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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Gay and Saved BY DAVID REED STRANGER AT THE GATE: To Be Gay and Christian in America. By Mel White. 333 pp. New York: Simon & Schuster. $23. MEL WHITE’S Stranger at the Gate is a conversion story in which White recounts his con version from one kind of religious construction to another. His own tradition would call it testifying. I value such testifying, and rejoice to have him as a fellow witness. In fact, our lives have followed similar courses. Stories of our experiences are the most important weapons we have to defend ourselves and to prepare for battle in the cultural holy war underway in our nation today. This holy war is waged against gay and lesbian people through both physical attacks and a campaign of lies. We deploy our stories on the discursive battlefield to tell one another that we are not alonethat our experiences are not uniquethat others have endured the same pain and have more than survived. And we tell our stories so that straight people might see the world through gay eyes and, seeing our vision of the world, understand gay suffering, gay hope, gay joy. When they have seen those things, they will never again deal with us in quite the same way. Telling our stories is the single most important personal and political act gay people can engage in. Mel White has told his story in this courageous book. I respond by telling parts of my own story. Silence enshrouded my sexuality when I was growing up. My parents barely mentioned the subjectand then only obliquely. Youth ministers answered our questions about how far to gojust as ambiguously as we posed the questions. Nothing was said about homosexuality. I knew only its dictionary definition until I was in high school. I knew I was different, but I thought the difference was that I was good while my friends were naughty. I had read David Reed serves on the Alliance of Baptists’ Task Force on Human Sexuality, lives in Fort Worth and attends Broadway Baptist Church to the dismay of some and the delight of others. the Bible. I had found the passages that would haunt me for more than a decade, that I would memorize and worry over. But I didn’t know the first thing about what homosexuality really was until I began to be called those awful names. Mel White, concerned about the experience that was common to many of us, writes at the outset of Stranger at the Gate, Looking back now, I thank God for that silence. Imagine what young gays or lesbians face today in the churches of their childhood with televangelists calling gays `a plague upon the nation’; with pastors and Sunday school teachers calling our love ‘an abomination’ and our feelings `straight from the devil’; with books, films, and videotapes shown in homes and churches viciously caricaturing and defaming gay and lesbian people and even declaring that in the ancient days of Moses `homosexuals were castrated, imprisoned, and executed for their sin,’ implying, sometimes stating outright, that it should be the same today. hite tells about growing up as a holy roller, and about his awful affection and lust for boys when he was a teenager. He recounts his courtship and marriage to his high school classmate, Lyla, and describes his traditional family with his wife, two children, and a dog. He shared my Bible, my love for the Lord, my passion for winning friends and strangers to Jesus, my desperate and successful attempts to stifle my feelings for boyhood friends, even my counseling sessions at a conservative seminary, sessions that danced around the issues of sexual orientation. He did all that 20 years before I did. I wish I had read this book when I was 18, but this book could not have been written when I was 18. I turned 18 in the fall of 1976. Early one winter morning, as the sky was turning pink above the Appalachian mountains and I was walking home to my dorm room, I put words to what I would later try every possible way to deny: “David, you are a homosexual, and you will always be a homosexual.” Then I added, “And you will never have sex with a man or you will die.” At that time, Mel White was wrestling with that same sort of statement about himself. But he was not a college freshman. He was 20 years older, had a career in Christian filmmaking and a family. And had already been wrestling with those same issues for 20 years or more. During the 1980s, while I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and began to extricate myself from the cold embrace of a relentless fundamentalism, Mel White was ghostwriting books for right-wing Christians Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Tammi Faye Bakker and 011ie Northsome of whom are involved in making the Republican Party the theocratic sect that convened in Fort Worth in early June. White rationalized his actions by omitting the anti-gay content of his clients’ messages from the books he ghosted. While remaining in the closet, he struggled to balance his family life with his quest for gay love, and gradually he realized it couldn’t be done. He couldn’t accept the economic security provided by ghostwriting for the religious right while he was involved in a secret long-term relationship with a respectable man. In 1989, I came out with a vengeance. I left seminary \(my Ph.D. in theology unTarrant County Gay Alliance; and I organized a small Bible study for gay-affirming Southern Baptists under the name Honesty/Fort Worth. White’s life was complicated by commitments that I never encountered. Not only was White in the closet then, but he also had his lover of several years and a divorce in the closet with him. Even after their divorce was final, Lyla and Mel continued to attend parties and diners together, although White knew then that to live with integrity, he would have to live openly as a gay man. He was already taking steps_ toward that transition, just as I had. I already had tried to convince my fellow seminarians to treat gay people with civility, worked on the Dukakis campaign, and marched on Austin for gay rights. White had experimented unsuccessfully with several approaches to combining a family life with a gay relationship, attended gay churches and Bible studies and participated in a gay rights march on Washington. 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