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A Message from Mark Gregston

Recently, 20/20 aired a story as part of a larger series. In the report, a teenage girl expressed her feeling that her parents sent her to Heartlight because she was gay. Since we weren’t given a fair and balanced chance to speak, and our response was largely ignored, I want you to hear the other side of the story.

About the Story

We believe the 20/20 reporter made immediate and unfair assumptions about a Christian organization’s position on homosexuality, and how it’s handled in the restoration setting. Ignoring our mission and basing the story on one interview, we were cast in the light of a “gay conversion therapy” center.

If you’ve followed our ministry for any amount of time, you know this is false. At the Heartlight Residential Counseling Center, we work with a wide variety of family and teen issues. We understand each teen has a very different story and we don’t judge them, no matter what they’re going through.

Simply put, being gay is not a reason we would ever accept a teen at Heartlight. Period.  

After talking to the teen, listening to a podcast, and reading some of our blog posts, the reporter had questions for us. We provided a statement, which included this message: When a teenager expresses a sexual identity other than what parents assumed or expected, it can strain family relationships; we work to restore family relationships, not to change sexual identity; and helping parents embrace their child is Heartlight’s ultimate goal.

This both confused and upset the reporter. Clearly a story about a gay conversion camp would get more views, clicks, and social media shares than a story of an organization simply trying to restore families. As a rebuttal, the reporter pointed to things I’ve said in the past, including the idea that same-sex activity doesn’t make a teenager an avowed homosexual; that a teen can experiment with same-sex relationships for a wide number of reasons; and that I would never justify or give license for same-sex relationships.

Can we commit to Biblical principles, but still help families embrace their gay teen? Can we talk openly about God and sexual identity? Well, yes. Definitely. These are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Where We Stand

The fact is this: Sexual identity is an area that can strain families, especially traditional Christian families. Our goal is not to change the teen or their choice, but bring families to a place of acceptance and restoration. We believe gay conversion therapy is damaging and wrong. At Heartlight, we help families accept their gay children instead of rejecting them. At the same time, we are a biblical organization and don’t overtly endorse or celebrate homosexuality.

The Church is not perfect. It has failed greatly at coming alongside both Christians and non-Christians who identify as anything but heterosexual. When it comes to homosexuality, this broken system puts parents in a conflicting, downward relational spiral of what they believe, and their child’s choices. It’s one of the reasons so many Christian families struggle so deeply when a child comes out. This causes brokenness.

And that’s where Heartlight comes in. We offer help and hope to parents and teens in a broken world.

Some Final Thoughts

No reporter will ever be able to find a Heartlight graduate who received any kind of “gay conversion therapy”, because it doesn’t exist. Heartlight never has, and never will, support an environment where a teen is ridiculed, shamed, mocked, or pressed to change their sexual identity. Heartlight is designed to be a place of hope for families, and a place of refuge for teens, regardless of sexual identity.

We’re not afraid to talk about sexuality with broken teens, and as a parent, you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it either. Know where you stand on issues. Talk to your kids. Love them. Let your guard down and have hard conversations. Remind them they can ask you or tell you anything without the fear of rejection.

At the end of the day, I wish 20/20 had ditched their investigative report for a productive conversation about raising teens in today’s confusing world. I wish they had noted the large percentage of gay adults who say how poorly their parents responded when they came out. I wish they had asked if they could send a reporter to Texas, to see what we do here, and learn more about how we help kids who feel like their parents shipped them off for covert gay conversion therapy. If the reporter watched us for a day, I know his view would have changed dramatically.

Look, there’s nothing contradictory about adhering to biblical principles, while at the same time addressing the brokenness in families. I’m not saying it’s pretty or that it’s easy—it’s certainly not. But it must be done, because the world is broken.

That’s why we’re here.

We help parents better understand their child. We help children understand their parents. And we work aggressively to bring help and hope to both.

Mark Gregston

Founder & Executive Director

Heartlight Ministries

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.