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November 9, 2006
RICHARD J. ROSENDALL
‘The Power’ and Pastor Ted
On November 3 my friend Mark Thompson (a.k.a. Matsimela Mapfumo) called me from WOL, the Washington radio station from which he hosts “Make It Plain,” a political and human rights show airing at 4 p.m. weekdays on the African-American talk channel, XM Satellite 169. He was going on the air in 15 minutes, and wanted me to be his guest to discuss the scandal over Rev. Ted Haggard, who himself was a past guest. The chance to talk to a nationwide audience on the intersection of religion, sex and politics was too juicy to resist.
I have worked with Thompson since 1997, when he invited me to join the Police Task Force of the DC branch of the NAACP, where I represent the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. In addition to his radio and NAACP work, Thompson teaches broadcasting and is a Baptist minister. I attended his wedding and his first sermon. When a straight, black community leader reaches out to a gay activist as graciously as Mark has done to me, it is hard to refuse. So there I was on the studio line to The Power, as XM 169 is called.
Mark began by saying that I was a dear friend and that instead of “Oprah and Gayle” we would be the “Mark and Rick” show. I appreciated the comfort he showed in making that quip. After we summarized the latest reports on the allegations regarding Rev. Haggard, we both expressed our skepticism about Pastor Ted’s claims that he had only hired Michael Jones for a massage after being referred by a Denver hotel concierge, and that he had bought methamphetamine but had thrown it away without using it.
Thus in a single interview, with his unlucky wife sitting beside him, Haggard had both his I-didn’t-inhale and his I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-man moments. Considering that he had initially denied knowing Jones, his credibility was pretty much shot already, notwithstanding problems with the lie detector test administered to Jones. (Haggard has since been dismissed from his megachurch after an independent Overseer Board concluded that “he has committed sexually immoral conduct.”)
My radio chat with Mark was wide-ranging, touching on denial, hypocrisy, the closet, Scripture, the war in Iraq, the election and what gays want (I said, “equal justice under law”). I argued that denying the legitimate existence of homosexuality only pressures some gay people into entering unhappy marriages in hopes of suppressing their desires, which then burst out in inappropriate ways. Mark asked listeners if they were bothered by ministers who use their pulpits to preach against behavior that they themselves are secretly committing. He wondered if some ministers think they are above the rules. I said that if so, they have something in common with President Bush, who similarly avoids accountability and is in denial about the consequences of his actions.
One caller charged that gay people violate the commandment in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply, choosing instead mere self-gratification. I replied that many gay people in fact are raising children, and that our relationships are just as multi-dimensional as straight people’s. I pointed out the Catch-22 of slamming gay promiscuity while also denouncing gay couples who commit to each other. I suggested that respecting gay people as we are is a lot healthier for everyone in the long run than effectively pushing us to live double lives.
When a caller cited Leviticus 18:22 along with Christ on the Law, I said that Christ had made a new covenant and did not just regurgitate the Old Testament. When another caller quoted Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality, I pointed out that Paul also wrote, “Slaves, obey your masters.” I contrasted the leaders of the civil rights movement, who used their faith to liberate people, with today’s theocons who use the Bible to hit people over the head. And I observed that we have religious freedom in this country, which means that the Bible, however interpreted, does not dictate public policy.
When Mark asked if drugs like meth were part of gay life, I said, well, not part of mine, and mentioned a straight acquaintance whose addiction to meth had destroyed his career and his marriage. So gays have no monopoly on substance abuse. When the “Down Low” came up, I said it was simply another term for the closet, and that the solution was for people to accept their gay children. One woman called to say that she did, and not to be discouraged by the hostile callers.
The previous day’s guest had been Dr. Sylvia Rhue of the National Black Justice Coalition, whom I had last seen at a Capitol Hill news conference in June opposing the Marriage Protection Amendment. It was something of a Gay Week at The Power. A male caller during my on-air session objected to something Rhue had said about heterosexual women who report faking orgasms. If that was all one listener took from what was doubtless an impressive presentation by Dr. Rhue, I could only wonder what would stand out from my own remarks.
I ended by urging listeners to vote Democratic, not because the Democrats were perfect but because they were an alternative to the reckless authoritarians currently in power. I have no idea how many I persuaded with all this; I just heeded Ecclesiastes and cast my bread on the water. If you want to receive letters, send letters. You don’t need a concierge.