Exodus Youth, part of the evangelical ministry Exodus International that deals with the issue of homosexuality, is aiming to reverse a "disturbing" trend seen across churches and perceived widely by young Americans – that the Church is anti-homosexual.
Homosexuality is a topic that churches are still struggling to address in a culture that is increasingly accepting gay and lesbian lifestyles. It's a struggle that hasn't come across to many Americans in a positive light.
"I think for a long time, the church just hasn't known how to talk about homosexuality," said Exodus Youth Director Scott Davis. "They've been very uncomfortable with the topic.
"So when they do talk about it, they tend to talk about just the moral side of whether it's right or wrong without any real understanding of where people are coming from – so it comes across as very harsh," he commented.
The younger generation of Americans is reportedly more open and accepting of homosexuality than any other generation. A majority (75 percent) of 18- to 34-year-olds say homosexuality should be an acceptable alternative lifestyle compared to less than half (45 percent) of Americans age 55 years and older, according to a recent Gallup Poll.
In the midst of higher gay tolerance levels, most young people are criticizing the Church for staunch opposition toward gays and lesbians. A recent Barna Group survey found that 91 percent of young non-Christians describe present-day Christianity as "anti-homosexual." Moreover, 80 percent of young Christians hold the same perception.
Davis wasn't too surprised by Barna's findings.
"As I talk to youth around the country on the topic [of homosexuality], some of the most frequent questions we get from them are 'What's the big deal about homosexuality?' and 'Why does the Church make such a big topic of this?' and 'Why is this the worst sin than any other?'" he explained.
"They believe that's what the Church is teaching on this," Davis added.
"There's no doubt that the evangelical Church desperately needs to change the way it has dealt with the issue of homosexuality in the past. It is our goal to mobilize the youth of today to reverse the church's problems of the past," he said.
In the last decade, however, there has been a dramatic shift in the attitudes of church leaders toward homosexuality, Davis acknowledged. More are promoting compassion and love toward homosexual individuals while still maintaining their biblical stance and opposing homosexual behavior.
But even when Christians demonstrate a loving heart toward homosexuals, they're still uncomfortable with the issue. "So it comes across very badly," Davis said.
Exodus Youth is working with colleges, youth workers and churches to help students understand what the Bible has to say about homosexuality and how to reach out to their gay-identified peers with Christ-like compassion.
"We are seeing an outpouring of teens and young adults who are seeking biblical clarity on the subject of homosexuality," said the Exodus director.
The organization's newly created Truth & Tolerance series teaches God's full design of sexuality rather than just shaking the finger at what's wrong.
"[It] explains how God has designed our bodies and our sexuality to be used particularly between a husband and wife," Davis explained. "And when you start from that basis ... and come to homosexuality, obviously that's just one of many ways that we live apart from what God desires sexuality for."
Homosexual desires are placed on the same square footing as lust, pornography and other forms of heterosexual struggles. Both homosexual and heterosexual temptations are "all expressions of our fallen state as human beings," Davis asserted.
It's what you do to deal with that temptation that matters.
"It's not a sin to be tempted," he said. "We have to decide if we're followers of Christ and live in a way that's holy and honoring to Him."
For the individual struggling with homosexual desires as well as the individual experiencing heterosexual temptations, Davis says Christ's call on their life is to be chaste and to live a holy life.
Exodus Youth ran its second annual "Allies, Too" campaign last week, rallying Christian students around the country to both promote campus safety for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, and to further "throw off the dishonest, unfair labels of bigotry and hatred" some attach to those who disagree with homosexuality.
"There's a real polarization that's being thrust upon us that you are either loving and approving of homosexuality or you're hateful and disapproving of homosexuality," said Davis. "That's just a false choice."
The ministry director encouraged true tolerance in which there can be honest debate and actual dialogue.
And when introducing a homosexual friend to Christ, Davis cautions against trying to convert them.
"It isn't our job to try and change people. That's the Holy Spirit's job," he said.
"We say they (homosexuals friend who don't know Christ) need Christ; it's no different from any other person who's outside the faith," he noted. "He does require all of us to change, to repent of our former lives and to come to Christ. He promises that He'll do the job of transforming us. That's just the basic Christian message."