SAN ANTONIO (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention opened a new chapter in the denomination’s outreach to homosexuals June 12.
James T. Draper Jr., former president of LifeWay Christian Resources, joined Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, on the platform at the annual meeting in San Antonio to announce Bob Stith as the convention’s National Strategist for Gender Issues.
Stith, who will work with the convention’s Ministry to Homosexuals Task Force, officially assumed the new position June 1. He recently stepped down as pastor of Carroll Baptist Church in Southlake, Texas, after serving at the church for 37 years.
It was Stith who introduced the motion at the 2001 Southern Baptist Convention meeting that called on the SBC to “establish 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.”
In introducing Stith, Draper thanked Southern Baptists for recognizing the importance of the issue of homosexuality.
“It is a great picture of the kind of synergy that ought to exist between Southern Baptist entities to accomplish things,” he said. Draper and Land chair the task force, which is a joint effort of LifeWay and the ERLC.
“While we as Southern Baptists have consistently resisted the efforts of some in the culture to affirm homosexuality as normal and acceptable, we must remember that homosexual behavior is not the unpardonable sin,” Land said. “We must be committed to sharing God’s love with all people — including homosexuals.
“Christ died for all,” Land said. “If we believe anything as Southern Baptists, it is that Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross is available to any man or woman, boy or girl, regardless of their past.
“Our biblically based opposition to the normalization of homosexuality and the affirmation of homosexual behavior should not hinder us from ministering to homosexuals and offering them the love and healing environment they need to leave this destructive and unbiblical lifestyle,” Land said.
Southern Baptists’ response must be “biblical and compassionate,” Stith said, “while maintaining a biblical stance on the issue.”
With polls showing an increasing number of Americans viewing homosexuality as an acceptable behavior, Stith told convention messengers the “church has not yet found its voice in dealing with the issue.” He said many in the church are “not quite sure how to handle this issue” and there is a serious need for education.
“Every Sunday [there] are people sitting in your pews whose hearts are heavy, who struggle silently and sometimes in fear of an issue [with which] they aren’t comfortable talking with their pastor,” he said.
In a June 13 press conference, Stith said he harbored a “degree of condemnation and judgment” toward homosexuals before God convicted him of his attitude in 1994.
He said he was “thrilled and excited at the response he got from convention leadership” when he surfaced the idea of a convention-wide emphasis on ministry to those dealing with same-sex attractions.
Stith said homosexuals hear the culture’s approving message but do not hear what they should from the church.
“We have a firm conviction of what Scripture says, and we want to stay true to that,” Stith said, explaining how he approaches ministry to this segment of the population.
He said he is interested in helping Southern Baptist churches understand how to minister to people who struggle with homosexual tendencies.
Those who are offended by the notion that homosexuality is a sin may not welcome this ministry, Stith said in a response to a reporter’s question. Yet God doesn’t have a hierarchy of sins, he said.
“We must receive them with the love of Christ regardless of who they are,” Stith explained.
The ultimate goal is to bring men and women to wholeness in Jesus Christ, he added, saying he was hopeful homosexuals open to such a ministry would “come to a place where this temptation doesn’t dominate their life.”
LifeWay is underwriting the national strategist’s position; the ERLC will provide administrative oversight.