Jay Bakker: Finding Jesus, in Drag

I read a wonderful post this week by Jay Bakker – the son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Messner – on how going to a drag show helped him recognize you can find faith anywhere, and that there are no boundaries on grace or on God’s love. Some excerpts:

During a trip to California a few years back, my then-wife Amanda and I were invited out to a drag show by RuPaul, the famous drag queen (recording artist, supermodel, VH1 talk-show host, etc.) who did the voice-over for the 2000 documentary about my mom, The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

…Frankly, I was really nervous about how the Christian magazines and festival organizers and even some of my Christian friends would react if they knew I’d been to a drag show…In the end, I decided to overcome my fears and go. (When the queen of drag queens invites you to a drag show, you really don’t have a choice.) Thank God I did….

During intermission, I stepped outside to have a cigarette. While I was standing there, one of the drag queens — a seven-foot tall black man in heels who was wearing a massive replica of the Eiffel Tower on his head — approached to say that he was a preacher’s kid too and that he had grown up in the church. He went on to explain how much he loved my mom and how worried he was about her cancer.

“Please tell your mom that I’m praying for her and that I love her,” he said, Eiffel Tower bobbing as he spoke….

Near the end of the show, a drag queen got up onstage and began spotlighting the famous people in the crowd: “Dita Von Teese is here!” (cheers). “And RuPaul is here!” (cheers). And all of a sudden he said, “Did anyone here ever watch the Praise the Lord ministry?”…And suddenly, this huge spotlight hit me.

As I blinked into the blinding light, the emcee asked teasingly, “Are you straight?”

“Yeah,” I said, blushing and pointing a thumb at my wife, Amanda.

“Lucky girl,” the emcee said.

And then the emcee got real serious. Standing there in high heels and a sparkly dress, he said: “You know, this is where Jesus would be if He were alive today. Jesus hung out with the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the sinners … ” He then launched into a three-minute speech about how Jesus loved everybody without judgment.

Then he looked back up at me and asked, “Jay, are you still doing your church?”

“Yeah,” I answered.

“Oh, that’s so wonderful. Best of luck to you on that.” And everybody clapped.

So there I was, stunned, not knowing what to make of this. One minute a drag queen was making cracks about whether I’m gay, and the next minute he was saying these really amazing things about Jesus and grace.

(via Jay Bakker: Finding Jesus, in Drag.)

More after the jump…

Bakker’s post is about finding faith in Jesus specifically in places that challenge our assumptions about who can be a Christian and what that means. It made me think of a related issue – about the assumptions some Christians make about who can be a good person, and what that means.

One of the most insidious things about my fundamentalist and evangelical upbringing was the extreme isolation from anyone who wasn’t a conservative, Protestant, “spirit-filled” and “bible believing” Christian. This was usually coupled with implicit and explicit condemnation and negative stereotypes of people on the outside. They couldn’t ever be truly good, or truly Christian, or sincerely love God. They were at best deceived, or else deliberate sinners and perhaps even people who hated God and had an “agenda” to destroy the church and society. It was dangerous to our faith and to our fight against sin to spend too much time around such people.

When I left home for college, I also left behind the family and church barriers that severely limited my social interactions and exposure to different points of view. I still did a lot of religious stuff – church, campus ministry, retreats and all that. I had plenty of Christian friends who believed as I did.  But I also formed close friendships with Christians from different traditions, with people of different faiths, with atheists, liberals, and queer people. Spent late nights in dorm rooms debating politics and sex and ethics and all sorts of things with them. Shared my joys and my burdens and my life with them, and they with me.

I got to know people who were everything I’d been taught to fear, and loathe, and disdain, and ended up realizing that they were people too. They weren’t sad dupes or mustache-twirling cartoon villains. Just real people, trying to live their lives like anyone else.

And they were good people. People whose kindness and care and passion I wanted to emulate, people who made me want to be a better person. A lot were people of deep faith and sincere belief in God (and some in Jesus, specifically) – just different from mine. And my friends who were of little or no faith, well, it was hard to see what difference that made. It certainly didn’t seem to make them any less moral or passionate or satisfied with life. Lots of them were nicer people and more fun to be around than many of the Christians I knew.

I think college was probably when I stopped really believing in hell, and abandoned the idea that you have to be a Christian to get to heaven. I wouldn’t have put it in so many words at the time, certainly not to most of the Christians I knew, and perhaps never fully admitted it to myself, either. But I just could not accept that most of my wonderful, loving, amazing friends would be condemned to hell along with most of the world for not believing a certain set of doctrines. I couldn’t accept that living well, being kind, and doing good are all ultimately meaningless to God if you’re not a Christian.

The more I write about these issues the more I understand why very conservative Christian communities zealously shield their children from any outside influences or different points of view. On some level they realize that such an exclusionary faith is far more difficult to maintain if they let on to the fact that people on the outside are, on the whole, just regular people trying to do their best. It’s a lot harder to condemn someone to hell when you know them as a good, loving, beautiful person, know their families and their passions, when they know you. It’s not impossible. But it’s hard.


One Comment on “Jay Bakker: Finding Jesus, in Drag”

  1. Faith says:

    The way Jesus loved people is so different from the schizoid “Christian” way of loving people. So many Christians say “Well, I love you but…” But I can’t accept that you’re gay, that you smoke, that you’re trans, that you have sex outside marriage, that you drink, that you had an abortion, that you’re an illegal alien, that you’re divorced, that you’re a Muslim…

    That’s not love. That’s a list of excuses for not loving your neighbor as you love yourself.

    Love without acceptance is just an empty word.

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