One of my heroes passed away this summer, on July 20, 2007.
Tammy Faye Messner spent her years after the PTL Club scandal ostracized 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 coffeehouses, headlining Pride celebrations, raising money for HIV/AIDS charities (including hosting a drag queen show for charity once in my hometown of Atlanta), starring in the 2000 documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye (produced by a gay couple) and on 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.
Tammy Faye was able to break out of the narrow constraints 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.
Rest in peace, Tammy Faye.
A licensed professional counselor in private practice in metro Atlanta, Darrell Grizzle is the author of I Never Meant to Start a Murder Cult and Other Stories.