Homosexuality and the church
As society embraces same-sex couples, a Texas conference equips the faithful to respond.
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Bobby Ross Jr. Bobby Ross Jr. | Christian Chronicle
SAN ANTONIO — NBA player Jason Collins comes out as gay and makes the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The Boy Scouts of America votes to allow openly gay boys into its ranks.
The U.S. Supreme Court gives federal recognition to same-sex marriages.

FIRST IN A SERIES

As homosexuality gains increasing acceptance in America, Christians can’t escape the headlines.
But how should members of Churches of Christ — who generally believe God reserves sex for marriage between a man and a woman — respond?
Here in the Alamo City, the Northside Church of Christ hosted a recent “Peacemakers Conference.” The focus of the two-day conference: equipping the faithful to show Christ’s love to everyone — including those who experience same-sex attraction — while maintaining strong convictions on the Bible’s teachings.
“It seemed to me that this would be a great way to move beyond the headlines and the rhetoric that’s out there and talk about how we can truly ‘be Jesus’ to people,” said David Allen, preaching minister for the 1,000-member Northside church. “Somehow, Jesus was able to (minister to) broken people in ways that made them feel valued and loved and not condemned.”

The conference provided helpful insight “to get the ball rolling for churches to consider how to address an issue that is not going away,” said Mark Abshier, preaching minister for the MacArthur Park Church of Christ in San Antonio.

Gary and Donna Hoyack (PHOTO VIA FACEBOOK.COM)

“I was reminded that this issue cannot be approached one-dimensionally, that is, to declare it to be sin but go no further,” Abshier said. “Homosexuality is sin, and that is a starting point. But the Great Commandment and the Great Commission compel us to do more.”
Too often, Christians touched by same-sex attraction — either personally or by a family member — avoid talking about it, said Donna Hoyack, whose husband, Gary, serves as a Northside elder.
“There is such fear and stigma associated with same-sex attraction or a gay child or spouse,” she said. “When same-sex attraction can be treated as a reality that can lead to sin, the stigma can be removed, and same-sex attraction can be addressed in light of truth and in a loving way.”
••••••

“God is good. Gays are bad. Read your Bible.”
“I kissed a girl and I liked it. Then I went to hell.”
“Homosexuals are possessed by demons.”


The signs flashed across the big screens in the Northside auditorium.
“These are real signs that real people have carried around in the name of Christ,” Sally Gary told more than 200 conference participants. “This is the perception of Christianity.”
It’s a perception that must change before Christians can have “any voice about God’s design for our sexuality,” said Gary, director of CenterPeace, an Abilene, Texas-based ministry that provides support and resources for people who experience same-sex attraction.
This summer’s national meeting of Campus Ministry United, which is associated with Churches of Christ, also featured sessions on relating to those who struggle with same-sex attraction.
“If a Christian wants to make a positive impact on the LGBT community, they should make a gay friend instead of holding up a sign,” said Wes Woodell, a Missouri church planter who attended the campus ministry meeting at Harding University in Searcy, Ark. 
“If a Christian wants to make a positive impact on the LGBT community, they should make a gay friend instead of holding up a sign."Wes Woodell, Missouri church planter
Teenage members of Churches of Christ perceive judgmental attitudes as hampering the fellowship’s spread of the Gospel, according to the 2012 Church and Relationship Study by Oklahoma Christian University’s Intergenerational Faith Center.
In their book “unChristian,” prominent evangelical researchers David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons reported that young people ages 16 to 29 frequently see Christians as anti-homosexuals who show contempt for gays and lesbians.
“And they’re often right,” Allen said of that perception. “We have to start changing that narrative if we hope to show people the love of Jesus.”
Across the nation, some churches and ministry leaders are taking steps to change that narrative:
• The Landmark Church of Christ in Montgomery, Ala., sponsors the Barnabas Group, a support group for individuals who experience same-sex attraction and their family members.
The group offers a safe place to discuss struggles, said Tony Adcock, a Landmark member who with his wife, Jo, facilitates the meetings. Group leaders do not claim to change anyone’s sexual orientation, Adcock said, although he believes that’s possible in some cases.
“We spend a lot of time in prayer, but it’s not to ‘pray the gay away,’” he said. “I feel like if we can get into the work of the Holy Spirit in these individuals’ lives, then they can change, even if that desire is still there and they choose to become celibate.”

Campus ministry students sing during a weeknight devotional at the Crossings Church, a St. Louis-area Church of Christ. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)

•  A half-dozen campus ministry students at the Crossings Church — a Church of Christ in Wentzville, Mo. — talk openly about same-sex attraction, campus minister Kerry Cox said.
“They have to fight temptation, just like any of our heterosexual people do,” Cox said. “It’s just like struggling with lust.”
Among those students: John Copeland, who said the support shown by fellow Christians gave him the courage to change his lifestyle, including breaking up with his boyfriend.
But choosing to live as God intended was not easy, Copeland said.
“I had to sit and watch the man that I loved cry as I told him I was leaving him,” he said.
• At the Northwest Church of Christ in Chicago, minister Patrick Odum preached a sermon titled “Jason Collins and Jesus Christ.”
In the sermon, Odum encouraged his congregation to view people as much more than their sexual identity.
“It seems to me that most of our churches have had a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy concerning individual members while letting the current political discourse about gay marriage frame our public statements,” Odum said.
“I think churches need to be thinking about how to reframe the discussion in terms of sexual morality,” he added. “We also should be talking about love, compassion, support and grace for our brothers and sisters who are dealing with same-sex attraction.”
• The board of trustees of Members of Churches of Christ for Scouting (MCCS) vehemently opposed the decision to allow openly gay Scouts.
However, the national association is urging church-sponsored Scout units to “stay the course” and “continue to be a positive witness for Christ in the world of Scouting” rather than leave.
• By reaching out to people “at  the margins of society,” the Agape Church of Christ in Portland, Ore., naturally connects with people who identify as gay and lesbian, minister Ron Clark said. Agape also partners with same-sex organizations in addressing abuse and trafficking in Portland.
The church works to create an environment where anyone can come and feel loved, accepted and able to wrestle with personal issues, Clark said.
“At Agape, we state that we have a conservative view of the Bible, but all people are welcome,” he said.



At the conference, Sally Gary described experiencing same-sex attraction growing up in the Tenth and Broad Church of Christ in Wichita Falls, Texas, and later as a student at Abilene Christian University.
Through counseling, Gary came to understand a multitude of influences on her sexual identity. Her circumstances included less-than-perfect family dynamics, but she stresses that no one factor determines sexual orientation and that each person has a different story.
“We haven’t even begun to fully explore the impact that biology may have on our sexuality,” she said.

Gary credits God’s redemptive power with helping her reconcile and heal her relationship with her family and pursue the Lord’s will in her life, even though she still struggles.
“I’m kind of like the woman at the well. She couldn’t go back to the village and keep her mouth shut,” said Gary, 51, who details her personal journey in the book “Loves God, Likes Girls.”
Stories such as Gary’s illuminate the complexity of same-sex attraction and the importance of avoiding overly simplistic answers, said Allen, the Northside minister.
“One of the most important points,” he said, “was the need for us to spend a great deal of time listening and asking questions rather than attacking and condemning people.”


Sally Gary shares her story of experiencing same-sex attraction as minister David Allen listens. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)


  • Feedback

    "Stories such as Gary’s illuminate the complexity of same-sex attraction and the importance of avoiding overly simplistic answers, said Allen, the Northside minister." Is preaching the pure, unadulterated gospel of Christ for obedience and "overly simplistic answer"?
    Raymond Coats
    www.riovistachurchofchrist.com
    RIo Vista, California
    USA
    August, 28 2013
    “Somehow, Jesus was able to (minister to) broken people in ways that made them feel valued and loved and not condemned.” I often wonder how the rich young man, who came to Jesus, asking what could he do to inherit the kingdom? And when Jesus finally narrowed it down to his possessions, did he feel condemned or not? Because he went away sorrowful meant that he understood the price that he had to pay and when he chose to walk away he chose condemnation.
    Raymond Coats
    RIo VIsta church of Christ
    Rio Vista, California
    USA
    August, 28 2013
    I applaud the good work of those support groups. I pray that they will continue to help those who are in the need. Now, many of us disciples of Jesus Christ understand that homosexuality is sin. However, that does not mean we are to wrongly judge at those who are homosexual. To me, I believe Jesus Christ wants us to go show the love that God constantly shows us, to those who are lost&confused. Jesus said he didn't came to save the healthy, but to save the lost. Jesus went out to those who were lost. We disciples are to follow what Christ did; Which is to accept those who are lost&confused and give them love. Also, when we accept those who are homosexual, that doesn't mean we accept their sin. We accept the person, but not the sin.
    Diego
    Webb Chapel Church of Christ
    Dallas, TX
    U.S.
    August, 22 2013
    Milton - sexual orientation is not the same thing as sexual practice. The Bible teaches that homosexual practice is sinful - no one is debating that or disagreeing with that - CenterPeace and other organizations are simply helping us figure out how to help people who struggle with that temptation. I understand your concern, but I hope you realize that you've misunderstood the aims of the people quoted in this article, and that an attitude like the one expressed in your comment will never draw hurting people in to get the help you and your church could give them.
    Wes Woodell
    The Crossings Church
    St. Louis, MO
    USA
    August, 18 2013
    This disturbing article seems not only to accept homosexuality but very nearly embraces it. It mentions CenterPeace and the Barnabas Group as “support group(s).” Why would Christians support that which God condemns? What the Bible calls an abomination (Lev. 20:13) is referred to in this article as “same-sex attraction.” Apparently calling a sin, a sin, would be “un-Christian.” The apostle Paul says ”do not be deceived,” then he lists the unrighteous who will not inherit the kingdom of God, including those who practice homosexuality (1 Cor. 6:9). Sally Gary would have me believe that my perception must change, but Jesus said that the way is narrow which leads to eternal life (Matt. 7:13-14). The word of God must not be compromised!
    Milton Threet
    Gladeville church of Christ
    Smyrna, Tennessee
    United States of America
    August, 17 2013
    I applaud the advice to members of the Church to form friendships with LBGT persons. Doing so was a real eye opener for me. My relationship with my LBGT friends was transformative, and helped me leave the lifestyle I had chosen in youth. At Westport Road Church of Christ, "AIDS" is used as a synonym or euphemism for "gay," the implication being that HIV/AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality, and preacher Max L. Johnson was adamant about gays being "not born that way." Thanks to learning what gay people are like I will never hold those opinions or any other held by the Churches of Christ again.
    Alan Canon
    Westport Road Church of Christ
    Louisville, KY
    USA
    August, 15 2013
    I see this as failure. The boundaries have been moved. Love is being used inappropriately to allow Christians to disobey the importance of standing firmly against not just homosexuality but all sexual impurity. We will regret this move towards \"love\" because God said \"Do not kill,\" NOT \"love murderers.\" Jesus told us the first commandment was to love God, serve God, & obey God. He did not say Love trumps the First Commandment. God says \"No to sexual impurity of every kind,\" NOT \"Love those who stand for and teach and embrace sexual impurity. Move the boundaries back where God and Jesus set them.
    Angel Isaacs
    Church of Christ
    Austin, Texas
    USA
    August, 11 2013
    I understand the gist of this approach, and I applaud the effort, although we must be very careful that we are not accepting homosexuality as anything other than a sinful practice. Just like other sinful practices, it must be dealt with as such. Most often, the LGBT community is not concerned with coming to God in repentance and acknowledging that what they are doing is sin, but they are seeking acceptance of their \"lifestyle\" as being one that God accepts. Yes, we can be sympathetic with those who are struggling, but only if they are willing to start with the premise that they are living in sin and must come to God in \"Godly sorrow\" seeking to give up the practice. That\'s the same thing we teach about any other sin.
    Glenn Landrum
    Woodland C of C
    Sumter, SC
    USA
    August, 8 2013
    This is a conversation that we should and must have. I don't remember the statistic but many of our millennials do not even believe homosexuality is a sin anymore.
    I just hope and pray that the teaching at these forums is seasoned with scripture and not just opinion. We must still teach what is right.
    Mike Lewis
    Southwest Church of Christ, Tigard, OR
    Beaverton, OR
    USA
    August, 8 2013
    I applaud the Christian Chronicle for a reasoned, impartial discussion on matters we can no longer avoid, because by doing so we communicate 'I'm not gay, be like me' rather than demonstrating Jesus heart-changing message of honest, direct involvement in someone's life because we care about THEM.
    Kenny Noble Cortes
    Lakewood Church of Christ
    Denver, Colorado
    USA
    July, 31 2013
    No laws can be passed to make grown folk do what the Bible instructs us to do. Homosexuality carries the same weight as lying, cheating, stealing, etc. No little sin, no big sin. We need to help people see and understand God doesn\'t approve of their lifestyle AND show them and help them fill the wineskin with Godly€ new wine.
    Stan E. Miles
    Sandy Lane church of Christ
    Richmond, Virginia
    usa
    July, 31 2013
    Thank you Chronicle for publishing this story. I have had the opportunity to be in two of Sally's classes at a conference, and it was something I believed needed to be heard by all Christians. This article will help us be proactive in dealing with same sex attraction. It's important to remember that a temptation itself is not sin, rather, giving in to the temptation and acting on it is. May God help us to be Jesus to others, no matter what the sin is that someone is struggling with.
    Jason Azbell
    Woodland Trace
    Jasper, AL
    USA
    July, 30 2013
    The last part of the story of the woman who was to be stoned is often overlooked. Yes, Jesus showed mercy and forgiveness. However, he told her [I like the NIV translation on this point] - "Go now and leave your life of sin." As with any human, she will likely commit some type of sin in the future. But, she was to turn away from the activity. She could not continue a life of committing adultery.
    Howard
    Greenwood Park Church of Christ
    Bowling Green, KY
    US
    July, 30 2013
    Given that our Lord came into our world, not to condemn but to save (Jn 3.17) we must demonstrate the grace He did with the woman taken in adultery. Remember God created us male and female - Gen 5.1,2. Gender beauty is in the natural behavior of what we are. Even the Pope has expressed this. Rom 1.26,27 still holds true.
    Andy Jooste
    Newark Road Church of Christ
    Mount Vernon, Ohio
    U S A
    July, 30 2013
    I will have a new sister-in-law in a few days . . . because my SISTER is marrying a woman. The woman has been a Catholic who believes in God and Christ as Saviour. They believe God made them that way. I appreciate Ms Gary's excerpt. A very real and sad struggle. Left us without knowing where she stands, though. Disappointed. I don't want to buy a book of hers if she believes it is ok to be a 'practicing' homosexual. Feelings are strong and we can buckle under their pull. "Guard your hearts, for from it comes the wellspring of life" Proverbs. The heart there is the 'mind'(doctrines we choose to believe). As Christ's people we are to LOVE and LEAD into HIS KINGDOM and RIGHTEOUSNESS!! Be HOLY(Separate)But not arrogant.
    Robert
    The Hills
    Euless, TX
    USA
    July, 29 2013
    I appreciate your article that helps all of us to open our minds and hearts to finding was to lead people to redemption.
    Marvin Crowson
    Downtown
    Searcy, AR
    USA
    July, 29 2013
    God calls His own to separate from the world. "Be not conformed.." Key action word, "calls". Hear the Word! Listen and apply! True believers receive refuge, safe haven, and salvation by anchoring onto God Almighty, NOT man nor man's ways. Created by an undying love, the Author and Finisher of life, opened a relational line through His Son, Jesus Christ. Obedience to God's Will transcends a holy, pure, and righteous household with Our Father. Feelings and emotions rise and fall, but the Ancient of Days, changes not, nor do His statues. Willfully, we accept His charge, and willfully, we receive His justice! God's Will NOT our own, saves! Do we then not work out our own salvation with fear and trembling?
    Anna Valadez-Stolte
    The Home Church
    Stockton, CA
    USA
    July, 29 2013
    The main problem the Church faces concerning homosexual behavior is the lack of preaching on this subject. Through out the Bible, from The fall of the cities of the Planes of Jordon to the letters of Paul to the Churches, we foin that God refers to this act as an abomination. Homosexuality is not born into a person. This act is brought on by human lust. Thereby it can be repented of as can any other sin.
    J.D.Rhoads
    Fall Branch ,Tennesee
    Gate City , Virginia
    Scott
    July, 29 2013
    "But how should members of Churches of Christ — who believe God reserves sex for marriage between a man and a woman — respond?"
    I don't think this statement accurately reflects how all members of Churches of Christ, nor how all Churches of Christ, view this issue - at all.
    Joshua Jeffery
    Westside Church of Christ
    Forest Grove, Oregon
    United States
    July, 29 2013
    I do not judge... period.
    Ross
    Perknis C of C
    Stillwater, OK
    USA
    July, 29 2013
    We have written a tract (in English and Spanish) that is called: "What should I do if I feel I'm homosexual?" for anyone who might have those feelings and is available for anyone who wants it. Blessings!
    Elmer Pacheco
    Iglesia de Cristo Silver Spring
    Silver Spring, MD
    USA
    July, 29 2013
    I am glad CC is taking up this issue, considering the expanding influence of the LGBT movement in our society.
    Many of us struggle with how to approach this subject (or affected individuals), because of the fundamental difference in perspectives. I suspect there is also a fear of any degree of acceptance being viewed as condoning the lifestyle (Romans 1:32). But that fear should not be license for bad behavior. When Christ encountered the adulteress in John 8, he showed mercy, then told her to sin no more. Pretty good role model, and good advice for all of us.
    If you want to study this subject from a scholarly biblical/ scientific/psychological perspective, I would recommend robgagnon.net as one of many good sources.
    Eric
    COC
    Tulsa, OK
    USA
    July, 29 2013
    Truly appreciate the article, and the video that Sally Gary presents. Those of us who genuinely love Jesus also love our neighbors as ourselves and we want to understand them. Homosexuality is something many of us need to know more about than the fact that it is sinful. We get that, but we want to help the cause of Christ through love, not by hating or condemning others.
    Gary Villamor
    Woodward Park C.O.C.
    Fresno, CA
    USA
    July, 29 2013
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