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Exodus ministry redirects focus to assist churches

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–After 30 years of reaching out to individuals struggling with unwanted homosexuality, Exodus International intends to work more closely with churches to proclaim a clear message of the power of Jesus Christ to change lives.

“We have been a ministry on the fringes and our desire is to be a Kingdom ministry, a ministry within the body of Christ,” said Alan Chambers, executive director of the largest ministry of its kind during a news conference held during Exodus’ 28th annual assembly, July 21-26 in Orlando, Fla.

“Our desire is not to be a Band-Aid ministry anymore,” Chambers said, “… but to equip an army of believers to really attack this issue head-on.”

The ministry’s mission and focus have changed, said Chambers, who described Exodus as poised to present credible, well-documented research and studies to help the church reach out to those who struggle.

Prevention tops the list of ministry helps promoted by an Exodus youth ministry started in 2000 to equip youth pastors, church ministries, youth ministries and national organizations throughout the world, Chambers noted.

“We can help to educate young people who may struggle with this or young people who have been impacted with the message that they should just be tolerant of people who are gay and lesbian,” Chambers said, “rather than giving them the best information — that homosexuality is something that can be overcome.”

Chambers said he believes it is imperative for the church to speak clearly and with one voice.

“More than ever before, the church is divided on the issue of homosexuality,” Chambers asserted. “The church doesn’t know what to believe and … it’s because they’ve had a lack of information and a lack of understanding on the issues surrounding homosexuality.

“We believe that Exodus … [can help] the church to come to one place of unity on the issue of homosexuality, to stay focused on the scriptural standpoint, the biblical standpoint that homosexuality is not something that God created or is something that is intended for His creation,” Chambers said.

To that end, Chambers said there has been “a shift” in the way the organization views its purpose. “We’re a Kingdom ministry, no longer a ministry outside of the church, but we are a ministry of the church,” he said.

Chambers was joined by four other leaders for the news conference: Joe Dallas, program director of Genesis Counseling in Tustin, Calif.; Janelle Hallman-Burleson, licensed professional counselor from Arvada, Colo.; Mike Haley, chairman of the board of Exodus and a youth and gender analyst for Focus on the Family; and Anne Paulk, author of “Restoring Sexual Identity: Hope for Women Who Struggle with Same-Sex Attraction.”

More than 600 individuals registered for the weeklong “We Are The Church” annual assembly at Orlando’s First Presbyterian Church. The conference included dozens of workshops aimed at not only offering information and support for individuals who struggle personally with the issue of homosexuality, but for pastors, church workers and family members.

Assembly speakers included Sy Rogers, an international communicator and talk show host; June Hunt, founder of “Hope for the Heart,” an award-winning, nationally syndicated radio broadcast; and David Kyle Foster, founder and director of Mastering Life Ministries in Jacksonville, Fla.

Dallas, a book author and president of Exodus from 1990-93, at the news conference emphasized the need for the church to present a more balanced approach on how to view homosexuality — one that includes both passion and conviction.

Citing the recent Supreme Court decision declaring unconstitutional laws prohibiting sodomy and the current legal wranglings over same-sex marriage, he said those developments have called the culture to question the legitimacy of homosexuality.

“In the U.S., the ongoing portrayal of the lesbian and gay characters on television and film all represent a scene change in the culture,” Dallas said. “And when the culture is experiencing a significant shifting, millions of people within the culture look to their spiritual leaders to help them determine whether or not these changes should be celebrated or whether they should be a cause for concern.”

Noting “fragmentation” in the church on these very issues, Dallas said some in the Christian community retain a “harsh, judgmental, unloving indifference, or outright hostility,” which he called contrary to Christ’s “love.”

“More to the point, it negates the church’s ability to be what the church is meant to be — a visible representation of God’s heart and mind in the literal world,” Dallas said. “For that reason, many lesbian women, many gay men feel as though the church represents an oppressor, an enemy population of people who loath them, fear them, who would just as soon they didn’t exist.”

On the other extreme, Dallas said, is a belief that there is no such thing as “objective truth,” especially as it relates to morality.

“More and more denominations are compromising basic doctrinal principles about the person of Christ, about the relation of God to humanity, [and] specifically about human sexuality,” he said. “This makes it impossible for the church to call people to repentance.”

Another cause for the fragmented church, Dallas said, is the rejection of biblical authority or the belief that the Bible “should be on par with psychology, sociology and human experience in general.”

On the other hand, “much of the church believes the Bible is authoritative but does not want to deal with human issues that are relevant to the times,” Dallas said. “You see different responses to life in general that are evidence of the way that the church responds differently to this issue.”

Comparing today’s churches to those referred to in the New Testament Book of Revelation, Dallas said, “… one thing that they all seemed to have in common was the need to repent and to recommit, and that seems to be where we’re going.”

Haley, who coordinates Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out conferences, said he remembers what it was like to be a young boy struggling with homosexuality despite being “raised” in the church. He turned to the public school system and to counselors who told him he was “born gay” rather than accepting the church’s teaching.

“There was a hotter place for gays and lesbians in hell, [and] Jesus had to hang a little longer on the cross for those of us who struggled,” Haley recalled the church’s attitude.

And especially now, the timing to speak on the issue is right, Haley said, with more than 20 homosexual characters on television shows.

“The problem is that we are desensitizing our youth in such a way that can lead to later ramifications that we’ll be seeing over and over,” he said. “I want to talk about the issue of homosexuality. I want it talked about within our churches because I want to know … that when we see a young boy in our Sunday School classes or a young girl in our Sunday School classes that might have some gender identity deficits” that they will be given accurate information and can be helped.

“If later on in life they choose to be gay or lesbian, welcome to America, that’s their issue,” Haley declared. “But I want that decision to be one that’s based on accurate information.”

Speaking of Exodus’ redirected focus to work within the church, Haley said the organization no longer desires to labor in “obscurity,” but appreciates the partnerships it has developed with the Southern Baptist Convention and ministries like Youth With a Mission and Focus on the Family.

“We finally have a voice that’s willing and ready and able to be spoken in the marketplace and we’re tired of keeping silent,” Haley said. However, as the silence gets louder, the cost of standing up to the homosexual community and the media appears to have intensified.

“Many of us receive death threats just for the simple case that we would be willing to stand up in public and say that through belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is the ability to walk away from homosexuality,” Haley said. “And we are no longer going to hide that mantra. We want everyone to know that. We want the churches to learn that, we want society to know that this is possible.”

Even “common sense,” appears to be hidden within a cloak of “political correctness,” Haley said. “In this mantra of tolerance … we truly are not finding a state of true tolerance,” he said. “What we are doing is tolerating everything and we find ourselves standing for nothing. Tolerance is a wonderful thing, but tolerance without boundaries is dangerous.”

In an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, Chambers said he has observed a deep division among youth at Christian conventions or in church classes about what they believe about homosexuality. “Kids are confused, and that’s something you didn’t find 10 years ago,” Chambers said. “Oftentimes the church has presented the wrong information about the issue of homosexuality.”

Chambers attributes the confusion to the “extreme conflict” within the church and a lack of unity on the issue and said there are probably several reasons for this. One reason is churches may “sidestep the Bible” in order to retain or gain congregants.

“They’ve caved on some real serious biblical issues in order to get numbers back in there,” Chambers said. “And I think we’re creating something extremely dangerous when we depart from what the Bible says.”

Hallman-Burleson, during the news conference, said the church has a long way to go in understanding there is no six-week fix for a person struggling with unwanted homosexuality. She said 13 years ago she had hopes that the men and women she counseled would be able to “integrate back into the church” in order to share their testimonies about their changed lives.

“That hasn’t quite unfolded,” Hallman-Burleson said. “I see people who have developmental needs as needing men and women to walk alongside them in a very long journey.”

As a professional therapist, Hallman-Burleson said she understands most pastors have limited time to bring to this issue, and she offers support and education in a church context on the “deeper” issues of homosexuality — the patterns of the behavior and clinical processes of healing.

Paulk, author of a book about women who struggle with same-sex attraction, said her life changed after she was accepted by the women in her congregation. “The root of healing is being part and parcel with the church, being incorporated into the church body of the local church,” she said. “My experience of being welcomed, invited and embraced by women in my church in California meant a difference that I cannot describe.”

Paulk said her research shows same-sex attraction is a result of “denial or disdain for one’s own gender, of seeing it as risky or dangerous.” Women in this predicament “simply responded to woundings of their past in a different way [than others] and the outcome of that wounding was rejection of their own femininity and a result of same-sex attraction as an attempt to reconnect to what was lost.”

The church should proclaim “the truth of God that change is possible and that homosexuality is not God’s intent. It is not His design.”
For information and resources about EXODUS, including conference sessions or workshops from the annual assembly, go to www.exodus-international.org/resources. For SBC resources related to homosexuality, go to www.LifeWay.com/thewayout. Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan