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New program helps teens struggling with homosexuality

IRVING, Texas (BP)–Over lunch one day last year, Kenny Conoley sat bewildered as an old church friend from his teenage years “came out” to him as a homosexual.

The feelings started in those teen years, the friend confided.

“Didn’t you ever want to speak to somebody?” Conoley asked. The friend said yes but added he didn’t know whom to talk with or where to go.

The conversation only confirmed what Conoley had been praying about. In talks with students at MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, Texas — where Conoley grew up and now is associate youth minister — sexual confusion, experimentation and rebellion are a growing part of today’s youth culture. And his students are being affected.

Those struggling with a sense of identity are susceptible, he noted, adding, “It’s not just teenagers in society but kids in the church…. I was just blown away by that.”

With guidance from his pastor, David Allen, youth leaders and an advisory board, Conoley has launched UTurn International Ministry, “a ministry dedicated to helping Christian teenagers escape the iron grip of homosexuality and bisexuality” and “to embrace Christian teenagers who struggle with strongholds of the flesh and see them make a U-Turn back toward a life of freedom and purity.”

Conoley believes his old friend could have been saved from homosexuality’s grip had he sought spiritually sensitive help, and he hopes others like his friend can be spared such pain.

“It’s everywhere — TV, magazines. It’s being promoted not as an alternative lifestyle but the lifestyle,” Conoley said, alluding to such antics as pop singers Madonna and Britney Spears’ infamous kiss on a television awards show last year. The musicians are reportedly straight, but Conoley said kissing among teenage girls — even in jest — is an “in” thing to do, but with inherent dangers.

In seeking resources to minister to his students, Conoley discovered no ministries exist solely to reach teens struggling with homosexuality. Exodus International and other notable Christian ministries have links that address students, but none devoted exclusively to teenagers.

“I prayed six months before I told anyone” about his vision for such a ministry.

A phone call from a teenage girl grieved that two of her male friends, leaders in their respective church youth groups, were homosexual lovers, forged in Conoley the need to move forward with the ministry.

The first person he shared his vision with was Richard Ross, a youth ministry professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the founders of the True Love Waits sexual purity movement. Conoley is a Southwestern student.

“For the last year and a half, I have heard youth ministers ask for prayers for teens who were struggling with this issue,” Conoley said. “Literally, I was reminded weekly from their prayer requests that there was a need for a program.”

Ross told the Southern Baptist TEXAN in an e-mail: “Jesus took criticism for individuals that he reached out to, and Kenny will too. I am just glad he is courageously following the pattern of the Master.

“Gay activists like to suggest there is nothing ‘gay’ teenagers can do about their sexual confusion,” Ross added. “I reject this notion. A mounting body of research would suggest families, churches and the helping professions can do much to move a confused teenager toward normative sexual inclinations. But while that helping process is going on (and it may take years), we have to have something to say to the teenager.”

Ross said ministries such as UTurn can “take the lead in calling these students to absolute purity in thought, attitude and behavior long before their sexual orientation is healed.”

Part of Conoley’s burden to minister in this area stems from his own childhood; he was sexually abused as a youngster and said it caused him some confusion growing up. God’s grace spared him from ruin, but others have fallen into destructive paths, he said.

Conoley’s first priority, he said, is to reach pastors and youth pastors with the message that sexual brokenness is an issue that must be addressed by every church.

“We are really going after youth ministers,” Conoley noted. “I want to say to pastors and youth pastors, ‘Open your mouths and speak about this subject’ … It’s the job of a pastor, it’s the job of a youth worker…. One of our main goals is to train up the church in this area.”

Conoley noted, “We are not trying to make a ‘gay’ person straight. We are trying to help someone with a sin issue turn back to a life of holiness and purity or gain a relationship with Christ through repentance and forgiveness.”

Studies have shown homosexual students are three times more likely to attempt suicide and 80 percent of homosexual males have “deep feelings of severe isolation,” Conoley said. Further, male homosexuals typically “acknowledge” homosexual feelings between ages 14-16 and females at around age 16.

The draw for many students, Conoley said, is the welcoming, almost church-like spirit of the homosexuality subculture. “[Some students] are drawn to that; they’re no longer isolated.”

He said the homosexual behavior has complicated causes, but “ultimately, it does come down to a choice. Unfortunately, people make poor, poor choices.

“If we can stop kids before they make those choices or [keep them from] making those choices again, then we’re doing the right thing.”
For more information about UTurn International Ministry, go to www.uturnministry.org.

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  • Jerry Pierce