Leaving Jerry Falwell: An Interview with Marc Adams

It isn’t so much that Marc Adams doesn’t do interviews, it’s more like he doesn’t seek them out. Nine years have passed since the release of Marc Adams’ first gay-themed book, The Preacher’s Son. In reality, The Preacher’s Son is his autobiography. At least as much of an autobiography that can be written by someone writing about their life from age 3 to 23. Now, Marc Adams has released two new books simultaneously. LoveLife, a new poetry book, is chock full of the artful compositions which flow from his ever-evolving pen (er, keyboard). The second book, (lost)Found is the most significant book Marc Adams has published since The Preacher’s Son.

(lost)Found is a kind of follow-up to The Preacher’s Son. Many things have transpired in his life since being 23 and (lost)Found chronicles a good portion of that journey.

Marc Adams gave me a couple hours of his time to talk about (lost)Found and where his life has brought him since 1996.

Rod Gambassi: It’s been almost nine years since The Preacher’s Son was published. Where have you been?

Marc Adams: I’ve been almost everywhere! I’ve been very busy with HeartStrong, the non profit I helped found in 1998. I have also published five poetry books and co-authored another book titled, Do’s & Don’ts of Dealing with the Religious Right.

RG: So you’ve been busy.

Marc Adams: VERY busy. Oh, we also rescued two long-haired Chihuahuas, Goofy and Rufus, from the Seattle animal shelter.

RG: The new book is titled, (lost)Found. Tell me about it.

Marc Adams: Well, I really wanted to convey the process of my journey as I escaped from fundamentalist Baptist Christianity and coming out to my family. I touched on both of those subjects very lightly at the end of The Preacher’s Son but I wanted to spend some time sharing more about the process I went through.

RG: Was it a personal need or because people asked you to do it.

Marc Adams: Probably both. More so because people asked me to do it. I started writing this book in September of 2001. I initially had finished it at the end of 2003. But at the beginning of 2004 right as it was ready to go to press, my grandmother died. I had already included a lot about her in the original manuscript of the book but when she passed away, I felt that I needed to include some more, so I pulled the book. I then added and rewrote some chapters and then it was complete.

RG: You grandmother was the only person in your biological family who showed true unconditional love. You talk about this in your presentations at colleges and universities.

Marc Adams: Yes, she was a perfect example of what groups like PFLAG are all about. She was related to me by blood and also by love. A substantial portion of this book is about her and the relationship that developed with her after I came out.

RG: Do you really think most non-religious people are interested in hearing a story about escaping fundamentalist Baptist Christianity?

Marc Adams: Well, after doing about 2000 presentations over the past nine years to all different types of audiences, I have learned a lot. One thing I have learned is that while some people think they could care less about this process, usually about halfway through my sharing, they are completely intrigued. I think it all has to do with how it is presented. And, I believe people should know. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have gone through or are going through the same process. How can you help someone’s journey become easier if you can’t relate to them in some way?

RG: So why the title, (lost)Found?

Marc Adams: I really feel like I have gone from being very, very lost to being found. When you go through the upbringing that I went through and then walk away, it is very hard to not feel lost. In fact, you know you are a journey to personal peace but you feel very empty. I think I felt more lost once I walked away than when I was part of it all. But then things change. As I learned more about self-acceptance and I learned more about real familial love…through my grandmother’s example…I started feeling alive. To the point where I definitely feel found…by myself and others.

RG: You’ve mixed poetry in with your non-fiction writing in this book. What lead to that?

Marc Adams: I don’t really think it’s poetry. Before each chapter I have written several lines starting with, I believe…, I wish…, I think…, I’m afraid…, and I know… It was just another method of me sharing some of my perspectives. My poetry tends to be much more romantic than what is written before each chapter in (lost)Found.

RG: Speaking of poetry, you have simultaneously published a new poetry book, LoveLife, with (lost)Found.

Marc Adams: YES! I am very excited about that also. It is a collection of some work from the past couple years and I wanted it to be published separately but at the same time at (lost)Found because I think it goes right along with the theme of everything.

RG: Back to (lost)Found. For the first time, you put on paper your spiritual journey and where you are with that. Was that hard to do?

Marc Adams: Definitely. Aside from the chapter about my grandmother’s passing, writing about my spiritual journey was agonizing.

RG: How could that be agonizing?

Marc Adams: Since I started doing my work with HeartStrong and especially since I started doing presentations at colleges/universities, etc., I have always been asked questions about my spiritual journey. I have been stunned at the number of people in the gay community and elsewhere who have been so judgmental to me because I have moved to a different place in my spiritual journey than they would like me to be. I think it’s hard for some people to understand the concept of moving forward or evolving in this aspect of life. I definitely feel I have evolved and my journey has taken me places that I never would have imagined. And overall I feel very peaceful about my life now, especially in this area.

RG: So where are you? What church do you go to?

Marc Adams: I think I’m going to leave that to be discovered by those who take the time to read about my journey in (lost)Found. It has been a very important process to me and I don’t want to trivialize that process in a short answer in an interview.

RG: It seems that your spiritual journey has become deeply personal.

Marc Adams: It has.

RG: Is this something you embarked on alone?

Marc Adams: I guess so. I didn’t really go through my own process with anyone else. And, I guess that’s why it’s so personal and why it’s such a big part of (lost)Found. I guess in hindsight the process to get where I am today was quite painful. During the process, however, all I felt was the need to evolve and more forward with my life and journey. That’s why it’s down on paper. No one should feel alone when they are escaping fundamentalist Christianity.

RG: Tell me more about the dogs.

Marc Adams: Goofy and Rufus are long-haired Chihuahuas. We found them at the animal shelter in Seattle. We initially just went to the shelter to check things out and if we did find a small dog, perhaps we could consider adopting. But then, they were there together and now they are here together. They are very weird, loving dogs. They are both seniors and have very few teeth. But they have definitely changed the spectrum of my life. As we travel around the country, they also are a great addition to my presentation.

RG: How are things with HeartStrong? Most people reading this don’t know about your involvement with this organization.

Marc Adams: Well, then, I will start at the beginning. Three of us founded HeartStrong over eight years ago. It is a national non profit organization. After The Preacher’s Son came out, I started getting emails and letter from people saying they couldn’t believe that someone was out in public talking about what it was like to be gay, go through religious schools and what those schools have the freedom to do to GLBT students. The people writing to me were themselves students at religious schools looking for someone who could speak their language to help them in their journey to self-acceptance.

RG: Did you do that? Look for someone to help you when you were going through it?

Marc Adams: Yes, right when I left Liberty University (Jerry Falwell’s university). But I couldn’t find anyone who I felt could speak my language and really understand what I was going through. So, when these students started contacting me, I realized that I had a responsibility to turn around and face the burning building I had escaped from and go back. I felt that I needed to go back and rescue as many people as I could.

RG: Why do GLBT students at religious schools need to be rescued?

Marc Adams: In our country and most other countries around the world, it is legal for religious schools to persecute GLBT students attending their schools. That persecution involves everything from expulsions to reparative therapy to electroshock therapy and public outings. It’s horrific.

RG: And HeartStrong provides support?

Marc Adams: Yes. Most of the students we help are in crisis situations where they are being expelled, punished, outed or worse. Our goal is to provide support for these students and make sure that they choose life both emotionally and physically.

RG: Is it working?

Marc Adams: YES! In eight years we have helped more than 860 students from these schools. That’s a big number for us since we are an all volunteer organization with limited resources. But it is also a small number because there are hundreds of thousands of more who need to hear our message.

RG: www.heartstrong.org is the website for the nonprofit, right?

Marc Adams: Yes, there is a lot of information there about the work and people can find out more information as well as make tax deductible donations there.

RG: Your title with HeartStrong?

Marc Adams: Volunteer Executive Director. No one gets paid to do this work. We still are unable to get in enough money each year to reach our budgets.

RG: So HeartStrong needs financial help.

Marc Adams: Most definitely.

RG: I want to go back and talk some more about your family. You’ve written quite a bit about them in (lost)Found.

Marc Adams: You mean my biological family?

RG: Yes, those people.

Marc Adams: I like to make a clear distinction.

RG: Anyone who has read The Preacher’s Son knows the deal with your biological family. At least your parents and sisters. The question now is, almost ten years later, what’s going on in that part of your life.

Marc Adams: It never ceases to amaze me how optimistic some people are thinking that people like my parents will change on this issue. I do an insane number of speaking engagements every year and I am continuously asked about this.

RG: Why do you think people are interested?

Marc Adams: I think because everyone loves a happy ending and because it is hard for truly loving people to understand how parents can discard their children and other family members.

RG: So what is you relationship like with your family today?

Marc Adams: My relationship with my biological parents is the same as it was when I was 5. There just isn’t one. There never was a loving parent/child relationship. I remember when I was fourteen, my sisters and I had a small conversation about whether or not we felt our parents really loved us. Compared to neighbor kids and their relationships with their parents, our just didn’t measure up. Of course, we dismissed those other relationships because those families weren’t “Christian” like we were. But I always felt like there was something off balance. I now know that because of my parent’s religious beliefs and their dedication to them, that they are not able to truly love themselves so they cannot truly love each other or their kids.

RG: That’s a strong statement.

Marc Adams: Yes, it is. But I learned all of that during my self-acceptance process. I refer to that time in my life as ‘Leaving Jerry Falwell.’ Although that process had very little to do with him, his philosophy or his church and schools, he represents a way of closed circuit thinking to which I submitted. When I left my parent’s home and church at 16, I moved right into Jerry Falwell’s university and church and so I substituted my fundamentalist Christianity with neo-evangelical Christianity.

RG: Not sure I knew there was a difference.

Marc Adams: There is! Most people don’t know the difference. There are a lot of similarities. But as I left both aspects of that religion behind me, I was also able to understand my parent’s predicament. They could either love me unconditionally as their son or they could view my coming out as a challenge of their faith from God and adhere to their religious beliefs which come from the Bible and choose to separate from me in order to show me their love.

RG: So we’re talking about two difference definitions of the word love.

Marc Adams: Exactly. And as someone who used to operate under that same definition of love I understand where my biological parents are with this. It is very sad that they are trapped in the cult-like environment they are in, but it is their choice. Religion is a choice.

RG: Are you angry?

Marc Adams: About what?

RG: Most people would just assume that you are angry at your biological family, religion, maybe God.

Marc Adams: I know a lot of people who are angry like that but I’ve never felt that. I mean, in the past there were some spontaneous moments of anger which I think are typical. But there hasn’t been an ongoing feeling of wrath. I think I’ve just been able to accept my past and move forward with my life. I could either allow my history to run my life or I could keep it as my history and let my heart run my life. Life is much more peaceful if you listen to your heart.

RG: Anything else you would like readers to know about you or (lostFound?

Marc Adams: Just that I am happy. This book is a coming out of sorts. Especially since I wrote so much about my spirituality and spiritual journey. This book is about many things in my past and I am ready to move forward. I think (lost)Found and LoveLife are stepping stones for that. Perhaps they will be stepping stones for others, too.