By Christianna Lewis
Men and women who experience same sex-attraction will find “a place to belong” at the first CenterPeace conference, taking place at the end of the month at Highland Church of Christ.
Dr. Sally Gary, executive director of nonprofit organization CenterPeace and assistant professor of communication, is the driving force behind the conference, which will be the first of its kind in the Churches of Christ, Gary said.
The CenterPeace ministry grew out of Gary’s personal struggle with same-sex attraction and a desire to help others with similar experiences, she said. The organization seeks to provide a safe place for men and women who experience same-sex attraction by equipping churches with the skills to become those safe havens.
The conference, which will be set up in three tracks, is geared to those who struggle with same-sex attraction or love someone who does, Gary said. The first track offered is designed specifically for those experiencing same-sex attraction.
“This track will – [answer] common questions about what factors contribute to the development of same-sex attraction, such as biology and environment, as well as whether or not changing sexual orientation is possible,” Gary said. “Most importantly, this track will explore living a life that God calls us to – a life of holiness – in the midst of experiencing same-sex attraction.”
The other two tracks address ministers, families and friends of those experiencing same-sex attraction. The itinerary includes a special concert by composer Dennis Jernigan on Thursday night and StoryTime, when conference guests will have an opportunity to share their personal experiences.
Although the conference is not sponsored by ACU, Gary said she hopes the conference will attract many ACU students who are interested in ministry and want to learn more about the subject of same-sex attraction. Students will pay a discounted registration fee, and the conference showcases speakers students will recognize, such as Randy Harris, instructor of Bible, missions and ministry, and Summit theme speaker Mike Cope, adjunct instructor of Bible, missions and ministry.
Prentice Ashford, freshman education major from Abilene, said promoting awareness of the subject of same-sex attraction benefits everyone.
“There isn’t necessarily a need on campus for this event, but it’s still something they should do,” Ashford said.
Pamela Wells, senior accounting major from Killeen, said she felt the conference could provide a haven for those experiencing same-sex attraction.
“I think the conference is a good idea, because this is a sensitive topic that we’re confronted with on a daily basis that the church doesn’t always provides a safe environment to discuss,” Wells said. “Someone struggling with that would face judgment, rather than support and understanding. Students should be provided with a safe environment to discuss any issue they’re dealing with.”
Other students said choices about sexuality and same-sex attraction are personal. Yi Yuan, junior English major from China, said students could make those decisions on their own without attending a conference.
“I think everyone our age has thought about our attractions, and we don’t need to think over it again – this isn’t something to really discuss,” Yuan said. “It’s a personal choice. To be yourself, you must make your best choice, and sometimes that’s the same sex.”
Gary said she hopes people will come, regardless of their opinions.
“This is about opening up a conversation,” Gary said. “Jesus invites us all to the table – the church has excluded people with this particular struggle for far too long.”
The conference will take place Sept. 24-26. Tickets cost $20 for students, $80 for adults and $150 for families. Online registration is available at www.centerpeace.net.