Recent comments by the head of Exodus International, the nation's largest evangelical referral ministry on homosexual issues, left some Christians troubled.
Stephen Bennett, president of pro-family group Stephen Bennett Ministries, believes homosexuals can change "completely." In fact, he indicates he is proof of that and invites Exodus President Alan Chambers to come meet an "ex-gay."
Bennett was "shaken" on Monday when an article by the Los Angeles Times suggested Chambers, a former homosexual, said he has never met an ex-gay. Chambers was further quoted as saying, "By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete."
"Frankly, I am shocked that the president of the largest information and referral ministry in the world on homosexual issues, would ever make such irresponsible and false public statements," said Bennett in a statement Tuesday. "If Mr. Chambers, a married man and father who once engaged in homosexuality himself, says he's never met 'a former ex-gay' or one who has 'changed completely,' he's personally invited to our home in Connecticut to meet one. I'd also be happy to introduce him to numerous other individuals – all former homosexual men and women."
After 11 years of engaging in homosexuality with over 100 men, Bennett testifies that he was confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ and has "completely changed," no longer struggling "whatsoever" with homosexual temptation.
But there are those who tried leaving the homosexual lifestyle, and failed after numerous attempts. Peter Toscano of Beyond Ex-Gay – a community for those who have "survived" ex-gay experiences – spent 17 years and over $30,000 on three continents attempting to address his same-sex desires. He tried filling himself with Jesus and enrolled in professional ex-gay programs but realized the process was slowly driving him insane. He now embraces himself as a gay man.
And then there are those who left the homosexual lifestyle, but still struggle with temptation, such as Chambers. He, however, chose to "live differently" and says his feelings have changed too.
"Today, I am a far different person. Not that I don't struggle, but my life has changed," he said, according to The Orange County Register. "I certainly don't have the desire to be involved in homosexuality. It has no power over me."
"I think what he (Chambers) is trying to communicate is this is a difficult journey and it takes time," said Bob Stith, national gender issues specialist for the Southern Baptist Convention, regarding Chambers' comments in the LA Times. "He knows people that acknowledge that they no longer have this struggle at all and others [for whom] this is a temptation that they would have to struggle with the rest of their lives."
The latest debate over homosexual conversion comes as America is seeing gay tolerance reach record marks. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 57 percent of the American public today believes homosexuality should be sanctioned as an acceptable alternative lifestyle – the highest the Gallup Poll has recorded since 1982. And for the first time in the 21st century, less than the majority of Americans say homosexual relations are morally wrong (49 percent).
As an article by Michael Kinsley in the June 25 issue of Time magazine stated, "Kids grow up today with gay friends, gay parents, gay parents of friends and gay friends of parents ... Kids are also exposed constantly to an entertainment culture in which gays are not merely accepted but in some ways dominant."
Homosexuality is considered a sinful lifestyle by most Christians. But more churches are making an effort to educate believers on the struggles of homosexuals and how to respond.
So how should Christians respond?
First, Stith, who is part of a new effort in the Southern Baptist Convention to step up ministry to homosexuals, says church leaders need to get a lot more involved and aware of what's going on because there is a great deal of misinformation on the issue of homosexuality.
The greatest misinformation, according to Stith, is seen in the recent Gallup poll that revealed 42 percent of Americans believe homosexuality is something a person is born with.
As Concerned Women for America's Matt Barber stated on CNN, "There is no credible evidence to suggest that people are born homosexual. In fact, there's a great deal of evidence that would suggest the exact opposite."
Rather than a genetic predetermination, Stith argues, "What all of us (Christians) would agree on is that there may well be some type of genetic predisposition. All of us are born with certain characteristics or traits that lead us to a certain direction but don't determine that we go in that direction."
That could be true for homosexuality or even alcoholism, the gender issues specialist noted.
The difference in the outcomes of those struggling to leave the same-sex lifestyle comes partly in the ability to recognize homosexual desires as any other temptation, Stith indicated.
In his perspective, "God wants to bless and give His people abundance. I don't think we can have that if we choose to do anything outside of His will."
Like Stith, Tim Wilkins, a former homosexual who travels the nation telling Christians how to deal with the issue of homosexuality, says "same-sex attraction is not an orientation. It is a temptation."
And Bennett, who views homosexuality as the result of an inward conflict, believes it is possible to win over the struggle. "Homosexuality is an outward expression of an inward conflict. When I completely dealt with my inward conflict, my alcoholism, cocaine addiction, bulimia and homosexual struggle were completely gone," he said.
Second, Christians should see homosexuality as they would any other sin and be responsive to it in the same way as they would to other sins, said Stith.
"That would be a compassion response," he explained.
That includes bringing people to the wholeness of Christ. Stith, like many others, isn't entirely comfortable with the clinical sciences term "reparative therapy" which has been given to the whole field of ministry to homosexuals. He prefers to look at it more as "discipleship ministry."