‘Ed Dobson loved homosexuals’

Here’s the Religion News Service report, by Adelle Banks: “Ed Dobson, retired pastor and onetime Moral Majority leader, dies at 65.”

Ed Dobson, a onetime architect of the religious right who later spent a year “living like Jesus,” died Saturday (Dec. 26).

Dobson, the retired pastor of the prominent Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., suffered for more than 15 years from Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He was 65.

… Dobson served as one of the lieutenants of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s and early 1980s, helping Ronald Reagan defeat President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election.

A graduate of Bob Jones University and the University of Virginia, Dobson worked at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., for 15 years and had served as an aide to Jerry Falwell.

But here’s something else you should know about Ed Dobson that I haven’t seen discussed in the obituaries: Dobson was also one of the first white evangelical pastors to respond admirably to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. That response reflects something Dobson said about his book, The Year of Living Like Jesus: “The way of Jesus is very hard. … If you take his teaching seriously, it will mess you up.”

Ed Dobson
Ed Dobson

As the AIDS crisis arose, and even while his former mentors, people like Jerry Falwell, were gleefully pronouncing it to be God’s righteous judgment on homosexuals, Ed Dobson believed that he and his church needed to do … something. But he didn’t know what, or how. So he went to the only people he could find who were doing anything meaningful at that point. He went to ACT UP.

Yes, that ACT UP — the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power famous for confrontational demonstrations and radical action. They were initially wary, but once they were convinced Dobson was sincere, they suggested ways that he and his church — his politically conservative, fundamentalist church — could help people suffering from AIDS.

Dobson took those suggestions to his white evangelical mega-church congregation, where they didn’t go over well with everyone. The tipping point in winning over the congregation came, the story goes, when one member objected that helping AIDS victims would harm the reputation of the church and its pastor. “People are going to say Ed Dobson loves homosexuals,” he said.

And the pastor replied that he hoped they would. “If I die and someone stands up at my funeral and says nothing but, ‘Ed Dobson loved homosexuals,’ I would feel proud.”

Those won’t be the only words spoken at Dobson’s funeral, but they’re part of the legacy of his long ministry and his strange and complicated story.

 

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