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reverend jerry falwell

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The founder and leader of The Thomas Road Baptist Church, an $80-million-a-year ministry that is one of the most influential in the nation, Reverend Jerry Falwell has long spoken against "the homosexual lifestyle." In October of 1999, however, Falwell hosted a meeting of 200 gays and lesbians and 200 members of his own congregation. The meeting came at the invitation of Mel White, a writer who helped compose Falwell's autobiography who later revealed to Falwell that he was gay. In this interview conducted in 2000, Falwell discusses his relationship with Mel White, his views on homosexuality and the Bible, and his feelings about the recent rise in anti-gay violence.

Topics discussed in this interview:

· The meeting with Mel White and Soulforce

· Homosexuality as a choice

· Homosexuals, bank robbers, and drug addicts

· The Bible's "clear condemnation" of homosexuals

· Gay marriage

· Is heterosexuality a choice also?

· "If my son told me he was gay"

· Billy Jack Gaither's murder

· Gay Liberation and Civil Rights

Let's talk about the meeting you had with Mel White, his people and your supporters. Are you happy you had that meeting?

Mel and I have been friends for about 15 years. He wrote for me, Dr. Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, and others, before he came out of the closet. After he came out in 1991, I maintained a relationship with him. In fact, I asked him to do some work for me after that, which he did not do, because he was taking over the leadership of what I call the grassroots gay and lesbian membership. The gay and lesbian community has its very passive, in-the-closet, quiet people on one extreme. On the other, there's the wild, wooly Queer Nation, Act Up, burn-it-down, shoot-everything-in-sight crowd. And then the normal crowd, like all the rest of us, who live, do their own thing; they don't want you bothering them, and they don't want to bother you. Mel heads up that group. He's a very sensible, intelligent person. We don't agree on a lot of things, but we're good friends.

How did this meeting come about?

Three years ago, he came here and spent the day with me, to try one more time to convince me that the Bible approves the behavior. At the end of the day, he had failed, and we made an agreement: "I believe that homosexuality is sin, but I like you. We can be friends if we can stipulate that." And we have been friends.

Earlier this year he came and said, "Can we discuss violence on both sides?" This was after the Matthew Shepard event in the prior year, Billy Jack Gaither, Columbine, when some Christians were targeted, and the Wedgewood Baptist Church shooting in Ft. Worth. We agreed that we could talk, if they are willing to stipulate that we believe, as evangelicals, that the lifestyle is sinful--we'll leave that out of the discussion. The discussion will be about how to lower the rhetoric, bring down the shrill voices, and hopefully assuage some of the violence. Our staffs and Mel met together for a couple of months, worked out all the details, and we had a weekend here in October . . . At the end of the weekend, we both agreed that we made a good first step. We both got some things we did want and didn't get some things we wanted.

What did you learn from that weekend? And what did you want that you didn't get?

We really wanted more acknowledgment from Mel and the 200 Soulforce delegates about the violence that is directed towards Christians by gays and lesbians. I'm speaking of the St. Patrick Cathedral trashing. I'm speaking of the situation in Arkansas, where a 13-year-old boy was raped repeatedly by two gay men and eventually suffocated to death, which made very little media. That type of thing.

We wanted also a little more respect from them towards former gays, ex-gays, who have come out of the lifestyle and who are saying publicly, "Just as we chose into the lifestyle, we can choose out." Even Mel's group, even the more moderate gays and lesbians, have a very hostile attitude towards former gays, who are trying to reach out to people in the lifestyle. They look on them as hatemongers, when they're just the opposite. We didn't get that acknowledgment.

I don't believe anyone begins a homosexual.  They begin the way God made them: male, female ...  If they choose to be bisexual, homosexual, they have the ability to do it. I brought Michael Johnston in, who spoke during the conference and in the press conference. He's an ex-gay and a committed Christian, who's dying of AIDS. Soulforce came to Thomas Road Baptist Church . . . and attended two of our five services. Michael spoke in one of them, and I spoke in the other. They were very infuriated by even the presence of Michael Johnston, and that is antithetical to what they're trying to say and do. They want the general public to show love and acceptance--properly so--towards gay and lesbians in housing accommodations, jobs, work, etc. In order to get that, they've also got to make room for persons like Michael Johnson and thousands of them who have come out of the gay lifestyle. They probably would say that our bringing that into the equation was something they didn't want.

They didn't want you to bring in ex-gays?

The complaints I have heard from Mel and others generally come down them feeling like it was a low blow to have ex-gays invited to the weekend. My feeling was, if we're really going to have open discussion, let's bring in anybody who wants to come. . . . All the extremists, such as Fred Phelps, were there. And they behaved themselves. They didn't hurt each other or anybody. As evangelicals, it was difficult not to allow the rightness or wrongness of the lifestyle. But you give a little--allow ex-gays to be there, who can tell you that you don't have to be what you are--as you chose in, you can choose out. There's a difference of opinion on that, but no more so than we have in our camp. They are asking a little too much and giving too little.

But can't you see why they would feel that way about your bringing in ex-gays? Does it not go to the very heart of what gay people say--that this is the way they are born, just as you and I are born heterosexual?

Some gays say that they are born gay. But many, many realize they chose it, and many, many have come out. . . . We've had seven who attended with Soulforce who have begun corresponding with us, and saying for the first time, "We realize that we don't have to stay in this lifestyle. May we get some spiritual help from you?" We are working with them. They are doing it very quietly. They don't want even their own people to know they've done this.

Obviously, you believe that homosexuality is a choice.

Oh yes--all behaviors.

Do you believe that it's a choice for everyone? Do you believe there may be some people for whom it's not a choice, that it's their sexual orientation?

No, I don't believe that. I believe that all of us are born heterosexual, physically created with a plumbing that's heterosexual, and created with the instincts and desires that are basically, fundamentally, heterosexual. But I believe that we have the ability to experiment in every direction. Experimentation can lead to habitual practice, and then to a lifestyle. But I don't believe anyone begins a homosexual. They begin the way God made them: male, female, with all the dispositions that are built in. If they choose to be bisexual or transgendered or homosexual, they're human beings, and they have the ability to do it. But as a Christian, biblically, scripture makes very clear that it's an immoral position. Even Romans I says that at some point, when they finally are just so committed to doing that. The quote from the King James is, "God gives them over to a reprobate mind," or a malformed mind.

But even in that very quote, in that letter, Paul says later that there is nothing that is unclean.

Up until the New Testament era, there were certain dietary regulations

. . . due to health, and so forth. But after the coming of Christ, one may eat anything, as long as he gives thanks for it, because no particular animal is unclean. That has nothing to do with morality, or character, or integrity. The rules of morality and character are embedded in both the Old and New Testament.

Mel White tried to convince you that the Bible actually approves of homosexuality. What did he say? What arguments did he muster?

He was an evangelical minister prior to his coming out of the closet. He taught Bible and theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Southern California. He wrote for Dr. Billy Graham. He was married to Leila, with children and grandchildren, when he decided to abandon them his marriage, and his life, and move in with his male lover, Gary Nixon. In my mind, his argument would say, "I wrestled all those years. I never enjoyed my sexual activity." That is so totally irrelevant. He had a commitment there. He said to his wife, "Until death do us part." They brought children to the world. His parents, likewise, were, in their minds, defrauded.

But is it irrelevant to the question of whether homosexuality is a choice? If he did all of that, and had electroshock therapy treatments and all kinds of psychological therapy, and he still felt that that's who he was--

I don't think he needed any of those treatments. All he needed to do is keep his commitments. The horrible thing that Mel has done, and I've said so to his face, is that when a man leaves his wife and children for another woman, he has done a terrible thing. He has crushed lives and left behind wreckage that he can never correct. God can forgive him, of course. . . . But when you leave and go off into the homosexual lifestyle, you have said, "My sexual gratification is more important than those children, that woman, those grandchildren. As long as I feel good and I have my sexual gratification, so be it." That is so selfish. It is so wrong. There are people who never marry, who live their whole lives chaste and pure. Our Lord Jesus was never married. Paul was never married, or the apostle Paul. It is not a terrible thing for a man to have bad desires and bad drives. Temptation is not sin--yielding to temptation is sin. He didn't have to yield to that temptation.

You point out, rightly I believe, that he left behind a commitment. And that's terrible when anyone does that. But he gave up a marriage and grandchildren and his place within the conservative Christian movement in order to come out as gay. Doesn't that say something about this not being a choice?

No, it doesn't. He came out because he was caught and exposed. . . . Once it got out, then of course he came out. Many people come out just because they wish to do it, but that wasn't the case with Mel. I'm Mel's friend; I've clearly said so. But it's a terrible thing to leave behind the wreckage of a family, just so that I can sleep with somebody I want to sleep with. Big deal. You don't have to sleep with anybody. You can spend the rest of your life doing good things and helping people. . . . Millions of people, for whatever reason, never had the opportunity to marry, and they don't live immorally. The idea that you must be able to fulfill your sexual desires . . . is totally self-centered. . . . It just doesn't fit in the context of kindness and fairness and love and concern and commitment. Mel is wrong. He can't talk himself and thousands like him out of it. Life is supposed to be lived for God and for others. A little gratification, that's fine, too. But amazingly, when you put God and family first, you do get gratification.

Is there only one kind of family--heterosexual?

Without a question. . . . Marriage begins when a man and woman legally marry. No other diverse family form is mentioned in scripture and in western civilization. You'll find in every country, in every place, and in every major religion, the heterosexual husband-wife relationship is the exclusive family.

And in every country, in every civilization, and in every religion, you'll also find homosexuality.

No question about it. And you'll also find bank robbers, drug addicts, and alcoholics. Our church has a ministry for alcohol and drug-addicted men, and for 41 years, without charging a penny, we've taken in thousands of them. Half of them never used alcohol and drugs again. That's not perfect, but it at least indicates that they don't have to be alcoholics and drug addicts. We have a home for unwed mothers here, where girls 12 to 19 come, pregnant, unmarried. We have started and helped to minister 1200 other similar homes around the nation. You see the signs all over the nation, saying, "Pregnant? Need help? 1-800-54CHILD." When they call that number, they get Christian counsel. If they need a residence and someone to care for them, at no charge, we will refer them, bring them in, minister counsel to them. We hate the sin, but we love the sinner, and likewise with gay and lesbians. We counsel and minister to them. We do all we can to help. But we could never condone the lifestyle.

If you hate the sin and love the sinner, where's the love in that? I know you said counseling. But are you not telling that person that they're not as good as a heterosexual, that they're somehow a second-class citizen?

No. They're being told that God loves them as equally as everyone else, but that what they're doing is wrong. I just had a young man in this office yesterday who has a terrible drug problem . . . with cocaine. I didn't tell him, "Others are better than you," but, "What you're doing is wrong. It will destroy you. There is help, if you're willing to take some tough love, we can get you out of this." And the same thing with a homosexual. "God loves you just as much as he loves every heterosexual. What you're doing is wrong. It's going to destroy you. It's going to destroy other lives. And if you want out, we can help you through the gospel of Christ."

But there are millions of gays who are not destroyed. And many of them are in very settled and loving relationships.

There are many alcoholics who can control themselves, and who live reasonably successful lives. That doesn't make alcoholism right. There are many heterosexuals who live immorally. They commit adultery. . . . That doesn't make it right. It makes it very wrong. Today, as a pastor of 22,000 members, we have an epidemic here and around the nation in the middle schools of oral sex. That's something we didn't really deal with at the middle school level 30 years ago. But we're dealing with it this year, and next year it looks like it's going to be worse. They've learned it from the media advertising what the president did. . . . That doesn't make it right. We have to work and help to bring the kids out of it.

There are many homosexuals. There are many promiscuous heterosexuals who are living successfully, who pay their bills, who treat everybody correctly, but who are still wrong. Any time you live outside the marriage bond in a sexual way, you're violating the scriptures.

What makes you so sure?

One reason, of course, as a Christian, I believe the Bible is the word of God. I take the Bible as the standard. And the Bible's very clear in its condemnation of adultery--that a man or woman who violates his or her marriage bond violates the laws of God. Secondly, a homosexual. Any sex outside of the marriage bond between a man and a woman is violating God's law. So obviously the homosexual is immediately violating God's laws. It is not a sin to have latent desire or to be tempted immorally. The sin is when you yield to the temptation.

Why would God put that kind of temptation in front of so many people?

Temptation has been here ever since the Garden of Eden. When God placed Adam and Eve here, he put also Satan in the garden, and God put the tree of life in the center of the garden. . . . Adam immediately wanted the forbidden fruit. . . . and he was expelled from the presence of God, and sin entered the human race. Temptation and sin aren't new in the twenty-first century. Men have always had the opportunity to do right or wrong. We are creatures of free moral agency. . . . It is a choice we all have. Promiscuous heterosexuality had been here since man's been here. It's a matter of choice. As ministers of the gospel, we're supposed to urge the little children right up from beginnings through adolescence that you do have a choice, but if you'll choose God's way, you'll realize the maximum good out of life.

I'm sure you have met gay and lesbian people who are raising children, who are good citizens in every sense of the word, and who also have love in their lives, and more importantly, bring love to other people's lives. Where is the sin in that?

I know unmarried heterosexuals who are raising their children. While it's not ideal, I thank God for single-parent mothers. Regardless how that all happened, they have a child or children, and they are dedicating themselves to giving all they can to their children. I say, "Kudos, God bless you, and let the church help you." And we open the doors, and so on.

Do you say the same thing to gays and lesbians?

I say to gays and lesbians, regardless of how you get children. . . . while showing love is a good thing, and sharing what you are and have with other person is a good thing, the lifestyle you're living is so reprehensible and so wrong. . . . Quite likely, , because you're their role model . . . a higher percentage of your children will violate God's law and will themselves be gay and lesbian. Therefore, as a gay or a lesbian person practicing, you shouldn't bring unborn, defenseless, helpless children into that context, where they become victimized by it.

You base the belief that this is a violation of God's law on the Bible. Is it possible that you could be mistaken?

Only if God's mistaken. After 6,000 years of recorded scriptural data, those who follow the teachings of the Bible know it's the best known model in the world today. . . . I believe with all my heart that the Bible is the infallible word of God. I therefore believe that, whatever it says, is so.

It was written by men.

Men wrote as God dictated it through them. The biblical statement is "Holy men of old wrote as they were moved upon by the spirit of God." Forty men wrote and recorded scripture--they were the instruments--the Holy Spirit was the author, and every word of God is therefore pure. . . . All of the 40 writers, over the 1500 years of writing, were chosen as . . . different personalities. Each one writes with their personality coming right through. But the words came from God.

The words in the Bible that say that the world is flat--did that come from God?

There's not a verse in the Bible that says the world is flat. As a matter of fact, Isaiah 40:verse 22 . . . says that God created the earth on the circle of the heavens. And it's in a circle that God has created the earth. Nowhere does God say it's flat.

People disagree about the meaning of Paul's letters. They disagree about Sodom and Gomorrah. They talk very frankly about mistranslations from the Greek into King James. Do you listen to any of those arguments?

I've spent the last 48 years studying the Hebrew and the Greek and the English in all the translations . . . with the scholars. I don't believe that one word was lost. God himself preserved the Bible, and brought it down through the ages. If I were doing something that the Bible condemns, I have two choices. I can straighten up my act, or I can somehow distort and twist and change the meaning of the Bible. I can't allow both to stay in place. So, most people who don't want to change their misbehavior try to change the Bible.

You've talked a lot on this subject. What's changed in your view of homosexuality? Something's changed.

Nothing has changed behaviorally in the homosexual community. What has changed is that, somewhere back there, society--particularly the media and education--decided to normalize this, and to make homosexuality an acceptable, normal lifestyle with heterosexuality. So great minds and great technology have been put to bear to make what is wrong seem right. . . .

Why do you think that's happened?

Because the gay and lesbian agenda is normalization, and and bona fide minority status. In the next five or ten years, the homosexual community will have the same minority status as Hispanics and African Americans and women and so forth. There's a huge economic benefit thereto. All of the affirmative action privileges of bona fide minority status become incumbent. Add to that family benefits, governmental benefits and so on. . . Vermont is right on the edge now on same-sex marriage, and the Vermont Supreme Court may rule the other way. Once one state has legalized same-sex marriage, then a clause in the Constitution requires that all the states honor that. There will be huge litigation efforts on all sides, and they're happening right now. Unless the Supreme Court surprises me, maybe ten years from now there'll be a 5-4 vote at least, saying it's okay. When that happens, we have a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. We have a corrupt society where the family is trashed and where everybody loses.

How do you lose, how do I lose, if two gay men someplace get married, or two gay women get married?

First, because my taxes are used to support something that I believe, as a Christian, is very wrong. I object to that . . . the same way antiwar activists objected to their tax money paying for the war. The huge multi-religious constituency in America will be forced to subsidize and endorse what, in their hearts and in their faith, they believe is terribly, terribly wrong.

Beyond that, from purely the moral and spiritual perspective, children will grow up, believing that wrong is right. That's happening now in prime time, with gay-lesbian stars. And it's being put together in a way makes it appear okay. Then children role model, and the experimentation begins. I have 7 million families on our mailing list that we minister to, and I have through the years in America. With our counselors, with all the pastoral work we do, I can tell you that when you get past the husband-wife marital relationship, the physical downside is terrible, the health problems are terrible, but more importantly, the moral and spiritual fallout is very, very negative.

God created the family to provide the maximum love and support and morality and example that one can imagine. When you have a godly husband, a godly wife, children who respect their parents and who are loved by their parents, who provide for those children their physical and spiritual and material needs, lovingly, you have the idea unit. It's the nearest thing on earth to what God wishes to have in his relationship from heaven. When Christ died upon the cross, he was buried and he rose from the dead. The Son of God and God the Son did all that to develop a relationship between man and God. The relationship that God desires with man is that kind of an intimate relationship, where Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as the bride are married spiritually, and the followers of Christ as children of that relationship are rightly related. It is the ideal from God. Everything else is second- or third- or fourth-best. And all of it is bad.

Is God love?

God is love. And because God is love, he doesn't let me play in the middle of the interstate, so to speak. As a little child serving him and I do the wrong things, he smacks my hands--all of us. . . . God gives parents for the purpose of showing love to children, by teaching them right things, right principles, what to do, what not to do.

My father was an agnostic. But he didn't like the smell of tobacco smoke, and there was one vote at our house, so nobody smoked there. My mother was a committee Christian. She didn't allow alcohol. My father used it, but we children never used alcohol. I'm glad now, at age 66, that I never used alcohol or tobacco. . . . I've buried a lot of friends who used tobacco or alcohol.

That's what parents should do--keep their children following the rules. And sometimes it isn't pleasant. . . . The heavenly Father loves everyone, but because he loves you, when you do wrong, he'll give you a paddling.

But there's a hierarchy implicit in what you're saying. There's the heterosexual family unit, and then everything else is . . .


Wrong. Then when you say, "Love the sinner but not the sin," aren't you saying that person is "less than?"

Absolutely not. We work with and help crack and alcohol abusers. That's not saying "You're less than." But we're saying that, right now, you're about to reduce yourself to where you cannot be useful, and where you have no joy in life. . . .

And most gays would say that being gay has nothing to do with living on crack.

It depends on the gay you're talking to. I could bring to you literally thousands of ex-gays who would tell you that they were in a destructive lifestyle until they came to Christ and got out of it.

And they would still be a small minority of the gay population in this country, would they not?

They don't consider themselves a part of the gay population at all any more. They believe that they chose in and they chose out.

But the point is, there would still be millions of gays who say, "No, this is who I am. . ."

And they sit right where you do when I'm counseling them, and tell me, "I was born this way." My first question is, "How do you know that?" "Well, I am this way." "I know, but tell me when you had your first homosexual experience." And they'll tell of a particular time, a particular place, with a particular person. And I'll say, "Did you choose to do that? Or were you raped? Or . . ." In most cases, "I chose to do that."

"Suppose you had chosen not to do that, and years passed, and you'd gone through all the normal things that other kids do, and you got married, and you became a parent, and you never lived that way again. The fact is, the longer you experiment in any way--be it drug use, alcohol, whatever--the longer you stay in, the harder it is to get out. But the Lord will still help you out." Sometimes we lead gays and lesbians to Christ in their forties, or fifties, and it's a traumatic thing. We lead our drug addicts out, and it takes a while. But it's purely a matter of choice. Christ, through his death on the cross, can forgive them, and by his holy spirit deliver them and keep them delivered on a day-by-day basis, if they're willing to follow him.

Also sitting across this table, you could say that to a heterosexual person. So when did you have your first heterosexual experience? And did you choose it?

I could say that.

How is it different?

If they chose to have a heterosexual relationship before they were married, I would say, "You made a mistake there, didn't you?" I mean, if they're Christian now. "But God forgave you. You're married now. You've got a husband, or a wife. You've got children. That's all under the blood of Christ. Just stay in that pure relationship." But there is no reason to lead a heterosexual out of heterosexuality, because that is God's plan for humanity.

Do you know that because of Adam and Eve?

I know that because of the scriptures. I know that because of common sense. . . .

There is a physical difference between men and women. . . . That doesn't mean that they are less than those guys are. It just means they have a different role and God made them different.

I don't know a man anywhere who's ever had a baby, or who wants to have one. But my wife is a most wonderful mother. She gave birth to our three children. I don't think that means that she is superior to me. But it means that . . . God chose her for a different role, to nurture, to give birth, and so on. I would not be a good mother. The same is true in the sexual relationship. God gave us different physiological parts and being. . . . We are different kinds of persons in the sense of God's anatomical creation.

But some men are feminine, and some women are masculine. Do you think it's just that cut-and-dried?

. . . To practice sexually anything other than the heterosexual lifestyle for which God created and made us--and, practically, it just doesn't work any other way without duress and abnormality--is to go against God's plan. Very frankly, it has to be a choice. I truly cannot imagine men with men, women with women, doing what they were not physically created to do, without abnormal stress and misbehavior.

You can't imagine, and perhaps I can't imagine it, but millions of people do, and love it. Furthermore, there is more than one kind of sexual expression.

There's no question, millions do it and love it. Millions of heterosexuals are like our president. With Hillary going to New York now, he's going to have a heyday. That doesn't make it right. It makes it wrong, and it is wrong. Whether millions do something is irrelevant. If something is right, it is right. If it's wrong, it's wrong. And all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is wrong.

You touched on femininity in boys, and masculinity in girls. Is that what disturbs you about the Teletubby thing?

Not at all. I've never seen the Teletubbies. I never commented one word on Tinky Winky. Brill's Content has already come out lambasting the AP writer, David Reed, for creating that story.

That never happened?

Never happened. . . .

Your belief that homosexuality is a sin has not changed. But what has changed in your position about how Christians should behave about it?

I said during the anti-violence summit here with Mel White and Soulforce and our 200 delegates, "While the evangelical church has been very responsive in condemning the sin of drug addiction and alcoholism and simultaneously reaching out, we have condemned homosexuality without building the bridge. We've left the gay and lesbian community, whether by intent or by perception, thinking that you're not wanted here. We have 200 of you here today because we want to tell you that we do want you."

I hope that the 70 million evangelicals in America, who almost unanimously believe that the gay lifestyle is wrong, will also acknowledge that God loves every gay and lesbian as much as God loves anyone else. While you will not bring them into leadership or ordain them to be pastors, make sure they know that they're welcome in your church. . . . Love them and care for them, just as you would a heterosexual fellow who's running around on his wife. You don't tell him, "You can't come in the building." Welcome, because the idea is that our love and our message hopefully can help bring them out of it.

Do you welcome them on your terms or on their terms?

In a place of worship, you welcome everyone carte blanche, so basically the answer: is, on God's terms, and that is, "Whosoever will, let him come." God does the judging. God does all the speaking. All we do is open the doors.

A press person asked me 20 years ago what I would do if one of my sons came to me and said, "Dad, I'm gay." I said, "I would put my arms around him. I would let him know I love him just as much right now as I did before he said that. I'd say, "There's nothing you can do to cause me to banish you from my home or my love. But I want you to know I'm going to be praying for you. I'm going to be talking to you. I'm going to be doing everything I can to help you out of what you believe is your present lifestyle. But you'll never see any diminution of my love for you."

Do you mean that even if your son said, "I'm not going to be ex-gay; I'm gay?"

Almost every gay is going to say, "I am gay and I can't help it . . . and this is the way I want to live." That would be irrelevant to me. The fact is, "You're my son. Nothing can change that. And I'm going to love you, right or wrong. But I do want you to know that my efforts will be directed towards bringing you out of that." But meantime, business as usual.

By stating that so clearly, you're showing that it needed to somehow be said.

I get e-mails and letters every day--we get up to 30,000 letters a day here--from Christian families who think they've done God a service by kicking their son or daughter out of the house. I go right back to them, and: "Has your son killed somebody in your home, or injured your smaller child, or physically assaulted you?" "No." "Then on what grounds do you kick them . . . If it's a matter of self-preservation of your family, I could understand that." "Well, he's gay. She's gay." I point out to them that . . . if God kicked us out every time we displeased him, we'd all be in sad trouble.

Which brings us to the Billy Jack Gaither case. One of the killers has said openly that he feels that Billy Jack was gay, and he's in hell, and it was okay, quite frankly, because the Bible says so.

I watched the network show the other night in which he was interviewed. I'm not a psychologist or a psychiatrist. But looking into his eyes, I think he's crazy as a loon. I think he's capable of killing anybody, anywhere, any time, and coming up with some justification for it. I think he needs to be locked up the rest of his life, somewhere, for whatever reason. If he wants to claim insanity, then put him in a insane asylum for life. But just don't let him on the streets again, because looking into his eyes and listening to his words, there was not an ounce of warmth or compassion there. It sounded to me like, "You're wrong and I'm going to kill you, and I'm going on to lunch."

What did you feel when he said, "I'm going to go to heaven because God's forgiven me, but Billy Jack won't. He's going to hell."

As I said, I think the boy's deranged. He certainly does not represent Christianity or religion in general. There's no major religion that endorses that. But there are extremists in every movement, who think they're prophets of God, and that God ordained them to kill the enemy.

Billy Jack, who, by all accounts was an incredible human being--do you think he's gone to hell because he's gay?

I don't think you go to hell for being gay, or for being promiscuous heterosexually, or for stealing, or for committing adultery, or drug addiction. I think you go to hell for rejecting Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior. And no human being has the right to say that he had ever done that.

Do you think hell's a real place?

I think hell's a real place where real people spend a real eternity. I think heaven's a real place where real people spend a real eternity.

Do you think the gay liberation movement should be considered in the same category as the Civil Rights Movement?

I grew up in the segregated South, right here in Lynchburg, Virginia. When I grew up, black churches were black churches, and white churches were white churches. Schools were the same way. In businesses, blacks ate in a special place, and the whites ate out here, and rode the buses in front and back, and so forth. So as a child growing up in that segregated society, I was in high school before I began sorting it out for myself--what is all this? By the time I was in college, I began realizing that this is so terribly wrong. . . . When I baptized my first black family at Thomas Road Church, I think it was the first in the area for a predominantly white church. It was novel, and it brought on a lot of conversation. We lost a few people over it. Everybody's forgotten all that. And when you ask them, "Were you ever a segregationist?" "Oh, of course not." Thank God, that's all changed.

But I'm often asked, "Do you think that the gay and lesbian thing approximates the civil rights issue like segregation-integration issue?" And it really doesn't. I don't see behavior in any way equating to the way God created us. God made me a white male. And God made you as he made you. We're all made by God as we are. . . . We grant a lot of things to minorities that we determined we should grant, to give them a running start to catch up. I don't think that gays and lesbians should have that privilege any more than I think adulterers should. If you choose to be unfaithful to your wife, that's your business. It's not illegal. It's kind of stupid, but it's not illegal. . . . Gays and lesbians choose to be gay and lesbian, to behave immorally in that way--and get the same benefits that a bona fide minority does.

Gays and lesbians are discriminated against sometimes, are they not?

There's no question, that's true. . . . the same way that evangelicals are sometimes. I doubt I could get a job at Harvard . . . because I'm an outspoken evangelical, and they are liberal theologically, and I understand that. . . . We all discriminate in those ways. . . . As long as they don't turn me away because I'm white, or turn me away because I'm religious . . .

Would you equate not getting a job at Harvard with what happens to gay and lesbian students in schools in America these days--being called "faggot" all the time, being beaten?

Any kind of verbal or physical violence is wrong, and it should not be permitted. No one should do such things, but as Christians, we should not be involved in that kind of thing. As long as we have human beings . . . you're always going to have those kinds of guys who took Matt Shepard and killed him. You're always going to have the nuts and the fringe people on the extremes. But we should work very, very hard to that 95% of people in the middle who don't do that, and do our best to restrain those few people from doing it.

In attempting to get the 95% of the people in the middle not to discriminate, are there not things that gays and lesbians should be protected against in terms of discrimination? Things that are more difficult for them to suffer than it is for you not to get a job at Harvard?

Employment, housing--I have been an advocate that, as long as the person lives by the rules and doesn't damage the property and pays the rent, there should be no difference. . . . At a Christian school, we should have the right to decide that our faculty members and students live by certain moral standards. We are privately, not publicly, funded. . . . We have the right to demand that we have curfew, and we have a dress code. It's "yes, sir" or "no, sir." It's respecting everybody. We've never had anybody doing name-calling here at Liberty. You'd last one day. Once you're called in, you're told, "If you ever do that again, you're gone. If you do, you're out." That's the end of it. The public universities have a little more difficulty handling things like that--there's lawsuits, the ACLU and all the rest. It is a nightmare to run a public university.

Does homosexuality present a threat to American society as we know it?

I think it does, if it's normalized. We will see a breakdown of the family and family values if we decide to approve same-sex marriage, and if we decide to establish homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle with all the benefits that go with equating it with the heterosexual lifestyle. Everything that America is built on--basically the Judeo-Christian ethic--will be down the tubes.

Haven't we already seen a breakdown of the family?

We most certainly have, because in the last generation . . . we have lowered the moral bar. . . . It's pretty hard to ever get it back up again, because after certain things are tolerated, and no one pays a price for it, the next guy or gal can do as they please.

That's also happened on a much larger scale in the schools. We don't have discipline in our schools today. . . . There should have been a clear understanding . . . that you're going to respect everybody else. Once you allow things to happen, and guns come to school, and "Heil Hitler" and black trenchcoats, at some point, one day you wake up and you have a Columbine on your hands. You don't solve those problems after they happen. You see them in the making. . . . Those parents should be held accountable for the deaths in that school. . . . They were absolutely negligent and derelict. But with Hollywood and video games, everything is violence, violence, violence. Then we get upset when kids go do it. . .

Does Fred Phelps give the Christian right a bad name?

Fred Phelps does not give the religious right a bad name, because nobody claims kin to that guy. He's a certified nut. He's got papers to prove it--he doesn't, he should. Anybody who goes to a funeral of a little boy who's dead, and his parents are looking at a big placard Fred Phelps puts up saying "Matt is in hell," is either mean as the devil or a nutcase. Either way, he doesn't represent anybody credible.

You haven't changed your mind about homosexuality being a sin. But you had that meeting with Mel White, etc. I imagine there are lots of people who were not happy that you did that.

We did hear from a few, but it was a very small few, saying that this was compromise, leaving the impression that you're changing your position. But the contrary really has happened. I received a letter yesterday from a leading Methodist clergyman who said that they are considering doing on the national scale, with their . . . denomination, a model, a larger thing than we did here on the summit. They were asking for information. . . . That's what I had hoped would happen, because unless we open the doors and show love and get parents to stop putting them out on the street, we're never going to solve it. The thing is exacerbated by force against force. The lack of love in the church towards the gay and lesbian is undeniable. We'll take a drug addict in, we'll take in an alcoholic, we'll take in anybody. But if gays and lesbians attempt to come in the door, people slide over. They don't want to sit by them. They don't want anything to do with them. It's just the opposite approach the Lord would take. Hopefully, we can begin to change attitudes--not doctrinal beliefs--but attitudes.

What changed you?

The violence issue. I never saw a day coming when Christians and gays and lesbians and people who were different would be targeted for violence. . . . I never envisioned someone taking a teenage boy out and killing him . . . just because he was gay. I began to see that the level of hostility, on both sides, had reached a point where it is very volatile. And before you know it, we suddenly have 100 Columbines going in different settings for different reasons. Gunpower won't stop it. We've got to reach the hearts of people to stop it.

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