I never thought I’d find myself liking an evangelist. But it’s hard not to like Jay Bakker, son of the Rev. Jim and Tammy Faye. The younger Bakker has a new show on the Sundance Channel, entitled One Punk Under God. The show covers the tattooed and pierced younger Bakker’s struggling ministry, currently run out of an auto body shop.
The episode I saw centered on Bakker’s attempts to mend his relationship with his father, as well as the decision to actively minister to the gay and transsexual community. I have to admit, I wound up liking not only Bakker, but his young wife–who encouraged him to liberalize his message.
The end of the first show has Bakker preaching to an audience of about a dozen, explaining why he believes the bible passages pertaining to homosexuality (Romans 1) have been misinterpreted. Especially poignant is watching Bakker take this stand, while his major financial sponsor–a clear homophobe–sits uncomfortably in the audience staring at the floor.
After the controversial sermon, we see a confused and ambivalent flock milling around as the show ends.
I applaud Bakker for his courage. He has a lot at stake, and his sincerity and desire to help people is obvious. Unfortunately, his interpretations of scripture are as baseless as his opponents’. Other preachers use the same text to preach hate and exclude gays from participation. This shows that no matter how progressive religions may pretend to be, their weakness is that they allow for humans to step in and reshuffle and reinterpret their core message. So the Bible is used by some to preach love and compassion, and by others to vent their hatred.
We cannot justify granting or taking away rights, including or excluding people, or formulating social policy based on people’s opinions, scriptural or otherwise. The only way to avoid this trap is to accept secular criteria and universal human rights, derived through critical evaluation of human needs. Only by enshrining these ironclad principles can we guard against capricious religious values which vary from church to church, town to town, and nation to nation. Only objective methods can curb abuses and ensure ethics will be maintained.
Still, I can’t help but wishing Jay Bakker success in opening up his ministry. Maybe he’ll help some people who are really hurting, and have no other community. Since 85% of Americans believe in some kind of god, we won’t have real social change until we change religion. Since Bakker’s got his own reality show, perhaps his message will reach other preachers who will follow his lead. Maybe it will help them see that they must stop waging their vicious culture war against the inevitable arrival of a more tolerant society.