The controversial statements came from pastors of churches not affiliated with the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention but "they still stand as reminders to us -- not only pastors, but all believers -- that above all else we must represent the heart of Christ," wrote Bob Stith, a retired pastor in Southlake, Texas, who has served the SBC in the gender issues role since 2007.
Stith, who has said he was once "negative and condemning" toward homosexuals, wrote in a May 23 statement released by the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission that Southern Baptists seek to be "proactive and redemptive in reaching out to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions."
"From the video clips it would appear that both men lead fairly large churches. I wonder how many people in those congregations were gripped with the fear that their personal struggle might be discovered," Stith wrote. "And how many have loved ones involved in homosexuality? I wonder about the loneliness and isolation they must have experienced, knowing they could never share those burdens."
Pastor Charles Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, N.C., described on one website as an independent, fundamental "KJV-only" congregation, drew attention from CNN's Anderson Cooper and from other national media outlets after his May 13 rant went viral over the Web after he said homosexuals should be rounded up behind an electric fence.
It's not the first time Worley has targeted homosexuals, with Worley referencing lynching in a 1978 sermon linked from the website sermonaudio.com and reported by the New York Daily News on May 23.
Another pastor, Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., has since expressed regret for his words, claiming he was taken out of context and admitting he spoke carelessly after garnering attention on YouTube.
During the sermon leading up to the vote on a North Carolina marriage protection amendment, which voters passed, Harris told his church that when young boys begin acting effeminate, dads should squash those tendencies by striking their sons.
But in a subsequent YouTube video after news media scrutiny and outcry from homosexual activists, Harris tells an interviewer: "I have learned a lot from this, Justin. And I've learned that I need to be more careful and deliberate with my words. And I hope that if I take away anything from this incident, that I will be even better and more deliberate, more careful, with exactly the words I select."
The SBC's Stith responded to Harris by stating: "It is encouraging that Mr. Harris has backed away from those comments and pledged to be more careful. The real problem is the lack of understanding as to why this is problematic. Too many people, pastors and otherwise, have either said things like this or thought them, which is why I have consistently urged Southern Baptist entities to provide more training for our people.
"Don Schmierer's excellent book 'An Ounce of Prevention' should be required reading for pastors -- and parents. While this example is certainly extreme, I've heard far too many stories through the years of men and women who were wounded by well-meaning adults who employed some variation of this approach."
Stith said he would "caution all pastors to be aware that in this cyber-savvy world, anything you say can be worldwide within moments. Paul says, 'Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt' (Colossians 4:6). Will your words meet that standard? Will they hold out hope to anyone in bondage? Will they bring honor to Christ?"
For more information on the SBC's ministry to people struggling with same-sex attraction and gender issues, visit the website www.sbcthewayout.com.
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The complete statement from Bob Stith, SBC national strategist for gender issues, reads as follows:
"Those of us who have served on the Southern Baptist Convention's Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals have as a stated objective to help Southern Baptists be 'proactive and redemptive in reaching out to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions.' Our goal has always been to help Southern Baptists and others develop compassionate hearts for those who struggle and their families.
"Unfortunately, the watching world too often has witnessed examples of the opposite. While I am grateful that the two most recent instances were not in Southern Baptist churches, they still stand as reminders to us—not only pastors, but all believers—that above all else we must represent the heart of Christ.
"The pastors' comments that have rocketed across the Internet and been featured in so many news outlets also show a complete lack of understanding of how to minister to those struggling with this particular temptation. Real masculinity cannot be stereotyped. Attempting to force a sensitive son to share all of his father's interests is a recipe for disaster. Children desperately need the loving involvement of their fathers, not their condemnation. (See "Parenting the Sensitive Soul" by Ricky Chelette.)
"Ironically, one pastor seemed to be arguing for a genetic causation. How else to explain his statement that the death of all homosexuals in one generation would eliminate future struggles with homosexuality? Even the American Psychological Association no longer argues for strict genetic causation. The sad truth is that the attitudes reflected in these comments are far more likely to exacerbate problems than to help them.
"From the video clips it would appear that both men pastor fairly large churches. I wonder how many people in those congregations were gripped with the fear that their personal struggle might be discovered. And how many have loved ones involved in homosexuality? I wonder about the loneliness and isolation they must have experienced, knowing they could never share those burdens.
"I would especially caution all pastors to be aware that in this cyber-savvy world, anything you say can be worldwide within moments. Paul says, 'Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt' (Colossians 4:6). Will your words meet that standard? Will they hold out hope to anyone in bondage? Will they bring honor to Christ?"
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