RIDGECREST — Families and individuals found help and healing at an Exodus International event attended by more than 700 at Ridgecrest.
Exodus International is an Orlando-based ministry which seeks to help homosexuals escape from that lifestyle. During the event, entire families sat together and often held hands during times of music or prayer in atmosphere of openness and trust.
Many platform personalities are ex-gays — a term that is acceptable to everyone here. They are open about their past. The testimonies of those who rise to share their stories share a constant in their lives — a church. And not just a local church, but a church personified — a specific couple or individuals in a local church who reached out to them (often aggressively) and did not give up until they broke through to help the individual overcome.
Testimonies indicated that for some, it was not a happy time. Coming to Christ was a painful first step which led to a series of more painful steps resulting in some difficult goodbyes and sad (often bitter) relational ruptures. Leaving everything and everyone to follow Jesus Christ was difficult, and the stable love of certain individuals in the church made the dark hours of temptation and loneliness easier.
One person (speaking on condition of anonymity because some of his friends do not know that he struggles with homosexuality) stated that many churches he visited made it clear from the beginning that he would not be welcomed were he to openly confess to anyone — especially the pastor — that he is gay.
“I agree with the Bible that homosexuality is wrong, and I want to change,” he said. “My sinful desires are so strong that I often have problems believing the Bible when I struggle so hard with my own heart.”
He went on to say that he finds little real help from the church in battling sin.
“I find most churches are more interested in programs and numbers than helping real people like me with a real problem,” he said. “They are more quick to participate in some sort of legislative action against homosexuality rather than spend some time with me. My friends in the gay community are always there for me.”
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, offers another perspective. While Chambers agrees many local churches are not compassionate in their outreach to homosexuals, he believes “the church is the hope of the world, and the church needs to get serious about reaching out to these people who struggle with homosexuality.”
“Getting serious” about homosexuality is not something that comes easily to most congregations. Many feel ill-equipped but Chambers said, “The church doesn’t need some special sort of learning or training to deal with the sin of homosexuality. Like any sin, we all need and must have the help of Christ to save us from our sins.”
Chambers describes sin as a present reality that “we all deal with for as long as we are alive.”
Such a resolve has led Exodus International to change its focus from personal ministry to homosexuals to that of teaching the church to perform this vital ministry. “It would be my hope that soon Exodus would no longer be needed and the church could function well in ministry to homosexuals,” Chambers said.
Such a church-centered focus from a para-church organization seems to be part of the trend where local churches are called upon to assume more of an active role in the transformation of their communities.
“Churches are central to the healing of anyone — not just the homosexual,” Chambers said. “We at Exodus are committed to the restoration of lives built on the solid foundation of the Bible and lived out in the church.”
For people like David (last name withheld by request), their church is “a new family, a whole new life, and a chance to live again the way I am supposed to live.”
A former lesbian agrees on the importance of the church. “Each week I go to listen to the preaching and learn about the Bible,” she said. “I pray there and seek to really encounter Jesus through the worship of all of his people who are there with me. I use every Bible class and every chance I can get to be with the Lord’s people as help when I know I will really need it. The people at my church helped me turn my life around.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Chambers is featured on a BSC InSight Podcast.)