Paraprofessional Christian Ministries for Sexual Behavior and Same-Sex Identity Concerns

Article excerpt

Paraprofessional Christian ministries for sexual behavior and same-sex identity concerns have grown significantly in recent years. Some ministries are affiliated with organizations that have specific standards for affiliation; others are independent. Some emphasize change of sexual orientation; others promote change of behavior and chastity. Some ministries provide services exclusively to homosexuals; others provide resources to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. This paper reviews similarities and differences among paraprofessional Christian ministries for persons struggling with sexual behaviors and same-sex identity concerns. Similarities and differences are related to (a) mission/vision, (b) view of etiology, (c) method of intervention, (d) format, and (e) definition of success. Christian ministries include Exodus International-affiliated ministries, independent Christian ministries, Homosexuals Anonymous, and Courage. Impressions from the review of the various Christian ministries are also offered, inc luding recommendations for making appropriate referrals.

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Paraprofessional Christian ministry groups have figured prominently in national debates about homosexuality. Their very existence flies in the face of those who reject any response to homosexuality that is not completely affirming. They are Christian ministries, in that they promote themselves as places where Christian values and normative claims lay a foundation for the ministry provided therein. They are not professional mental health services, although they often provide referrals to professionals. They are paraprofessional ministries, and their leaders are pastors, licensed and non-licensed clinicians, lay persons, and others, many of whom struggled with homosexuality themselves. (1) As we shall see in detail, some ministry groups focus on homosexuality; others address much broader issues related to human sexuality and provide services to heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. Some focus on those who are going through a difficult time; others provide ministries to friends and family members.

Many licensed mental health professionals know very little about these Christian ministry groups. The purpose of this paper is to introduce the reader to four major categories of paraprofessional Christian ministries for homosexuality or other sexual behavior concerns. The four major categories are Exodus International-affiliated ministries, independent Christian ministries, Homosexuals Anonymous chapters, and Courage chapters. There are many similarities among ministry groups, but there are also important differences, including between group differences (e.g., independent ministry groups as compared to Courage chapters) and within group differences (e.g., differences found among Exodus-affiliated ministry groups), some of which will be highlighted throughout this review.

PARAPROFESSIONAL CHRISTIAN MINISTRIES

Exodus-International Affiliated Ministries

Exodus is a not-for profit, interdenominational organization that began in 1976 and is the largest umbrella organization for Christian ministries to people who are struggling with sexual behavior or sexual identity concerns. At present, Exodus' North American network includes 115 ministries in 39 states, with 3 additional ministries in Canada. Exodus also extends worldwide, with ministries in several countries in Europe and Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, and Singapore (see Appendix A).

Applicants are those ministry groups that are working toward affiliation with Exodus. To become a member of an Exodus referral ministry, a ministry must (a) agree with the doctrinal and policy statements of Exodus, (b) be in existence for a minimum of 2 years, (c) have a governing board that can change or remove a leader/director as needed, (d) have a leader/director who has not been involved in immoral sexual behavior for a minimum of 2 years, (e) have a leader/director who attends the national conference every three years, and (f) have a leader/director who is actively involved in a local church. …