A South Houston megachurch is in the midst of a midweek lecture series that encourages LGBTQ people to “overcome” their gender identities and sexual orientations.
Sagemont Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in the Pearland area with over 21,000 members, claims on its website that “we are all equal at the foot of the cross, regardless of your past, your family, or your circumstances.” For three consecutive Wednesday nights through February 3, the church is featuring lectures by local pastor Michael R. Newman, who is sharing his testimony and interpretation of the Bible to help those dealing with “unwanted same-sex attraction.”
“Pastor Michael R. Newman, Director of Christian Coalition for Reconciliation, will lead this three-Wednesday series [entitled “Christians and LGBTQ: Understanding and Dialogue]. He has over three decades of experience as a speaker/minister/overcomer from a same-sex attraction background. He will share his personal testimony of transformation, as well as insights for better understanding of LGBTQ persons. Biblical perspectives will be examined concerning our focus in dialogue and relationship with LGBTQ persons. This series will be January 20, 27, and February 3 in room WC1320,” according to Sagemont’s website.
At press time, neither Sagemont Church nor Pastor Newman had responded to OutSmart’s multiple requests for comment.
According to the Christian Coalition for Reconciliation website, Newman is an ordained pastor but not a licensed professional counselor. His online bio includes “years of experience in discipleship training and one-on-one mentoring/coaching related to sexual and relational brokenness.”
In his January 20 presentation, which is available online, Newman began his testimony by describing his “early homosexual tendencies,” which included making good grades and being an all-star student, seeing examples of powerful women and assuming they were the dominant gender, and not being good at sports. He then mentioned other youthful observations that “Satan forced him to misinterpret.”
Newman went on to explain that his high-pitched voice, which can be misinterpreted as feminine, is the result of year-round allergies. He also claimed that molestation leads to homosexual behavior, and reassured the group that “I am one of few [LGBTQ] people who don’t have sexual abuse or molestation in my story. Most people I know have [suffered sexual abuse].”
Elsewhere in his presentation, Newman suggested that feminism is a “gateway drug to lesbianism” and that girls are keen to experiment with other girls because they mature faster than boys and are “desperate for some sort of romantic attention, [which] they aren’t receiving from the opposite sex.” He also claimed that homosexuality is “an attack on the family” and that parents should teach their children about sex from a young age.
Nearly half of LGBTQ adults in America are religious, according to a report from UCLA’s Williams Institute. The vast majority of those are Christian, and are split fairly evenly among Catholics (25 percent), Protestants (28 percent), and other denominations (24.5 percent). Just over 2 percent identify as Jewish, and 2 percent identify as Muslim.
LGBTQ people who are not affirmed by their religion are more likely to die by suicide and experience high levels of depression, said out Baptist pastor Rich Havard, executive director of The Inclusive Collective, a student ministry on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. He references studies such as the recent report by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“Toxic ministry, like that of Pastor Michael R. Newman, bears bad fruit and is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Plus, it is not even effective at what it sets out to do,” Havard says. “Studies prove again and again that conversion therapy, [an attempt to change one’s gender identity or sexual orientation], doesn’t even work. If you don’t believe those studies, listen to the haunting testimonies of people who have gone through conversion therapy.”
A queer member of Sagemont Church, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells OutSmart about the impact that messages like Newman’s have had on her, as well as other LGBTQ Christians and their families. “My family has gone [to Sagemont Church] since I was 8. I’ve seen firsthand how listening to messages like these is problematic,” she says, noting that her parents have routinely denounced her sexuality due to their religious beliefs. “Also, I think if I had heard [sermons like Newman’s message] even just a few years ago, I might not be here right now. That’s terrifying, and I know I’m not the only one.”
Sagemont Church’s senior pastor, Dr. Matt Carter, was hired in May 2020. Prior to working at Sagemont, Carter and his wife, Jennifer, established The Austin Stone Community Church, an evangelical ministry with meeting locations throughout Austin. The church’s six campuses have attracted around 7,500 attendees each Sunday—including many young professionals and college students.
Carter received a doctorate of ministry degree in expositional preaching at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2015. He made his thoughts on the LGBTQ community widely known in 2017 when he signed the Nashville Statement, an evangelical Christian statement of faith relating to human sexuality and traditional gender roles authored by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) in Nashville. Among other proclamations, the Statement, which includes over 24,000 signatures, condemns same-sex marriage and LGBTQ sexuality.
Jacob Breeze, pastor of Holy Family HTX in EaDo, “a church for people without a church,” emphasizes that LGBTQ locals who do not feel affirmed by churches like Sagemont are welcome at other congregations in Houston.
Pastor Breeze, a fierce LGBTQ ally, says the presence of his church’s LGBTQ members makes the congregation unique. “Holy Family is better because of our LGBTQ+ sisters, brothers, and siblings. They show us the face of God. Our paid and volunteer LGBTQ+ leaders and attendees help us lead more Jesus-centered lives.”
He adds that faith communities like Holy Family can be safe spaces for LGBTQ people who have been hurt by other churches. “You are not a burden. You are a blessing. In you, we see just how creative the living God is. Also, there really are churches that can help you reconstruct a loving, liberating, and life-giving faith without fundamentalism. Even so, we know that your trust has to be earned.”
This article appears in the February 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.