Watching intently as Larry King interviewed guest after guest on his program the night Jerry Falwell died no man’s words intrigued me more than those of the Rev. Dr. Mel White, the man once hired by Jerry Falwell to write his autobiography. After working with Dr. Falwell on his autobiography Mr. White announced to his family that he was gay. He soon left his wife for his male lover. He had “come out.” He now leads a pro-homosexual, anti-evangelical activist group of college kids who purport to be both Christian and homosexual, two things the word of God clearly says are incompatible (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Two days after his appearance on Larry King Live I had a conversation with Mel White on my radio program in Detroit. I asked him, given his personal relationship with Dr. Falwell, if it was fair of him to characterize Dr. Falwell as the face of homophobia less than ten hours after he had died, to which he replied:
When I say Jerry Falwell was the face of homophobia there’s no doubt in my mind that the things he said about gay people are totally untrue. And because he had such a large following he was probably the most important person we had in terms of misinformation… Jerry loved to caricature and create straw men because that’s the way people got afraid. Jerry used fear a lot to mobilize volunteers and to raise money and do those things, but you must remember I’m saying he was sincere in all of that.
Mel blames Dr. Falwell’s message in part for his own lifelong battle to overcome same-sex attraction. He told me:
I went through 35 years of electric shock, and aversive therapy and exorcism trying to get rid of the demon of homosexuality. I finally slit my wrists and went to the hospital, and my wife said, “You know, Mel, you’re a good person, but you’re gay and you need to accept that.” And in accepting that I began a new kind of life; my whole life changed, and I became a person who loved Christ in a whole new way, I felt His Holy Spirit working in a whole new way.
Mel has it both wrong and right. He is right that the struggle to overcome patterns of sinful behavior can drive a person to the point of suicide. The Apostle Paul recounted the same struggle with his own pattern of sinful behavior in Romans 7:15-25, pushing him to the end of himself: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death!” That’s Mel White’s story, it’s my story—and it’s your story. All of us have patterns of sinful behavior which must be overcome. Struggling to overcome sin in your own power will ultimately force you to slit your wrists.
Mel is wrong when he says that admitting to himself he was gay gave him new life and has freed him from the consequences of his guilt. Genuine new life offered by God’s grace doesn’t come from accepting who you are; it comes from accepting who Christ is and dying to your sinful passions and living your life in the power of Christ, through whom all sin is overcome. Mel White may have overcome his guilty conscience by buying the lie that he is who he is and therefore he is OK. Christ died for sinners so that we don’t have to accept ourselves as we are, but so that through His grace and mercy we might become new creatures in Christ Jesus. That’s the message Jerry Falwell proclaimed. That’s the message Mel White believes earns Dr. Falwell the moniker face of homophobia.
There is no question that there was fear inherent in the words spoken by Jerry Falwell on the moral issues confronting our nation. But it wasn’t Dr. Falwell’s fear of homosexuality (or any other sin) that fueled his passion to call this nation to repentance, but rather his fear of God. Jerry Falwell spoke the words of Christ to the nation. Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:22). Jerry Falwell was a voice crying in the wilderness of the moral decline of late 20th century America. He lifted up his voice like a trumpet, boldly confronting his generation with Christ’s words. The voice of the prophet may be silenced, but the word of our God shall stand forever.