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)–A recent article in USA Today spoke of the radical difference between younger Christians and the “old guard” regarding homosexuality. (“An evangelical’s plea: ‘Love the sinner,'” April 27.) While many of the points certainly merit attention, I am concerned that the unnecessary dichotomy will hinder the discussion. The author of the article spoke of being a Southern Baptist and as such had seen this disparity up close.
When the SBC met in New Orleans in 2001, I made a motion asking the convention to form a task force to “inform, educate and encourage our people to be proactive and redemptive in reaching out to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions.”
With dozens of resolutions and motions introduced each year, I truthfully was hoping only to introduce the subject. To my surprise Dr. Jimmy Draper immediately took action on the motion, expressed his belief that this was a very valid need, and promptly organized a Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.
That task force is comprised of several leaders of our convention, most of whom would be classified as the “old guard.” Actually, I also fit that profile. But there are also representatives from most other demographics as well. Several have been involved in ministry in this area for many years. In 2007, LifeWay provided funding to establish a full-time office to help carry out the mandate.
Through the years I have received nothing but encouragement from SBC leaders. Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has been a strong supporter and encouragement to me personally. Dr. Frank Page, immediate past president of the SBC, has been a great asset on more than one occasion. He also has extended an invitation to speak at his church. Johnny Hunt, the current SBC president, has an incredible ministry to those struggling with same-sex attractions. Dr. Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, attended our first meeting and has had a representative at every meeting since.
The Task Force has always placed the emphasis on being compassionate and redemptive. This was expressed well by Dr. Barrett Duke of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: “This strategy must include a genuine love for people trapped in the homosexual lifestyle that seeks first to minister and love, not to condemn. The church must find a way to reach homosexual men and women, help them to find their way out of the homosexual lifestyle, and include them as equal participants in the life of the church.”
Other leaders have made similar statements. Dr. Draper said, “It is a huge challenge to help the church recognize how to show concern and compassion for homosexuals yet be careful not to compromise Scripture’s teaching. I don’t know any church that would say we know how to do that perfectly. We have to come to the place where we love them unconditionally without compromise and minister to them.”
This is not to say that some evangelical leaders have not made unfortunate statements. Obviously, as Draper said, all of us can improve the way we address the issue.
However, I believe we are moving in the right direction and we can expedite that progress by working together. It is also imperative that we at least investigate what our convention is doing before making polarizing assessments.
I often have been frustrated that more of our churches, associations and state conventions aren’t more proactive with this issue. I would love to have more opportunities to speak in those venues. I am heartbroken when I have to tell someone who calls looking for help that there is no ministry in their area. We can and must do better. And we must move more quickly.
But Southern Baptists are moving in the right direction and should be encouraged in that effort.
The USA Today column also indicated that part of the problem is that older Christians don’t really have any homosexual friends or close acquaintances. A LifeWay Research poll showed that 66 percent of the general American public said they were personally acquainted with someone with same-sex attractions, while 78 percent of SBC pastors and 68 percent of other church leaders did.
A staff member from the North American Mission Board, who would be considered part of the “old guard,” told me of building a relationship with two gay men who lived next door to him. He had visited in their home and had served them dinner in his home. Numerous other SBC leaders have told me similar stories. Unfortunately, in today’s climate those instances aren’t nearly as “exciting” as the misstatements that make headlines.
Inevitably when this discussion comes up, the question is asked, “Why are you so fixated on homosexuality? What about poverty, disease and other issues?” A reporter recently asked me that very question. I told the reporter that Southern Baptists are among the three largest disaster relief agencies in the U.S. and that after Katrina I saw several newscasts showing the familiar shirts of SBC relief workers in the background.
Again, another column — or book — could be written on all that Christians in general and Southern Baptists in particular have done to provide for the poor, the indigent, the orphaned and ill among us. Following several major disasters an atheist wrote a column commenting on that very thing. While he did not and could not share the beliefs of Christians, he expressed admiration and envy at their willingness to step up and serve in those situations.
I am grateful for a convention that listened to a small church pastor and joined in developing this office. I am thankful for all the support we have received. Way to go, Southern Baptists! But at the same time I would encourage you not to dismiss out of hand the challenges the USA Today article presented. We can and must do more.
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] For more information about the SBC’s outreach to homosexuals, visit www.sbcthewayout.com