When it comes to the people of North Texas, the phrase "go big or go home" certainly applies, and especially when it comes to their pocketbooks. Last week, the sixth annual North Texas Giving Day (NTGD) took place - a day for donors in North Texas to give to local nonprofit organizations that they may not have been previously aware of - and the giving was good. North Texas Giving Day, powered by the Communities Foundation of Texas, raised a total of $26.3 million for local area non-profits, surpassing the previous year's total by more than $1 million.
In addition to donations, some nonprofits received special grants and prizes by local area foundations for reaching certain goals throughout the day. One of those organizations was Living Hope Ministries, which received two grants for a total of $10,000 from the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation (ATF). ATF gave these grants to the nonprofit with the most unique donors during the 2014 North Texas Giving Day between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. and between 6 p.m. to midnight. However, some supporters of the Foundation and NTGD may be surprised to find that Living Hope Ministries is an ex-gay ministry whose sole purpose is to help people "leave homosexuality" and "stop the suffering of same sex attraction."
Additionally, Living Hope Ministries received bonus funds for all donations over $25 based on a pro-rated dollar match awarded by Communities Foundation of Texas.
While not a physical church, the organization's sole purpose is to counsel men, women and children who are conflicted with homosexual feelings and a Christian identity. LHM does not claim to be an ex-gay ministry, but a Christian organization that teaches men and women how to "overcome homosexual feelings by leaning on Christ."
One participant in NTGD, who also works for the City of Dallas, was shocked when she found out that this organization was eligible to participate. Although she preferred to remain anonymous, she had this to say:
"I don't feel like this is for the betterment of our communities and takes away from other legitimate nonprofits actually making significant contributions."
LHM was actively promoting their supporters to give on NTGD on the organization's website so that they could qualify for these additional prizes and awards. The 501(c)3 nonprofit organization raised a total of $60,035 for its anti-gay congregation, beating organizations like Alliance for Children, $57,125, a nonprofit that helps protect North Texas children from child abuse, and The Resource Center, $14,480, a comprehensive HIV resource nonprofit.
When Carolyn Mentesana, the Executive Director of the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, found out the nature of what LHM does, she was shocked and concerned. She said that ATF gave the grant money to Communities Foundation of Texas to gift to an organization with the understanding that it was for a nonprofit that engaged in community outreach and support, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
On Wednesday, September 24th, Communities of Texas Foundation and Arlington Tomorrow Foundation came to an agreement that LHM would not receive ATF's grant, but would instead by issued the prize money directly from CTF. Since NTGD did not recognize LHM as a physical place of worship during the application process, the organization says that it will still honor the grant for LHM, despite now knowing about the organization and its functions.
"We verify 501(c)3 status, but we do not make a judgment as to what their causes are," said Carol Goglia, Director of Marketing and Communications at Communities Foundation of Texas. "Our committee verified that [Living Hope Ministries] was in good nonprofit standing and that they didn't appear to be a physical church."
A representative from LHM said that the grant money would not be used towards one specific program, but for the overall operation of its services. Many other religious-based nonprofit organizations received donations and prizes from NTGD, but these organizations have clear, tangible programming. The Presbyterian Night Shelter is a housing program for adults, the elderly, families, those with mental or emotional disorders and veterans. The Union Gospel Mission provides the homeless population of Dallas with meals, clothing, shelter, emergency medical services, as well as daycare for children. The Stewpot, a First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, offers a safe haven for homeless and at-risk individuals of Dallas, providing resources for basic survival needs as well as opportunities to start a new life.
"I am disappointed that NTGD is a way to support this organization. This is a program based on bad science and bad religion," said Jim Mitulski, Interim Senior Pastor at the Cathedral of Hope, a congregation of the United States Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas. "It is preying on people's weaknesses and exploits them. To me, this is similar to funding a hate group, because this organization goes against people's normal and natural sense of self. This is prejudice in a religious cloak."
The Cathedral of Hope, the largest LGBT Christian congregation in Dallas, did not participate in NTGD because of religious exemptions.
Ricky Chellete, the Executive Director of LHM, couldn't be reached for comment, but wrote this letter in the LHM magazine about the nonprofit organization.
"Each week, over 100 people gather in three locations for our in-person support groups for young adults, men, women, friends and family and wives of men who struggle with same-sex attraction. Our staff spends thousands of hours each year in personal, pastoral counseling and mentoring with individuals seeking help for their unwanted same-sex attractions. Our young adult and adult retreats draw over 120 people from states across the U.S. and countries across the globe for a weekend of bible study, discipleship and worship."
In addition to their in-house worships and annual retreats, LHM also offers online support forums with over 7,800 members from 170 different countries.
Living Hope Ministries provides online testimonials on their website from congregants who have been helped by their teachings.
"I struggled in secret with SSA. I tried everything I could to rid myself of these feelings. My Christian family and friends only spoke of the abomination that homosexuality represented. At 53 I was at the end of my hope. Then a friend shared her story and told me about Living Hope. The compassion and unconditional love I receive from everyone opened my heart to deeper truth. They accepted me without ever condoning my sin. Hope has returned to me, but more importantly, I have a deeper relationship with Jesus. LHM didn't just talk about the sin, but stresses the point that true freedom only comes through an intimate relationship with a loving and righteous God. I look forward to freedom in the light."
- Susan, 53, NW Arkansas
"The LHM forums have been a vital part of my healing process. This a safe community where I have been able to share, be encouraged and challenged to see things from God's perspective. Without the support of the LHM community I would have returned to the GLBT community and abandoned my relationship with God."
- Hope, 52, East TX
In no testimonial does it claim to have "cured" homosexuality, but the homosexual and Christian identities in all testimonies are mutually exclusive. According to the American Psychological Association, homosexuality is not classified as a mental disorder and churches and mental health practitioners should not make efforts to "cure" same-sex attraction.
Living Hope Ministries held their 25th Anniversary Fundraising Celebration Banquet at the Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas the day NTGD was held. Park Cities Baptist is one of LHM's many partner churches in the North Texas region.