INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–After a year in his role as national strategist for gender issues for the Southern Baptist Convention, Bob Stith told messengers at the SBC’s annual convention in Indianapolis that much has been accomplished in one year, yet much remains to be done.
“This issue isn’t going way,” said Stith, who works with the convention’s Ministry to Homosexuals Task Force.
Stith officially began his new role last June after 37 years as pastor of Carroll Baptist Church in Southlake, Texas.
Few church leaders have received training for ministering to those in the homosexual lifestyle, Stith said, adding that homosexuality is a “defining issue for the church” in the 21st century.
“We need to be driven by a passion to make men and women whole in Jesus Christ,” Stith said.
Citing results from a survey commissioned by LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources, Stith said only 26 percent of SBC pastors polled said they had received such training. The survey revealed only 9 percent of church staff and laity had been trained to reach out to homosexuals with the love of Christ.
“This reveals a radical disconnect between what we say we know and what we are teaching our people,” Stith said on the first day of the June 10-11 SBC meeting at the Indiana Convention Center.
He noted that 400 church leaders recently were invited to a one-day workshop to aid churches in this area of ministry. Stith said approximately 15 representatives from those churches showed up for an informational breakfast about the conference, which was to be held at the church in Southlake, Texas, where Stith is a member.
Yet on the day of the conference, only one church was represented.
“People are dying for a lack of knowledge,” Stith said. “We have to do better.”
Only 22 percent of SBC pastors agreed with the statement “Southern Baptists are sufficiently ministering to persons with same-sex attractions,” he said of the LifeWay survey.
Again citing the LifeWay survey, Stith said 91 percent of young adults view the church as “anti-homosexual.”
“We must become known as a people of redemption, as people who hold out hope,” Stith said, encouraging Southern Baptists to visit www.sbcthewayout.com for more information.
“We need to communicate to people how they can come alongside those who are struggling,” Stith said, adding that otherwise, “Our silence will be a death threat to many people.”
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.”
Dwayne Hastings is a vice president with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission.