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He passes the mike to Chelette, who worships every Sunday with Thomas at the First Baptist Church in Arlington. (About two years ago, that church donated an office suite to house Living Hope's headquarters.) Today, Chelette offers a pat view of same-sex attraction, reminiscent of one presented by that Jewish psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, who said that people wrestle with homosexuality because of some emotional "arrests" in childhood sexual development.
Detached fathers, Chelette says, stunt sexual growth by not encouraging their children to develop secure, wholesome gender identities. The reasons may be earthly, he says, but the prescription lies in accepting that in this fallen world one needs a heavenly redeemer to rein in the will.
Forget what the popular culture says, adds Thomas. "For those of you who are struggling with homosexuality," he says, "there is a life beyond that identity."
Hay is credited by many with originating the idea that lesbians and gay men differ from heterosexuals just as blacks and other ethnic minorities differ from Americans of European descent. He concluded that homosexuals should overcome their self-loathing and shame and revel in their "lovely sexuality."
These days, pop culture largely portrays homosexuality as an inalienable characteristic, no more alterable than, say, left-handedness or eye color. And so in recent Hollywood fare with gay leads, most notably The Talented Mr. Ripley and Boys Don't Cry, there's never any mention of what elements in these characters' pasts might have contributed to their sexual orientation. In Ripley, for instance (which is based on a 1955 novel by Texas native Patricia Highsmith), director and screenwriter Anthony Minghella eliminated Highsmith's Freudian explanations for the main character's infatuation with another man.
If, as gay activists argue, homosexuality is a genetic trait rather than a choice, one can't possibly raise moral objections to it. That's the way God created them. In both Christianity's and Judaism's liberal branches, religious leaders have reinterpreted their respective Bibles to view Biblical condemnations of homosexuality as cultural statements confined to those ancient times, not as outright, moral absolutes for all ages. Writes the Rev. Michael Piazza in an article posted on the Web site for his Cathedral of Hope, the largest gay and lesbian congregation in the world, located in Dallas, "Early writers [of the Bible] had no understanding of homosexuality as a psycho-sexual orientation." Here in the Bible Belt, Piazza's church, numbering 3,000, is "busting at the seams," as its spokeswoman, Kris Martin, puts it. In the Oak Lawn area, a large billboard is up this month, promoting the church's Sunday-morning worship, which has grown to three services. Another sign will go up in early August along Inwood Road in North Dallas.
For those who still voice the traditional Judeo-Christian view of homosexuality, there's a rising public backlash. The most recent example is the furor caused by radio talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, an observant Jew whose heated references to homosexuality as a "terrible sadness" and "deviant sexual behavior" made her the butt of jokes by Billy Crystal at this year's Academy Awards telecast and have caused sponsors to bail out of her proposed television show. According to a recent Harris poll, almost half of all Americans identifying themselves as heterosexual say they would be less likely to buy a product from a company if it advertised on a show that expressed negative views of gays and lesbians.
Little by little, the gay rights movement is becoming part of the American mainstream. Tune in to NBC each Tuesday night, and there's the consistently Top 10-rated show, Will & Grace, which ridiculed ex-gay ministries in one episode by having its main character, Jack, succeed at seducing a man who leads such a group.
There was a time when Randy Thomas might have related to the flirty Jack. Twelve years ago, after being kicked out of his mother's home in Nashville, Tennessee, because she found out he was gay, Thomas was working as a cashier at a Kroger store. Another employee, a college student in his early 20s named Bruce, invited him to his church's Bible study. Thomas accepted. With his frosted Duran Duran haircut and pierced ear from which a cross dangled, he showed up at the church, but only because he thought he could seduce the tall, blond Bruce. He would not succeed.
It was a month later, when Thomas hopped a Greyhound to Dallas, where his aunt lived, that his life slowly began to change. He still used alcohol and drugs ("just about anything except acid") and went to gay bars. But he wanted to get sober, and soon he joined a 12-step program. About two years later, a female friend from the group told him she had just accepted Jesus Christ. He had not been raised in a churchgoing home. All he had heard was what his mother, a nominal Christian, had told him: God is real, and Jesus is His son.