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Utilize study of ex-homosexuals wisely in outreach, pastor says

SOUTHLAKE, Texas (BP)–For the past six years, Carroll Baptist Church has supported Living Hope, an interdenominational outreach to homosexuals in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

In addition to sponsoring a Monday night support group meeting — one of five in the metro area — the church contributes funds to Living Hope and its parent organization, Exodus (www.exodusnorthamerica.org).

Pastor Bob Stith said the Lord led him to get the congregation involved in reaching out to those in the homosexual community.

“God convicted me that my preaching in this area was very negative,” he recounted. “[God] made me aware that if someone struggling with that heard me preach, they wouldn’t come to me for help. I realized I didn’t have much redemptive to say in that area.”

The May 9 news of a study by Columbia University psychiatrist Robert Spitzer that verified changing sexual orientation is possible was like a breath of fresh air, he said.

The Southern Baptist pastor said he felt exhilarated that someone in authority had finally recognized the reality of what ministries like Living Hope and Exodus have achieved.

But he worries that Christians may use the news improperly.

“I’m concerned that Christians don’t just wave it in the face of the gay community,” Stith said. “Many people are struggling and it’s good to know there is hope.

“Ann Landers has consistently dismissed the idea [of change] and said, ‘Deal with it,'” the pastor said about the syndicated advice columnist. “Hopefully, this will give legitimacy and hope to those who want to change. It adds a positive for people who are confused or uncertain.”

Stith believes the study will quickly fade from the media, but suggested churches seize the opportunity presented by the highly publicized news to make a difference.

However, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, he said it is best to contact Exodus or other ministries already active in this field to learn the best approach to take.

Don’t jump in to something without the proper preparation and counselors who are able to deal with such issues, he advised.

Michael Newman, who leads a 16-year-old outreach in Houston, meanwhile, said churches should recognize the enormous potential of this situation.

Newman, co-founder and director of the Christian Coalition for Reconciliation, noted that a licensed, credentialed professional who honestly investigated the situation — Spitzer — is saying change is possible.

That means more people who are fed up with homosexuality could seek out help, Newman said.

“Churches need to be aware of the need to be sensitive to people who ask questions,” said Newman, a member of Encourager Church (SBC). “They need to tell them that Jesus is available to all sinners and can change people’s lives. They need to do something other than saying, ‘Stop it,’ or just tell them just to pray about it.”

Congregations need to train and equip members to work with those who want out of homosexuality, he continued. Pointing them to community and other resources is one way of helping, he said, commenting that not enough Christians are aware of Exodus and other ex-gay ministries.

Churches also should consider helping these ministries with financial support, he said. Most of the news and information spread publicly has a pro-homosexual slant, he said, which he called evidence of a well-financed movement.

However, he doesn’t see that much money coming from the Christian community to help counteract that message: “They need to be equipping ex-gay ministries so the word gets out there on a widespread basis.”

Nancy Brown, co-director of another ex-gay ministry in Texas, said churches should recognize that homosexuality exists everywhere, whether a large city or a rural area.

“We have pastors all the time who tell us we don’t have gays in our church,” said Brown, co-director of LifeGuard Ministries in Georgetown, Texas. “Yet the people who are struggling with it are coming to us.”

Christians also need to adjust their attitudes, she said. Instead of looking at this as emotional brokenness with roots in childhood, she said many people treat homosexuality as if it were a heinous crime.

While LifeGuard doesn’t keep detailed records, she said her experience and informal surveys of other ministries and counselors reveal that 50-60 percent of those struggling with homosexuality come from a Baptist background.

“We have to stop looking at homosexuality as a nasty secret and say, ‘This is a [spiritual] attack so people who are under attack will feel the freedom to come forward,” she said.

Nor should those who want to help homosexual people look at it as some kind of simple fix that can be easily cured, Brown said.

Homosexuality is like a slow-growing cancer that starts in childhood and eats into every phase of a person’s life, she said. It becomes an integral part of people’s identity, from their choice of clothing and restaurants to various activities, she explained.

“A person has to work through each one of these issues and renounce every part of [his or her homosexual] life,” Brown said.

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  • Ken Walker