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Soulforce isincorporated, and though its services are free, the group's Web site makes an elaborate pitch for donations in a style reminiscent of fundamentalist fundraising (though without the baiting). "Every unselfish act is also a selfish act," White explains. He's learned to hustle from the masters, and now he is using their techniques to promote a very different message. The question is whether it signals a new kind of gay resistance, or a soft retreat.
While White supports the gay political agenda, he's convinced it hasn't worked. "We no longer believe that what happens in the Congress or the courts will change the minds and hearts of our adversaries nor lead to the understanding and full acceptance that we seek," reads the Soulforce manifesto. Instead, this group offers a program culled from Gandhi, King, and Alcoholics Anonymous-right down to a 17-step path to "renew our spirits and transform our society."
For these believers, true change can only come from interpersonal connection. That may sound more like a Beatles song than a strategy for activism, but gays are different from other minorities in one respect: their oppression is often aggravated by alienation from family and faith. "The angriest activists are Southern Baptist children," White says, "and we're giving them a way to follow their spiritual vision as well as their homosexual one."
The fact that this "homospiritual" journey requires vows to "volunteer suffering" and "control passions" translates as self-abasement and repression to those who still hew to gay-lib ways. "Have you noticed how the gay religionists and the gay cops are ascending while cock-sucking, clit-licking, butt-fucking homos are under even greater attack?" asks Sex Panic founder Bill Dobbs. White has a canny way of skirting such sexual issues, and his political beliefs are just as ambiguous. He described himself to Larry King as "conservative in so many ways," while telling the Voicethat he's a liberal Democrat. Falwell couldn't have spun it better.
Whether loving the sinner will help Falwell's media profile remains to be seen. But its biggest impact is likely to be on the gay movement, which has always depended on the unkindness of strangers. As venom gives way to politesse, the terms of gay politics are beginning to change. People of faith are taking center stage, and with them comes a style that's more through-your-soul than in-your-face. Since these are mostly prosperous folks, they collide with queers who have neither money nor faith, and little patience for those with both. The flash point will be that march on Washington next April. The shouting matches have already begun.
That bodes ill, because the great movements of the '60s-from antiwar activism to black civil rights-could not have succeeded without a working alliance between secularists and people of faith. Where would Martin Luther King have been without the black church, or the peace movement without the priestly Berrigan brothers? Yet, for all their fervent belief, these visionaries were at odds with the hierarchies of their respective faiths. What happens when a leader is more interested in returning to the fold than in breaking the mold?
The answer will determine whether the gay movement is about changing straights or accepting their hospitality.
Research: Jason Schwartzberg