Jerry Falwell has made a surprising about-face in his war of words with homosexuals. The Moral Majority founder previously has called gays "Sodomites" and said there can be "no peaceful coexistence" between homosexuals and Christians. Falwell's National Liberty Journal has argued that Tinky Winky, the purple character from the children's television program Teletubbies, serves as a gay icon. In the wake of recent violence against homosexuals, Falwell is offering a truce and pledging to tone down his criticisms.

In an unprecedented event, Falwell hosted 200 evangelical leaders and 200 homosexuals at his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, October 23. The idea for the reconciliation gathering came from Mel White, a minister who ghostwrote Falwell's autobiography years before declaring himself homosexual. White now heads Soulforce, an interdenominational homosexual rights group.

Citing the recent shootings of Christians at Columbine High School and Wedgwood Baptist Church, and the murder of gay student Matthew Shepard, Falwell agreed that hateful words can be a precursor to violent actions. Both White and Falwell publicly agreed to work toward reducing animosity between Christians and homosexuals.

Falwell did not budge on his belief that homosexuality is a sin. This remains a point of disagreement with White, who said, "Calling someone [a] sinner over and over and over again approaches hate speech very quickly."

The meeting also revealed emerging fault lines between conservatives. Falwell scrapped plans to serve food at the late-afternoon meeting amid concerns from the Family Research Council (frc) and others that the Bible prohibits eating with sinners (1 Cor. 5:11). The frc also issued a statement before the meeting expressing its concerns that observers may place Falwell's orthodox Christian views on homosexuality on a "moral par" with the "unbiblical distortions" of White. About two dozen antihomosexual protesters marched in front of the church Sunday morning.

Falwell told attendees that he is motivated by Christ's example of loving his neighbors. In an editorial following the meeting, the New York Times called Falwell's pledge to curb hate speech "a measure of how far the gay rights movement has progressed toward cultural acceptance"—but the article also labeled Falwell's views as "bigotry."

Despite the controversy, participants were generally pleased with the event's progress toward removing stereotypes, and more meetings may follow. "What we have here is a great moment for our country—gays and Falwell worshiping together," White says. "It's a small start, but it's a start."

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