Lynchburg News and Advance Article: "Pastor: Falwell’s Church is ‘Toxic’"

Soulforce Returns to Lynchburg Oct 25 – 27

Below is a story printed on the front page of the Lynchburg News & Advance, July 22, 2002 about Soulforce’s upcoming visit to Lynchburg, VA, the home of Liberty University and Rev. Jerry Falwell.

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Pastor: Falwell’s church is ‘toxic’
By Shannon Brennan / The News & Advance
July 22, 2002

Three years ago the Rev. Mel White came to Lynchburg to politely try to persuade the Rev. Jerry Falwell to tone down his anti-gay rhetoric. Falwell politely agreed to help combat violence against gays.

Now White is coming back, but this time the pair have their boxing gloves on.

White has declared Thomas Road Baptist Church a "Toxic Religion Zone," and Falwell has vowed not to give White a platform at his church.

"Jerry’s embarrassed by what he’s done since we were there," White said in a telephone interview Monday. "Instead of curtailing the rhetoric, it’s gone to new lows."

Falwell accused gays and lesbians of being partly responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a statement that Falwell later apologized for after it brought protests from across the nation. But, White said, Falwell subsequently used the same remark in a fund-raising appeal.

White and several hundred followers of his Soulforce group will come to Lynchburg Oct. 25-27. They alerted the city earlier this month in a letter, which someone forwarded to Falwell.

"It is obvious in reading the letter that their purpose is not to discuss violence … but rather their objection to my preaching that homosexuality is a sin," Falwell said.

Falwell said what White really wants is for him to say that gay is OK, something he will never do because the Bible calls homosexuality a sin.

"We will not change our message," Falwell said.

White’s group will march from different parts of the city to Thomas Road Baptist Church.

White said the march will demonstrate how messages of hate from the pulpit poison all aspects of life – from city hall, where gays cannot get marriage licenses, to groups like the Boy Scouts that don’t allow openly gay scoutmasters, to high schools where homosexual students are "discarded by their parents and teachers."

"A Toxic Religion Zone pollutes everybody’s lives," White said.

Soulforce tentatively plans to display a "Museum of Intolerance," which will show examples of Falwell’s comments juxtaposed with fact and expert opinion and a video titled, "The Rhetoric of Intolerance: An Open Letter Video to Jerry Falwell."

Falwell says White is just seeking publicity at Thomas Road that he has been unable to generate at other protests.

"In the three years that have passed, Mel has been to the Southern Baptist Convention three times … " Falwell said. "They have received very little publicity from these events."

Falwell said he invited Soulforce to his church three years ago, but that won’t happen this time.

"I’m not going to give them that platform again," he said, but added the sidewalks are public and the group is welcome as long as they don’t interfere with his church.

White said he knows it will be difficult to change Falwell’s mind about homosexuality, but he hasn’t given up.

For the present, he said he just wants to set the record straight about Falwell’s comments on homosexuality.

"The man just seems consumed with telling untruths about sexual orientation," White said.

White said he has received letters from students at Liberty University and members of Thomas Road Baptist Church who are "secret closeted gay people who live in fear."

White was once one of them. He was a ghost writer for Falwell’s autobiography "If I Should Die Before I Wake!" in 1984 and until 1991 White "was regarded by the leaders of the religious right as one of their most talented and productive supporters," according to the book jacket on White’s 1995 book, "Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America."

White, who also wrote for Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jim and Tammy Bakker and Ollie North, came out publicly about his sexual orientation in 1993. For 25 years, he had tried to deny his identity through counseling and even exorcism and shock treatment. He attempted suicide before realizing he couldn’t change who he is.

White, who now lives in California, said his Soulforce group has grown to about 10,000. Chapters have been established in recent months in 17 cities, including Lynchburg.

After taking on Falwell at Thomas Road Baptist Church, the next Toxic Religion Zone on Soulforce’s list is the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.

White admits his group’s efforts are "like a mosquito biting an elephant," but said gays and lesbians can no longer stand by while religious leaders like Falwell belittle them.

"As gay people of faith, we can’t let him go on uncontested," White said.

This story is available online at
2002 Media General

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