This past week has been a series of appointments (medical… mine) and funerals (both officiating & attending… all for other people). And because of my newfound ability to sleep, I actually have A LOT more energy! (Although I am still learning to sleep through the night with this CPAP machine… I have awakened a couple of times in the morning to find that I took the mask off somewhere during the night).
IN ANY CASE… I successfully finished quite a few odds & ends that have been waiting for attention. One of those projects was a news story to be submitted to our United Methodist conference newspaper about a seminar I went to a couple of weeks ago. I have no idea if it’ll be published or not, so I thought I’d publish it as a post!
Recognizing that people of all walks of life have found pain and, at times, even abuse in their sexual lives, the seminar sought to present ways that the church can reach out to those who are hurting… whether it be from personal choices, from actions that others have done to them, or from confusion or struggles with their own sexual understanding. Presenters and speakers were specifically charged with the task of helping attendees understand the pain that many experience because of pornography, sexual abuse, incest, same-sex attractions, and sexual addictions so that they might minister with compassion rather than criticism or judgmentalism.
Grove City College psychologist, Dr. Warren Throckmorton, talked of those who desire to walk away from the same-sex attractions they feel. With an emphasis on the pain involved in dealing with these struggles, Throckmorton repeatedly spoke of the ways that many in the church have erroneously treated same-sex attraction as some kind of unforgiveable sin. Our priority, he asserted, is not whether one feels this way or that, but rather how do we follow Jesus’ teachings of chastity for the single and faithfulness for the married. That, he stressed, is not a same-sex issue, but a human issue. To treat it otherwise is to become distracted from Christ’s emphasis.
For those who have been hurt in this struggle, there is hope according to Throckmorton. Some people who have experienced same-sex attractions have been able to reorient their lives around heterosexual behavior. Throckmorton spoke of ways that the church can be a support to those with such desires, and yet still be compassionate with brothers and sisters who do not desire that kind of change.
The afternoon speaker, Victoria Kepler Didato, addressed the ways the church has, and ought, to reach out to those who have been victims of abuse. Again, the message was one of compassion and Christ-like love as we reach out to these victims. Didato has a heart for seeing the church become a safe and healing community for all who have been sexually wounded.
Individual workshops focused on specific areas of ministry, such as reaching those who struggle with pornography addictions, how to address sexuality in Biblically faithful ways without just sounding like a condemnation of this or that, and the ways that sexual trauma impacts the brain and can lead to further brokenness down the road.
Over lunch, a panel of representatives from various outreach ministries for the sexually broken were able to give brief overviews of their particular healing thrust. Tim Geiger of Harvest USA spoke of local churches being equipped to minister to sexual strugglers. John Impavido, a Pittsburgh sex therapist, spoke of the power support groups like Everyman’s Battle and SA, Sex Anonymous groups to help those addicted to pornography. Dan Cush shared about his ministry Such as Were Some of You that meets in Oaklan and provides support for those who struggle with same sex attraction.
Tracy Merrick, a member of the Western Pa. Conference Dialogue Team, also addressed those gathered over lunch regarding the differing views even in our Annual Conference regarding the specific area of same-sex attractions. Stressing compassion and grace, Merrick affirmed the need for ministries that reach out to those who have been sexually traumatized, but cautioned that “same-sex attractions do not belong in the same list.” Specifically, Merrick cited the vast number of homosexuals who are not looking for ‘healing’ or ‘reorientation.’ Merrick encouraged the listeners, “Grace and acceptance is the better ministry to gays in this larger category.”
Following the event, one of the UMC pastors who attended wrote: “Yesterday without an appointment a woman came into my office and for 90 minutes I listened. I heard terms like “I feel like I’m drowning.” “I feel lost.” “I’m scared.” I want you to know I was so much better equipped to minister to her today because of Saturday.” Dr John Seth, pastor of the First UMC of Murrysville responded, “Just multiply that times 150 others and who knows how all and who all God is going to impact and bring healing to in the coming weeks because of the seminar.”
While planned and sponsored by United Methodists, participants came from a variety of denominations and theological backgrounds.