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Timothy Dalrymple is managing editor of the evangelical portal at Patheos.com.

Two conversations come to mind when I consider how pastors and churches should respond to the prospect that same-sex marriage may become legal nationwide this year.

A young man once told me that he never would have become a follower of Jesus Christ, and certainly would never have reached sobriety, if the church had required him to overcome his alcoholism before it welcomed him into the embrace of Christian community. In being loved by the church, he learned of the love of God and responded to the gospel. Then (and only then) was he empowered to overcome the desires that controlled him.

He used the analogy of white oak trees, which hold on to their leaves through the winter and shed the vestige of their former life only when spring arrives and new life flows through the branches. We know that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, yet we are too often unwilling to open up our lives to those who are caught in patterns of habitual sin.

Sometime later, a young woman whom I had not seen for several years came to visit. She entered nervously, and eventually told me she had "come out" as a lesbian. Our conversation continued in a friendly vein, and I asked how her spiritual life was faring. She began to weep. It was the first time, she said, that one of her Christian friends had treated her as though she, a practicing lesbian, could continue to have a relationship with God.

Her church in Tennessee had told her she was cut off from the church and cut off from God until she repented and "converted" to heterosexuality. It reminded me of the recovering alcoholic. In that case, the church confessed ...

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