps those seeking sexual purity). Should it not grieve us that someone in one of our churches had to go to such extreme measures to find help?
Is your church providing redemptive help for strugglers and their friends and family? Are your members equipped to come alongside strugglers and walk with them toward Jesus? Are parents being equipped to recognize danger signs and to teach and model healthy gender identity? Do they consistently hear testimonies of those who have found freedom?
When I was a pastor we had men and women from Living Hope ministries visit each year to share their testimonies. It was one of the highlights of the year for many of our people. They had the opportunity to see and hear the living embodiment of 1 Corinthians 6:11 -- "such were some of you." These church members needed no convincing about the reality of change. Does a form of homophobia prevent your church from hearing these stories?
It has long been my passion to see the SBC set a standard for the evangelical world in ministry to those struggling with same-sex attractions. We have a window of opportunity that is growing more narrow by the day. We can quibble and argue over terminology or we can roll up our sleeves, get the training and understanding we need, and become a redemptive part of the solution to the problem.
Which direction will we go? What will Southern Baptists do to insure that our people continue to have access to the resources and training we so desperately need?
Bob Stith is the Southern Baptist Convention's national strategist for gender issues and the representative of the convention's Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals. Contact him and learn more at www.sbcthewayout.com