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The Bible says gay sex is a sin. But Christians can still embrace gays.
As they say, "hate the sin, love the sinner"
 
Even if Christians don't support homosexuality, they can still embrace the individuals. 
Even if Christians don't support homosexuality, they can still embrace the individuals.  (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Ed Dobson doesn't just share a surname with James Dobson, the man behind Focus on the Family. He also shares James Dobson's evangelical Christian faith. And there was a time when both Dobsons (no relation, at least that I know of) shared similar politics. But that's really where the comparison ends.

After being involved in Jerry Falwell's ministry, Ed Dobson was one of the early leaders of the Moral Majority, a Reagan-era religious right group. He was an editor at the Fundamentalist Journal. He was credited with helping to ghost-write a book for Falwell. Dobson later co-authored one with conservative columnist Cal Thomas.

During the 1990s, Dobson left Christian conservative politics to become a pastor in Grand Rapids, Mich. There he became moved by the suffering of AIDS patients and decided to reach out to the gay community. Despite some mutual wariness between his congregation and local gay activists, the church began providing care to the sick and dying.

"Although Dobson's belief in the wrongness of homosexual practice had not changed, he [reached] out to the gay community in Christian love," wrote the evangelical journalist Philip Yancey in his book What's So Amazing About Grace? Dobson told Yancey, "If I die and someone stands up at my funeral and says nothing but, 'Ed Dobson loved homosexuals,' I would feel proud."

Some members of Dobson's church had never met a gay person before Dobson began this ministry. Similarly, some of the gays and lesbians involved had never known or had a positive experience with evangelicals. Neither came to agree on every moral or social issue, of course, but they arrived at a common understanding.

Later, the subject of homosexuality hit closer to home for Dobson. His son Daniel, who served in the Army during the Iraq War, announced that he was gay. Daniel Dobson later told the Grand Rapids Press that coming out to his parents was a more frightening experience than a Baghdad firefight. Both times, he steeled himself with the book of Hebrews: "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

Daniel Dobson said, "Mom, Dad. I'm gay. And I still love Jesus. And nothing else changes." His father, the former Falwell associate, replied, "We still love you. And nothing else changes."

The details of the Dobson family's story may be unusual, but it captures plenty of broader truths. The phrase "hate the sin, love the sinner" has become a cliché. It also does not seem to hold up well to images of the Westboro Baptist Church brandishing signs with hate-filled slogans. But plenty of other people in this country are able to disagree about the deepest, most personal issues — matters of the heart and soul — without becoming estranged.

Our national debates set up a dichotomy between bigotry and fully embracing the gay rights movement. Where do the Dobsons fit?

Many people of faith wrestle with these issues. The liberal evangelical Tony Campolo has called on Christians to love their gay neighbors as themselves, arguing that the Bible commands it, even as it similarly commands that gay sex is a sin. Campolo acknowledges the difficulties inherent in this seeming contradiction. Campolo told CNN, "I would say there's a significant portion of the evangelical community that, for lack of a better word, is homophobic, that is nasty and mean."

Campolo, like many religious Christians, believes the biblical standard is sex only within marriage between a man and a woman, celibacy outside it. He once recounted, "I can't tell you how many times people have said, 'I love your attitude, you've got tears in your eyes when you speak to me, you have compassion in your heart, but you're breaking my heart when you tell me that I am called to celibacy.'"

Pope Francis shocked many when he said, "Tell me: When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?" Yet the statement is no departure from Catholic teaching.

My own United Methodist Church simultaneously teaches that "homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth" and "we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

That is not to say that Christians have always endorsed the existence of gay people with love. The truth is that people have been insulted, disowned, even subjected to violence. But that's not the whole truth.

In the culture war, sadly, any shade of gray is often the first casualty.

 
W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?

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