The Rev. Dr. Mel White… wow. I am proud to call him my friend. He is also my teacher — and one heckuva cool guy.
From “My Dinner with Jerry“:
White grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household in California. Early on, he realized there was something “different” about him. But as he attended Christian schools, earned his doctorate, and taught at a seminary, he was instructed that what made him different–his homosexuality–was not only sin, but the worst kind of sin.
White fought back as best he could. He married and became a father. And he punished himself brutally.
“I went through 25 years of shock therapy and aversive training and psychotherapy and exorcism–I did everything in my power to live up to what I thought was true: that you can be reoriented sexually,” he says. “I was hating myself, and I was terrified, because I thought I was a sinner. My church and my family told me, directly and indirectly, that being homosexual is the worst thing you could be. There were many times I contemplated suicide, and by the time I finally did try to commit suicide, when I had a wife and family and thought, This is going to destroy everything, none of the people could come to me and say, “You can be gay and Christian.’ So I was surrounded by that kind of lie.”
The situation intensified in the 1980s, when the closeted young clergyman found himself walking the most powerful corridors of evangelical Christianity. White had found his niche in media–writing and television production–and secured jobs (through a publisher) writing for Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Billy Graham, and Falwell. He ghostwrote Robertson’s and Falwell’s autobiographies. Falwell once called White the best writer he knew.
White was making an excellent living as Boswell to the nation’s best-known evangelists. He was also in love with a man. (In the mid-80s, after White’s suicide attempt, he and his wife, Lyla, came to a conclusion: White was indeed gay, and needed to live his life honestly. They divorced; not long afterward White began his relationship with Gary Nixon.) He knew something had to give. With the Cold War in twilight, his bosses’ focus was shifting from the threat of Communism to homosexuals and homosexuality, and the duplicity became too much for White to handle. In 1991, he stopped writing for Falwell and Co. and in 1993, he became dean of Dallas’ Cathedral of Hope, the world’s largest gay and lesbian church and a member of MCC, a worldwide pro-gay denomination. He made his sexuality public in a sermon on National Coming Out Day in 1993.
In 1994, White published his autobiography, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America. Since then, he has used his roots in evangelism and media to spread the word that it’s OK–indeed, a blessing from God, he insists–to be gay and Christian. He took on the unsalaried position of MCC justice minister, which allowed him to crisscross the nation, telling his story to church groups and anyone who would listen. He realized change would have to start with the institution chiefly responsible for much of the anti-gay rhetoric that he maintains destroys the lives of countless people.
“They’re causing death,” White says, “and Jesus warned his disciples that if you hurt the little ones, it’s better that a millstone be placed around your neck and you be dumped into the sea. He said to the disciples, “Don’t hurt the little ones!’ And I’m saying to Pat Robertson and to Jerry Falwell and the rest of them, “You are hurting the little ones! It’s your misuse of the Bible that’s causing the death of my brothers and sisters who are young. . . . They must stop it, because blood is on their hands.”
I told you: cool. Follow him on Twitter, where he’s described as “husband, father, grandfather” – @melwhite. More on Mel in 30. In the meantime, sponsor us in Blogathon 2009 to benefit Mel White’s Soulforce.