The Original 17 Step Journey: Step 4

With the Rev. Dr. Mel White

Another Gay Man Is Murdered
"Until the day when he was beaten to death and burned, Billy Jack Gaither, 39, lived with his disabled parents in their white clapboard house, tending to their needs, cooking dinner and cleaning up, singing in the choir of his Baptist church.

"His parents swear they had no idea he was gay, but the small group of gays in Sylacauga, this central Alabama town of 13,000, knew Billy Jack Gaither as one of their own, sharing their fears of public knowledge…

"A friend who used to accompany him on the nearly 40-mile trip to the gay bars of Birmingham said Gaither would probably have escaped Sylacauga, like most gay people who grow up here, but was too devoted to his parents to contemplate leaving. He refused to hurt his deeply religious, Baptist parents by revealing his sexuality…" (1)

The soul-suffering of Billy Jack Gaither
When they found Billy’s charred body on the banks of a creek near Sylacauga, we were horrified and enraged. We stopped our busy lives again, this time to protest Billy’s death in strident editorials demanding "hate crime" legislation and in memorial rallies calling for an end to the false and inflammatory rhetoric. And we should go on protesting his death and demanding "hate crime" legislation.

But we are on this "journey into soulforce" because we want to do more than protest and demand. We want to help end the rhetoric that gives gay-bashers their license to kill and we are hoping that the teachings of Gandhi and King will help us find the way.

Now that another gay man has died, you may be tempted to rush to the end of this journey and march on Lynchburg, Virginia Beach and Colorado Springs. We want to do something, anything to help Falwell, Robertson, Dobson and the others to see how their anti-homosexual misinformation campaigns contribute directly and indirectly to the deaths of Matthew Shepard, Billy Jack Gaither and the others who have died.

I am convinced that Gandhi and King would understand our impatience. But I’m equally convinced that they would counsel us to take the whole journey before we act.

A third "soul force" belief about ourselves
Billy’s suffering began long before they beat him with an ax handle and tossed his body on a pile of blazing tires. If you are a lesbian, a gay man, a bisexual or a transgendered person, you know well how Billy suffered during those endless decades living in his lonely little closet in Sylacauga. If you are a parent, a family member, or a friend, you, too, will understand the suffering.

Billy grew up listening to the anti-homosexual rhetoric from Baptist pulpits, reading it in Baptist magazines and mailers, hearing it on Baptist radio and television programs from Baptist televangelists like Jerry Falwell.

Did the rhetoric confuse Billy Gaither? Is that why he lived for at least a quarter of a century in his lonely closet and eventually died there? Did Billy wonder if his homosexuality was a sickness and a sin? Did he live in fear of failing his parents and his God by "giving in"? When he "gave in" did he suffer guilt and more confusion? (Were the boys who killed him also victims of the rhetoric?)

What would Gandhi and King say to Billy Jack Gaither to help end his soul-suffering long before his tragic death? What would Gandhi and King say to us that would enable us to help end that kind of soul-suffering (in the lives of Matthew and Billy, in the lives of those we love, and in our own lives)?

In File #1 we reviewed the suffering of God’s gay children. With the murder of Billy Jack Gaither we are reminded that the suffering goes on.

In File #2 we heard Gandhi and King affirm one of the primary "soul force" beliefs about ourselves that will help us end that suffering. "We are body and spirit. Our body will die, but our soul will live forever."

In File #3 we heard them affirm a second primary "soul force" belief about ourselves.
"We are not a body or a soul accidentally.
Our bodies and our souls were created by the Soulforce at the center of the universe who loves us and promises to go on loving us forever."

How could these two simple beliefs help end the suffering of God’s outcast children?

God’s "Untouchable" children
Imagine the difference those two beliefs made in the lives of India’s "Untouchable" Caste. After centuries of being dehumanized and demeaned by the upper castes, Gandhi reminded the "Untouchables" that they were God’s children, too, created and loved by their Creator, who was with them in their struggle for justice. They weren’t sub-human, inferior, or punished by God for their sinfulness in this life or another.

Because of his commitment to these core "soul force" beliefs, Gandhi renamed the outcasts "Harijan" (Children of God). His protests and demands helped India end its injustice against the "Untouchables." (The current President of India is from the "Untouchable" caste). But Gandhi’s "soul force" belief that the "Untouchables" were eternal souls, loved by their Creator, helped free the hearts and minds of the "Untouchables" themselves long before the laws and customs changed.

God’s children of color
In sermon after sermon, Dr. King reminded the outcasts of his time, the black victims of slavery and segregation, that they too were God’s children, created and loved by God exactly as they were created, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights among them "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Today, racial minorities in American schools join Jesse Jackson in his Rainbow Coalition cheer, "I am somebody!" Jesse was there when Martin died. That cheer comes directly out of the "soul force" belief that people of color, too, are created and loved by their Creator.

God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children
Gandhi applied "soul force" to Indian outcasts. King applied "soul force" to African-American outcasts. Now we can apply these "soul force" beliefs to our own sexual outcasts. Why shouldn’t we?

Even though Gandhi and King (like Jesus and the Jewish Prophets) were silent about sexual orientation, Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, and Martin’s wife, Coretta Scott, have clearly extended the Soulforce heritage to God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children.

Therefore, in the spirit of "soul force", in the spirit of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus, in the spirit of Gandhi and King, we lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people claim our equal right to be called the children of God. Now, if we can really believe it ourselves – and help our sisters and brothers to believe it – we will have taken a major step in ending the soul-suffering that comes from NOT believing it.

A third "soul force" belief about ourselves
Building on the "soul force" foundations of Gandhi and King, and following their example of inclusion, here’s a third "soul force" principle to consider:

We are created as sexual beings. Whatever our sexual orientation, it is not a sickness to be healed nor a sin to be forgiven. Our sexuality is an integral part of our body and soul, a gift from our Creator to be lived with joy and integrity.

Question: What difference does it make in the life of a sexual minority to know for certain that she or he is a child of God, not an accident, not a deviation, not a mistake? What difference does it make in your life?

Question: What might have happened differently in the life of Billy Jack Gaither had he heard those words and accepted them as truth when he was a child?

Question: Why does soul-suffering diminish, even end when we are finally convinced that God has created us and loves us exactly as we were created?

STOP A MOMENT TO RESPOND IN WRITING (Then copy and discuss with Partner)

The Suffering Goes On
Friends of Soulforce in Richmond, Virginia, are concerned about another hate crime in their city. The severed head of Eddie Northington, 39, ("well known in Richmond’s gay bar scene") was found last week on a James River Park footbridge. His body was found hours later, about a mile downstream in the James River.

"If this is a hate crime, it is just one of many," says Shirley Lesser of Virginians for Justice. "We’ve had cases in Charlottesville; we’ve had women killed in the Shenandoah trails; We’ve had a serial killer in Tidewater…for us, this is, as much as I hate to say it, it’s not out of the norm of experiences (for gays and lesbians)."

Northington’s parents believe he was targeted because of his sexual orientation. "Whoever did this is apparently a very sick person. No one deserves to die in that fashion, not even in war," said Harold Northington, the victim’s father. (2)

Wisely, Virginians for Justice are waiting to see what the investigation reveals before counting this new horror as a hate crime against us. Whoever did it, we ARE at war and the worst battlefield is the battlefield in our own hearts and minds. Once we’ve won that battle, once we’ve accepted our sexual orientation as a gift from God, we’re well on our way to winning the war.

Love to you all,
(1) See New York Times 3/5/99
(2) See

Please be sure to see the video of Richard Attenborough’s Film "GANDHI" An RCA-Columbia Pictures Release, Winner 9 Academy Awards, 2 video tapes, 187 Minutes.

Once you’ve viewed Gandhi (with "ROMERO" as a kind of bonus video) then find the following videos in your public or rental library or your PBS store on line. Start looking at them, one at a time. These will really help you understand the rules of "soul force" in action.

PBS’ Home Video Series:
"EYES ON THE PRIZE- America’s Civil Rights Years"
Part 1: Awakenings (1954-1956),
Part 2: Fighting Back (1957-1962),
Part 3: Ain’t Scared of Your Jails (1960-1961),
Part 4: No Easy Walk (1961-1963),
Part 5: Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964),
Part 6: Bridge to Freedom (1965)

NEXT: Step 5

Mel White and Gary Nixon, Partners in Soulforce, Inc.
P.O. Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA. 92652.
Fax: (949) 455-0959