From Oct. 5-7, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) held its annual conference at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. on a topic that carried cultural relevance and controversy. The conference, which centered around a biblical view of homosexuality, drew a lot of fire from the secular community as well as a portion of the Christian community
Dr. Bob Somerville, retired associate professor of biblical counseling at The Master’s College and a member of the ACBC board of trustees, offered a bit of insight into ACBC’s purpose for the conference.
“Our goal was to be faithful to the scriptures and then to be winsome and persuasive by speaking the truth in love,” he said.
In a statement given to Southern News, a publication of the seminary, Heath Lambert, executive director of ACBC, explained the importance of the church engaging with cultural issues, such as homosexuality.
“The Christian community cannot only be known as the people who understand that homosexuality is wrong,” Lambert said. “It is a matter of urgent concern that we also be known as the people who move towards people struggling with homosexuality with the love, grace, power, and hope of Jesus Christ and walk with them through the door to real and lasting change.”
The conference was a hot topic in the media, both before and after it took place. There were bomb threats made, objections from the LGBT community, and protests organized on the day of the conference.
Despite opposition, ACBC was able to use this platform to clarify their message. The morning of the conference, Lambert and seminary president, Dr. Albert Mohler, held a press conference for all major news sources.
They explained the conference’s message of hope, not of condemnation or any type of reparative therapy, which desires to change a person’s sexual orientation. Dr. Ernie Baker, head of The Master’s College undergraduate biblical counseling emphasis (or: “head of the undergraduate biblical counseling emphasis at The Master’s College”), recalls reading articles on the conference from the press and realizing that “[the media] started to get the sense of something different.” ACBC wanted to impact the secular community via a message of hope through the gospel.
Baker said, “We all struggle with sin and the gospel gives hope for change even with deep struggles. … the ultimate goal is not changing people to heterosexuality. The primary goal is Christ.”
In addition to ACBC’s goal of impacting the secular community, ACBC wanted its message to reach the ears of those in the Christian community. They desired that Christians would realize the power of Scripture and its relevance to people’s lives, no matter how deeply entrenched in sin a person may be. Biblical counselors also wanted believers to learn to stop being homophobic and to instead love homosexuals and be relational with them.
One of the most publicized speakers at the conference, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, provided a model for believers through her testimony of how a local pastor lovingly reached out to her in friendship, despite the fact that she was a lesbian, feminist professor at Syracuse University. In her testimony, written and published for Christianity Today and in her book, Butterfield recalled the love and care she received from pastor Ken Smith and his wife, Floy.
“Ken and his wife, Floy, and I became friends. They entered my world. They met my friends. We did book exchanges. We talked openly about sexuality and politics. They did not act as if such conversations were polluting them. They did not treat me like a blank slate,” Butterfield said.
She pointed out that they did not exercise a form of “friendship evangelism,” just friendship.
In the same way, Somerville hopes that Christians will follow after this model of speaking the truth in love through building relationships. He gives practical advice for Christians as to how to best carry this out.
“Be willing to stretch your own comfort zone and befriend someone who is totally opposite of you if the Lord directs and gives opportunity. … [T]ake the time that it needs to earn a hearing for the gospel. And continue to minister. And do that all laden in prayer,” Somerville said.
With that, Baker issued a note of caution. Because the homosexual lifestyle can be “enslaving” and “entrapping,” he believes one should avoid ministering in this way if it is an area of temptation. However, in the absence of temptation, he encourages believers to be proactive in building relationships with homosexuals.
Baker said: “[B]y all means don’t be homophobic and have some type of fear of them. … Love them, have a relationship with them, and just see how the Lord leads. Maybe it will open up opportunities to talk about the gospel.”
By Samantha Dick