By Dr. Mel White
For the past few days, we've been buried under an avalanche of articles and press releases bashing Jerry Falwell for "outing Tinky Winky."
After rushing to condemn him in colorful and indignant sound bites, we learn that Mr. Falwell didn't "out" Tinky at all. J. M. Smith, Senior Editor of Jerry's National Liberty Journal, wrote the column that launched a million quips. Before our sur-prise attack, Jerry had never seen an episode of the Teletubbies, let alone de-nounced them.
If anyone outed this cute little character (who is purple, wears a triangular an-tenna on his head, and carries a purse) it was our own Washington Blade. Mr. Smith quoted an April 17, 1998, Blade article as the source of his column in Fal-well's newsletter. The Blade article suggests that Tinky provides " a great mes-sage to kids - not only that it's OK to be gay, but the importance of being well-accessorized." Mr. Smith was simply alerting parents to that claim.
Like the Blade author, I cheer every lesbian or gay character that "comes out" on television, even the fuzzy, uncertain kind. I'm hoping that any day now, lovable, all-purple Barney will turn to the camera and whisper to his vast children's audi-ence, "I'm gay." Our granddaughter Katie will call her two gay granddads with the good news. Like you, I find it absurd, hilarious, and even tragic that anyone would see Tinky Winky, Barney or Big Bird as a threat to the development of a young child's sexual orientation.
But what do we achieve by bashing those, like Jerry, who disagree?
We are called by Jewish and Christian prophets, "to love our enemy." Out-loving our enemy is the only way we can prove to Jerry that he is wrong about us, that we have chosen the high moral ground, that we are God's children, too. Bashing Jerry only hurts us. I know from experience. I spent three years bashing Falwell, Robertson, Dobson and the others. I got lots of attention, but I did very little to help our cause and nothing to change the minds and hearts of those who fear us.
Then I discovered the "soul force" principles of relentless nonviolence as taught by Gandhi and King. Both men make it clear. Our ultimate goal is NOT to triumph over Mr. Falwell, let alone to embarrass or silence him. Our long-range goal is to reconcile with Jerry, to create, in Dr. King's words, "the beloved community" where we can live as neighbors with Jerry and his family.
Dr. King would also remind us that Jerry Falwell is our brother, a child of the same Creator. Jerry is not evil, stupid nor insane. He is a member of our human family who is a victim of the same misinformation that once kept us in our closets. Our job is not to humiliate him but to bring him truth, in love, relentlessly until he, too, is set free.
Instead, we bashed him just like he bashes us. And in the process, we lost the battle. The man whose image and ideals we try regularly to laugh away, ended up the winner again, interviewed by practically every newspaper and television pro-gram in the country. Our bashing helped Jerry regain his old role as the most visible spokesman for the fundamentalist Christian right.
"Who would have ever predicted," Jerry said today, "that the little parental warning in the February issue of the Journal would open such a world of opportu-nity I'll gladly allow my name to be soiled by the secular press in order to have the occasion to share my relationship with Christ - any time!"
I know Jerry Falwell. Of course he is "slick, a "media maven," a "genius at using the anti-homosexual rhetoric to raise money and mobilize volunteers," but he is not a phony. Right or wrong the man is sincerely committed to defeating "the gay agenda" and to "saving homosexuals from their sickness and their sin."
Our ridicule, our clever sound bites, our anti-Jerry campaigns do NOT phase him, let alone persuade him of the justice in our cause. He enjoys every minute of the conflict. We will not stop his flood of anti-homosexual misinformation by bashing him. Our one day marches, rallies, and demonstrations won't do it either. In fact, what Frederick Clarkson calls "the politics of gesture" play directly into our adver-sary's hands giving them photos on the evening news and in the morning papers that (falsely) support Jerry's claims and his listener's fears.
And the flood of hate mail that Jerry has received in the last few days from our side only convinces him of the "danger we pose to the nation's values." Inundated with hateful, profane, and threatening e-mail, phone calls, and faxes, one of Jerry's staff said " gays can cuss out an individual in far more creative ways than I have ever seen."
When I was writing Jerry's autobiography (we all have pasts to be forgiven) he remembered those days when he was misusing Scripture to support segregation. "It wasn't Congress, the Courts, or the Attorney General that changed my mind," he recalled. "It was a black man who shined my shoes every Saturday. One day, he looked into my eyes and said quietly, 'When do you think I can join your church, Reverend?'" Jerry still remembers that day.
Without the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that black man might never have spoken those words (and Jerry might never have opened his church doors). We must continue to support our organizations that work for justice on our behalf with the President, the Congress, and the Courts. We must continue to sup-port our state and local activists who fight the grass roots battles against the anti-gay initiatives. But they have their hands full putting out the fires. Someone must take on the arsonists.
Without meaning anyone harm, Pastor Jerry has become one of the six or seven primary sources of misinformation about God's gay and lesbian children. He doesn't understand let alone believe that his false and inflammatory rhetoric leads (directly and indirectly) to discrimination, suffering, and death. I'm sure that Jerry would condemn those who killed Matthew Shepard or carved "fag" into Adam Colton's chest. We must help him understand that unintentionally his toxic, anti-homosexual rhetoric pollutes the national discourse and helps give license to those crimes.
I appeal to the 22,000 members of Jerry's Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg. At least 1,000 of you are gay or lesbian, or have gay or lesbian children. Come out. Share your story with your pastor. It may cost you, but it will also set you free.
I appeal to the gay and lesbian students among the 14,000 young people enrolled at Jerry's Liberty University. Can you imagine the difference you could make if your story moved Jerry even a little closer to the truth?
I appeal to the 26,000 Liberty graduates who have received your diploma from Jerry's hand. How long will you wait before telling him the truth as you know it? ACT-UP reminds us that "Silence equals death."
And I appeal to you. You may not know Jerry, but you could still write him in the nonviolent spirit of "soul force." He's on the net at Jerry@Falwell.com. Or you can send him a card or letter at Thomas Road Baptist Church, 701 Thomas Road, Lynchburg, VA 24502. Apologize for the hate he's experienced from our commu-nity. Share your own story with him. Answer one of his specific UNTRUTHS about homosexuality and homosexuals with TRUTH. Pray for Jerry. And if you've stopped praying, try to imagine Jerry as God sees him, a sincere man who is doing great wrong. Ask your Creator to help you love Jerry and see where that love leads.
In the 28 years of activism since Stonewall much good has been done, many vic-tories won, but we haven't yet changed the minds or hearts of Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, Kennedy or the others. No wonder. We haven't really tried. We've ridi-culed and reviled them never realizing that hating them is violence of the heart and bashing them is violence of the tongue and pen. Let's try the ways of nonviolence.
Our civil rights movement will not succeed unless our adversaries see us as men and women of integrity. Let's take the high moral ground. Let's stop bashing our enemies. Let's show them by our relentless, loving commitment to TRUTH that we are God's children, too. Let's start responding to them with "soul force."
And if they continue refusing to hear us, if they continue to ignore the evidence, then we'll have to go the next step. That next step requires, in Gandhi's words, "voluntary, redemptive suffering." Remember in India the 245-mile march to the sea to make salt and the marchers clubbed senseless at the salt works? Remember in Birmingham the black children facing fire hoses, clubs, and police dogs? What will it take from us of "voluntary, redemptive suffering" to change the minds and hearts of the nation? We are making plans to that end. Will you join us?