A more than decade-old conference that has encouraged thousands of Christians to extend compassion to homosexuals is kicking off on Saturday under new leadership.
Months after taking the reins from Focus on the Family, Exodus International introduces its first Love Won Out conference in southern California.
"Our goal is to help the global Christian church to be the healing community God intended it to be," Exodus International President Alan Chambers said in a statement.
For years now the Love Won Out event has helped more than 50,000 people who are either struggling with same-sex desires or have a loved one impacted by homosexuality. The conference equips participants to minister in truth and compassion to those struggling.
Organizers recognize that beneath all the controversies and debates surrounding the issue, there are a lot of people who are hurting.
"All too often the controversial nature of this issue grabs the spotlight, but there are hurting people living in the shadows who need practical help and compassionate encouragement," said Chambers, a former homosexual. "We want to put an arm around this often hidden group of men and women and help others better understand these issues so that the isolation and rejection many of us experienced will no longer be typical of Christian churches across America."
Love Won Out was originally launched by Focus on the Family in 1998. But last August, the Colorado Springs-based evangelical organization announced that it would hand the event over to Exodus to run.
Exodus International claims to be the largest information and referral ministry in the world addressing homosexual issues. The Christian organization, which promotes the message of "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ," has over 230 local ministries in the United States and Canada.
While much of the conference structure will remain unchanged, Love Won Out will now offer a few new sessions, including one geared to pastors and church staff to enable them to compassionately reach those dealing with these issues in their church, and one for spouses. The event also features a Youth Track aimed at creating a safe environment where teens and young adults can be open about their feelings.
According to Exodus, the conference mostly draws family members and friends who have a "gay-identified" loved one, and pastors and church staff who want to help church members impacted by homosexuality.
Spouses whose partner is struggling with same-sex attraction are attending the event in increasing numbers. Exodus laments that "often these hurting men and women are unable to share their heartache within many churches for fear of rejection."
Chambers has found that churches condemn homosexuals and offer no compassion, accept homosexuality without offering biblical truth, or fail to address the matter altogether.
Hoping to change that, Exodus is working more closely with churches – specifically mainline Protestant churches – to help them "minister both grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality."
Love Won Out is also being utilized to serve that purpose.
"We hope Love Won Out will help advance a new era for the church that is defined by God's truth as well as His heart for hurting people," said Chambers.
Exodus' first Love Won Out conference is being held at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego. Senior Pastor Jim Garlow, who has been active in supporting Proposition 8 (California's amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman), volunteered his church for the event, saying it is needed and will help Christians to knowledgeably reach those touched by the issue of homosexuality.
"While we, as Christians, must take a stand for biblical truth in our culture, we cannot ignore those at the heart of such issues who desperately need the love of Christ," he stated. "We hope this conference will help many to extend compassion to those who may have felt isolated and rejected by the church in the past."
Not surprisingly, the conference has drawn protesters. They're holding their own conference, titled "Just Love," nearby at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral on the same day.
Responding to opponents of what they call the "ex-gay movement," Chambers said, "While our views on these issues may differ, we've found that there are often hurting people on the other side of the picket line in need of God's unconditional love.
"I know I would not be who I am today were it not for the many who demonstrated Christ-like compassion to me when I did not deserve it. Love Won Out is committed to helping churches across the country model this approach."