NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, September 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The Olasky Interview.
EICHER: This time WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky talks with John Freeman. He’s the founder of Harvest USA, a Christian ministry that helps people overcome sexual addictions.
Freeman is also a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and the author of a new book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex.
REICHARD: Here are excerpts from this recent interview before students at Patrick Henry College.
MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: So let’s begin with Harvest USA. I understand that a seminary professor at Westminster, Harvie Conn, flipped a switch in you in a way when he talked about unreached people groups and gays as an unreached people group. Tell us what happened.
JOHN FREEMAN, GUEST: Well, Harvie was the missions professor at Westminster Seminary and he came in the missions class one day where we were studying the philosophy of missions work in Africa, Asia, South America, around the world, and he said we’re going to talk about a different mission field today, an unreached people group and a hidden people group. This was 1983, and even then he said the largest unreached people group in our culture today is the gay and lesbian community because the church says, “Hands off. What do we have to do with them?” And he said, “But the hidden people are even larger, and that’s the number of people who come to Jesus Christ, put their faith and trust in him, but bring all the baggage and scars and unresolved conflicts of their sexual struggles into their relationship with Christ, and because the church doesn’t talk about it, don’t know how to apply the gospel.”
OLASKY: So what does Harvest USA try to do to repair that?
FREEMAN: Well, we’re a ministry of truth and mercy with a growing number of men, women, students, parents, churches, and schools impacted by pornography and homosexuality and gender issues. And we also develop and create materials and resources, in print, on the web, and in teaching and training to help church leadership better know how to help the growing number of people in their churches struggling with these things as well.
OLASKY: And you were telling me just a few minutes ago that actually 70% of your work now concerns pornography, which is not the case that it was a couple of decades ago.
FREEMAN: Yes. Pornography and sexual addictions, that’s right. Basically we minister to people in what we call Bible study support groups, which is a confidential anonymous venue where people can come and bring their struggles and sit at the feet of Jesus and other people who will minister to them and disciple and work with them.
OLASKY: Now, when you’re dealing with pornography, then, you’re often dealing with the people who are very troubled by it themselves, whereas when you’re dealing with questions around sexuality, you’re often dealing with the parents of kids who just don’t know how to react. Is that the way it works?
FREEMAN: Well, we’re dealing with people who are believers and struggle with same-sex attraction and want to find some Biblical resolution and healing. But we also are dealing increasingly with parents who have a son or daughter who have embraced the gay or lesbian identity who then want to know how to love their adult child, but say, “I can’t march in your parade. I can’t put my support behind this because I think it’s biblically harmful to you.” And then walk that road for the next 5, 10, 15 years.
OLASKY: How do you tell them to begin walking on that road? What advice do you give initially?
FREEMAN: We tell them that this is their child and it will always be their child whether they’re 17, 27, or 37. How do you relate to them in such a way that will encourage a relationship to continue to grow and flourish, but at the same time, put up some boundaries and parameters about what you will accept and probably not accept. Some of those boundaries, challenges that parents might have, would be “do I let my son’s spouse or partner or daughter’s spouse or partner come to dinner? Do I let them sleep overnight at home? Do I invite them to the Christmas gala?” Whatever, all those kinds of things.
OLASKY: And what do you advise?
FREEMAN: We advise only God can tell you what to do about that. “Why are you asking me?” as Rosaria Butterfield often says. But to realize that you need to be Jesus to this person and you need to extend love and mercy, and the challenge comes in what does that look like on a day-to-day basis where I continue to love you and encourage you to be part of our family, but I don’t enable you, from my standpoint, to be able to pursue this. And that’s a challenge that takes a lot of prayer and wisdom.
OLASKY: Now, I gather, John, that you never wanted Harvest USA to replace local churches at all in counseling. You were trying to empower them. What kind of resistance did you encounter from pastors?
FREEMAN: Well, I think the idea that these are someone else’s problem, they’re not problems of the household of God, has been a fallacy that we’ve allowed to fester for years. We are a redeeming and forgiving people, but it’s been my experience that most of the people in our churches are dealing with the very same things that people outside the church are dealing with and trying to bring under God’s lordship. And as opposed to just saying, “just stop it,” we need to help people understand how the gospel of Jesus Christ applies to my struggles today with pornography and lust and idolatry in our hearts and be willing to take out that mantel as a regular practice of the church.
OLASKY: Can you give an example of a church that’s done this well and tell us…
FREEMAN: Yes. We have a church about 150 miles from Philadelphia that has multiple groups running for parents who have a gay or lesbian loved one. It has three groups for men who are struggling with pornography. It has two groups for wives of men who are struggling with pornography. And the church had none of that 10 years ago. But they took a more comprehensive view of our role in people’s lives in the church, and they made it happen with our help.
OLASKY: What’s been the result of that?
FREEMAN: The result of that is, No. 1, people go to the church and they obviously, from the get go, see this is a place that can handle this and that cares about me. And people are coming to know Jesus more personally and powerfully, and they’re being having their idols dislodged in their hearts as they start to intentionally walk with Him in openness about these areas, wanting to find healing and forgiveness.
View the full interview here.