By Wendy Wright
“There is nothing in the Bible about homosexuality as we understand it,” said Jay Bakker at a panel denouncing therapy to help homosexuals change. In an event meant to influence UN delegates – though virtually all attending were from homosexual groups – the son of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker accused Christians who don’t affirm homosexuality of being a dying breed, beholden to money and power.
“I do believe that heterosexism is probably going to be the death blow to the American Evangelical church,” he charged. The “Evangelical church here in America is no longer respected among most people for their work against LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning], so they’re having to find other places where they have power and influence, or where their financial stream comes from,” like Uganda.
“Some of these folks get used to a certain lifestyle,” which is “an addictive thing. A lot of the leaders in Christianity are looking to be validated . . . by everyone, not just by people in their own realm.”
Bakker, the tattooed-covered pastor of Revolution Church in Brooklyn, was the last speaker on a panel on “Selling Sexual Orientation Change Therapy: International Health and Policy Consequences of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE).” The UN office of the Unitarian Universalist Association hosted the event in New York City at the end of January to push the idea that reparative therapy, or counseling to help people overcome homosexual behavior, is a violation of human rights.
Bakker was the clean-up speaker following an activist psychologist, UN staffer, Southern Poverty Law Center attorney and his client – a former patient of reparative therapy, and a scientist. Each presupposed that efforts to change homosexual orientation are harmful, discriminatory, hateful acts of religious pressure to conform, and should be banned. People who struggle with homosexuality must learn to affirm their sexual desires. People with traditional and religious beliefs must conform to a new human rights regime.
Bakker began with his own story. A pastor for almost 20 years, he came out as an ally for homosexual rights about 7 years ago. Within 24 hours he lost every speaking engagement for the next year, and a month later laid off his staff.
As he searched “to prove to myself literally that it was OK to be gay in the Bible,” he realized “that the word homosexuality didn’t even exist until 1879, but somehow it’s in a 2,000-year old book. And when you start to read things within its context, and within its history, you start to realize that there’s nothing in the Bible about homosexuality as we understand it.”
Things have progressed in the past 7 years, to now, “we weren’t going to allow a pastor to pray for the President because he had said something that was anti-gay.”
“I believe that if you want to be a literalist, affirming Christian who affirms LGBTQ folks, you definitely can do that,” he told the crowd. “I don’t believe 100% of the Bible, I’m not a literalist. But I do believe in LGBT rights, and I do perform LGBT weddings.”
Dr. Rebecca Jordan-Young, who spoke before Bakker, warned the panelists against arguing that homosexuality is biological. She studied that theory for 10 years, and the science does not back it up.
However, she is “deeply in agreement with the premise” that efforts to change sexual orientation are a violation of human rights. The problem is a “larger context of power relations, social structures that systematically devalue and separate gay and lesbian people from resources in the community.”
Yet, people experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction should be barred from therapy that can help them change. “What if we did know what changed sexual orientation? Does that mean we should use it?” she asked. “Obviously, no.”
Bakker recounted his attempts to confront Evangelical pastors. He blames their failure to endorse homosexuality on a fear of losing money, power and acceptance.
Joel Osteen “was someone who probably really wanted to be an ally, but was surrounded by people who said you can’t be an ally. The amount of pressure that these men – these leaders are seeing is they’ll have to give up everything else they do, every person they help will suffer if they stand up for this group.”
A year after meeting with Bill Hybels, Willow Creek “ended their relationship with Exodus and other ex-gay ministries. I can’t take credit for it, but I would like to say Exodus gave us credit for it.”
“I also got to meet with people such as Rick Warren,” Bakker said. “I actually went to their church, we had a meeting set up, and at the last minute they cancelled.”
Bakker’s traumatic childhood, marred by his flamboyant parents’ sex and financial scandals, led to struggles with substance abuse and distrust of other ministries. Now the 37-year old views himself as an elder to these pastors he labeled greedy cowards.
They should be seen as “people who truly are trying to care but are insecure and don’t really know where they belong in this world anymore,” he said. “It’s my job to reach out to them and tell them this is the civil rights issue of today. And you’ll see them argue, ‘what about sex trafficking?’ It’s not like I decided that this is the civil rights issue of today. But in the United States this is our civil rights issue of today.”
In 2012, Bakker demonstrated against North Carolina’s marriage amendment. It passed handily, with a 20-point margin.
“You don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design for marriage based on the demands of a group of adults,” Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman of the marriage campaign, told the New York Times.
Wendy Wright is Vice President, C-FAM.