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REGENERATION MINISTRIES WRESTLES WITH SEXUALITY ISSUES

REGENERATION MINISTRIES WRESTLES WITH SEXUALITY ISSUES
A 40-year old ministry has helped thousands of men and women deal with same-sex attractions

VIRTUEONLINE recently interviewed Josh Glaser, Executive Director of REGENERATION MINISTRIES, a ministry designed to help men, women, and families to learn and to live God's good, holy, and beautiful design for sexuality.

By David W. Virtue, DD
www.virtueonline.org
June 28, 2020

VOL: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions about your ministry. Last fall marked 40 years since Regeneration's founder, Alan Medinger, started this ministry. Alan had experienced the regenerating power of Jesus in his own sexuality and relationships, and he felt he could not sit by while other men and women struggled alone without hope or help. Can you tell us a bit about Alan's struggle, what it was about and how he was healed?

GLASER: Alan had wrestled since childhood with same-sex attractions. In that era and in the community, he was in, he never considered diving headlong into a gay relationship or gay subculture, but he acted out sexually with other men for many years. He married his childhood sweetheart, Willa, and together they had two daughters. But marriage did not resolve his same-sex attractions. Over the years, Alan continued to secretly act out, having anonymous sexual encounters with men. Alan's family was involved in a local church, but Alan did not have a personal relationship with Jesus. No one knew about his secret struggle, but its impact on his life was seeping out. He was drinking more, taking greater risks and his marriage was hurting.

At some point, a friend of Alan's from work invited Alan to join him at a prayer meeting that he had attended. (This was during the Charismatic Catholic Renewal that was taking place in the Baltimore area in the 1970's.) Reluctant at first, eventually, Alan agreed to go with his friend, and that night changed everything. At the meeting, while others were engaged in worship and prayer, Alan was moved to pray a silent prayer of surrender, and although I don't remember the exact words, it was something like, "Jesus, I've made a mess of my life, but if you can help me, I'm willing to give my life to You."

When Alan got home from the meeting, he very quickly began to notice that some things were different. For example, he smoked a cigarette and when he put it out, he said almost as a third-person observation, "That's the last cigarette I'll ever smoke." He discovered that his compulsive desire to have sex with other men was gone, and he found his love for his wife was reignited and growing significantly. He also had a new and strong longing to spend time with the Lord in prayer, worship, and Scripture study--something that continued in Alan's life and became the bedrock of his ministry.

VOL: Regeneration has spent 40 years helping men and women who struggle with sexuality issues. What is the most serious sexual sin that you encounter?

GLASER: That's a tough question. I think immediately of men and women who through sexual betrayal have severely harmed their spouses and their children, sometimes irreparably. I think of the adult men and women who were sexually abused as children and the trauma and confusion they continue to carry so many years later. And I think of the men and women who, through their own sexual addictions, have found themselves in places they never would have wanted, unsure if what they've done can be undone. For example, one story that sticks with me is a man I know whose particular sexual addiction led to being arrested right in front of his two young children. His kids were scared and crying as they watched their daddy being handcuffed and put into a police cruiser, and there was nothing he could do about it. By God's grace, that man is walking in sexual integrity today, but as far as I know, he still does not see his kids or his (now) ex-wife.

VOL: You claim to reach, rescue and renew men and women living in profound ways. Can you elaborate please?

GLASER: This is one way of phrasing what Jesus does in the Gospels and still today. He reaches people beyond reach, rescues people who can't get free, and renews people who are weary and beaten down. Our aim as a ministry is to daily join Him in that mission, especially for those who are either struggling with sexual sins or who have been hurt by the sins of others. If you were to ask our staff how we seek to accomplish our mission, they would talk about listening long, asking questions, healing prayer, and simply walking with people as they learn to walk more intimately with Jesus. Oftentimes, sexuality is something that people struggle to integrate into their walks with the Lord. Whether intentionally or not, they've come to believe that sexuality is something God doesn't like, doesn't want to talk about, or can't help with. Nothing could be further from the truth. Again, look at the Gospels and we see Jesus coming to the defense of the woman caught in adultery, speaking humbly and prophetically with the Samaritan woman at the well, or being moved by the sexually immoral woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears, to name a few. We are here to partner with Jesus in the 21st century in the work He's been doing for over 2,000 years.

VOL: You say you have had four decades wherein thousands of lives have changed...men and women freed from sin and shame, marriages restored, kids growing up with both parents in those homes, singles finding dignity within community and abuse victims healed by the power of the cross. Can you offer us some examples?

GLASER: I think of "Sam" (not his real name) who came to Regeneration about 15 years ago, struggling with a same-sex sexual addiction. Like Alan, he was married and his secret sexual behaviors had become out of control. Sam got involved in Regen's recovery group for men and started seeing a good Christian therapist. Over time, his behaviors began to wane and he was able to walk in greater honesty and integrity with his wife. Sam is still married, his family has grown, and he is active in his kids' lives.

I think of "Molly" who experienced intense sexual and emotional abuse in her home growing up. She is one the most courageous people I've met. She met with one of our spiritual coaches for a long time and participated in at least two of our more intensive groups. Through these, she experienced Jesus in a personal and healing way, she forgave her abusers, and she learned to establish and uphold personal boundaries in a healthier way.

I think of "John" who I just talked with this morning. He started coming to Regen while in college, struggling with an intense pornography addiction, as well as inappropriate boundaries with women in his life. John also got involved with spiritual coaching and our men's group and over time has grown to have much greater sexual integrity. Last month, he married and yesterday, he told me, "I know it was Jesus who did this, but I can't imagine where I'd be without Regeneration."

With that said, I don't want to paint a picture that I think Regeneration has some kind of silver bullet. We're unabashedly a discipleship ministry, trying to help people grow and walk through some really difficult and complex issues by helping them draw nearer to Jesus in these sensitive areas of life. Even so, with all the positive stories I can think of, there are many others where people who have come to us have drifted away, opted out, or in some cases, decided that trying to live out a Christian sexual ethic is simply not for them. Jesus is our model, and we see He never forced anyone to choose Him, even when great crowds decided to walk away.

VOL: How serious is pornography? I read recently that porn is the No.1 issue for Christians, at least that is what Josh McDowell said. Do you agree with his assessment?

GLASER: Pornography is a huge problem. It is a silent, secret cancer eating away at Christian churches throughout our land, and it's impacting our sense of sexuality as men and women alike. But I think the bigger issue for Christians is that we've lost our understanding of how sacred sexuality is. Ask most Christians what sex is for, and you will likely not hear much that's different from what the culture teaches. Sexuality is a sacred and intrinsic part of what it means to be human, but we don't hear about it in the church much at all. Meanwhile, the culture can't stop talking about it. This leaves the impression that sex is secular not sacred, something the world invented rather than a part of God's "very good" creation. For a great read on this, I'd strongly recommend Christopher West's new book Our Bodies Tell God's Story.

VOL: You say that the number of women coming to you with pornography addictions has been growing, and you are launching a new online group this summer for women seeking freedom from pornography. The wife of Rick Warren said she struggled with porn for years. Why is porn of such interest to women? I have always assumed it is a man thing.

GLASER: Right, that was widely the understanding for a long time. While it is accurate to say that more men than women look at porn, the notion that porn is just a man thing has done damage to both men and women. To women who struggle with porn, it's sent the shaming message that there is something uniquely defective or dirty about them. To men, it's sent the message that this is just what men do, thus diminishing men.

I think porn is of interest for women for similar reasons it is of interest to men. On the surface, porn is just about sexual stimulation, but if we believe that's the only reason people are going to it, we're missing something profound about the nature of sex and the human body in general. God designed the human body as a beautiful expression of love. Think about a husband and wife on their wedding night: When they unclothe and come together sexually, they are, in essence, manifesting their love and commitment to each other, each one saying to the other, "You are of such incredible worth that I give everything I am to you." Pornography hijacks this message. When a man or woman sees a sexual image of a naked person in pornography, something in their heart senses that message, and even though the message is not true in that space, their body and brain respond as though it is. Of course, it's all a fiction and that unconscious sense of deep connection doesn't last. All this to say, men and women alike don't keep coming back to porn just because it feels good, they come back because they're searching for something.

VOL: What is the relationship between psychology and theology in the answers you offer people?

GLASER: As someone once said, all truth is God's truth, and our team has learned a great deal from people invested in the field of psychology, both Christian and non-Christian. Recently, for example, some books circulating on our team have included The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., Anatomy of the Soul by Kurt Thompson, M.D., and Unwanted by therapist Jay Stringer. On a local level, we are grateful to work in tandem with some wonderful licensed Christian therapists to whom we refer clients who can benefit from therapy. For our part, Regeneration's staff is primarily about creating space for people to deepen their intimacy with God, grow in self-understanding, and become more relationally healthy.

VOL: Are you surprised at the reception Samaritan's Purse got at the hands of the ultra-liberal bishop of the Episcopal Church in New York, who threw Franklin Graham out of his cathedral because he would not conform to the "doctrine" of homosexual marriage canonized by TEC?

GLASER: To be honest, David, I had not heard of this until just now. At face value, though, this kind of thing no longer surprises me. Christianity's sexual ethic has fallen far out of favor with the culture around us. Christianity has always understood that to be a human being is to be both spirit and body, and our bodies are created by God as male and female. The culture is increasingly embracing a worldview that believes person's body is inconsequential to who that person is or how that person is meant to live. For followers of Jesus, I don't believe you can look honestly at His words and life (including the incarnation, his crucifixion, bodily resurrection, bodily ascension, and promised return bodily) and come to that conclusion. So, as Todd Wilson puts it in his book, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality, Christianity's stance for traditional marriage and against same-sex marriage is not because of hatred, it's because of biology.

VOL: Do you get blistering cries that you are filled with hate and homophobia because of your biblical stand on homosexuality?

GLASER: This happens on rare occasion, but fortunately, not usually. Of course, I don't know what the future holds, but for now we actually know a number of people who adamantly disagree with our stand for traditional marriage, but who respect the other work we do and even the posture we have toward LGBTQ+ people. We try as best we can to make more of what we are for than what we are against.

Understandably, sometimes it is vitally important to state clearly what we're against. If I have a near-sighted friend running quickly toward a cliff, it may not be the best approach to gently point to a flower-lined path in the other direction. Even so, I think it is generally a mistake when we get so wrapped up in proving "the other side" wrong that we forget that Jesus' most profound expression of love for sinners was also the thing that sealed the fate of sin. He never called evil "good," but in denouncing evil he also willingly took on its curse. In what ways might Christians today continue to speak God's truth, while also willingly accepting as their mission the care of those who reject it? Dr. Russell Moore put it this way in a recent article entitled "After the Bostock Supreme Court Case":

"[What] is needed is an ongoing demonstration of counter-cultural fidelity, accountability, love, and a recognition of the kinds of limits that make human life good and livable. And, at the same time, we can be the people who recognize that those who disagree with us are our mission field, to be persuaded, not a sparring partner to denounce."

VOL: Have you struggled with a particular sexual sin yourself that makes you open and vulnerable to others who likewise struggle with a similar sin?

GLASER: Yes. I first came to Regeneration in 1996 struggling with my own sexual addiction, including some behaviors of which I was immensely ashamed. I loved God, but I also loved and hated my sin. All my best efforts spiritually never seemed to make any lasting difference for me sexually. Regeneration, for me, was a place where I repeatedly experienced the unexpected. A small group leader who would ask a question I had never thought to ask myself, a pat on the back when I felt most like a failure, healing prayer that revealed God had never forgotten the wounds of my childhood, grace where I expected judgment. And over time, those things that once held me fast ceased to hold me at all. More importantly, the Jesus I had loved became all the more real to me and His cross and resurrection all the more important.

VOL: In the time of COVID-19, how has your ministry been impacted? Have you had to put plans on hold, has your timeline been moved forward? Is all your ministry face to face or can you do online counseling? "What does love look like in this season?"

GLASER: Like many people, we have moved everything we do online. Our in-person groups are now held virtually, our one-to-one coaching is done online or over the phone, and our conferences and events are being morphed into webinars. Interestingly, this has opened new doors for us to reach people who we wouldn't have reached before. These are all offerings we had begun or were beginning to create, so Covid pushed our timelines up. Some of what we've started now may end up permanently replacing what we used to provide, but all of us long for the time when we can meet with people face to face again.

VOL: Is your ministry strictly within the US or are you international?

GLASER: Right now, we have staff in Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Georgia, and our clientele are primarily in the Maryland and DC Metro areas, but through our online offerings and distance coaching, we are walking with people in various places around the world.

VOL: Are you an Anglican-based ministry or interdenominational?

GLASER: We are interdenominational, but in both Northern Virginia and Baltimore, we have great relationships with Anglican congregations, and we are very grateful for them.

VOL: You will undoubtedly be doing more online, but can webinars replace one on one, face to face contact with people who struggle with deep sexuality issues?

GLASER: As I said, human beings are both spirit and body. As bodies, we're designed for human contact, not just virtual contact. And especially in an area of ministry where people are wrestling with bodily urges or carrying trauma or shame in their bodies, an in-person meeting has a power and meaning to it that can't be replicated online. Jesus came in the flesh for a reason. So even as we expand our ministry's online offerings, we long for the time we can gather together in-person.

VOL: You say it remains your firm commitment to never turn anyone away for financial reasons. Please elaborate.

GLASER: While most of our funding comes from people who donate because they believe in the work we do, we also charge for most of our services because we have found over the years that when a person invests in his or her own journey, they tend to take it more seriously. At the same time, what may be affordable for one person would put an undue financial strain on someone else, perhaps especially now. So, for anyone who needs or wants our services, we are committed to providing them, no matter a person's ability to pay. In my view, the most important, most life-changing things we have to offer anyone are the treasures God gives freely. We are grateful recipients of His gifts and aim to generously share what He's given with others.

VOL: Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel for people with sexual addictions or is it all getting worse? Do you see any turnaround in the culture or are we descending into the pit of hell?

GLASER: I see both. It seems to me that as the darkness is getting darker, the light of Christ is also shining more brightly. On the one hand, it is dizzying how quickly the culture and the church are embracing things like sex outside of marriage, gay marriage, polyamory, and new gender ideologies. On the other hand, the culture and the church are waking up to things like sexual exploitation, misogyny, sex trafficking, and the harms of pornography; and more and more people in the church are being exposed to and transformed by great theological teaching on marriage, sex, and gender, for example through the teachings on Theology of the Body.

VOL: You cite this verse, "People who once lived in darkness have seen a great light (Matthew 4:16). Why this particular verse?

GLASER: This verse, like so many in Scripture, is poetic and touches the heart. There's something about it that speaks of Jesus with such hope and joy. Sin is a kind of darkness, where people lose their ability to see themselves and others rightly. We have lived long this way, and our hearts are restless for the morning. Right now, many, many tired and vulnerable ones are being beckoned inside to artificial lights, they're being told the wait is over. Any light is a welcome sight to eyes when the night's been long, but the "great light" is a light we can't turn on with the flip of a switch. The light that illumines all things is Christ, the great Morning Star who has come, who illumines our hearts and opens our eyes, and for whom all creation eagerly waits. He has stepped into our greatest darkness and His light is transforming lives, so that even now, people are turning their faces away from the pale glow of the world's light and looking to the horizon instead, awaiting the that first glimmer of dawn that will illumine all things.

VOL: Thank you Josh. You can read, see and hear from people who have been impacted over the years through the ministry of Regeneration here: www.RegenerationMinistries.org/40. A Fundraising link can be found here: www.RegenerationMinistries.org/donate.

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