Yesterday my partner, Katy, and I were legally married by our friend Jay Bakker, the Pastor of Revolution NYC.
During the ceremony, Jay spoke of his late mother, Tammy Faye Messner, and how happy she would have been to see the day when gay and lesbian couples could legally wed in California. A remarkable straight advocate in his own right, Jay spoke of feeling Tammy Faye's presence and her blessing on our work toward justice for LGBT Americans.
The ceremony took place in Orange County of all places, an area renowned for its conservatism. On a day when some fundamentalist Christians were protesting the Orange County courthouse in God's name, it seemed fitting to remember Tammy Faye's more compassionate version of evangelical faith. In a 2000 interview with The Advocate, she said, "My walk with God is very non-judgmental. I love people just for who they are."
(Caption for before-jump picture: Jay Bakker officiated at the wedding of Paige Schilt and Katy Koonce. Waylon Schilt-Koonce, age 5, would henceforth like to be known as "The Amazing Ringboy.")
Jay read his mom's favorite scripture (Romans 8:18). He also read James 1:2: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds..."
Since he began speaking out as a gay-affirming pastor, Jay has faced his share of trials, including the loss of financial support for his church and the cancellation of many speaking engagements. And as one of the clergy leaders for the American Family Outing, Jay's deep and transforming empathy with LGBT people has lead him into even more challenging situations.
Over the past six weeks, The American Family Outing has met with staff and families at six of the most influential mega-churches in the United States. (Our little wedding party was in the OC for a meeting with the staff of Saddleback Church.) These encounters have been sometimes warm and surprising, sometimes tense and even heart-breaking. But one of the recurring threads of our conversations with many of the churches has been the idea that gay and lesbian people are "welcome" as long as they commit to celibacy.
Yesterday, as I looked at my (lawfully wedded) wife and thought of all of the joys and tribulations we've faced together--from the birth of our son to Katy's heart attack, from changing diapers to changing careers--my heart ached for all of the LGBT people in those congregations, who are told that they must not only abjure sexual expression (an amazing part of human experience), but also live without the intimacy, support, and companionship of a partner.
It's a narrow and dehumanizing kind of love that says, "You're welcome here if you can give up what the rest of us cherish and take for granted everyday."
Tammy Faye didn't believe in that version of God's love. And neither does her son. Jay says that being part of this historic moment is moving him to prep a new sermon on the Bible and LGBT justice.
Check him out on the Revolution NYC site.
Pastor Jay signs the paperwork to make it official.
Soulforce couples with their marriage licenses. From L-R: Soulforce founders Mel White and Gary Nixon; Paige Schilt and Katy Koonce; Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes and his partner Gary Stein.