ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–In the heat of the morning Florida sun, two Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary students handed out gospel tracts to homosexual and lesbian protesters during the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Fla.
Stephen Collins, a master of divinity student from Florida, watched as protesters gathered near the Orange County Convention Center June 14 and began to pray wearing T-shirts that read “Stop the Spiritual Violence.”
Feeling the urgent need to communicate Christ’s ultimate example of compassion to the demonstrators, Collins began to distribute the North American Mission Board’s tract, “How to Live Forever,” to anyone who would accept one.
Collins said he wanted the protesters to know that “while he loved them as a person, as a Baptist and a Bible-believing Christian, it’s the sin that Southern Baptists are against.”
“We did not want them to think we hated them as people,” Collins said. “I told them that what we all needed was Jesus, for any sin we have in our lives.”
Collins said most of the demonstrators told him thank you and listened. Only one man refused to accept a tract, Collins said.
As the demonstrators finished their prayer, they began to join hands and to the familiar tune “We Shall Overcome,” 27 of the homosexual and lesbian protesters crossed the street heading toward the convention center. Once on convention center property, the protesters were arrested one at a time for violating an illegal assembly ordinance and led away to nearby police vans to the applause of other supporters standing nearby.
Tonya Van Kampen, a master of arts in intercultural studies student from South Carolina, shared her personal testimony with a gay man named Steven.
“I shared with him on behalf of Southern Baptists, that we loved people regardless of what their lifestyle was,” Van Kampen said. “I really wanted him to know that Christians don’t hate them as gay people believe we do.”
Van Kampen said she explained to the man that she “was a sinner too and that all have sinned regardless of the types of sin.” Compassionately adding that Jesus saved her from her sin, Van Kampen explained that her “heart is pure now because Jesus has forgiven me.”
Van Kampen said the man was grateful to know Southern Baptists don’t hate homosexuals or lesbians. After handing him a tract, Van Kampen told the man she was going to pray for him.
Debb Nelson, a 33-year-old lesbian protester from Cape Canaveral, Fla., said she experienced only a positive response from messengers like Van Kampen and Collins who passed by her brightly colored posters decorated with rainbows and smiley faces reading, “It’s O.K. to be gay” and “I’m proud to be a lesbian.”
“I want them to know there isn’t such a sin as homosexuality and that there isn’t such a sin as women holding high positions and being strong and being proud of who they are,” Nelson said. “Just because they have their views doesn’t mean they are the right views. I am not going to sit down and let them walk over me as well.”
“There is a loving God who doesn’t care about your [sexual preference],” Nelson said, explaining that she was born a lesbian. “I’m not here to condemn [Southern Baptists], I’m here to educate them.”
But for Southern Baptist Convention-goers like Collins and Van Kampen, the issue of God’s love toward homosexuals also includes the authority of God’s Word and the need of all people to come to Christ, something they said they tried to convey to the protesters.
“God is a holy God and even though he loves us, he commands us to live a sinless life,” Van Kampen said. “Since we cannot live a sinless life, Jesus provided [the] way for us.”