Edifice complex

Michael Piazza wants his proposed $20 million cathedral to send a message to the world -- gays can go to heaven too

Blinded by Might goes even further. Thomas and Dobson declare that the grassroots activists of the religious right have committed a sin by "politicizing Jesus." Speaking on the 60 Minutes piece, Dobson solemnly announced: "Jesus isn't a Republican. He isn't even an American. If the Christian Coalition continues, it should take the word 'Christian' out of its title. It suggests there is no room for disagreement among Christians on these issues."

Just at the moment major splits have emerged in the religious right, Piazza has stepped onto the national stage with sword and shield, Christianizing the gay and lesbian community in an arena of fundamentalist hostility. He sued and successfully forced the Chicago superstation WGN to air the infomercial "A Cathedral of Hope" (a title changed from "Holy Homosexuals," the name of Piazza's book) after the cable station reneged on a contract agreement. He invited U.S. Reps. Trent Lott and Dick Armey to attend a Sunday service at the cathedral after Armey characterized homosexuality as a sin and Lott compared it to kleptomania and alcoholism. When the Texas Legislature considered a bill banning gay adoptions, Piazza vowed to challenge it all the way to the Supreme Court. (The bill never made it out of committee.)

Along with Dianne Hardy Garcia, leader of the Texas Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby, Piazza is one of the few public leaders in Texas to criticize Gov. George W. Bush over his stances on the anti-gay adoption bill and on hate crimes legislation, though Piazza's willingness to speak out on political issues comes with some risks, Deb Elder warns.

The Rev. Michael S. Piazza wants the Cathedral of Hope to be a center of inclusiveness and community service.
Mark Graham
The Rev. Michael S. Piazza wants the Cathedral of Hope to be a center of inclusiveness and community service.
The proposed $20 million Philip Johnson cathedral would sit under the flight path of Love Field and arguably be Dallas' most architecturally ambitious church.
The proposed $20 million Philip Johnson cathedral would sit under the flight path of Love Field and arguably be Dallas' most architecturally ambitious church.

"I think Piazza has potentially harmed himself and his donations with that stand," she says. "Piazza isn't fronted by a gazillion-dollar media empire that scares people to raise money, like right-wing ministers. We're living in a Republican state, after all."

While it's likely that a large portion of donations for the Johnson cathedral will come from gay or gay-friendly sponsors who are equally unhappy with Bush, not everyone in Dallas' gay and lesbian community is comfortable with Piazza's own quasi-traditional stance on relationships. Gay filmmaker John Waters perhaps put it best for this generation of post-Stonewall revolutionaries who hoped to transform America. "I don't understand the modern gay rights movement," Waters said. "When I was young, the coolest things about being gay were you didn't have to be drafted, you didn't have to get married, and you didn't have to have kids."

Piazza might be the anti-Waters. He is, after all, the author of Rainbow Family Values, which offered tips on how to sustain committed, long-term, same-sex partnerships. Such models represent, to some gays and lesbians, a confusing trap. They fear repeating their parents' mistakes or trying to "straighten" a gay identity. To others who yearn simplistically for the tradition-bound, hetero model of monogamy they've been shut out of, Piazza's own family life -- three parents and artificial insemination -- is equally unnerving.

"Many Dallas gays and lesbians like to pretend they're liberal, but they're very conservative," he says. "They're very uncomfortable with what are, to them, nontraditional family structures."

Piazza has a biological daughter with a lesbian friend and an adopted daughter who are being raised by Piazza, Bill Eure, his partner of 19 years, and the female friend. "There was some displeasure [with the situation]," Piazza says. "Some congregationists have left. They thought that because we'd included the mother in our lives, we'd somehow heterosexualized the situation, which isn't true."

But should we be any more comfortable with family values coming from the left than with family values coming from the right? Piazza insists that his rhetoric is different, because it calls for a looser definition of the word "family" than social conservatives advocate. It's true that in Rainbow Family Values he doesn't stump for the idea that everyone should pursue lifelong commitments or even monogamy. There is too much of a danger, he says, of "lesbians and gays entering into relationships trying to fix their parents' fractured marriage. I do believe that the heterosexual model of marriage is flawed. People have to decide what model is right for them."

With his courting by congressional and presidential candidates (Piazza recently met with Tipper Gore when the Gore campaign came through town) and his proposed cathedral, Piazza appears to be seizing the baton in a very public way from conservative religious activists. As he does so, Piazza offers fundamentalists a surprising compliment.

"In one way, they got it," he says. "They understood that your faith should be expressed in every area of your life, including the way you vote. What was inappropriate was the church organizations, the bureaucracies themselves, getting involved. But they were right in saying your religious values ought to motivate you. But I say being a Christian ought to motivate you to volunteer at a homeless shelter or tutor poor children, not just rally forces to vote against what you disapprove of."

Out of the ruins of the religious right's political efforts, Michael Piazza, a self-fashioned but most unlikely family-values spokesman, hopes to emerge. If the fund-raising campaign succeeds, he'll have his 2,300-seat symbol, his institution with a capital "I," to advance the next phase of the lesbian and gay agenda at the moment when gay activists feel tired and a little confused about the future and many fundamentalist Christian activists feel demoralized about what they perceive as the evisceration of American Judeo-Christian values.

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