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)–“We don’t have that problem at our church.”
That response is heard so often when the subject of homosexuality comes up that it has become something of a joke among people who work in recovery ministry. I’ve had pastors say that to me in perfect seriousness, and only respect for the confidentiality of a specific church member has kept me from saying, “Oh, yes, you do!”
This denial is compounded by several other factors.
First, the struggler probably has not felt free to confide his struggles to church leaders. Things have been said and “jokes” have been told that have made the person struggling with homosexuality — as well as his or her family — feel uneasy about seeking help. One mother wrote me after reading one of my previous columns and said, “You hit the nail on the head in your article. I would never tell anyone about my son. This has made me feel isolated at church. What if someone found out? Pray for my son, please.”
Second, we feel the need to single out this sin as one we don’t have. Generally, we don’t hear stout denials that we don’t have covetous people or verbally abusive people or fill-in-the-blank people in our churches.
I once heard Josh McDowell say that if your church is healthy, you will have people who struggle with such things as sexual sin, drugs and alcohol. I was stunned by his comment until he went on to explain that if your church is healthy, God will send broken people there to find wholeness in Christ. So, if you truly don’t have homosexual strugglers in your church, perhaps you should ask yourself why not.
Even if a church does not have people struggling with homosexuality, the church is not excused from getting involved. This is especially true for Southern Baptist churches, whose Cooperative Program is built upon the idea that all of us together can do more than any of us can do separately.
Third, many of us have allowed our concern about the increasing acceptance of homosexuality to press us into an “us vs. them” mentality. With the liberalizing of views on the subject, we feel compelled simply to repeat the scriptural prohibitions. But we can and must find additional ways of expressing our beliefs about homosexuality. A former gay activist once told me, “We always saw those signs when Christians protested our events. Didn’t they realize we knew those verses better than any in the Bible? It wasn’t like we saw the signs and said, ‘Hey, Christians think homosexuality is a sin. Who knew?'”
We must go further than we presently are if we are to have any hope of changing the minds of those who see evangelicals as being “anti-homosexual.” The recent book “unChristian” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons quoted some disturbing statistics.
Ninety-one percent of unchurched young Americans think the church is “anti-homosexual.” Perhaps equally disturbing is the finding that 80 percent of churched young Americans agreed. The thing that really caught my attention, however, was that churched young people had critical beliefs about the church because it had not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.
This is consistent with the findings from the LifeWay survey released at the 2008 SBC in Indianapolis. This survey revealed that only 22 percent of SBC pastors believe that “Southern Baptists are sufficiently ministering to persons with same-sex attractions.” (Read the complete survey at http://sbcthewayout.com/templates/System/details.asp?id=40905&PID=583232).
Too many of our sons and daughters are finding themselves enmeshed in a struggle they did not seek and do not understand. They feel very much alone. They desperately want help but are terrified of being found out. At some point many will find a listening ear in a gay chat room or a gay bar. And we will wonder what happened.
Please understand: We haven’t ignored this subject deliberately. With so many issues confronting us, we just haven’t taken the time to examine how our church can do a better job in this ministry. But we must acknowledge that we do have a problem. We must be able to entertain the possibility that we can learn better ways to address it. It is possible that we unconsciously see this as a very small demographic. Studies show that homosexuals comprise only 2-4 percent of the population.
But I remember reading somewhere that a good shepherd will leave the 99 to seek out the one sheep who is lost. The old Baptist Hymnal has a song by Bill Cates that asks the question “Do you really care? Do you know how to share with people everywhere? … People grope in darkness, searching for a way. Don’t you know of someone you can help today?”
It is also possible that we have allowed ourselves to see homosexuals — and their supporters — as the enemy. I get e-mails and see articles calling me names that my mother wouldn’t have liked. One of the kinder ones called me a “fundie imbecile.” But the same Bible that speaks of homosexuality as a sin also reminds us that we are to speak the truth in love.
My educated guess is that homosexuals know full well that Southern Baptists regard homosexuality as a sin. But I wonder: Do they know we care about them?
Bob Stith is the SBC’s National Strategist for Gender Issues. He is available for speaking engagements and interviews and can be reached at [email protected].