Naff begins by noting the tributes to Falwell coming in, and two of them stand out to me -- the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Tammy Faye Bakker Messner.
Jackson described Falwell as having a “heart of gold,” even though Falwell was a rabid racist during the civil rights movement.Now I am no fan of Reverend Jackson. But say everything what you want about overhyping his past glories, or his selling out of the unborn, or Hymietown, or his corruption, or his shakedown schtick, or the mistresses on the payroll -- it remains the case that Jackson saw King assassinated and he was at Selma. And even apart from those seminal moments, all black men of Jackson's age know hate from hate. Jackson has absolute legitimacy on the matter of the heart of a segregationist and Naff simply has no standing. It isn't rebutted by the fact of Falwell's having been a segregationist (which Falwell has both always admitted and always regretted since before founding the Moral Majority). And if a black man of Jesse Jackson's age and biography can find it in his soul to forgive Falwell for having been a segregationist and praise him as having "a heart of gold," then frankly who is Kevin Naff to say otherwise on those grounds, that he knows better?
Even Tammy Faye Messner appeared by phone in an interview with CNN’s Larry King, telling him that she “broke into tears” upon hearing the news of Falwell’s death, despite years of animosity between them that began when Falwell stole the ministry founded by Tammy and Jim Bakker.
I am more of a fan of Tammy Faye (see below), but some of the same points apply. Here's another part of her Larry King appearance last night.
KING: Jerry -- the surprise -- I mean, Tammy Faye, the surprising thing about that is you had some harsh things to say about Jerry Falwell. You were angry with him when he took over "The PTL Club." You have said things on this program not very nice about him. Why did his death hit you so hard?In both cases, Naff holds grudges against Falwell on grounds that the aggrieved parties themselves -- Jackson and Messner -- have put behind them and say do not matter now. If Tammy Faye can say she wanted to put the PTL brouhaha to rest, I fail to see why Naff gets to hold it against Falwell. Keep in mind who we're talking about here, in Tammy Faye. We're talking about not simply a camp icon, but a woman who has been at a half-dozen Washington Pride Parades, and a woman who said the following to Washington's gay weekly about male homosexuals:
MESSNER: I think I wish we could have cleared everything up. I wanted to talk to him and settle him -- and settle things with him. And I tried to do it many times and I tried to do it nicely. And I wanted just so badly to just give him a hug and say, hey, you know, it's all right. It's OK.
We're all human. We all make mistakes. Let's just start over again and -- and go forward from here.
Yesterday is yesterday. Today is today.
I love them and they love me. It's just unbelievable. I've never felt such warmth in a group of people. That's the truth. ...and this
I feel like I'm a mom or a sister to most of those guys, I really do. They treat me like I'm family and that means more to me than anything could ever possibly mean. ...
[Y]ou've got to remember that PTL was one of the very first [Christian television shows] to help the gays. And I was probably one of the first ever to have a gay man on my show. ... We didn't turn anyone away. And I think the gays appreciated that. We accepted the gay community when most religious elements did not.
MW: What would you say to the parent who does not want to accept their child as gay?You can fault Tammy Faye's lack of theological intellect, but she is about as pro-gay as a religious figure gets. Yet this gay newsman breezily blows off what she says about Falwell to indulge in his own Two Minutes of Hate.
TAMMY FAYE: If they don't accept it I would say shame on them. When you're a parent you accept your child as he or she is. ... Your child is not you. ... I would tell that parent, love your child just exactly the way he or she is.
MW: What happens to the parent who won't acknowledge their child?
TAMMY FAYE: The parent loses.
I'm not saying that Naff or any other homosexual is somehow obliged to agree with Tammy Faye or Jackson. But one would nevertheless hope that an adult intellect would at least give a sign or two of thinking or having thought along the lines of "hmm ... maybe if Messner and Jackson are both paying tribute to Falwell despite their justified personal issues with him, I might reassess my own." In the best of circumstances, perhaps it could even occur to Naff (and I know he's not alone in having the kind of reaction he did) that Messner and Jackson are both Christians, both minister-evangelists, and yet one is a gay icon and the other has an impeccable record of progressive politics. Maybe there might be more to Christianity than right-wing "homophobia." And maybe the fact that forgiveness came to them despite the wrongs committed against them means there's more to the world that a Christian can see but I can't.
After all, it's not surprising that Naff wouldn't listen to Falwell (or me, probably), but if Jackson and Messner cannot make him reconsider his bile in the light of their contrary example and clear legitimacy ... who ever could? I know one should never write off anyone as irredeemably lost, but ...
Maybe something else Tammy Faye said in her Metro Weekly interview needs to be absorbed:
MW: So you’ve forgiven him [referring to Jim Bakker].
TAMMY FAYE: Oh, I forgave him long ago. I forgave Jim the day that our divorce became final. I forgave him for everything and went on with my life.
MW: How does one come to a state of forgiveness?
TAMMY FAYE: It's a choice. You ask God to help you and then you just make the choice. It's not worth living in unforgiveness. I have a saying that forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself. And I gave myself that gift of forgiveness with the help of God. I forgave everyone that hurt me. Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, I forgave all those people.
MW: But can gays people forgive a man like Falwell who has persecuted us so vehemently?
TAMMY FAYE: It's a choice, that's all it is. Forgiveness is a choice. And it's a choice you ask God to help you keep. It doesn't happen overnight. Forgiveness is an ongoing battle. And sometimes when I see Jerry Falwell my heart hurts. But then I say to God, “God I forgave him, I gave Jerry Falwell to you, you take care of him,” and then I'm okay again. So he's in God's hands, he's not in Tammy Faye's hands.
MW: Clearly forgiveness is an important component of your life.
TAMMY FAYE: Yes. It's the only way you can have true happiness because unforgiveness eats you up inside. It's like an acid and it will truly make you sick. I think unforgiveness has been more people's problem than anything in the world. Because when you see somebody you are angry at, your tummy tenses up, your blood pressure goes up, your fists clench, you go into a different mode. And that's not good for the body. So people should forgive just to save themselves.