Soulforce’s Mel White speaks

07 Nov

With the sad and hypocritical Haggard dominating comment on US evangelicalism, look at another story from The Advocate and PlanetOut.

Mel White, evangelical pastor and former ghostwriter to Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham, came to civil disobedience late in life — years after his long and tortuous coming-out. His group, Soulforce, fights the religious and political oppression of gay men and lesbians through “relentless nonviolent resistance” inspired by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

As he said on a recent visit to PlanetOut to promote his new book, Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right (Tarcher/Penguin; $25.95), he often despairs of getting more gays on the barricades.

“I don’t think we’re noticing any more than the Jews did,” he said, “until it’s too late.”…

Religion Gone Bad makes the case that no one has to choose. White, who has a doctorate in divinity, teases out the difference between evangelism (the love of God and the wish to spread His good news) and fundamentalism (among other things, the belief in an inerrant Bible, anti-gay Leviticus 20:13 and all).

He traces the current wave of fundamentalism in U.S. churches not much farther back than the mid-1970s, when Francis Schaeffer, a Midwesterner who exiled himself to the purer slopes of Switzerland, began inciting millions of U.S. Christians with his call to overthrow “the tyranny of secular humanism.” Whole denominations, like the Southern Baptist Convention, were taken over by fundamentalists seeking a “government of the righteous.” Falwell, Robertson et al., in amassing political power, put the fundies in scoring position.

Along the way, White writes, justice and mercy got lost.

His eyes brim over as he talks about young, conflicted religious people who have taken their lives…

White acknowledges that the numbers will be on the religious right’s side for some time, even if its White House earpieces are swept from power. Probably not by coincidence, he did a recent book signing in Minneapolis the same day Focus on the Family’s James Dobson was to speak at that city’s basketball arena. White was thrilled to have sold 100 books.

“Then I heard that Dobson had given free books of his that night to the first 8,000 people at the Target Center. That’s what I’m up against.”

So what can a person do — supposing that getting arrested seems extreme and voting Democratic not enough?

“You come out,” White said. “You go back to the church you left. You come back one Sunday and leave a note in the plate that says why you left, and sign your name. You show them who you are.

“If they know who you are, if they truly see you, if they have to look you in the eye as they walk by on their way inside, they cannot see you in the same destructive way. That’s coming out.

“You don’t even have to stay for the homily.”

Much of this may still seem alien in Australia; we are not yet “compatriots” of citizens in the USA either actually or even spiritually. Despite Kevin’s use of the term in his comment on the previous entry it’s still Queen Elizabeth II on our coins and John Howard parading around our Westminster-style Parliament; but Mel White may also be more relevant than some might think. Go to the Soulforce web site.

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6 responses to “Soulforce’s Mel White speaks

  1. Kevin

    November 8, 2006 at 7:03 am

    Bah. I’m going to have to say that again. BAH! America and Australia are brothers. Or sisters, whatever. You are as tied to us as we are to you (and thank God for it!). Who has fought alongside of Americans more often than any other country? Australia! Who has fought alongside of Australia than any other country? America!

    Face it, we’re buds. 300 million Americans are swayed by what 20 million Australians think. You are our best friends in the world, our most stalwart ally. Don’t belittle yourself by saying you take orders from America. Person for person, you dictate more than you acquiesce. But that’s fine, since we agree on so much.

    If you, our strongest ally, don’t support us, we quit. We are dying out there, trying to preserve freedom and give it to 50 million newbies. Are you ready to quit Australia? Say the word, and we’ll let fundamentalist Islam take over. It’s that tenuous. It’s that simple. And it’s up to you.

  2. ninglun

    November 8, 2006 at 8:41 am

    I am not anti-American, but I am very aware I am not American. That’s the normal position of most Australians, and being an old guy I can assure you it has been that way since World War II. My father and uncles, for example, who fought in World War II usually prefaced the word “Yanks” with the word “bloody”, and that was often based on experience in New Guinea and other theatres of that war. It was a real love-hate thing: gratitude for the help, revulsion at the arrogance and (very often) incompetence. I might also add that my older relatives were all on the conservative side of politics. That feeling is still alive and well. Many of us grit our teeth at the closeness between John Howard and George Bush, despite the opposite impression you might get in some quarters.

    Not to be picky, but you can’t have meant “tenuous”: “Having little substance or significance; having thin consistency.” And as for the rest of your last paragraph, I am far from convinced that the line Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld went down is the wisest way to answer the challenge of “fundamentalist Islam.” But that is a whole argument that you and I will never settle in fifty to one hundred word comments here; there are much more substantial websites and blogs than this one where that argument can be carried on.

  3. AV

    November 8, 2006 at 10:16 am

    Yes: and I was just about to query whether Kevin had responded to the wrong thread.

  4. ninglun

    November 8, 2006 at 10:34 am

    I think he was in the right place, responding to Much of this may still seem alien in Australia; we are not yet “compatriots” of citizens in the USA either actually or even spiritually. Despite Kevin’s use of the term in his comment on the previous entry it’s still Queen Elizabeth II on our coins and John Howard parading around our Westminster-style Parliament… If so, his passing over the rest of this post is probably to his credit.

  5. Gay Erasmus

    November 8, 2006 at 11:43 am

    I’ve met several American pastors who have joined Mel White on his Soulforce excursions around the US, and, while our situation in Australia differs to that in the US, I do think that something like Soulforce could really work wonders here, especially in regional areas, where Hillsong and other evangelical organizations are making serious inroads and running informal ex-gay meetings targeted at teens and adults alike. Soulforce provides a counter to the ex-gay assumptions of these churches while still offering individuals the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they ascribe to a faith. Soulforce says to people that they can still have their faith and be gay; that while their families and churches may in extreme cases have disowned them, they don’t have to disown their families and beliefs.

    The Haggard story is a sad one. I have friends who used to be in formation (viz. in training to become pastors) at Hillsong and CCC before they came out to members of the clergy. The lack of compassion shown to my friends — who were promptly shunned, evicted, and forgotten — reflects a theology fundamentally bereft of the most basic Christian principles.

  6. Kevin

    November 9, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    Oops, guess I did respond on the wrong thread! Tenuous also means ‘on shaky ground’. Or just ‘shaky’. That’s the connotation I was expressing. It no longer has any context though, since we didn’t wait for you to surrender before giving up. We surrendered first on Nov 7 😦


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