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SBC task force calls for churches to minister to homosexuals

PHOENIX (BP)–Southern Baptist churches must initiate a dual ministry of speaking the truth about homosexuality and simultaneously ministering to homosexuals, the Southern Baptist task force on ministry to homosexuals said in a news conference June 18.

“There is a dualistic kind of ministry required when we come to this topic [homosexuality],” said Bill Merrell, a member of the task force and vice president for convention relations with the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.

“We are not at liberty to renegotiate the teaching of Scripture. We have a proclamation responsibility, which has to do with expositing, exegeting [and] stating very plainly what the Scriptures teach about this or some other lifestyle choice that is declared to be sinful. We also have a responsibility of doing productive, effective and redemptive ministry to people of all classes.”

The news conference was held following the task force’s June 17 report at the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix. The task force urged Southern Baptists to share the message of Christ with homosexuals and take advantage of resources provided by LifeWay Christian Resources to facilitate ministry to homosexuals.

At the news conference were Merrell; James T. Draper Jr., convener of the task force and president of LifeWay; Richard Land, task force member and president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC; Tim Wilkins, task force member and founder/director of Cross Ministry; and Bob Stith, task force member and pastor of Carroll Baptist Church, Southlake, Texas and initiator of the motion to form the task force.

The task force’s recommendations are not new for Southern Baptists, Draper noted. Rather, they are an attempt to help churches develop a passion for ministry to homosexuals.

“We have not strategized a new program,” Draper said. “What we are trying to do is get churches to get a heart for this, and the resources are there if they will do that.”

Stith agreed. He said the task force seeks to “train churches in being compassionate, being loving in the way they reach out, and making churches a safe place where people who struggle are free to come for help.”

Many Southern Baptist churches already have initiated ministries to homosexuals, the task force report noted. Although only 40-50 churches have told the task force explicitly they have a ministry to homosexuals, Merrell and Land estimate that thousands of churches routinely reach homosexuals in the normal course of ministry.

“One of the things it would be a mistake to assume is that because there is not an intentional directed ministry to a people group, that a church does not have a ministry,” Merrell said. “As a matter of fact, one of the emphases of this task force is to say that in the normal flow of a healthy church you should reach everybody in your reach, and that includes homosexual persons. And I would say the number would not be in the tens or twenties, but would be in the thousands.”

The key to initiating ministry to homosexuals is to create an atmosphere where people can admit their struggles with homosexuality, according to the task force.

“What we’re trying to do is to build … a safe atmosphere where people can say, ‘This [homosexuality] is something I deal with,'” Wilkins said. “Move the conversation now to where we can discuss it because that is where healing comes about.”

And as the church begins to build a safe atmosphere for homosexuals to discuss their struggles, Southern Baptists will have increased opportunities to share the redemptive message of Christ with homosexuals, the task force said.

“What we are calling Southern Baptists to do is to practice lifestyle-blind evangelism in the same way we have called upon our denomination to practice color-blind and ethnic-blind evangelism,” Land said. “That does not mean we accept their lifestyle. It means we accept them as people for whom Jesus Christ died. If we get ourselves correctly centered under the lordship of Christ, we understand … that every human being is a person of incalculable value because Jesus Christ loved them enough to die for them.”

Draper concluded: “We need to help our churches understand the resources that are available and the grace that is available, [and to] not be afraid of homosexuals.”