Son of N.C. televangelists takes on discrimination against gays

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Jay Bakker, Christian punk preacher and son of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, will speak in Raleigh today about God's love for gays and lesbians, building on a theme his late mother championed.

The pierced and tattooed Bakker grew up in Charlotte at the heels of his parents' Praise The Lord ministry and television network. The PTL empire imploded in scandal in the 1980s.

Afterward, Tammy Faye, who divorced an imprisoned Jim Bakker and married Roe Messner, re-emerged as a television and cult personality -- this time embracing gay men infected with the AIDS virus. She died of cancer last year.

Her son is following in her footsteps -- fighting to end religious and political discrimination against gays and lesbians, and presenting a nonjudgmental, inclusive face to his Christian faith.

"I'm going to talk about loving your neighbor as yourself, God's amazing grace and the dangers of apathy in our lives," Bakker said.

Now 32 and living in Brooklyn, N.Y., he leads Revolution New York City, a church that meets Sunday afternoons in a bar.

Services are recorded and posted on the Web site www.revoluntionnyc.com "to create an online church for people who have given up on church."

Bakker's activism on behalf of gays and lesbians started three years ago, after he saw friends mistreated because of their sexual orientation. He began to study the Bible and says he's convinced that passages condemning homosexuality refer to worship of a fertility god or male prostitution but not the caring and respectful relationships established between people of the same sex.

"I don't think that two people in love is a sin," he said.

Bakker is not gay but is separated from his wife, Amanda.

The celebrity preacher has paid a price among conservative and evangelical Christians for his convictions. Engagements to his widely sought-out church appearances were abruptly canceled, and he stopped speaking publicly for a year. His journey was the subject of a documentary series broadcast on the Sundance Channel called "One Punk Under God."

Bakker said the scandal that embroiled his parents taught him that he shouldn't compromise his principles -- even if it cost him money or church contacts. Jim Bakker had a sexual affair with a church secretary and later was convicted on federal charges that he sold time shares he could not provide at his South Carolina theme park and resort.

Bakker's Raleigh appearance is sponsored by St. John's Metropolitan Community Church, which serves gays and lesbians. It coincides with N.C. Pride's annual festival on Saturday at Duke University's East Campus.