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Blog of the Grateful Bear

ramblings of a freelance panentheist {"all things are in God, and God is in all things"} . . . musings on Emergent spirituality, powerlifting, LGBTQueer issues, contemplative prayer, mysticism, cats, music, healing, and more. I like my coffee and my existentialism dark-roasted.

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Location: Marietta, Georgia, United States

I'm an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), in private practice in Marietta, Georgia. My writings on queer spirituality have been published in Whosoever and several other magazines. I live in a house-in-the-woods (Bear's Hermitage) in Marietta with Leonidas (Lenny) and Guy, Mighty Warrior Cats, and way too many books.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rest In Peace, Tammy Faye

One of my heroes passed away this weekend.

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 isolaton 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.

Above 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.

Around the web ~

From the CNN news story:

. . . Tammy Faye Messner has also been known as one of the few evangelical Christians who had the support of the gay community. She was one of the first televangelists to reach out to those with AIDS when it was a little-known and much-feared disease. In return, she told [Larry] King in July, “When I went – when we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that.”

From The New York Times:

. . . “I want my funeral to be a real happy time,” Ms. Messner told Larry King on CNN in March 2006. “I want everybody laughing and remembering how crazy I was.”

From MSNBC (reprinted here in full):

Through it all, Tammy Faye never wavered
Scandals, ridicule couldn’t keep Messner from her evangelistic calling

By Alex Johnson
Updated: 2:05 p.m. ET July 22, 2007

There was simply no room in Tammy Faye Messner’s tiny body for even an ounce of guile.

Messner, who died Friday of cancer at 65, was many things. She was a pioneer of Christian television. She was a gay icon. She was a great symbol of fun for social commentators to poke at – the makeup industry’s wildest dream and worst nightmare.

She was never a hypocrite. She was always sincere, in her faith and in herself.

For all the fame and wealth she and her first husband, Jim Bakker, reveled in before their PTL television ministry came crashing down, Tammy – instantaneously recognizable by her first name – was first and foremost an evangelist, in the old-school sense of the word. She loved luxury and she loved fame, and she didn’t care what you thought about that. If her flamboyance got your attention long enough for her to try to bring you to her God, she was happy to oblige.

It is important to remember that Tammy herself was never seriously implicated in any of the scandals that were attached to her two husbands: Bakker, who fronted PTL and its Ponzi scheme of selling far more lifetime vacations to believers than it could provide, and Roe Messner, who built Heritage USA and became the nation’s largest church builder before going to prison for bankruptcy fraud.

Tammy got into many of her fixes not because she was vain or scheming, but because she was utterly naive. She didn’t grasp how the excesses of the PTL lifestyle – the mansion in Tega Cay, S.C., the jets, the air-conditioned doghouse – could be seen as worldly materialism. To Tammy, they were proof of God’s generosity. You, too, could have them. You just had to believe and pray hard enough – “You don’t have to be dowdy to be a Christian,” she once said.

She believed in Jim Bakker, whom she married at 19 while at seminary. She believed in Jerry Falwell when he swooped in to “save” PTL. When they failed her, she clung even more reverently to God.

“I am extremely joyful,” she said three years ago in an interview with MSNBC. “The Lord says he will not put more on us than we can bear. And the Bible says, in everything, give thanks, for this is the will of God and Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Even the cancer that killed her was a key to open doors, she believed.

“It gives me an opportunity to talk about Jesus,” she told MSNBC in 2004. “It gives me an opportunity to tell people that God is able, no matter what situation that you find yourself in, to go forward, live one day at a time. And keep a positive attitude.”

A Christianity not so conservative

Her life’s calling was to bring that message to everyone. She believed God made and loved all His people, so she loved them, too, even those who scorned her, and even those – especially those – whom society scorned.

Way back during the “PTL Club” days, when many other religious figures were pointing to AIDS as God’s retribution against homosexuality, Tammy embraced gays and lesbians with HIV. When she became a figure of high-camp gay fascination in the 1990s, she embraced that role, too. As a fervent Assemblies of God lay leader, she definitely believed homosexuality was wrong, but she refused to believe that homosexuals themselves were anything other than God’s children.

“We’re all just people made out of the same old dirt,” she once said, “and God didn’t make any junk.”

When Jim Bakker was convicted of defrauding his followers of $158 million in 1989, Tammy cried, as she always did, and then she broke into song:

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

For many Christians, Edward Mote’s hymn is a defiant message of grace, a core faith that through the darkest of troubles, God will see you through.

Tammy Faye Bakker Messner’s life took many bizarre twists, at times making her a woman of camp, a woman of sorrow, a woman of ridicule.

But at all times, Tammy Faye was a woman of grace.

Above: Tammy Faye at the Outfest gay film festival

Addenda ~

by Doug LeBlanc (a friend of the Grateful Bear)

From Slate.com:
. . . How did [Tammy Faye] Messner become a gay icon? With fabulousness and honesty. . .

Also at Slate.com:

by Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato

Eyeing Tammy Faye, a review of blogposts
(including the Blog of the Grateful Bear!)



Anonymous Peter said...

I see the principle operating here that when we have been through the tough experiences of failure and rejection in our own walk, there is a chance that we will gain the compassion and empathy needed to be a blessing to those who have been down a similar road.

10:07 PM, July 22, 2007  
Anonymous Heidi said...

I knew there was a reason I liked her. There was true caring and compassion there, and a capacity for friendship. And aren't those the primary christian virtues?

I found her to be very strange - but there was something very authentic about her inside.

Thanks for such a great post, and I love the photo!

10:25 PM, July 22, 2007  
Anonymous irving said...

What a beautiful tribute to a remarkable and loving woman and servant of God :)

May God bless her and welcome her to the ranks of His beloveds.

Thank you, brother, for sharing your thoughts on Tammy Faye.

Ya Haqq!

9:00 AM, July 23, 2007  
Blogger Jon said...

Thanks for that wonderful post, Darrell. It was very informative--I really didn't know anything about the bridge-building she had done.

And the article you included was wonderful.

11:24 PM, July 23, 2007  
Anonymous motherwintermoon said...

Tammy Faye truly was an extraordinarily kind, loving, compassionate human being, accepting of all people.

She and comedian Jim J. Bullock were great together on their talk show. I 'got to know her' through the Surreal Life show she did, and saw what a blessing she was to all the lives she touched. She laughed at herself and embraced all others with a genuine caring and compassion that is difficult to find in this world.

She was no stranger to ridicule and humiliation, but she stayed strong and loving through it all.

Thank you so much for posting this tribute to her. May she rest in peace and sing with the angels.

8:45 AM, July 24, 2007  
Anonymous laura said...

I didn't realize she had died! Wonderful post. I watched a documentary on her a while back. I saw the Eyes of Tammy Faye a while back and had to totally change my mind about her after seeing that.

It's always amazing to me (and I think quite heroic) when people cam break out of the confines of their fundamentalist upbringing. I guess she took the best parts of it with her, though, which is good, too.

Thanks for the post and all the info. from around the web.

8:22 PM, August 08, 2007  
Anonymous Karla said...

I will never forget Tammy Faye standing outside of the Court House singing On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand. What a wonderful witness. Tammy Faye was the innocent one who really gpt hurt the most. She did not deserve the fate dealt her. She was true to her Lord and Savior, never wavering in her faith or love of Jesus. She didn't judge, but she was judged. She really deserved better, but you know what? She has a mansion in heaven and now when she sings she sings with the Angels for Jesus himself. I fell honored to have heard her angelic voice, On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.

1:17 PM, November 26, 2007  

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