Healing Journey becomes a haven

By Ashley Poynter

All of the 80 to 160 people who gather at the Vineyard on Tuesdays are dealing with attachment issues – for some, this includes dealing with their homosexuality.

This is why some homosexuals join people with various addiction problems in attending the Healing Journey 12-step program at the Vineyard, a contemporary-style evangelical Christian church, 1500 N. Lincoln Ave.

“It’s not ‘come and we’ll help you get straight,'” said Pam Larson, assistant pastor and director of the program.

Pastors at the Vineyard hold the view that God has a different plan for homosexuals, said youth pastor Hank Sanford. The first idea they want to get across is one of compassion and mercy, Sanford said. The goal is then to “help people discover better plans for their lives – which is where the healing journey begins.”

Based on the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program, Healing Journey uses therapeutic techniques such as retracing the steps that led to the attachment, as well as Biblical directives to provide people with healing and hope in dealing with negative behaviors, according to the Vineyard’s Web site. This includes homosexuality, Larson said.

“God has created us to live a heterosexual lifestyle,” Larson said.

The Vineyard does not actively seek out homosexuals to join their program, but rather offers a safe place to those who are struggling because of the hurt and pain caused by the issue, Larson said. The program is a last resort for homosexuals who are uncomfortable with their sexuality, she said.

Larson said it is important that the person is struggling with his or her homosexuality. If a person is committed to “the gay lifestyle,” the Vineyard cannot help him or her, she said.

“We have a very, very strong belief that mercy will always triumph over judgment,” Larson said. “Mercy is different than tolerance.”

The program begins with two worship songs each week, followed by the testimony of someone who has made significant progress on their journey. Then there is a teaching based on one of the 12 steps of recovery. At the program meeting Tuesday, the group discussed continuing one’s personal inventory – a step that includes admitting when one is wrong.

Gender-specific small groups meet during the second hour for discussion, prayer and ministry, Larson said.

“We want to bring the help and the freedom and the life that we found in Jesus Christ to everyone who wants it,” she said.

Some, however, disagree with the goals of the Vineyard’s program.

Curt McKay, co-director at The Office for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns at the University, says the view that God condones only a heterosexual lifestyle is damaging to homosexuals by encouraging them to be something other than who they are. He says the program is like reparative therapy, a formal attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

This therapy can include Christian transformational ministries, which use prayer, individual therapy and group counseling to change a person’s sexual orientation.

The American Psychological Association passed a resolution in 1997 asserting “a person’s right to unbiased treatment and an environment absent of any social bias when entering therapy that deals with issues of sexual orientation,” according to the association’s Web site.

The more professionally and scientifically sound way to help people struggling with sexual orientation is to find an environment that is supportive and will help them face the issue, McKay said.

Programs such as the Vineyard’s “are very misguided in defining LGBT-ness, queerness, as something that needs to be fixed,” he said.