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Jesus Christ had a reputation for hanging out with the wrong crowd. Tax collectors, lepers and prostitutes among others were his friends, and his message was relatively simple: Love one another.
It's out of that ancient Christian tradition that the Rev. Jay Bakker is visiting the Triangle for the N.C. Pride Parade and Festival. Multi-tattooed and pierced, the 32-year-old Bakker doesn't look the role of a preacher, but his birth right includes one of the best-known names in Christian evangelism.
The youngest child of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, he grew up in Charlotte. He was known as "Jamie" to the millions of people who watched his parents' PTL (Praise The Lord) Club on television.
Bakker, who offers nothing but praise for his parents, said his late mother liked to emphasize the centrality of God's love. "She was always focused on making sure people knew how much Jesus loved them and cared for them just the way they were," Bakker said in a telephone interview from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Even when Bakker became sexually active at 14, his mother didn't condemn him. "She sat me down and said, 'I don't want you to have sex. I think you should wait, but if you are going to have sex please use a condom and please be safe.' I think a lot of people would be amazed by that."
Bakker grew up surrounded by Christian fundamentalists who led him to think he was undeserving of God's love. As a result, he began drinking. "For a long time I thought God hated me," Bakker said. "Everything was bad. Everything was satanic ... and the devil was everywhere, and I could never be good enough for God."
Simply recognizing God's love changed him. "We've got this amazing gift of grace and love and forgiveness. God promises, 'I will love you no matter what you do or what you say. I'll always love you and always care about you.'"
Bakker's liberation prompted him in 1994 to found Revolution, a church to minister to those, he said, "who feel rejected by traditional approaches to Christianity."
Straight and divorced, Bakker uses his high profile to challenge the mainstream church for condemning those who are different, including the LGBT community. The Gospel demands an open and affirming outreach to everyone. "Christ always seemed to be going towards the marginalized and the hurting and those who had been left out," Bakker said. "The gay and lesbian and transgender community has been marginalized. They're definitely the outcasts."
Mike Gauss serves on the leadership team at St. John's Metropolitan Community Church, where Bakker will lead a worship service. "To have an advocate who is a member of the majority speaking on your behalf does volumes to move forward concepts of justice and human rights and equality," Gauss said.
Bakker says all people should be allowed to marry, regardless of sexual orientation. "I think everybody should have the right to get married and have a spouse," he said. "I believe it's the unfinished business of the civil rights movement."
Bakker said he's hopeful that societal attitudes will shift to a more inclusiveness toward the LGBT community, just as they did toward African-Americans. "I believe that sexuality's a gift from God," Bakker said. "I think we have a long road ahead of us, but I think eventually this will be something that people will begin to accept and see. But I do think we have somewhat of a struggle."