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Controversial ads may help only one segment, ex-homosexual says

WASHINGTON (BP)–A backlash against recent full-page advertisements offering deliverance from homosexuality was to be expected, because the ads probably will positively impact only one segment of the homosexual community, according to Michael Johnston.
He speaks from experience. He used to be a part of that group. Now, Johnston and his parents are the subjects of the latest ad in the controversial series.
A full-page ad in the July 29 issue of the Miami Herald told the story of Johnston’s path out of homosexuality from his mother’s perspective. In it, Frances Johnston encouraged the parents of homosexuals to confront their children about their sin and tell them change is possible.
The latest ad follows three that ran two weeks before, one each in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today. In one, former lesbian Anne Paulk shared her testimony of God’s deliverance. In another, a photo of 850 former homosexuals was included. In the other, pro football player Reggie White was featured with text defending freedom of speech. The ads, sponsored by Christian and conservative organizations, appeared after first White, then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott received widespread criticism for calling homosexuality a sin.
Some of the ads are expected to run in other major newspapers.
Many homosexuals, religious and government leaders who affirm homosexuality as acceptable, and some in the news media, attacked the ads. Homosexual rights groups responded with counter ads proclaiming homosexuality as normal.
Homosexuals activists “see the ads as a threat to their pursuit of social and political power,” and homosexuals with “no faith foundation” react angrily to people who say God and objective truth exist, said Johnston, a Southern Baptist. “Neither one of those groups do we believe ultimately will be impacted by these ads.”
He believes, however, the ads will influence homosexuals who have “some kind of faith background.”
“Depending on what God is doing in that individual’s heart, (the ads) are going to be perceived as a rebuke and hopefully will lead them to conviction and repentance and possibly at the same time will be a message of hope to those who are struggling with this issue,” Johnston said. “And that hope, of course, is that there is a God, there is objective truth, that we can know that truth and know him, and that he cares about those individuals and offers them a way out of the circumstances they find themselves in.”
The newest ad recounts how Johnston left the homosexual lifestyle and returned to a commitment to Jesus after finding out he was HIV-positive. He had made a profession of faith in Christ as a child but embraced homosexuality while still a teenager.
In the ad, Frances Johnston said she prayed every day her son would return to God.
“It was never easy telling him what he didn’t want to hear … that homosexuality was sin and that he needed to turn from it,” she said in the ad. “We weren’t being judgmental. We were just being parents.
“To say no to his behavior in a way that was straightforward and caring and based on the truth was simply an honest expression of our love.”
Anthony Falzarano, also a former homosexual, recalled his reaction when he received such a message 15 years.
“It upset me at first,” said Falzarano, who entered homosexuality at age 17. “However, it gave me hope. It gave me a choice.”
He, otherwise, had not known he had a choice, Falzarano said. “I thought this was a done deal,” he said. “I thought that I would have to live out my miserable life” the way he was.
Falzarano received his rebuke from an unlikely source — a man with whom he had just had a sexual encounter. The man was a “backslidden Christian,” Falzarano said, who told him what they had done was a sin. He “told me Jesus loved me,” something Falzarano had not heard before, he said.
“From there on, he and I struggled out of homosexuality together. That was the beginning of my walk toward Christ,” said Falzarano, who has been married for nearly 15 years and has two children.
These ads have “given people all over the country, all over the world an opportunity to choose who they will serve and to choose whether they will remain in the brokenness of their childhood or whether they will choose the very painful process” of coming out of their homosexuality, said Falzarano, who is executive director of Transformation Ex-gay Ministries in Washington and also national director of Parents and Friends of Ex-gays.
Johnston, who directs an outreach to homosexuals, Kerusso Ministries, based in Newport News, Va., said he does not see the ads and the surrounding controversy as a turning point on the issue.
“I see the long-range impact of these ads as less to win a cultural battle but more to win souls and to plant the seed of the gospel, and this is just one more opportunity to take advantage of that,” he said.
Kerusso Ministries and the Family Research Council are two of the organizations listed, along with their telephone numbers, in the ads as sponsors. The reaction to their participation has been overwhelmingly negative.
Kerusso has received “several hundred” messages on its phone system, with “95 percent very emotional, hate-filled messages,” including a bomb threat and a death threat, Johnston said. A “handful of the calls” expressed gratitude for the organization’s stand on the issue and another handful asked for help, he said.
FRC has received “lots of hateful messages,” said Peter LaBarbera, a policy analyst for the Washington-based organization. “It seems there’s been a lot of unreasoned reaction to this, saying that we’re hateful. We’re just letting people know change is possible.
“The homosexual activist thinks that Christians should be ashamed rather than them being ashamed. The truth is, I think they should be ashamed of what they’re doing and of a lifestyle that is wrong. This issue is not so much a matter of no special rights. It’s that, but it’s also a matter of no special sins.”
Some religious leaders attacked the ads’ assertion homosexuality is sinful, charging that view is a distortion of Scripture. Others supportive of homosexual rights called the ads politically motivated and pointed to the ads’ inclusion of such public-policy organizations as Christian Coalition and FRC, instead of just ex-homosexual ministries, as evidence.
The ads certainly have ramifications in public policy. Homosexual rights groups and their allies are pushing legislation that would give homosexuality protected status in civil rights just like race and gender, a position that might be crippled by a message saying homosexuals can change.
“Their ads call on homosexuals to experience Christian conversion. The intent is to rid our society of gays and lesbians. These ads offer a false choice to gays and lesbians — convert or go away; accept the cure for homosexuality or suffer the consequences in a hostile society that will not embrace you as a child of God,” said C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of The Interfaith Alliance, in a written statement reflective of criticism targeted at the ads.
“The real agenda behind this religious right campaign is not about saving souls but about amassing votes,” said Gaddy, a former Baptist pastor and a leader among moderates dissatisfied with the conservative course of the Southern Baptist Convention.