One of my heroes passed away this summer, on July 20, 2007. Tammy Faye Messner spent her years after the PTL Club scandal ostracised by many in the established church, and she said many times that the only people who reached out to her during her times of isolation were her friends in the gay and lesbian community. She reciprocated that love and support by singing and preaching God’s unconditional love at gay churches and gay coffeehouses, headlining gay pride celebrations, raising money for HIV charities (including hosting a drag queen show for charity once, here in Atlanta), starring in a documentary produced by a gay couple (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) as well as a TV talk show with a gay co-host, and even for a short time writing an advice column for a magazine for gay teenagers and young adults. When asked how she could reconcile the Bible with her acceptance of gay and lesbian people, Tammy Faye would reply – in a quote mentioned often in the media following her death – “We’re all just people made out of the same old dirt, and God didn’t make any junk.” This is a scan of an autographed 8 x 10 photo of Tammy Faye, a photo I cherish. I got it several years ago when Tammy Faye spoke at an MCC Church in Atlanta.
Tammy Faye was able to break out of the narrow restraints of her Pentecostal upbringing while still holding on to an authentic love for Jesus and his message of God’s radical love for all people. Because of Tammy Faye, many evangelical Christian parents were able to overcome their theology and accept their gay and lesbian children and re-establish relationships with them. Because of Tammy Faye, many gay and lesbian people who had been cast aside by the church were able to know that, despite what some “Christians” may say, God loves them.
I am grateful that after a painful battle with cancer that left her weighing only 65 pounds, Tammy Faye’s suffering is over. I am grateful that she is now at home with her beloved Lord.