SBC gender issues expert says grace, diligence key

Ben’s struggle with same-sex attraction and sexual addiction began in his early teens. His dad served in the ministry and his family was passionate about their faith, but it never connected with Ben.

He felt isolated by his struggle and disconnected with his father, who as a minister was “everyone’s dad.”

His turning point occurred in high school when a youth leader invested in Ben, who admitted his struggles.

“I told him, ‘I think I’m gay, and I don’t think I really want to be.’” It was that youth leader’s honesty and unconditional love that drew Ben to Jesus to help him deal with his struggles.

“My addictions were keeping me from accepting the love of others and the love of God. I realized that everything I wanted, I already have. I could worry less about how much everyone else loved me because the Lord of the universe wants me. He sacrificed for me and he’s the culmination of everything I need.”

Hope spent most of her adult life as a gay-rights activist. “I was a tough, hard-nosed, in-your-face, out-loud, proud, card-carrying lesbian. I thought I was strong and I thought I was independent.”

A car accident five years ago left her with a debilitating head injury and serious life questions. Physically and sexually abused by parents who told her she was supposed to be a boy, Hope’s confused and tumultuous childhood led her down a path searching for peace and acceptance wherever she could. But no matter where she looked, peace evaded her.

After a number of churches rejected her for her lifestyle, she tried Buddhism, shamanism and Judaism, but never found what she needed. After her accident, she lost everything—her job, life partner, even her identity since her injuries kept her from the activism that had defined her life. That was when a friend shared the hope of 1 Corinthians 6:11 with her. She prayed and accepted Christ.

“God began to speak truth into my heart and said, ‘I created you. Your mother and father may have rejected you, but I love you. I accept you.’”

Christian believers from the Dallas-Fort Worth area gathered at a banquet for Living Hope Ministries on a recent Saturday night to share their testimonies of God’s delivery from homosexuality. Oftentimes, it was the enduring faithfulness of a Christian friend or minister whom God used to begin the restoration process.

Three-fourths of Southern Baptist pastors have no specific training to minister to people such as Ben and Hope, and only 8 percent of other staff and laity is equipped to respond to this need. So when the Southern Baptist Convention developed a Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals, messengers endorsed a response to what Jimmy Draper called the number one culture issue of the day.

In 2007 the SBC opened an office to provide resources and training for local churches to minister to those seeking help from same-sex attraction, but the number of requests from churches for assistance has been startlingly low.

LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC Executive Committee, the North American Mission Board and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission provided the synergy to accomplish the task and called upon long-time Texas pastor Bob Stith of Southlake to serve as national strategist for gender issues.

ERLC administered a one-time grant from LifeWay intended to last three years, but with careful budgeting, Stith has managed to extend the effort to five years. With funding set to expire next June, Stith would like nothing more than to be run ragged with calls to equip church members, local congregations and Baptist associations with the tools to minister to homosexuals.

“Seventeen years ago I became burdened for this issue and began telling people that I believed this would be the watershed issue for the church in our generation,” he said, recalling how often his heart has broken as he listened to men and women as well as family members wounded by careless remarks and unwise counsel or simply ignored after sharing their pain.

Before accepting his new assignment, Stith pastored Carroll Baptist Church in Southlake for 37 years. He initially envisioned the gender issues office would coordinate Southern Baptist resources, ministries, guidance and training on such issues.

“What evolved is primarily a resource when a pastor or parent discovers a child who struggles. Occasionally a church or association will host training events, but those are rare,” Stith acknowledged.

Help for parents and training for churches are the most obvious needs he seeks to meet, but Christians also need to understand how to counter “gay apologetics” and provide “safe churches” for those struggling with homosexual inclination or behavior.

“Parents need understanding in raising gender-healthy children. They also need help in knowing what to do when a child exhibits gender non-conformity,” Stith told the TEXAN. “Many problems could be headed off if parents just had this training.” While it’s not his area of expertise, Stith can direct inquirers to qualified people.

“Training our people in the Scripture is imperative, but in today’s culture we had better have an understanding of how the activists are teaching their people those scriptures,” Stith warned.

One of the things Stith’s office tries to help parents understand is that if a child comes home, especially from college, and announces he is gay, parents must take notice how he responds. “I can almost guarantee that by that point gay friends have conditioned him or her on what to expect and how to respond.”

Church leaders also need to be trained to minister effectively to those who do struggle, he added. “I still talk to men and women almost weekly who have been hindered in their walk out of homosexuality by wrong counsel—even though well-intentioned.”

Oftentimes, he finds the “counseling” amounted only to quoting relevant scriptures on homosexuality, without offering biblical guidance on how to get out of a homosexual lifestyle. “They ask themselves, ‘Is this church, this pastor going to stigmatize me if I share my struggle?’”

Issuing a call to examine the concept of “safe churches,” Stith asked, “How do we stand firmly on the biblical standards while presenting an atmosphere where strugglers feel safe in sharing their struggles?” Instead, he often hears from strugglers who heard the pastor, Sunday school members or others tell “gay jokes” or make derogatory remarks about homosexuals. “I’ve heard parents tell of how this wounded them when they heard these things.”

Churches also need to equip Christians to not only know what the Bible says, but learn the various cultural claims regarding homosexuality.

“We don’t realize the incredible rise in gay apologetics,” Stith said, adding that some of the arguments appear very convincing to an untrained ear.

“The subtlety is that they don’t always just deny what the Bible says, they argue that we’ve misunderstood what it really means.” That approach becomes a powerful argument to a parent desperately wanting to believe his son or daughter is OK.

Discussion along this line should consider the allegation that science has proven that homosexuality is genetic. “It’s not enough to simply say, “I don’t believe that. What does science actually show? Is there a genetic component that could lead to predisposition? What do the biological findings have to do with biblical truth?”

Stith recommends the type of one-day training seminar offered by Living Hope Ministries which is available to churches at a minimal cost. Through the ERLC Gender Issues office, Stith can accept invitations to speak at churches and associations at no cost to the host, addressing homosexuality as it relates to the Bible, culture and the church, while equipping participants in a redemptive approach.

The task force brochure “Dare to Care” features stories of people who found the help they needed when the church did what the church was meant to do, he added. “They practiced loving discipleship.”

Some of the same people who heard Stith’s prediction that homosexuality would become the cultural watershed issue said they didn’t understand his concern at the time. “Now they fully understand,” he said. “We can’t read a newspaper, listen to what are kids are hearing, watch television or movies without seeing the impact.”

Citing surveys that indicate 3 percent of the population struggles with same-sex attraction, Stith recognized that would only amount to about 9 million people. “But if you factor in mothers, fathers, siblings, close relatives, family friends, you’re suddenly looking at a minimum of almost half of the population who are directly impacted by this struggle,” he concluded.

“We absolutely have to have some positive, redemptive answers for these people.”

Churches are often reluctant to deal with the issue, Stith said, describing it as uncomfortable and controversial. “We can easily allow ourselves to think that in covering the fact that the Bible says it is sin, we have covered the issue.”

“The task before our convention—reclaiming a biblical view of sexuality—is overwhelming, and it will require awareness and commitment from individual Southern Baptists as well as our churches and institutions if we’re to begin to turn the tide on this struggle.”

Stith believes Christians must be driven by a passion for men and women to be made whole in Christ and not simply a passion to defeat the homosexual agenda. “It is time for the prophets to speak—not the prophets of fire but brokenhearted prophets who can identify with the brokenness of their people.”

Michelle Covington contributed to this report and portions of Stith’s comments were drawn from Baptist Press. To contact Stith, email him at or call 817-424-9121. He will also be available at the upcoming annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention at the Irving Convention Center, Nov. 14-15.

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