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David Moore

Jay Bakker to speak at Exodus Conference in Asheville

Jay Bakker

Jay Bakker, the son of televangelists Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, is speaking at an anti-gay “conversion” conference in Asheville this month. I stumbled across that fact when I was doing some internet research for another related article on the organization.

Given his mother’s connections with the LGBT community and the fact he runs a ministry of his own in Atlanta that boasts gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals in his congregation, I was shocked. I’d seen him on CNN in years past talking about being inclusive of the LGBT community and I’d even spoken with him a time or two when he had a small office next to another publication I worked for in Atlanta.

He seemed like a nice guy. He fit in perfectly with the other 20-somethings that hung out with the punk-alternative crowd in the city’s Little Five Points District. He wore dark clothes, was heavily tattooed and sported a goatee with no moustache. He struck me as a progressive, forward-thinking individual who would never fall for the rhetoric ex-gay groups like Exodus spew out.

I had to find out for myself what was going on. On a recent Monday morning, I called the number I found on the internet for his ministry. I got a recording, so I left him a message explaining my past work with his mother, telling him that we had met before and that I was working on an article about Exodus. What was his involvement with the organization?

A week passed before I heard back from him. He called at 4 p.m. on a Friday deadline day.

“It’s Jay Bakker,” he said.

“It’s been so long I wasn’t expecting to hear back from you,” I replied.

“I almost didn’t call you,” he continued. “But I’ve been thinking about this all week.”

We both paused for a moment.

“Why are you speaking at the Exodus conference in Asheville?” I asked. “I’m sure you know the American Psychiatric Association says that sexual orientation therapy doesn’t work. That it’s damaging.”

“I know, I know,” he replied uncomfortably.

“I mean you don’t actually think a person can change their sexual orientation do you?”

“No. Not really. I don’t think that.”

“Well, why are doing it?”

Bakker let out a long sigh.

“I think what the church has done to the gay community is horrible and wrong,” he said with a start. “My family went through so much hurt and rejection from the church. I wanna’ go back and show them how hurtful they’ve been.

“There will be people there because they don’t think God wants them to be gay. And then there are others who think this is their last chance. I don’t want them to think this is their last chance. God’s going to love them no matter if they’re straight or gay.

“I would never tell anyone that they have to change their sexual orientation or they’re going to hell. I just want to tell them that God loves them. I know I serve a loving and compassionate God — but I don’t think the gay community has been shown that.”

After several minutes of explaining his reasons for taking part in the conference, Bakker seemed spent.

“You think they’re gonna’ let you get up there and say stuff like that?” I could hear the incredulous tone in my voice. “You know what the other people are going to be saying. They’re going to be telling them that if they’re not straight they’re going to hell. I mean Jerry Falwell’s even going to be there.”

“I know,” Bakker replied. “I thought that was odd given the history my family has with Jerry Falwell. My father trusted him with everything and he basically destroyed all of that. I even asked them why they were having both of us there — but they were insistent about my involvement.”

According to Bakker, speakers at the event are required to sign documents that indicate what can and can’t be spoken about. Bakker refused to sign anything.

“I told them I’m not gonna’ get up there and tell anybody they can’t be gay or straight. I told them that all I was going to do was talk about God’s love. So they bent the rules for me. They changed their contract for me to be there. That’s a good thing. I hope it means we’re moving towards a more compassionate church.”

I wanted to make sure he knew the possible consequences of responding to my questions before we went any further. “You do know that talking to me may have an impact on whether or not you appear at this conference, right?”

“Yeah, I do. But if that’s what happens, that’s what happens. I turned down other people that wanted to talk to me about this but I wanted to talk to you because I knew it would reach a gay audience. I don’t want anybody to think I’m anti-gay. I’m not. We have gay people and transgendered people in our church. We’re all fine with that.

“I’m in a difficult place because I don’t wanna’ alienate the gay and lesbian community and I don’t want to alienate the church community — because I think God has called on me to teach them how to be more tolerant.”

“So let’s say you do get the chance to speak and they don’t pull you off stage with a hook,” I ask. What are you gonna’ tell these people?”

“I want all people to know God loves them just the way they are. That’s my message and my mother’s. Hopefully I’m going in and telling people who feel hopeless and tell them this is not the last stop. I just wanna’ love poeple and I want to teach grace and compassion. The church needs that again.

“I want to help Christians stop hurting each other. I have many gay friends who are like family and I’m tired of seeing them hurt by the church. The church has been hostile for all of us. It has to stop.”

David Moore

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