Why Do We Come to Jesus?

Social IssuesReligion

  • Author James Rondinone
  • Published December 3, 2022
  • Word count 4,112

PART 1 TESTIMONY - Exchanging our formal sexual identity for our new identity in Christ

Why do we come to Jesus? 

Introduction

I am writing this study to help fellow believers who are having difficulty walking with God, especially in addressing their sexual inclinations or propensities. This study came about as my wife and I were watching the news on TV, and a story about sexual abuse in a particular mainstream church was being reported. The allegation was that many, who were leaders in the church, preyed upon young boys and forced them to have sexual relations. Not only were these actions reprehensible, but something else we were told was even more shocking. There were some in leadership who were aware of these liaisons but did not report them as criminal actions to the civil authorities. In fact, they did all they could to keep quiet whatever happened, along with eventually relocating these sexual predators to resume their position in the church somewhere else.

A few days later, my wife found an article on the internet involving sexual misconduct that had to do with a well-known Christian megachurch. I was familiar with this church mainly because of its Christian music, which I listen to almost daily. So, she sent the article to my email, and I proceeded to read it. The name of the article is entitled, Sex Abuse & Gay Conversion Therapy: The Dark Past of Justin Bieber’s Megachurch Hillsong.1

What resonated with me were a few things. The founder of the original ministry, which was initially under a different name, allegedly admitted to abusing some of the young boys in the church. Eventually, he resigned. His son took over the ministry under a new name. As I continued to read the article, something else caught my attention, and that was how there were some members and/or former members, who were not happy with the church’s stance on gay marriage, gays in leadership, and in general, how they were being treated.

Some of their comments set my mind in motion. I wanted to help them in the perception of their walk with God. One of their comments was, “I can’t worship at a church knowing that I am not fully accepted and considered equal to all those around me.”2 Another one was, “… surrounded by people that might love me as a person but do not accept me as being gay; instead, tolerate me.”3 The final one was, “…people who don’t recognize that any relationship that I have with a man is part of God’s plan and that it would be full of love, equal to any other.”4

Certain sections of the article have been omitted so that the three comments mentioned are what is focused upon. I included the article so that you could be aware of the context in which these perceptions were conveyed.

SEX ABUSE & GAY CONVERSION THERAPY:

THE DARK PAST OF JUSTIN BIEBER’S MEGACHURCH HILLSONG

When Alex Pittaway’s youth pastor stood before a group of 800 evangelical Christian boys and men in Sydney and shouted, “Shirts off!” everybody listened. Boys as young as 13 and their leaders, some as old as 30, all ripped off shirts in a sign of godly macho solidarity. Someone jumped on stage and was shouted down, with jeers of “Go to the gym, mate!”

It wasn’t just pastor Scott “Sanga” Samways (the nickname is slang in Australia for a sausage sandwich) who utilized partial nudity as a church-approved bonding technique, Pittaway said. At youth group and Bible camp, or any time when men and women were separated, Alex remembers “a hell of a lot of homoerotic [behavior]."

For Alex—a closeted gay teen and member of Hillsong—the command was terrifying. Did the brothers in Christ slapping his back or complimenting his abs know he was gay? If someone knew, would he think Alex was “looking”?

Alex quit the church in [2008] after a traumatic coming out where he says he was referred by his youth pastor to counseling that proposed to make him straight—the kind of conversion therapy we now know is based on pseudoscience, as ineffectual as it is damaging.

For years, in fact, coming out to a Hillsong pastor landed a church member in just such an ‘es-gay’ program. According to former members, Hillsong first helped congregants struggling with their sexuality pray their gay away in Exit Ministries, started by Frank Houston, or Mercy Ministries for lesbians; the church then outsourced the conversion work to Living Waters (self-shuttered in 2014) or Exodus ([/content/dailybeast/articles/2013/06/21/exodus-closes-marking-official-end-of-the-ex-gay-movement.html] closed in 2013), or maybe an online course like Setting Captives Free (banned in the Apple Store in 2013). Self-proclaimed reformed [gay] and former executive director of Exodus, Sy Rogers—who now identifies as transgender who and is married to a woman—wrote books and tapes and would preach at Hillsong conferences about overcoming his gay demons. He’d tell the struggling faithful: “You gotta learn to bow down and obey and deal with it.” Rogers’s current ministry has moved away from the ex-gay [message,] and though Rogers hasn’t said so publicly, Brian Houston told a blogger that Rogers probably regrets his involvement with Exodus.

But Hillsong doesn’t try to “fix” gay congregants anymore. Sometime around 2011, Houston distanced his church from conversion programs, and he now talks often about the “weight” the church bears when it comes to its treatment of gays and lesbians. “They feel like ‘maybe I’m gay’ and they go to a youth leader and they are rejected,” Brian said in a 2013 sermon. “At that [moment,] a great hatred comes in. At that moment some of them have gone so far with the rejection and gone to parents who didn’t understand and ended up committing suicide. That’s the weight we live with.”

It should be said here that Alex, now an openly gay seminary student in Indiana, still thinks of Hillsong fondly, speaks of it warmly, and often catches himself humming the church tunes. He says that while he didn’t feel safe or comfortable trying to find God in a building where most of the people in it thought he was going to hell, for those who don’t define themselves by their sexuality, who can compartmentalize, it’s a fine place to “worship anonymously.”

Ben Fenlon, a three-year member of Hillsong’s London satellite, explained his reasons for quitting the church in a piece for the Huffington Post. He wrote, “I can’t worship at a church knowing that I am not fully accepted and considered equal to all those around me. Surrounded by people that might love me as a person but do not accept me as being gay; [instead,] tolerate me. People who might tell me that being gay is okay, but on the inside are praying for me to let Jesus move in my life and change me. People who don’t recognize that any relationship that I have with a man is part of God’s plan and that it would be full of love, equal to any other.”

Alex told me about a gay friend who had been booted from his position in Hillsong’s children’s ministry after he came out and another who, after coming out to Hillsong leadership, was relieved of his duties as an usher. “He wasn’t even allowed to serve cups of coffee or help direct traffic in the parking lot,” he said. (Hillsong did not return requests for comment on these alleged incidents.)

“Gay people need to know that when they go to Hillsong, they have to go to the back of the bus.” Alex said. “Hillsong is hip and attractive and contemporary, but there’s certainly nothing contemporary about what LGBT people will face if they want to be a leader in the church or offer themselves up for service. That’s something [Hillsong] will have to be upfront with, and they haven’t been so far.”

To be fair, Hillsong’s task isn’t an easy one. How does an extremely conservative [Pentecostal] church fight irrelevancy and attract those coveted millennials—a group that’s been running from churches and overwhelmingly supports gay marriage and equal rights for LGBT people—and maintain its tithing, if intolerant, base at the same time?

Hillsong has taken certain halting steps that place the church to the left of its conservative counterparts, some of which have labeled the Aussie megachurch as [unbiblical] and say its leaders have sold out God’s word for a younger, more tolerant crowd. For [example] Hillsong Leadership College recently removed homosexuality from the list of “sexual sins” in the tudent code of conduct. And some members have taken Pastor Carl Lentz’s stance—[basically,] that homosexuality is a sin, [okay], but no worse than any other, and he gets why everyone is always asking, but he’d rather not address it, because Jesus pretty much didn’t, and Hillsong loves everyone anyway—as a move in the right direction.

It’s not just conservative churches that are criticizing Hillsong’s stance. Anna Flowers, pastor at Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn—a “progressive, young and vibrant church” where she shares the pulpit with two lesbian pastors and one transgender male pastor—has tweeted about what she calls Hillsong’s false permissiveness. “not as hip as Hillsong Hipsters, but we actually love and accept everyone,” she said in one tweet. In another: “drives us NUTS when Hipster [evangelical] churches fool [people] into thinking they are progressive.” Flowers tells me, “[There] are far more truly progressive churches than people realize. And sometimes churches look more progressive than they really are.”

I read as many of Lentz’s statements on the LGBT issue as I could [find,] and he gave what I consider the most straightforward answer to Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Service in August of 2015 (emphasis mine):

“Our beliefs on biblical marriage and sexual morality have never changed at Hillsong church. Yet we stay open and desperate in our pursuit of the [whosoever’s].”

What that means in practical terms is that Hillsong wants anyone and everyone in the [seats] but neither supports same-sex marriage nor allows LGBT people to serve in positions of leadership. As Brian Houston clarified last year, following the sacking of a choir director who announced his same-sex engagement to another member of the choir, acceptance of gays and lesbians extends only as far {the pew}.

And for some, including Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly, the couple at the center of the choir controversy, that’s enough. For [now,] at least.

Ben Gresham also still attends Hillsong in Sydney, despite a complicated past with the church, because he believes gay and lesbian members are key to helping the church move forward. “I try and speak to church pastors and leaders when I can and have had some encouraging discussions,” he said.

Gresham has told the story of coming out at Hillsong on his blog. After three years of ex-gay therapy, constant praying, even undergoing an exorcism, he realized he would never be straight. The thought of never being able to enter the kingdom of heaven, to marry a woman, to be the person Hillsong told him that God wanted him to be, led him to cut himself with a razor blade, and one night, to drive his speeding car nearly off the side of a highway. He considers the last-minute change of heart a miracle.

“For me, Hillsong still feels like home. It has been a source of harm for me in the past but continues to bring me much joy and help me grow in my faith, which is invaluable,” he said. “As a gay man and a [Christian,] I would love to see Hillsong fully affirm and include its queer members. I hope it happens sooner rather than [later,] but given my [experience,] I remain doubtful.          

“Hillsong is a big [church,] and so it takes time to move it forward. I just wish they would move a bit faster.”5 …

What was being conveyed seemed to be saying to me that answers to these comments needed to be addressed. So, let’s see if we can find a biblical perspective on each of these concerns. But before I attempt to do this, I would like to present my testimony. The purpose of this is to personally identify with those believers who are having a difficult time in their walk with God. Along with this, it’s presented in order to provide clarity as to how we can walk victoriously in Christ irrespective of the sexual inclinations or tendencies that try to distract us every day.

1

Why Do We Come to Jesus?

I’m sure if we were to ask different Christians why they came to Jesus, the answers would be varied and innumerable. Rather than speculate, let me share my testimony with you. In my younger years, I was brought up in a particular church that my parents and their parents were faithful to attend. I can honestly say that I didn’t enjoy going to church. I went through all of the different requisites as a young man in this faith but had no appreciation for it.

As we tended to move around a lot due to my father’s varied jobs, not only would we find a new place to live but a different church structure that was affiliated with the same mainstream faith. I remember there was one church facility that had a cafeteria in the basement to which attendees could go before service. One of the items they sold was fresh bulky buttered rolls that were out of this world. So, when my father would ask my mother and me if we wanted to go to church, I would respond, yes, if I could get a bulky roll.

One of the drawbacks of moving around a lot was not being able to stay in contact with young males or females with whom I had become friends. When I reached my teenage years, there was a lot of soul searching going on due to many factors. One of the decisions I made was to stop going to church, as I thought of it as a waste of time.

My dad, who was working in a factory, decided to quit and open up his own spa and grill business in town. To my dismay, he demanded I work for him after school. Initially, I looked forward to it but soon found out how difficult it was to work for family. I didn’t like the idea of cooking food and waiting on others and eventually expressed my sentiment to my dad that I didn’t want to work there anymore. This created a clash between us, which caused a lot of friction. At work, when we labored together, this denigrated to condescending comments projected by my father toward me whenever I made some kind of mistake like over-cooking a burger, too much syrup in a milkshake, etc. Over time, this continual verbal assault caused me to want to leave home as soon as I was of age.

When I became a senior in high school, I started to hang around with the wrong crowd. I got involved with smoking cigarettes, smoking marijuana, and girl-seeking. Following high school, I decided to attend a four-year college and subsequently graduated with a B.S. Degree in Mathematics. I tried persistently to get a high school teaching job in mathematics but to no avail. It seemed like nothing was working out for me. I had no job, no girlfriend, didn’t get along with my father, drank heavily, smoked marijuana, and got to a point where I just didn’t like myself. I needed a life change.

A few more years went by, and I decided I needed to go back to church. The catalyst for this decision was not only a personal desire to change, but it also had to do with a course I took during my senior year in college. This course was an elective class on the life of King Saul. The professor believed that a description of different events about him was not only contained in different Old Testament books, but he alleged there were errors in the accounts, which in his mind meant that the Bible stories were not true. In other words, this book was errant and not to be believed.

What resonated with me was the fact that God (Jehovah) interacted with King Saul in a personal way. My thought was if He interacted with him in this manner, then does He still interact with us today in a similar way? If He does, then where is He to be found? I had no answer to these questions but nonetheless went on a quest to find out. I decided to attend different churches in my home city to see if I could find Him.

Now that I think back on this, it’s evident that God knew I was looking for Him, and He, in turn, was looking for me. On one particular day, a Sunday, as I was leaving the morning shift at my dad’s store, a parade commemorating a state holiday was heading past on the main street toward the center of the city. After all of it went by, I followed the procession until it arrived at the city’s town hall and dispersed. As I was about to walk back to my father’s store and pick up my car, I heard a blaring voice broadcasting words over a loudspeaker.

I turned around and saw a crowd of people gathered, so I walked over to where they were to see why. There was a person speaking about Jesus. I had heard about Him before in my younger years in the church I used to attend, having been told that He was one of the members of a Trinity of one God who revealed Himself in three persons, with the other two being called God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. But what they said about Jesus at this time was not what was conveyed to me about Him before. It was different in the sense that if a person acknowledged they were a sinner to God the Father and believed in who Jesus was and what He had accomplished, they would receive another member of the Trinity into their life called the Holy Spirit and thus have a personal encounter with God. This drew my attention. This is called the gospel message, the good news. While I didn’t respond to the gospel message at this time, I found out about their upcoming Bible study and attended it the next time it was scheduled.

After a few days had passed, I showed up at the Bible study and noticed that there were quite a few people in attendance. A spread of food was available for all to partake of. After eating, a pastor stood up, opened in prayer, and shared a message. When he was done, he came over to me and presented the gospel, to which I responded. At that moment, I was overwhelmed with God’s peace and joy. This immersion of God’s presence stayed with me after that for three full days.

I decided to attend this church regularly and realized that the assembly was made up of a mixture of older folks along with young Spirit-filled believers, who would go out street-evangelizing every week. Sadly, a dispute arose over doctrinal differences, and every one of the young evangelizing team left. Being a new Christian, I didn’t know what to do, so I stayed in this church for another couple of months.

What I noticed was that a change had taken place as far as God’s presence was concerned. Hymns replaced spiritual songs. Messages seemingly were not fresh (anointed). Doctrinal teachings became more emphasized with directives of, we had better do what was being said or else, which just didn’t sit right with me.

If you were rich, you were told not to work as much because your material abundance was considered offensive to those who didn’t have much. If you had long hair, you were told to cut it because Jesus wouldn’t look like that. We were also told that many people weren’t going to go to heaven because God didn’t choose them. While I might have been a baby as far as learning and understanding doctrine, I thought that these views just weren’t right. I left this church and started looking for another while praying to God that He would find the right place for me to attend and call my spiritual home. 

As usual, you couldn’t make up for what God did next. On a particular day, while I was driving my car heading to go to work for my father, I noticed a young man on the right side of the road flailing one of his arms, directing me to pull my car over. When I did so, I recognized him as being someone I used to hang around with. I asked him how he was doing, and he responded with something like God has changed my life and I no longer drink alcohol or take drugs. And then he told me about a Bible study he was attending whose pastor was dynamic. I took down the time and place of the study and went the next time they met.

This Bible study was being held in the home of one of the attendees. When I arrived, there were probably about fifteen or twenty people gathered together. The study opened up with prayer, and then a young pastor started playing the guitar and singing. Everyone sang along. Following the music, a message was brought forth with memorized verses of Scripture being spewed out of his mouth like a machine gun. And along with this, God’s presence was saturating my soul. God had led me to the place where He wanted me to be.

After about a year had gone by, the attendance at the study had significantly increased, and the young pastor wanted to purchase a facility where the church assembly could meet, along with providing housing for him and for any others who expressed a desire to live there. Finally, two buildings were purchased that were at one time used as a convent for Catholic nuns. At this time, I was asked by this young pastor if I would consider going on staff as an outreach coordinator and live on the property full time, to which I responded yes.

All I can say is that working in this church position and living at this location was amazing. Worship services were held three times a week. Bible classes from an affiliate Bible college were being offered for credit via videotape. Once a week, there was an opportunity to go street witnessing. And if someone had time off, they could leave early in the morning on a particular day and drive to the affiliated Bible college campus, where they could watch a softball game, attend live radio broadcasts, eat lunch in the cafeteria, attend evening worship service, and return home later that day. This was my schedule for about a year and a half before I left to attend Bible college. My new wife, who I met and married in the faith, accompanied me, along with our newborn child.

What I wanted to bring to the attention of those who are having difficulty in their walk with God, especially in the areas of sexual weakness as reflected in the gay therapy article, is that just because someone is on staff and regularly attending to the many activities that their church has to offer doesn’t mean that they won’t still be having difficulties in this or any area of their sin nature. You might be wondering how this could be if someone were so immersed in God’s work.

This brings us to a discussion about the difference between being saved and growing spiritually, which we will look at next.

                                                            

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Endnotes

1”Sex Abuse & Gay Conversion Therapy: The Dark Past of Justin Bieber’s Megachurch Hillsong.” 2016. BIBLESOFT. WEB. 01 January 2019 ˂https://bit.ly/3j6fdh2>.

2Sex Abuse & Gay Conversion Therapy.

3Sex Abuse & Gay Conversion Therapy.

4Sex Abuse & Gay Conversion Therapy.

5Sex Abuse & Gay Conversion Therapy.

 

My name is James Rondinone. I am a husband, father, and spiritual leader.

I grew up in Massachusetts and began my own spiritual journey early on in life.

I attended Bible college, having completed a two-year Christian Leadership Course of Study and graduated as valedictorian (Summa Cum Laude).

Studying and teaching the Word of God has been a passion of mine for over 20 years.

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