Campbell Turns Gender Confusion into Ministry

William Campbell, Turning Controversy into Church Ministry

W. P. Campbell. 2010. Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christlike Response to Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In 2012 during my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, I spent a lot of time in the emergency room (ER) of a local metro hospital. One afternoon the ER was packed and overflow patients were stationed on gurneys throughout the room. As I worked my way around the room, it became obvious that a patient on one of the gurneys with a friend in attendance wanted to see me.  So I wandered over to talk with him. I was not thinking about gender.

I asked—What brings you to the hospital today?  His answer caught me off guard—rectal bleeding. The shock on my face must have been obvious. Also obvious was the fear of death on the patient’s face. I should have probed into his demeanor—Was he perhaps concerned about HIV infection? Instead, I mumbled through a few pleasantries, offered prayer, and left. My lack of preparation for that hospital visit was clearly a lost ministry opportunity.

How do we properly minister to people caught up in gender confusion?


Bill Campbell’s book, Turning Controversy into Church Ministry, focuses on confronting our fears and offering Christ’s presence to broken people.  Campbell writes:

“This book is written to equip Christians and their churches to prove a Christlike response to homosexuality and to people who struggle with unwanted, same-sex attractions.” (7)

Woman Caught in Adultery

How does a pastor respond to someone seeking care for unwanted same-sex attractions? Campbell (11-12) starts with the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus asked:

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”  (John 8:10-11 ESV)

Campbell notes two principles in Jesus response: grace and truth [1]. Jesus starts with grace—defending the woman against her unfair accusers [2] and refusing to condemn her [3].  But he also admonishes her: go and sin no more.  Campbell explains:

“Grace without truth pampers, confuses, and even deceives. Truth without grace cuts, wounds, and destroys…Salt is essential for the body, but separated into its two elements, sodium and chloride, it can be deadly.” (13)

He observes that the church has often reached out to those wounded by divorce, but has not done so with those that struggle with gender confusion (14).

Organization of Book

The book has three parts:

  1. Analysis: Your Church, Christs Body.
  2. Approach: Overcoming Controversy.
  3. Action: Building Ministry.

Campbell starts with the current status of your church and then provides information both scriptural and practical about the major controversies in church responses to homosexuality. He finally talks about the ministry challenges in ministry to homosexuals and provides links to ministry resources.

Classification, William Campbell, Turning Controversy into Church Ministry


Campbell’s guidance to churches is summarized in an interesting graphic (see right). He ranks churches based on their emotional response to homosexuality. Churches motivated by fear either blindly condemn or blindly embrace homosexuality. Churches motivated by apathy express support (or not) but mostly remain silent. Churches motivated by ministry remain biblically obedient but extend grace to those struggling with gender confusion, much like they would extend grace to alcoholics and other broken people (28-36). The ministry response that Campbell advocates is clearly neither common nor easy.

Campbell’s experience with homosexuality began with caring for his deaf son.  Being the rare pastor who could sign, he found himself intimately involved in the deaf community and their particular problems.  Deaf children often attend school in residual programs that leave them vulnerable to homosexual activity and exploitation (40).  He writes:

“The compassion of Christ begins to bloom when [church] members begin to understand that homosexual attractions are usually not chosen by those who experience them but are the fallout of a multiplicity of factors such as prenatal dispositions, sexual abuse, parental detachment, and same-sex rejection.” (38)

He learned that at homosexual temptations are rooted in isolation and rejection (46).


The treatment of the science of homosexuality in the media and among psychiatrists offers a cautionary tale.  Scientific studies have for the most part not been able to demonstrate a linkage between genetics and any behavioral trait in spite of great efforts to explain depression, gambling, propensity towards obesity and even criminal activity (83).  A genetic linkage to homosexuality has likewise never been demonstrated even though much of this research has been done by groups and individuals anxious to find this linkage (82-89).  Nevertheless, the media has consistently claimed linkages that the scientists themselves have not reported (83).  The strongest statement that can be made based on research (as of 2010) is that some people may have a  disposition that they may (or may not) act on—Campbell compares it to a general disposition towards intellectual pursuits (86).  By comparison, alcoholism has been shown to be inheritable at a rate of 50-60 percent—the comparable figure for homosexuality is 50 percent or less (87).  While the media has dramatically increased the visibility of homosexuality, the percentage reported in the population remains a low 2-3 percent (89).

An important part of the effort to mainstream homosexuality arose in changes in the treatment by psychiatrists.  Research before the politicization of homosexuality pointed to the “distant father/overclose mother” theory, sexual abuse, and sexual experimentation as causal factors for homosexuality (110-113).  In spite of research supporting these factors in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) voted after intense lobbying from homosexual groups to remove homosexuality from the list of psychiatric illnesses normally reported in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)  (106-107).  Because listing in the DSM is a prerequisite for insurance company reimbursement for treatment, this change lead to a dramatic decline in scientific research and treatment in the years that followed.  Unfortunately, homosexuality was dropped from the DSM for political, not psychiatric, reasons. Still, some practitioners continue to see patients (110-117).


Campbell sees ministry to homosexuals having 6 parallels to the efforts of Nehemiah to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, each having both an inner reality and outer focus:

  1. Motivation–Prayer;
  2. Vision–Leadership;
  3. Healing–Family values;
  4. Growth–Mentors and counselors;
  5. Support–Small group ministry; and
  6. Celebration–Outreach (153).

For example, Campbell notes that Nehemiah was a man of prayer.  Before approaching the king with his request to assist in rebuilding Jerusalem, Nehemiah mourned, prayed, and fasted (Nehemiah 1).  Opposition pushed Nehemiah closer to God (154).  The point here is that Campbell sees ministry to those challenged by gender confusion requiring a range of responses corresponding to a range of needs.


Bill Campbell is senior pastor of Hendersonville Presbyterian Church, Hendersonville, NC [4]. He speaks from more than 20 years of ministry experience dealing with homosexuality. He recounts stories of families and individuals that he interviewed who have struggled with unwanted same-sex attractions and overcome them. His personal interface with the gay community arose from both family experiences and from his own ministry in a church located close to an AIDs clinic. He is passionate about the Gospel and has a shepherd’s heart for those in need.


Campbell’s book is long overdue. From my own walk with the Lord, I was ministered to as a young person by staff and clergy who were later dismissed for gay relationships. In my role as clerk of session in my home church, I found myself whipsawed by church controversies over ordination standards with little guidance other than scripture and personal experiences. In ministry, I feel a need to be prepared both scripturally and practically for the challenges of helping broken people. Turning Controversy into Church Ministry has been a big help in overcoming my own fear of being faithful in this ministry.

Thanks Bill.

[1] Grace and truth are among God’s core values expressed in Exodus 34:6 immediately following the giving of the Ten Commandments. We know that these values are fundamental for God because they are repeated almost word for word in Psalm 86:15 and 103:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2.

[2] The law is clear, both the man and woman who commit adultery are liable to be put to death (Lev 20:1).  The woman’s accusers obviously know who the man is and have hidden him from the law.

[3] Under the Mosaic law, at least 2 witnesses are required in a death penalty case.  By law, the witnesses must be the first to cast a stone (Deut 17:6-7). Perjury carries the same penalty as the alleged crime (Deut 19:15-19).


Campbell Turns Gender Confusion into Ministry

Also see:

Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 1 

Rogers Advocates for LGBT Equality, Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 3

Gagnon_review_06082015Robert A. J. Gagnon.  2001.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice:  Texts and Hermeneutics.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press. (Goto part 1; goto part 2)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

If homosexual conduct reduces life expectancy today when modern medicine is readily available, then it must have been even worse in the ancient world. In a context where the poor routinely starved to death, child mortality was extreme[1], and any access to medical care rare, except among the very wealthy, living a godly lifestyle was a survival strategy.  When the Apostle Paul writes:

 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Cor. 15:3 ESV)

Life and death hang in the balance.  So Paul describes faith as of “first importance”.

New Testament

Gagnon divides his discussion of the New Testament into a short chapter (44 pages) on the witness of Jesus and a long chapter (108 pages) on the witness of Paul.  He writes in 6 working chapters, including:

  1. The Context of Ancient Judaism and Jesus’ View of Torah.
  2. Jesus on Genesis and Male-Female Complementarity.
  3. Deconstructing the Myth of a Sexually Tolerant Jesus.
  4. Love and Righteousness in the Ministry of Jesus.
  5. Romans 1:24-27.
  6. The Vice Lists in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.

Let me focus on the longer discussions, items 4 and 5 above.

Love and Righteousness in the Ministry of Jesus

One of the enduring pictures of Jesus come from the parable of the loss sheep (210). Luke the physician writes:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7 ESV)

Notice that the parable targets those who are lost in sin and, when lost, are brought back to repentance.  Jesus’ healing ministry was not restricted to physical healing, but focused on repentance of wayward lifestyles and transformation into godly lifestyles (211).

Faith in God is like that—life  requires acknowledging that we participate in both a physical and spiritual reality.  Ignoring our spiritual reality leaves us like zombies—physical beings without life; ignoring our physical reality leaves us like ghosts—spiritual beings without a body.  Jesus rose from the dead both physically and spiritually [2].

Luke 15

Gagnon makes the point that Luke 15 has a theme of lostness—lost sheep, lost coins, lost (prodigal) sons.  He writes:  “The lost son is even identified with a dead person or corpse.” (211) In some sense, the modern church has, relative to those lost in gender confusion, often played the part of the older brother in the parable of prodigal son (also lost) who could not love his father and refused to accept the return of his wayward brother (211-212).

How do you properly love an unrepentant sinner?  Luke points to the father in the parable of the prodigal son who offers forgiveness and reinstatement in the family. Gagnon (213) points out:  “Jesus did not confuse love with toleration of all behaviors…”  Citing the story of the woman caught in adultery, Gagnon focuses on Jesus’ parting words to her:

“Jesus stood up and said to her, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)

Healing comes not only from being loved on but also from being transformed. Truth and grace together make the Gospel—truth alone cannot be heard; grace alone denies the law [3].  This idea is captured also by the author of Hebrews:  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15)  We need to hear the bad news before the good news makes any sense.  Grace is a gift that we have to live into if it is to transform us.

Romans 1:24-27

One question that intrigued me in seminary was the nature of the new covenant that we have in Christ.  What exactly does the new covenant look like and what are its provisions?

The Mosaic covenant is fairly easy to articulate because the law, starting with the Ten Commandments, is laid out in concrete detail in Exodus 20 (and Deut 6) and the blessings and curses are laid out in even more detail in Deuteronomy 28.  In Paul’s writing, the new covenant in Christ is loosely described as the Gospel and in the dichotomy between law and grace.  The most specific statement of the Gospel appears in Romans 1:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith [in Jesus Christ]. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Rom 1:16-18)

Salvation from sin is freely given to all that believe in Jesus Christ—those that reject this salvation become objects of wrath.  What is this wrath?  Rejecting salvation garners a curse:  “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…” (Rom 1:24)  Because of the deprivation of original sin, being given up to your own desires is a curse—it is a curse to get what you want [3].  Rejecting the Gospel also means that one remains subject to the law.  Living a Christian lifestyle is not denying our true selves as victims of dark desires; it is expressing our true selves as victors in Christ’s righteousness.

Gagnon observes that Romans 1:24-27 is a central New Testament text dealing with homosexual conduct, both among men and women (229).  The overall context for Paul is original sin which affects both Jews and Gentiles (240; Rom 3:9).  This passage is edgy because:

“God does not judge them for their ignorance but for acting contrary to the knowledge that they do have.  This suppression of knowledge shows itself especially in two ways: idolatry and same-sex intercourse.” (247).

Idolatry is about priorities.  Idolatry is anything that we substitute for God’s  priority in our lives—is our identity in Christ or is it in other things like our work, sexuality, or entertainments?  Idolatry is not just substituting stone statues for the reality of God; it is replacing God’s priority in our lives for other priorities. The prohibition on idolatry is the first of the Ten Commandments because our survival depends on it:

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Exod 20:3-5)

God is jealous, not because He depends on our love or somehow needs sycophants; God is jealous because He loves us and knows how easily we are tempted into self-destruction.

Notice the inter-generational curse implied in Exodus 20:5 focused on those that hate God (247-249).  Paul is not making up stuff in Romans 1—he is just adjusting the law to suit the new covenant in Christ.  Ignoring God means worshiping something else and earns the curse of being given over to your own desires.  Because the Romans were famous for their immorality and homosexuality, Paul’s emphasis on immorality and homosexuality is tailored to his audience—but it is also obviously tailored to our unrighteous situation today.


In spite of the passage of time, Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice remains an important resource for biblical scholars and interested Christians. A key difference between Gagnon’s exegetical work on homosexuality and other treatments is his insistence on using scripture to interpret scripture. Authors who claim homosexuality is consistent with scripture usually focus on a narrow number of verses (e.g. Matt 22:36-40) and discount other passages (e.g. Lev 20:13) that disagree with their position.  Consequently, progressives desiring credibility on this subject and evangelicals wanting to be informed need to engage this text.


[1] A parallel is found in Deuteronomy for disobeying the Mosaic covenant:  “The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.” (Deut. 28:22)

[2] Resurrection of the Body (

[3] The story of the woman caught in adultery is widely recognized as a later addition to the text of the Gospel of John and is bracketed in the Greek text.  However, the tension between grace and truth is deep part of the biblical tradition.  See, for example, the attributes of God listed in Exodus 34:6 which are divinely reveal immediately after God gives Moses the Ten Commandments.  The translation reads: “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exod 34:6).  Grace is specifically translated.  The word translated as faithfulness ( אֱמֶֽת ), is translated as truth in the King James and the New American Standard versions.  This implies that both grace and truth have always been God’s character traits.

[3] Child mortality is still a problem in many countries.  My mother-in-law (born 1914) grew up in a well-to-do family in Iran. Still, her mother had only 4 children survive out of 16 live births.

Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 3

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