Many evangelical and mainline churches fail to respond to homosexuality compassionately and effectively. But three Christian ministries are hoping to change that.
Exodus International on Wednesday announced plans to merge with One By One, a ministry of the Presbyterian and Reformed faith communities, and Transforming Congregations, a ministry of The United Methodist Church. All three are outreach organizations that help people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction and equip churches to effectively address the issue.
According to preliminary data from a research study being conducted by The Marin Foundation, 86 percent of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community was raised in a denominationally based religion, Andrew Marin told Catalyst Leadership magazine.
But few found little help in the church.
"I found myself struggling with same-sex attraction. I did not find help in the church or on my Christian college campus," said Kristin Tremba, executive director of One By One, during the 34th annual Exodus Freedom Conference at Wheaton College in Illinois. "I heard no testimonies of healing or changed lives in church or in college chapel."
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, was also among those who did not find guidance in the church when he began struggling with homosexuality.
"As a teenager growing up in the church in a mainline denomination, the thing I often heard about homosexuality was that of condemnation, not of compassion," Chambers said at the July 14-18 conference. "People who were struggling with these issues were not met with compassion or grace. They were met with truth, bold truth and nothing but the truth."
Although he wished his church was the place where he would find refuge and safety, Chambers had to look elsewhere for help.
Today he leads one of the largest Christian organizations that deals with homosexual issues and promotes "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ." He also has a new book, Leaving Homosexuality: A Practical Guide for Men and Women Looking for a Way Out, that offers practical advice and "honest information" on the process of leaving a homosexual life to pursue one that reflects the Christian faith, according to the ministry.
"Chambers says the book marks a departure from the ambiguity of the 'change is possible' message and details what kind of change is possible for someone struggling with unwanted homosexual feelings," according to Exodus.
That ambiguity, however, seems to remain in churches which have been divided by the issue of homosexuality.
Chambers sees denominations succumbing to the "pressures of gay advocacy" and failing to "be places that reflect biblical truth."
As Tremba of One By One noted, the majority of clergy in mainline denominations are uncertain about the nature of homosexuality and unsure if homosexuality can be changed through therapy and prayer.
Pastors have contacted Exodus seeking help and understanding regarding the polarizing issue. And while Exodus has provided that help through its Church Association, which launched in 2006, the new merger marks an even greater step in reaching out to pastors and equipping churches to "minister both grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality," Chambers explained.
The merger will be a new division under the leadership of Exodus.
"Together, we hope to advance a new era in the global Christian church that is defined by God's truth as well as His heart for hurting individuals experiencing confusion and conflict about their sexuality," said Chambers.