At issue are Chambers' statements that reparative therapy does not work and that people can persist in homosexual behavior and still receive the salvation that Jesus offers.
Bob Stith, who served Southern Baptists as a national strategist for gender issues until funding for his position ceased in June, told Baptist Press the issues are more nuanced than they appear at first glance and, no matter what, Christians must continue to proclaim the freedom from sin that Jesus offers.
In an address to the Gay Christian Network earlier this year, Chambers said "99.9 percent" of the people he met through Exodus International either had not changed their sexual attraction or still struggled with temptation, according to NPR July 6.
In a June interview with The Atlantic, Chambers implied that homosexuals did not need to repent of their behavior in order to be saved.
"My personal belief is that everyone has the opportunity to know Christ, and that while behavior matters, those things don't interrupt someone's relationship with Christ," Chambers, who has led Exodus International for more than a decade, said.
Exodus International was founded in 1976 to provide spiritual support for Christians who are struggling with homosexual attraction.
Robert Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of an influential book titled "The Bible and Homosexual Practice," wrote a 35-page response to Chambers' comments and called on him to resign because of a faulty doctrine of salvation.
"My greatest concern has to do with Alan's repeated assurances to homosexually active 'gay Christians' that they will be with him in heaven," Gagnon told The New York Times.
Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology and senior vice president of academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Christianity Today that Chambers appears to have "uploaded some really bad, reactionary tendencies from popular evangelicalism" by embracing a repentance-lacking gospel in an effort to avoid legalism. Chambers, in a Christianity Today column July 16, took issue with people who "want to emphasize that homosexual sexual expression is more egregious than other sexual sins and deserves greater judgment and eternal consequence."
"For anyone to point at one group of people with a certain set of proclivities and condemn them for those things while exonerating (or ignoring) another group with other proclivities is hypocritical and inconsistent," Chambers wrote.
Stith, in comments to Baptist Press, said the debate over Chambers' salvation remarks centers on whether an unrepentant person who persistently engages in homosexual conduct can go to heaven.
"Alan has correctly observed that we should be asking the same question about any unrepentant sin," Stith, a pastor for more than 40 years, said. "I don't think homosexuality is being singled out because of the nature of the sin. I think it is because it is in my opinion the most critical issue facing the church today."
For 18 years, Stith has worked with those who are impacted by same-sex struggles, and he believes homosexuality will be the watershed issue for the church in this generation.
"Certainly we are seeing that played out in many denominations. We in the SBC are being impacted in ways that many do not yet recognize," Stith said.
The way to approach salvation and homosexuals, he said, is to consider whether a person has had a genuine conversion experience. "If there is no change in behavior and that persists, then certainly it is legitimate to call into question whether true conversion has been experienced," Stith said.
If a person has indeed been born again, the desires of the flesh will remain and if left uncontrolled can quench and grieve the Holy Spirit, Stith said.
"I do firmly believe in the security of the believer, the perseverance of the saints," he said. "... But it also means that any of us can believe a lie and begin a drift away from God."
Reparative therapy, Stith said, is a type of counseling that "means different things to different people."
"In the sense that it is used by those who originated it, my understanding is that they believe homosexuality results from a break with a parent, predominantly the father, and that break needs to be repaired," Stith said. "Certainly this is a major simplification, but most people have this understanding.
"It has been my experience that this is true of many people who struggle with same-sex attractions. Many counselors and ministries acknowledge this reality and will help those who have those issues to resolve them," he said. "I think it is unwise to dismiss this in its entirety because for many people it has opened the door to a more complete resolution of their struggle."
For the average Southern Baptist who wants to minister to a homosexual, Stith advised confidently proclaiming the great hope and truth of Scripture.
"I believe in a God who is able to set every captive free, and that freedom doesn't mean dragging an anchor around for the rest of our lives," Stith told BP. "Don't be afraid to confidently offer that hope. I would encourage you to be sure you really believe that and are working it out in your own life."
Several studies, Stith said, have shown that one of the most effective ways people can help someone overcome a homosexual struggle is to be a mentor. When he was first asked to get involved in a ministry to homosexuals, Stith was told he had no idea how much it would mean to the group just to have a heterosexual pastor love them and walk alongside them toward Jesus.
"I have seen the truth of that over and over through the years," Stith said. "You won't know all the answers and shouldn't try to give them. But be willing to listen and to learn."
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net
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