PHOENIX, Az. -- "Homosexuals can find freedom from this sinful, destructive lifestyle."
The leaders of the nations largest protestant group agreed this Tuesday that homosexuals can become heterosexual if they accept Jesus Christ, AP reported June 17. During the Southern Baptist Convention's annual Pastors conference, the speakers urged the gatherers to reach out compassionately to gays with a message on how Christianity can save them.
"They can be redeemed. They can be liberated," said Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptists' public policy arm.
The denomination began a task force on ministry to homosexuals recently after they discovered such programs already underway in many of their 42,000 churches nation wide. The current efforts set the gay outreach at the top of the agenda for all their churches; the task force developed a Web site that has Bible study materials, testimonials from gays who became heterosexual and advice on helping people who have AIDS.
Southern Baptists, like many evangelicals stood against homosexuality for many years, boycotting Walt Disney for allowing gay groups to hold thier "Gay Days Festivities" at Disney Amusement Parks. Gay rights groups recoiled by picketing the Southern Baptist meeting each year, accusing them of spreading hatred; last year, 50 of the activists were arrested after they tried to disrupt the gathering.
Despite such conflicts, Land insisted Southern Baptists wanted to help gays.
"We want you to know that we love you, and more importantly Jesus loves you, and there is a way out," Land said.
The outreach marked the entrance of Southern Baptists to the pool of Christian groups in the United States that try to convince gays that they should become heterosexual.
David Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group in Washington, said such ministries generally are attached to smaller and in some cases "obscure" churches that do not have the influence of the 16 million member Southern Baptists.
"If the Southern Baptist Convention embraces such an outreach, it would be the largest denomination to do so," Smith said. "They're promoting `love the sinner, hate the sin,' but they're really saying that gay people are bad and that gives license to violence."
President Bush, who addressed the meeting earlier by videotape, thought otherwise. Southern Baptists are faithful servants he said as he asked God to bless them.
Nearly 7,000 members attended the conference on Tuesday.
By Pauline J.