Former Religious Right Culture Warrior Mel White Comes Out

Mel White was a culture warrior on the religious right — until he came out

From the 1960s through the early 1990s, the Rev. Mel White played a behind-the-scenes role in the resurgence of evangelical Christianity. While pastoring several West Coast churches and working with national crusades like Youth for Christ, White produced films and ghostwrote books for a "who's who" of evangelical leaders, including the Revs. Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy and Pat Robertson.

Unknown to his friends and colleagues, White was also a closeted gay man who was nearly driven to suicide after two decades of struggling to save his marriage — and, he believed, his soul — with "reparative therapies" including electric shock and exorcism.

In 1993, White came out publicly and wrote a memoir, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America. Ignored or rejected by all his famous colleagues — Robertson advised more therapy and "healing" — he began a campaign of nonviolent resistance against "spiritual violence," leading protests of anti-gay intolerance at events like the Southern Baptist Convention.

In 1998, White founded Soulforce, an organization inspired by the civil-disobedience tactics of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. He has been arrested during several protests, and may face jail time again this spring, when Soulforce holds three days of vigils and protests at Focus on the Family's headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Intelligence Report interviewed White this January in Washington, D.C.

INTELLIGENCE REPORT: You've compared the anti-gay movement to the Nazi movement against Jews in Germany. Is that really a fair comparison?

MEL WHITE: I'm convinced that if you walk through the Holocaust Museum here in D.C. and substitute the word "gay" for the word "Jew" during those early years of the Nazi regime, you will be convinced that what [Hitler's chief propagandist] Goebbels did is exactly what Jerry Falwell and [Focus on the Family's] James Dobson and Pat Robertson and Pope John Paul II are doing now.

They are demonizing us. They are creating a case for why we're the problem, and why the nation has gone foul. They are describing us as disease-carriers, child-snatchers, money-grubbers.

All that demonizing creates a deadly environment. The killing here has been isolated and scattered so far, but it certainly has begun.

IR: And you hold religious leaders primarily responsible?

WHITE: It is the Christian Right movement that has become the number one enemy of God's gay children. Their churches are the primary sources of misinformation about gay and lesbian people that leads to suffering and death.

No longer am I afraid of Skinheads and neo-Nazis and white supremacists, by comparison to a church that's committed to the destruction of the civil rights and human rights and families of my sisters and brothers.

Skinheads and Klansmen I can recognize for the enemies that they are. But anti-gay Christians come in the disguise of love, and that disguise is a powerful weapon in itself. They demonize, but they don't see themselves as responsible for the violence their demonizing causes.

I try to bring up examples like that terrible killing of a gay couple in California by the Williams brothers [Matthew and Tyler, in 1999]. When one of them was asked by his mother, "Why'd you do it?" he said, basically, "The Bible says the world would be better off without them."

There are so many of these stories. What kind of smoking gun is more smoking than that?

IR: You've talked personally with both Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson about gay issues. How did they respond when you charged them with responsibility for fomenting anti-gay violence?

WHITE: "You lie! You have no proof that anything happens because of what we say. We love gay people." Dobson is saying that a lot now, because everybody is recognizing how hateful he is.

"We love gay people," he'll say. "But they're ruining the nation, and they're seducing your children, and they're bringing disease to your community. Of course, we love them — although they shouldn't have gay marriage, and they shouldn't be able to adopt because you know what they do to children. But we really love gay people!"

IR: You don't believe the religious right truly "loves the sinner but hates the sin"?

WHITE: To say, "I love you, but I have reservations" is to say, "I don't love you." To say, "I love you as you are" — that's love. There is no "but" or "if" in love. When are they going to get that?

You can't love the sinner and hate the sin, when the sin is what I am. I am a gay man, and I love my partner of 23 years, Gary Nixon.

Can you love me and not love my relationship with Gary? Give us a break! Quit using that. That is total false advertising. You don't love me at all unless you love me as I am.