Falwell Hosts Summit with Gay Minister

Pledges to 'look carefully' at comments about gays

From staff and wire reports | October 23, 1999

Falwell, White
The Rev. Jerry Falwell, left; an outspoken critic of homosexuality, met with the Rev. Mel White, an openly gay minister, on Saturday in Lynchburg, Virginia  

LYNCHBURG, Virginia (CNN) -- Televangelist and long-time gay-rights critic the Rev. Jerry Falwell sat down with a group of gay and lesbian Christians on Saturday, pledging to "look very carefully" at the tone of "what we write and what we say" about homosexuality.

But Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority in the 1970s, insisted that he will not change his stance that living openly as a gay man or lesbian is contrary to the will of God.

"I believe the homosexual lifestyle to be wrong," he said.

Falwell and 200 fellow conservative Christians met with the Rev. Mel White, an openly gay minister, and about 200 gays and lesbians from 30 states at an anti-violence forum. Before coming out as a gay man, White worked as a ghostwriter for a number of figures on the religious right, including Falwell.

"We're listening to each other. I think, down the long road, we're going to be reconciled, and it starts today," White said.


Link between rhetoric, violence explored

Gay and lesbian critics have accused Falwell and other conservative Christian leaders of inciting violence against gay men and lesbians through their rhetoric condemning homosexuality. While agreeing to watch the tone of such statements in the future, Falwell downplayed the possibility of any link.

"I really don't think I've ever said anything that incensed anyone to go out and create a violent crime," Falwell said. "I think any words in a deranged mind could trigger one to do bad things."

Welcoming delegates to the forum, Falwell said, "We are here because innocent people of various faiths, racial and ethnic groups and sexual preferences have increasingly had their lives abruptly and violently ended by people with opposing views."

Before the discussions began, the two sides agreed to disagree on whether gay men and lesbians can be good Christians and instead focus on ways of deterring violence against both gays and Christians.

"I don't mind if Jerry preaches I'm a sinner. He's a sinner, too," White said. "The irony is I think that Mr. Falwell's words could be used to justify hate crimes against us. I also believe a lot of our words could be used to justify hate crimes against him."

"I really think we all have to take a good look at what we send out and start changing it for the sake of the greater good."


Meeting draws protests

Falwell's decision to sit down with White and his delegation of gay and lesbian Christians drew dozens of protesters. Among them was the Rev. Fred Phelps, a stridently anti-gay Kansas minister who brought protesters to last year's funeral for Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student beaten to death.

"Falwell used to teach the Bible word for word. Now, he's going off and meeting with these fags and going against everything he's ever taught," Phelps said.

Phelps and his group plan to protest Sunday outside of Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church, where White and members of the gay delegation are scheduled to attend Sunday services.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.