Hundreds of men and women will be hearing from former homosexuals who found freedom through Jesus Christ when Exodus International opens its 32nd annual Freedom Conference Tuesday in Irvine, Calif.
The conference theme is "Revolution: Radically Change Your World," but Alan Chambers, head of Exodus International – the nation's largest evangelical referral ministry on homosexual issues, clarifies that the theme does not imply belief in change from homosexuality that is sudden or complete. Rather, the theme is about calling for change within the evangelical church and how it has typically dealt with the issue of homosexuality.
While the conference expects to draw some 1,000 people to show that change is possible, gay activists and those opposed to the ex-gay movement plan to draw their own crowd nearby at “The Survivor's Conference: Beyond Ex-Gay,” which will feature speakers who were unsuccessful in their attempts to overcome homosexual desires. One organizer of the Survivor's conference is Michael Bussee, one of the original founders of the Exodus movement who failed in leaving the homosexual lifestyle and is still a practicing Christian.
J. Larry Rivera, a Mission Viejo hospital nurse and Christian musician who sought ex-gay counseling, now believes such counseling is harmful.
"When you get fed the message that 'God loves you but He hates your sexuality,' that is a very nasty mixed message," he said, according to The Orange County Register.
Rivera now accepts himself as a gay man and claims to be a practicing Christian.
”The Gay Gospel”
There is a growing movement today to legitimize homosexuality not only in the eyes of the culture but also in the eyes of the church, according to Joe Dallas, a featured speaker at Exodus' Freedom Conference this week.
Seeing a pro-gay theology or "the gay gospel" growing in prominence, Dallas released a book titled The Gay Gospel: How Pro-Gay Advocates Misread the Bible earlier this year to equip the average believer to be able to answer the claims of those who say they are gay and a Christian and believe that's fine with God.
"There is, in essence, a new gospel being preached which teaches that homosexuality not only is legitimate but is even God-ordained, and that the church which believes homosexuality is wrong needs to change its position," Dallas said in a recent interview with Concerned Women for America.
Just as many are struggling with today, Dallas had conflicting desires and values as a Christian and being sexually attracted to men 30 years ago.
"I wanted to believe that somehow God would condone my homosexuality," he said.
While he heard pro-gay interpretations of the Bible, he didn't find them very convincing.
"I believe that the pro-gay theology ... is a symptom of the problem of people wanting to believe something and then imposing that desire on the Bible. Rather than reading the Bible for what it says, they interpret it for what they want it to mean," Dallas explained in the interview.
But what makes pro-gay theology distinct from other false teachings is that it has a very powerful lobby behind it; it is gaining popularity and it has media support, Hollywood support, academic support, and psychological support, Dallas added.
"So there's more pressure on the church to either adopt a pro-gay interpretation of the Bible or be silenced."
While some argue that Jesus did not specifically speak of homosexual behavior, Dallas argues that when Jesus was asked about sexual ethics and divorce, he went back to the account of Genesis where God made man male and female. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).
"While [Jesus] did not mention all of the many sexual sins that existed at his time, he certainly did state the standard for human sexuality, that it's meant to be independent, and monogamous, and heterosexual, and anything falling short of that is the definition of sin," said Dallas, who encourages Christians to lovingly but clearly speak the Truth without regard for the culture's response.
Randy Thomas, executive vice president of Exodus International, told CitizenLink, the news publication of Focus on the Family, that nothing will be forced on anyone at the Freedom conference and that it has to be their choice.
There are many people, however, at the conference who have "been there, done that" and can share what God has done in their life and in bringing about freedom, according to Thomas.
"We are all in this life wrestling with a struggle between the flesh and the spirit," said Dallas. "I think that what God requires of all of us is to live a disciple's life where we recognize that our primary goal in life is not our own satisfaction but rather what we can do to please our Master. And the great irony is in doing that, we find the greatest satisfaction."