Mel White On Falwell, Regrets And Lost Chances

Thousands flocked to the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s funeral, including the Fred Phelps gang of God Hates Fags fame from Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, and a Liberty University student with a set of napalm-like bombs allegedly designed to greet the aforementioned protesters.

Reportedly absent were every single Republican candidate for president. Falwell’s good friend James Dobson, who has spent much of the past week paying tribute to his friend, apparently didn’t make it to the public funeral. Nor did Mel White, Falwell’s former ghostwriter who more than a decade shocked the Christian fundamentalist when he came out as gay.Several years ago White, 67, himself a Christian minister who formerly led the largest gay congregation in the country, and his partner Gary Nixon moved to Lynchburg, Va., into a house across the street from Falwell’s mega-church. The couple would attend Falwell’s church, and when he strted ranting anti-gay rhetoric, the two would stand up, to let everyone know of the gays among them.

Colorado Confidential caught up with White, the founder of the gay civil rights group Soulforce, at the airport as he was headed to Singapore on Sunday on a Soulforce-related project.

CoCo: What are your thoughts on Falwell’s passing?
White: Jerry was the impetus to get Soulforce started (the group sponsors, among other things, Equality Rides to Christian college campuses to have conversations about faith and the GLBT community).

His death doesn’t affect Soulforce, but it influences Gary and I because we moved [to Lynchburg] to influence him. We thought we could change him, and we’ve fallen in love with Lynchburg and have no intent of leaving.

He had promised us he wouldn’t die. From the pulpit, he promised this. He said he would live to 90. I was stunned; I cried when I heard he was dead. He’s a good father, he’s a good husband; my goodness he was a good pastor and he was a good college president. The kids loved him. I felt really bad for all of them, but at the same time I felt worse for my sisters and brothers that he had deceived. My emotions are so mixed I thought he was the one guy who would change.

I’m sorry about Jerry, that I didn’t get to hear him apologize [for his past statements about gays and lesbians]. I really hoped that one day he would step up to the microphone and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ He never had a chance to say that. I’m also relieved that he’s gone – he’s represented so much the face of homophobia in the country.

CoCo: Had you hoped to attend his funeral?
White: The police called me to ask me if I was going, but my presence there would not have been a positive influence. Jerry and I had a duel, and it wouldn’t have been good to be there. They know what I stand for.

CoCo: What was your last interaction with him?
White: Three months ago I spoke on his campus, at his invitation, to 250 graduate students for 90 minutes. It was a kind of wonderful breakthrough, and I really hoped would lead to more.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com

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