To this day, the gay and lesbian community is looking to the Church for some verifiable evidence that Christians love homosexuals as they say they do, said a former gay activist.
Many Christians use the phrase "We hate the sin but we love the sinner" when responding to the homosexual community. But if the Church is going to continue to use that cliché, the burden of proof is on us, said Joe Dallas, program director of Genesis Counseling – a Tustin, Calif.-based ministry to men struggling with sexual addiction and homosexuality.
The Church must provide verifiable evidence of its hatred of sin of homosexuality and love for the homosexual, he explained at a past Love Won Out conference in Orlando, Fla. Dallas' session was aired on Focus on the Family's radio broadcast on Tuesday.
"We have responsibility to be consistent to live what we preach," he said.
And rather than pointing the finger at the sins of the culture, Dallas insisted the appropriate question to ask is "not what can be done about this moral state of the culture, but rather what can be done about the moral state of the Church."
For decades Christians have struggled over how to respond appropriately to homosexuals.
In the 1970s, many Christian televangelists and well-known pastors began speaking out against the sin of homosexuality, often offering "lurid exaggerations" about homosexual people to underscore their point, Dallas mentioned.
He called it the "Jonah syndrome" where Christians lose sight of the value and humanity of the people they oppose.
In the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic came on the scene, homosexuals only saw hostility from the Church.
"We in the gay community did not hear a compassionate Christian response," said Dallas, who said he once lived a promiscuous homosexual lifestyle.
Instead, the gay community heard: "The judgment of God has finally fallen down on the sodomites."
"Translated, your sin has finally caught up with you, you're going to die, and we're not at all sure we're sorry," Dallas said.
"That is a message that the gay community will never forget."
Focus on the Family is about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Love Won Out conferences, which equip churches across the nation about how to respond to homosexuality and offer hope to those struggling with same-sex desires.
And in the past 10 years, the Christian rhetoric toward homosexual persons has increasingly turned away from the judgmental talk of sin and death and has become more responsible and more balanced, Dallas noted. But the Church is still adjusting and gay and lesbian activists are still picketing such conferences as Love Won Out, unconvinced that Christians have moved away from the hate and anti-homosexual speech.
"Gay activists come with pre-conceived notions about who we are and what we believe and about the hate that boils from within, which is simply not true," said Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family.
Dobson, one of the nation's most influential evangelical leaders, says Love Won Out conferences are not about hate or rejection.
"Regardless of what the media might say, Focus on the Family has no interest in promoting hatred toward homosexuals or anyone else," he stressed during Tuesday's broadcast. "We also don't wish to deprive them of their basic constitutional rights. The Constitution applies to all of us."
He went on to note that the organization believes sex outside of marriage, whether it is homosexual or heterosexual, is a sin, citing the Bible. And the group will continue to take a stand on public policy issues defending families and traditional marriage.
"But while we oppose those social agendas (redefining the family), we are committed to loving homosexuals and reaching out to them," Dobson highlighted.
Meanwhile, as Dallas pointed out, the Jonah syndrome still shows itself today – even as churches adopt a more compassionate voice. It is especially evident in political debates.
"To hear some of us (Christians) talk, you think it's more important to politically defeat lesbians and gays than it is to see them won into the Kingdom of God," he said.
Calling Christians to repent of such "skewed" priorities, Dallas said, "There are more important things than temporal victories. The eternal souls of the people we oppose are certainly more important than any sociological victories that we can attain."
As Christians become better equipped with how to respond to homosexuality, Dallas called for more than rhetoric especially when aiming to dispel the church's negative image on the issue from the past.
"We need more Christians involved in AIDS ministry; we need more Christians in forms of practical services to gay people; we need more Christians equipped to dialogue with gay people," he urged. "[And] we need more Christians responding to them respectfully without compromising but showing that we value them as people not just as objects to be converted."
The next Love Won Out conference is scheduled for April 12 at Abundant Life Fellowship in San Jose, Calif.