Outside the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville this week, one young man in a suit was handing out a Bible study.
There was nothing remarkable about that, except the study argues the Bible does not condemn homosexuality.
Most of the 11,000 Baptists streaming into the Gaylord Entertainment Center Tuesday morning ignored him. After all, other people on the sidewalk were thrusting leaflets at them promoting everything from Christian comedians to vegetarianism.
If they bothered to look at this man’s booklet, many of the church members would have considered it heretical.
Inside the exhibits area, two members of a task force were publicizing efforts to encourage homosexuals to leave the gay lifestyle and churches to be more "compassionate, caring and redemptive."
The man handing out the Bible study was a member of Soulforce, a gay-rights group that is "committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings."
The group is led by Mel White, a former ghostwriter for the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
The Way Out, the Baptist task force, is made up of ministries affiliated with Exodus International, a group that promotes "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ."
"Exodus is evangelical but nondenominational by nature," said McKrae Game, a Way Out volunteer from Spartansburg, S.C. "The Southern Baptists for a long time, until recently, have not taken a very compassionate approach, and it’s driven people away.
"Not all Southern Baptist churches have been won over to the compassionate approach."
Game and Richard Holloman, an Evansville native who is involved in an ex-gay ministry in Nashville, both say they have left homosexuality.
A Soulforce booklet says there’s no reliable scientific evidence ex-gay ministries succeed in changing an individual’s sexual orientation.
"The reason why ex-gay ministries fail is because God created and loves gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people exactly as they are without reservation," says Christian Youth: An Important Voice in the Present Struggle for Gay Rights in America, a Soulforce publication.
Game said he left homosexuality 14 years ago and married nine years ago. He has two children. "I love my wife more deeply than I ever was able to understand loving a man," he said.
"Everybody wants to define what change looks like." It doesn’t mean a person will no longer be tempted. "Scripture does not promise any Christian to live without temptation."
With Christ’s help some people change instantly, Holloman said, but for most people, including him, it is an ongoing process.
After nine years, his same-sex attractions are only a "flicker," he said.
What the Bible Says — And Doesn’t Say — About Homosexuality, which White wrote, points out that Jesus says nothing about same-sex behavior. Neither do the Jewish prophets.
"There are just six or seven verses out of the Bible’s million verses that refer to same-sex behavior in any way," White writes, "and none of them refer to homosexual orientation as we understand it today."
God’s model in scripture for human sexuality is clear, Holloman and Game said: One man and one woman together for a lifetime. The Bible has nothing to say about how to live a healthy life as a homosexual, the men said. It has plenty to say about healthy heterosexuality.
"We’re either going to believe the word is God-breathed or it’s not," Game said. "That’s where the church is divided."
God would not create someone to live in a way that’s contrary to His word, Holloman said.
Science has not proven genetics program people to be homosexual, even though "openly gay men" conducted the studies, he said.
Soulforce quotes the American Psychiatric Association that reparative therapy like Exodus recommends to change a person’s sexual orientation can lead to depression, anxiety, self-hate and self-destructive behavior.
Such ministries only obscure the true message of the gospel and drive homosexuals "away from Christ rather than to him," the guide for young Christians says.
"Their claim is they don’t have peace and joy because we don’t let them have it," Game said.
If a person is in a right relationship with God, though, "You should be able to have peace and joy, regardless."
"We believe the (homosexual) behavior is contrary to God’s plan," Holloman said. "At the same time, Jesus died for all people. We want to share the love of God without compromising the word of God."
"Exodus is not about seeking out people who do not want to change," Game said. "We spend all our time helping people that want out."
Karen Owen, 691-7304,