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Counseling homosexuals involves ‘speaking truth in love’

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please see additional feature on Rosaria Butterfield below this article.

[SLIDESHOW=41271,41272,41273,41274,41275]LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) — Christian counselors should be able to speak lovingly and winsomely to people struggling with homosexual attraction, said evangelical leaders during a homosexuality conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The conference, titled “Homosexuality: Compassion, Care, and Counseling for Struggling People,” was sponsored by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) on the seminary’s campus in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 5-7.

“The integrity of our message is at stake in this, brothers and sisters,” said Heath Lambert, executive director of ACBC and associate professor of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College. “If we believe that the Bible teaches homosexuality to be a sin, and if we believe that Jesus Christ changes people, but we don’t know how to help them, then … we will make a mockery of the Word of God. If we don’t know how to lay hold of the grace of Jesus, we will slander the Word of God and the grace of Jesus.”

Using Ephesians 4:15 as his text, Lambert said believers should pay close attention to the way Christ modeled “speaking the truth in love,” because without Him they will speak truth without love. Any help Christians want to give should be motivated by genuine love for homosexuals, Lambert said, which does not apologize for biblical standards. The Bible has not changed, and neither should the convictions of believers, he said.

“The thing that haunts me about the culture we live in … is that our arguments don’t change the mind of God,” he said. “Where is the love, where is the grace when we make sinners comfy on the way to hell? What seems so loving now will turn into great pain in a lifetime.”

While some teach that behavior is sinful but desire may not be, Lambert said desire cannot be divorced from one’s actions.

“The Bible teaches behavior flows from desire. The Bible teaches that you are not a behavioristic machine who just flies on autopilot. The Bible teaches that you do what you do because you want what you want,” he said. “If you do not repent at the level of desire, you will fail — sooner or later — at the level of behavior.”

Christian counselors should seek to minister to gay people, not merely convict them of sin by pointing to the Bible’s ethical commands, Lambert said. Faithful Christian witness requires applying biblical teaching to motivate personal transformation by the Spirit’s power, he said.

“It is true that the Bible teaches homosexuality to be a sin, but there is more truth in your Bible than that,” he said. “The Bible also teaches Jesus changes people. The Bible also teaches us how Jesus changes people.”

For people struggling with homosexual attraction, following Jesus involves deep, internal transformation into Christ’s likeness, Lambert said, not just trading homosexuality for heterosexuality.

“Biblical change is not heterosexuality. Biblical change is when your life looks like Jesus Christ,” he said. “Every time you put off homosexual lust and put on righteousness and purity, that’s called change.

“When you say that you can’t change that says more about what you think about Jesus than what you think about the sin of homosexuality. People can change because Jesus changes people.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, walked through Romans 1:16-32, perhaps the most explicit text in the New Testament against homosexual behavior.

“We have to go back to Romans chapter one because that really explains how this happened,” Mohler said. “We are told here that there is no one who has excuse. Everyone — to put it the way the Bible puts it — everyone is without excuse. No one is going to be able to say, ‘I did not know.’

“No one’s going to be able to say that I had no idea that I was a creature made by a creator.”

Biblical commands to condemn sin should not stop at homosexuality but include all forms of unrighteousness, Mohler said — including matters of birth control, divorce, assisted sexual reproduction, and pre-marital cohabitation. Each of these, as they went unaddressed from American pulpits, weakened the foundation for biblical marriage and made possible the moral revolution the church now faces.

“At every step we have to say that the church failed to be a prophetic voice to speak what needed to be spoken,” said Mohler, whose new book, “We Cannot Be Silent,” releases Oct. 27. “We failed in terms of church discipline. We failed in terms of biblical teaching from the pulpit. We failed in terms of speaking where we needed to speak.”

The church also has an obligation to speak into the lives of those struggling with homosexual feelings, he said. They cannot be expected to “figure it out” on their own, and there is no other message that can address their deepest needs.

“There’s only one way out and that’s through the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Mohler said.

Following Mohler’s address, Lambert presented Mohler the ACBC award for Biblical Counseling Excellence. It was only the second time a non-ACBC member received the award.

Sam Allberry, pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, United Kingdom, discussed how Christians can find hope and joy when personal change is slow. Speaking from his own experience as a single pastor who continues to struggle with same-sex attraction, Allberry encouraged believers to delight in Jesus Christ in the midst of gradual change.

“His Word doesn’t need to just ricochet off our lives; it needs to abide in us, to remain in us,” he said, appealing to Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches in John 15. “His Word needs to find a permanent home in our hearts.”

Just as every branch is cut in order to remain in the vineyard, so every Christian must be pruned in order to remain in Christ, Allberry said. This pruning, though painful, is intended to make us more fruitful, he said.

“When those divine cutters come into our life, the blades are very, very sharp. But we know that the person holding them is unfathomably good,” he said. “The result is that we bear more fruit.

“Friends, this is the change that matters. The Bible nowhere … promises me that I will become just gradually more and more heterosexual as I go on in the Christian life. Nor does the Bible lift up marriage as being the goal of the Christian life. Marriage is not meant to fulfill us; marriage is meant to point to the thing that does fulfill us. No, the change the Bible does promise, the change that matters the most, is that we become more and more like Jesus.”

Remaining in Jesus includes remaining among the people of God, Allberry said, and Christians can only find full hope and joy in fellowship with community.

“We need Christian family, we need Christian community, Christian encouragement, Christian accountability — and through those things, there is great hope and joy to be found,” he said.

Also speaking at the conference were Rosaria Butterfield, author of “Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” and “Openness Unhindered;” Stuart W. Scott, executive director of the One-Eighty Counseling and Education ministry and former associate professor of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary; and Robert Jones, assistant professor biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

Scott outlined the path of genuine sexual purity, which emerges from genuine heart transformation, while Jones offered practical guidelines for counseling families broken by homosexual sin. Butterfield gave her testimony as a former lesbian college professor who converted to Christianity.

In addition to six plenary sessions, the three-day conference included a preconference on transgenderism and 45 breakout sessions on various counseling matters. ACBC is an evangelical organization that has certified biblical counselors for nearly 40 years. Audio and video from the conference will soon be available on the ACBC website.

Annie Corser contributed to the reporting of this story.


Butterfield, former lesbian and LGBT activist, shares testimony
By Andrew J.W. Smith

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — While many speakers during the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) conference were evangelical counselors or longtime pastors, Rosaria Butterfield offered a unique perspective on homosexuality. The conference, titled “Homosexuality: Compassion, Care, and Counseling for Struggling People” and held at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, featured the popular author and speaker’s testimony during one of its plenary sessions, Oct. 6.

Butterfield — once a liberal, feminist, lesbian college professor at Syracuse University and now a pastor’s wife — offered the perspective of someone formerly a member of the gay lifestyle, but radically and supernaturally saved out of it through the ministry of a local pastor.

In 1997, after Butterfield wrote a scathing article about a nearby Promise Keepers conference, a Presbyterian pastor in town sent her a letter challenging her presuppositions and inviting her to dinner at his home. After initially throwing it away, she dug it back out and agreed to visit him. Their interaction eventually grew into a friendly, and eventually redemptive, relationship.

“I felt that when Ken [Smith] extended his hand to me in friendship, it was safe for me to close mine in his,” she said. “I wasn’t Ken’s project; I was Ken’s neighbor. This wasn’t friendship evangelism; this was friendship.”

Through the consistent love and care from Pastor Ken Smith and his wife Floy, Butterfield was gradually exposed to a holy God who hated sin but extended love and grace to broken people, she said. The Smiths never explained the Gospel to her, nor did they invite her to church, but instead treated her as a friend and patiently encouraged her to read her Bible carefully.

“I actually started to read the Bible like I was trained to read a book,” she said. “I was a heathen reading the Bible. … I read the way a glutton devours. And slowly and over time, the Bible started to take on a life and a meaning that startled me.”

Butterfield’s regular exposure to Word of God slowly changed her, and even her friends within the gay community began to notice. Butterfield found the structure of Romans 1 particularly gripping, with its unflinching condemnation of sin and its close literary relationship with the Fall narrative in Genesis 3.

“The two biblical frames, now — one in Genesis and one in Romans — stood out as bookends of my life,” she said. “But not just my life … if the Bible is, as its internal testimony purports, an eternal frame relevant for and responding to the needs for all humanity, then Genesis 3 and Romans 1 stood out as the table of contents for what ails the world.”

After she had read through the Bible seven times, Butterfield continued to wrestle with it spiritually. When Smith preached a sermon on Jesus feeding the 5,000, he paused to emphasize Jesus’ words to Peter and the disciples: “Do you still lack understanding?”

“This startled me, because this was my question,” said the former literature professor. “I realized that question was for me. Do I still lack understanding? Then I wondered who was speaking here: that old man behind the pulpit or the God-man from before the foundations of the world? There was something about the hermeneutic of preaching that completely disarmed me, and truth be told, it still does.”

It was through deep, heartfelt repentance that Butterfield began to experience new life. Though her life has changed significantly since her conversion, that fundamental reality never changes, she said.

“Repentance is bittersweet business,” she said. “Repentance is not just some conversion exercise; it is the posture of a Christian. Repentance is our daily fruit, our hourly washing, our minute-by-minute wake-up call, our reminder of God’s creation, Jesus’ blood, and the Holy Spirit’s comfort. Repentance is the only no-shame solution to a renewed conscience, because it proves only the obvious: that God was right all along.”

Butterfield’s talk was followed by an hour-long question and answer session with Heath Lambert, executive director of ACBC and associate professor of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College.

Butterfield argued the moniker “gay Christian,” when used to affirm that both a Christian identity and a homosexual identity are compatible, is unhelpful.

“The problem with identifying as a gay Christian is that the Lord Jesus Christ wants our whole identity,” she said. “And we are not to use any adjectival modifier to modify our identity as Christian, especially if that is not going to survive to the new Jerusalem.

“Adjectives in terms of grammar are modifiers, their job is to tell me what kind of Christian you are. The problem with a term like ‘gay Christian’ is that it modifies Christian according to a category of the flesh.”

Butterfield has written two books, “Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” and “Openness Unhindered.” Audio and video from the conference will soon be available on the ACBC website.