Pastor: It's time to start ministering to homosexuals
The Rev. Bill Campbell is writing a book about ministering to homosexuals..
By Amy B. McCraw
Published: Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 4:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 17, 2009 at 8:18 p.m.
Homosexuality and the church. Put those words together most any place most any time and sparks are guaranteed to fly.
So, it's no wonder the Rev. Dr. Bill Campbell, 52, hesitates a moment before discussing his new book, "Homosexuality and the Church: Overcoming Controversy With Compassionate Ministry."
"It's a delicate subject," says Campbell, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville.
Delicate or not, Campbell says his book confronts the question of the church's role in the lives of those struggling with homosexuality head-on.
"It's time for us to get real and understand what people are facing," he says. "The whole focus of the book is to help churches understand the issue and become places of ministry."
Campbell's call for the church to "get real" involves what he calls a blend of truth with grace.
That blend means churches should develop ministries that help people struggling with their sexuality live in a way that honors Christ, Campbell says. Condemning homosexuals, he says, or turning them away from church is not helpful or what Jesus would have wanted.
"The church should provide help for people who want to change," he says. "It's time to stop arguing. It's time to start ministering the way Jesus would do. He made a special effort to show love to those who were marginalized."
Campbell believes many homosexuals can learn to live with their desires without acting on them -- much in the same way that an alcoholic can learn to resist alcohol or a sexual addict can learn to control his impulses.
"They will still have periods of struggle for the rest of their lives," he says. "Those desires may change. Many say, 'I'm in recovery.' Many would say, 'Oh, I've had a total turnaround.' They have totally lost their homosexual attractions."
Churches should create ministries for homosexuals who want to change their behavior, Campbell says.
"My passion is for the church to develop a ministry itself rather than say, 'Go get help over there,' " he says. "The issue of sexuality is messy. It's not as black and white as we would like to think it is. Homosexuals who go for help, many of them do find change. It would be untrue to say all can no longer change."
Campbell says he outlines in his book how churches should help homosexuals.
Such a ministry would include counselors in the church to be a supportive arm for homosexuals who seek help. Support groups for homosexuals and their families would be formed and leaders in the church would also be trained to understand the issue.
The trained church leaders would, in turn, reach out to the congregation to help them understand the compassionate approach to homosexuals. As members of the congregation become involved, Campbell says, they can reach out to the larger community.
Campbell hopes First Presbyterian, which has about 550 members, will become a model that helps people struggling with homosexuality. The church's leadership, he says, has been engaged with his approach and is on board.
That said, he knows that every church is different and must find its own way to create a compassionate environment.
"There is no one standard model," says.
His book will highlight different models based on demographics and church size and the basic concepts that any church can focus on.
Campbell says he is nearly finished writing the book, which is scheduled to come out early next year. He began researching the topic nearly 15 years ago and has been under contract with a Christian book publisher for nine months.
But Campbell's interest in the topic doesn't end with his book.
He also has invited special guests to speak at First Presbyterian on the issue. One of those guests is the Rev. Tim Wilkins of Cross Ministry in Wake Forest.
Wilkins will speak at First Presbyterian July 26 during the worship service and again at 6:30 p.m. about his journey from homosexuality to becoming a pastor who is now married and has children. His Cross Ministry is a nondenominational Christian organization based in Wake Forest that proclaims freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ.
Wilkins wants people to know his story and see that a homosexual person can change.
"I found my way out of not only the behavior of homosexuality but out of the actual mindset of being homosexual," Wilkins says during a telephone interview this week. "I want them to know I'm genuine. I'm real."
A CHANGE IN FOCUS
Like Campbell, Wilkins thinks Christians should show homosexuals love and compassion while at the same time not condone their behavior.
"I take a very compassionate, redemptive approach. No one has ever been argued out of homosexuality," he says. "I love homosexuals now more than when I was one."
Wilkins says he struggled with homosexuality as a child. He later lived a life of celibacy before marrying a woman when he was 33 years old. He eventually became attracted to women after learning to follow God's word, Wilkins says.
"I did not choose to be attracted to the same sex," he says. "We don't get to choose what we are tempted by."
Wilkins says he chose to change after Jesus became his focus and he developed a meaningful relationship with God.
Churches that minister to people struggling with their sexuality can be a tremendous help in their own journey toward having a better relationship with God, Wilkins says.
First Presbyterian also will host a conference on Aug. 29, illustrating how churches can best help homosexuals. The event is sponsored by the Henderson County Ministerial Association and Truth Ministries. The conference will focus on Campbell's and others' idea of blending truth and grace to help people who struggle with their sexuality.
The conference will be from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The event costs $15in advance, which includes lunch, or $20 at the door.
Members of his congregation have been supportive of his sermons concerning homosexuality and of the guest speakers on the topic, Campbell says.
"One person said, 'I have a lesbian daughter and I have been waiting for 20 years to hear a sermon that addressed this topic in a biblical manner,' " he says. "Just condemning is not biblical. That is not what Christ did. He spoke the truth, He said, 'Don't do this anymore.' But there was love."
Campbell says he recognizes that his book, guest speakers and recent sermons might not be popular with all people in his church or in the community. But he believes the issue of homosexuality must be addressed if churches want to move beyond political divisions and misunderstanding.
"I don't want to avoid it," he says, this time without hesitation. "I believe God wants to turn this into something positive. This won't go away if we ignore it."