Pastor Duke Taber will be the first to let you know that his small congregation in Pine Haven, Wyo., is about as far removed from the gay marriage controversy boiling over in the country as any church could be.
"I know of two gay couples," said the pastor with a humble-sounding demeanor while talking about the town of about 500 people. "It's not like I'm in San Francisco or Portland, or Orlando, Florida."
Yet Taber, who said 30 to 50 people tops attend his service on Sundays, wants his congregation to be an example of how Christians worldwide should love homosexuals no matter what.
"I have said directly from the pulpit that if a gay person or couple comes into our church, no matter when they do it, I will come off the platform and be the first one to hug their neck and welcome them to our church," the pastor of Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Pine Haven told The Christian Post.
Pastors and church members loving a gay couple may be a simple choice, but complications arise when the couple, who may still be engaged in what is stated in the Bible as sin, wants to volunteer or hold leadership positions within the church.
When asked about whether his church has a policy about whether a gay couple can become members of the church or serve as volunteers, Taber answered like most pastors when asked the same question for this series – homosexuality is not any different than other sins and would be considered as likewise morally wrong for anyone in a leadership position.
"There is ample scriptural evidence that leaders are to have a higher standard than attenders or seekers," he said. "They need to have a certain level of maturity and morality established in their lives. So if the volunteer is seeking to volunteer for a leadership position then a practicing homosexual person would not be appointed to that position.
"However, if the homosexual is volunteering to help in a non-leadership role like benevolence ministries or building maintenance then they would be more than welcome," he continued. "We do not make a litmus test of outside contractors like plumbers or electricians who come to fix our problems with physical things; why should we make a litmus test concerning volunteers?"
Also, like several pastors interviewed by CP, Taber wanted to make it clear that homosexuality should not be singled out as a sin having a lower morality ranking than others.
"Remember, it is not about homosexuality in particular, it is about whether people qualify in their maturity level and morality in general. I would not allow a gossip or a glutton to have a leadership position either, but I would allow either one to take food to the needy or clean the church," he explained. "Homosexuality is not any different as far as sinfulness as any other of these things. It just has an emotional component to it that makes us react in stronger ways."
Pastor Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in La Mesa, Calif., said his church (a much larger church than Vineyard in Pine Haven) also welcomes homosexuals with open arms. He said church leaders do not distinguish homosexuality as a behavioral problem different from "any other violation of scriptures."
A gay couple asking to volunteer would be treated in the same way as anyone, he said.
"If we know of a violation of scripture we try to lovingly deal with any person having any kind of challenge in the exact same way. We try to bring them to a level of maturity for their place in a ministry with visibility in the church. It's not an issue of homosexuality. It's an issue for anyone," Garlow said.
He said that his church does have varying levels of membership. Community members simply profess Christ as their Savior, while covenant members have stricter standards "adhering to bona fide biblical standards" in order to hold various positions within the church.
Garlow told of the story of one woman who has left the church two or three times because of his biblical stance on the issue of homosexuality.
"She keeps coming back and each time she does she tells me it's for the same reason. She says she knows 'how much you love me, how much you care for me. This church is so loving, so caring,'" Garlow explained. "I notice lately she brings a friend with her to church. I don't know if it may be her partner as such. I'm introduced to her and I give her a big hug and smiles.
"A week ago, when I spoke strongly about President Obama's coming out for homosexual marriage she came up to me after that with a big smile on her face and said, 'I'd figured you would talk about that, but I know how much you love me and care for me.'"
Many pastors are not only talking about loving homosexuals as some distant social group, but showing genuine concern for those that may be a part of their immediate family.
Taber said he was honestly not surprised that God would "open a door" for him to speak concerning this issue.
"For me, this issue is not just theoretical, but it has been both personal and practical. I have had to deal with this issue over the last 10 years both within my own family and with family members of dear personal friends," he said. "It is something that I have been forced to wrestle with to come to what I hope is a balanced biblical approach that not only upholds the traditional position that marriage is ordained by God to be between a man and a woman alone, but also is filled with love and mercy to those that are trapped in a lifestyle that is contrary to that position."
He said that he has an uncle who was a homosexual and part of the gay community for 30 years until he left the lifestyle 10 years ago.
Taber added, "I have a dear friend who is the widow of a Calvary Chapel pastor whose middle son has come out of the closet and is a professing homosexual and who is part of my life."
He also has an immediate family member that "right now is struggling with sexual orientation issues after being molested by [a] stepfather."
"So this subject is not one that I am speaking from a theoretical perspective but instead it is one that I am intimately acquainted with," he said.
When asked about how the Church should treat a gay couple Taber said the question for him was not difficult to answer.
"The church needs to understand that homosexuality is no different than any other sin. I do not believe in 'cardinal' vs. 'venial' sins. That is a Catholic doctrine. There are no big sins and little sins. All sin is missing the mark, falling short of the standard and glory of God."
He believes a church should "just ask itself, 'How do we love sinners?'"
"To make an exception for homosexuality is hypocrisy," he continued. "I would hope that churches would learn that they are called to be the hospitals, the bomb shelters, and the oracles of truth [and] that no sinner is predestined to be trapped in their sin.
"Homosexuals need to find the church a place where they can be loved unconditionally, even as a homosexual, just as we would love the alcoholic, drug dependent, glutton and gossip – accepted as a person on a journey to find freedom from sin, which we all are on such a journey, and forgiven from their past and even future mistakes and sins.
"When [Christians] do that, then they will find that even though they may be stigmatized as eating and drinking with sinners, they will have people who are becoming more like Jesus and less like sinners. That is the true definition of sanctification," he concluded.