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Largest attendance recorded at homosexual ministry meeting

WILMORE, Ky. (BP)–After he quieted the standing-room-only crowd, emcee Alan Chambers told the audience of some changes in the day’s schedule. Looking around, he added, “Well, I guess in this audience we have 800 changes.”
Hearty laughter and raucous applause ensued. While homosexuals “coming out of the closet” rates national media coverage, the North American Conference of Exodus International publicized a different view — people can come out of homosexuality.
Meeting the week of July 6 at Asbury College and Seminary, Wilmore, Ky., the coalition of ministries gathered under the banner, “Let The Whole World Know.”
Various speakers also called on the church to reach out to those trapped in homosexual lifestyles and proclaim a message of hope.
“‘It’s wrong’ preaches easy,” said Michael Riley, pastor of Church of the Open Door, Rafael, Calif., and a graduate of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. “But that’s first base. Romans 3:23 says all have sinned. God has accepted all of us. We’re all welcome here. Jesus accepted me, I accept you, let’s go to work on our problems.”
Bob Davies, Exodus’ executive director, said the 765 who registered represented the largest gathering of former homosexuals and lesbians in history. It could have been larger but they ran out of space, he said.
“That is a tremendous statement of the power of Jesus Christ to change lives,” he said. “It’s also a tremendous witness to the world, because they say we don’t exist.”
Not everyone attending was an ex-homosexual, since the conference attracted pastors, family and friends of former and current homosexuals. The director said it also drew a few struggling to overcome the problem.
Attending were a diverse group of men and women from 50 states and 20 countries who mingled freely, laughing and sharing stories of such triumphs as new babies and expanding ministries.
The conference book room provided evidence of the many ways former homosexuals and lesbians seek to lead others out of this lifestyle.
Besides the availability of such books as “Pursuing Sexual Wholeness,” “Desires in Conflict” and “Coming Out of Homosexuality,” organizations filled dozens of tables with literature.
There were publications from Straight Path Ministries in Concord, Calif.; True Hope in Nashville, Tenn.; Denver’s Where Grace Abounds; Quest Ministries in Tyrone, Ga.; and Eagles Wings in Minneapolis, Minn., to name a few. A Christian theater group from Black Mountain, N.C., known as Acts of Renewal, publicized its plays.
During general sessions, attendees heard keynote speaker Erwin Lutzer, senior pastor of Chicago’s Moody Church, exhort them to walk in holiness and shun sexual activity outside marriage.
“God breaks the alien bonds through coming to Christ and the cleansing of the gospel,” said the author of the newly released book, “Putting Your Past Behind You.” “He will break the power of alien bonds and set the captive free.”
Conference participants also were told of the spread of ex- homosexual ministry in Latin America. Groups now operate in eight Central American nations, including a new ministry in Paraguay.
Esly Carvalho, who grew up in Texas and now lives in Brazil, said she has already received invitations from Christian high schools in Paraguay to share her testimony. While neither she nor anyone in her family has ever been homosexual, she has worked in the field for 15 years.
Carvalho pointed out it is vital that Christians open their arms to those struggling with their sexuality. “If we can’t get the church to welcome people out of the lifestyle, then we have no place to nurture them,” she said.
One of the week’s most moving testimonies came from Pat Kulp and Ann Phillips, members of Sweet Hope Baptist Chapel, Gates, N.C. After Kulp gently witnessed to Phillips at their workplace for several years, Phillips accepted Christ as her Savior and left a 20-year lesbian relationship.
A year ago they formed Kindred Spirits to conduct workshops for churches on the roots of homosexuality and how to be agents of reconciliation.
“Healing should be taking place within the church body,” said Phillips, who was born again in 1994. “But it’s hard to place people in a church where they can be loved. We try to educate churches so people will be treated with compassion.”
“Once you understand you’ll have compassion,” said Kulp, a Christian since 1971. “There are many books out that can help people understand why others are prone to homosexuality. Pastors and church leaders should be taking the lead in learning about it.”
Other Southern Baptists at the conference agreed.
“Too often we forget it’s a sin like any other sin,” said Nancy Brown of Georgetown, Texas, a member of Lakewood Baptist Church. “You don’t often hear preachers telling their congregations, ‘We have these terrible liars here.'”
She and her husband, Don, founded LifeGuard Ministries after his decade-long struggle with the sin. Noting that a meeting with 75 pastors last January failed to generate any follow-up inquiries, he said, “We talk to a lot of churches but they tend to think they don’t have the problem. Or it’s too in-depth. They don’t want to deal with an ongoing thing.”
Michael Newman of Encourager Church in Houston said SBC churches should become more active with ex-gay ministries in their area.
“Pastors need to get trained,” said the director of Christian Coalition for Reconciliation. “There is training on a pastoral level and resources … so they can have an active connection. Also, most are faith ministries, so there is the angle of financial and prayer support.”
In a workshop, Riley added that an open heart is as important as education. Church of the Open Door has ministered to homosexuals for 24 years, but the California pastor said he hasn’t tried to be an expert on homosexuality.
Instead, he fulfilled a ministerial role and called on experts for assistance. Although the church is small (fluctuating between 150 and 250), its reputation has spread internationally in the homosexual community, he said.
“We’ve literally had hundreds of men and women come through our church to receive help. People come from all over the world because they know God is doing something there,” he said, inviting interested pastors to call him.
Echoing other speakers, Riley mentioned the Bible prohibits homosexual conduct. Passages like Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and Romans 1:26-32 make that very plain, he said.
But he also cited Isaiah 61 to remind listeners God wants his people to preach good news to the captives.
“We have to make it clear there is a way out through Jesus Christ,” he said. “It’s compassion without compromise. We have to keep the standards high, but keep our love just as high.”
One of the themes that emerged during the week was the prevalence of molestation as a cause of homosexuality. Many workshop speakers and ministry leaders suffered sexual abuse as children, and Davies said 85 percent of the women and more than half the men seeking help from Exodus’ 125 ministries worldwide have been abused.
However, Phil Hobizal, director of the Portland Fellowship in Portland, Ore., mentioned its roots can’t necessarily be traced to a single factor.
“Homosexuality can’t be brought down to one, two or three little points,” he said. “It’s a whole range of things. But one thing we are responsible to is the Word of God. He has called us to be obedient to him.”

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  • Ken Walker