Former Religious Right Culture Warrior Mel White Comes Out

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

Partners and co-founders of Soulforce: Gary Nixon and the Rev. Mel White
(Photo courtesy of Soulforce)

IR: In Stranger at the Gate, you call right-wing Christians "the real Sodomites." Could you explain?

WHITE: The meaning of the destruction of Sodom is discussed in the Bible by five prophets and Jesus. None of them mentions sex. They all say this was a city that could have saved a lot of people's lives if its citizens would just open their doors at night and not keep people out in the cold and in the jungles. Instead, Sodomites closed their doors every night after six o'clock.

They were arrogant, and they did not offer safety or succor to people who needed it. That's why Sodom was destroyed.

So — who's locking gay people out? Who's keeping us out at night? Who's failing to offer us safety and succor? The church and this nation. They are the true Sodomites. They are doing what the city of Sodom was destroyed for doing.

God came — Jesus came — to say, "Love your enemy, feed your neighbor, house those in need." Jesus came to rescue outcasts. Fundamentalists are making outcasts. And they don't see the difference. So they're Sodomites.

Dobson and Falwell and these bishops and these priests — I'm struggling to save their souls. I believe they are victims of misinformation, and that they're victimizing people in turn.

We must stop them for their own sakes if for nobody else's. Because when you look back and you see the damage that you've done, and nobody told you that you were doing it — it's going to be sad.

IR: You've done all you can to reach your old friend, Falwell.

WHITE: I've tried. Gary and I have sat there almost every Sunday for two years, looking up at him from the fifth row in that church [Thomas Road Baptist, in Lynchburg, Va.]. We stand up and protest silently when he starts lying about gay people — we bow our heads and stand there as long as he's talking about it. And 5,000 people see him talking, and us standing.

That's the only way I know to bear witness to these people, because they're not interested in my material. They're not interested in my story.

IR: When you talk to straight Christians who are willing to listen, how do you explain the effect that anti-gay religious rhetoric has on gay people?

WHITE: I say this: Picture yourself in a world where your heterosexuality is called a choice. Where your heterosexuality, what you do in bed, is considered dirty and sinful. Where your relationships are dishonored and demeaned and caricatured by everyone. Picture a world where you are the scum of the earth in the eyes of civic, civil and religious authority.

And ask yourself: How would I feel about myself if I was seen as the enemy of God, and the enemy of the nation? How would I feel if I could lose my job in most states by simply putting my partner's picture on my desk, or if I couldn't adopt, couldn't serve in the military, couldn't lead most churches?

You would feel pretty rotten. You would feel like the scourge of the earth.

IR: In 1993, you wrote Pope John Paul II a letter, accusing him of "advocating an anti-gay policy that leads to the suffering and death of God's children in your care." Was there any response?

WHITE: No. There's no church leader interested in hearing our side of the story now. None. We went over [to Rome], though. We finally got arrested inside Vatican Square, kneeling on the place where a Sicilian gay man had burned himself to death [to protest the church's anti-gay pronouncements] beneath the pope's window.

They're walking a silly tightrope. Such a large percentage of their priests and popes and cardinals are gay, and always have been. And if John Paul II just said, "You know what? God made gays, and they should be who they are," the whole world would change. It would end a terrible, terrible confusion and allow gay people to be what God created them to be.

That's the whole thing: We have to get past the issue so that gay people can do what we were called to do. We have unique gifts to contribute to civilization, let alone to the church.

If we aren't free to give those gifts, if we're always on the defensive and always on the outside, the greatest tragedy is not that we aren't accepted. The greatest tragedy is that we're not allowed to exercise our gifts on behalf of humankind.