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Son of a preacher man: Jay Bakker thinks God is for gay people too, and he's going to bars to bring religion back to the disillusioned. Jim and Tammy Faye's baby boy has a new church and a new reality series, One Punk Under God.

With his full-sleeve tattoos on both arms, pierced lip, expander earrings, and beat-up leather jacket and jeans, Jay Bakker looks more like a roadie for his favorite band, Social Distortion, than a preacher of God. Actually, the legendary Southern California punk band is his favorite "of all time," he says during his sermon one Sunday afternoon in October at Pete's Candy Store--a slightly grimy hipster bar in the thick of Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Williamsburg neighborhood scene. Two decades after his televangelist parents, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, fell from grace because of scandal, their son is finding his own grace in the wilds of New York City, where his Revolution church relocated from Atlanta earlier this year--just after its controversial embrace of gays.

Those changes, set against his mother's valiant struggle with cancer and his complicated relationship with his father, are the subject of One Punk Under God, an "observational documentary" series debuting December 13 on Sundance Channel. The six-part reality show is from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the queer creative team behind the cult favorite 2000 documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye, in which a much younger "Jamie" (his given name) makes barely more than a cameo--but it was enough to convince the duo to film him too. "Fenton and I were so amazed at how resilient he seemed," says Barbato. "He wasn't preaching at the time, but he seemed like an interesting person. I think it was just his charisma."

But being a documentary subject didn't exactly appeal to Bakker, who turns 31 on December 18. "It never seemed like something I was ever interested in," he tells me at a Williamsburg coffeehouse on a recent weekday afternoon, in one of very few media interviews he's given for One Punk Under God. He had just returned from North Carolina, where his ailing mom--a revered figure among many gays for her acceptance of them (and for her mascara)--is now dying of late-stage lung I cancer in hospice care at her home outside Charlotte, N.C. In the late 1980s the breakup of the Bakkers' Christian broadcasting empire, PTL, amid financial improprieties, and Jim's affair with Jessica Hahn, were turned by the media into one of the decade's great scandals. So who could blame the younger Bakker for being a little "gun-shy," as he says? But once he realized the show could be "a platform, that's what got me," he says. "People could see where we were coming from--that all Christians aren't closed-minded, angry right-wing conservative people."

Indeed, as practiced by Bakker in the context of his church, Christianity is anything but that. Revolution is a thoroughly do-it-yourself operation in the truest punk tradition, founded 12 years ago as a "church for people who have given up on church," as its stickers (yes, stickers) proudly proclaim. (In a bigger font, they also boast, "As Christians, we're sorry for being self-righteous judgmental bastards." Amen.) It quickly became a haven for disaffected Gen X types, attracting dozens of people each week to an Atlanta rock club to hear Bakker, a recovering alcoholic who's been sober for years, sermonize about his feelings of alienation and spiritual desire. Among those who would come were gay people--friends of Bakker and others who never felt welcome in any church but his.

That acceptance is tested right from the start of One Punk Under God, when Bakker, after a moving visit to the gay-affirming Open Door Community Church near Little Rock, Ark., decides to make Revolution officially gay-affirming too. It was a decision, Bakker says, "that had been stirring in my heart for years. One of my best friends in high school was gay, and over the years I've had a lot of gay friends, but I had always walked the line on the issue of, Where do I stand?"

He found his answer during a service at Open Door. "At one point during the music, I just let go and was quiet," he recalls of his experience there earlier this year, at the outset of filming. "And I really felt like the Lord was speaking to my heart, saying, 'Jay, you need to take a stand for these people. What's been done in the gay community is wrong.' Something happened in my heart. I went back to my hotel and just started crying. I was like, I feel like God is telling me that it's OK--this isn't a sin, we've made it into something it's not. We've miscommunicated the Scripture."

The next day, when he spoke at the church, the emotions continued to run over. "I said, 'I want to apologize to all of you, because I have not stood up for you as I should. I tried to be safe and protect myself by not taking a stand for you, but I was wrong--and from this point forward you have an advocate, you have a friend. I will stand up for you and fight for you.'"

But his advocacy for gays has come at an unfortunate if predictable price: One of his board members resigned in protest, claiming Bakker was preaching "heresy," and his foundation support was cut off, forcing him to lay off all but one of his small staff. He lost preaching engagements too, and he wondered if Revolution would survive. As one of his allies says near the end of episode 2 of One Punk, "This could potentially destroy his life for a second time"--the first time being the PTL scandals.

At the same time, his flame-haired beauty of a wife, Amanda, was applying to medical school at New York University, which accepted her, prompting a move up north this summer. "Everybody's like, 'You're living in Hipsterville,'" he says with a laugh about the new locale, although he says he's not a hipster himself because "I wash my hair every day." "Man, I feel like I should have been here my whole life." But that joy is clearly tempered by anguish over his mom's slow, agonizing decline, rendered almost palpable in a few scenes in the show. It's depressing to watch so vibrant a personality reduced to such a battered shell. "I've just been so angry at God," he said during his sermon at Pete's Candy Store that weekend, as heartache washed over his face.

What does Tammy Faye think about his newfound commitment to gays? "My mom was worried that the church was going to kill me--not physically, but like it would destroy me," he says. He remembers her asking, "Why don't you just walk the line, like Johnny Cash?" He continues, "And I said, 'But Mom, how many people do you think God talked to before Martin Luther King?' I want to stand up for my conviction. I want to stand up for what I believe God is telling me. If I'm wrong, I feel like God will tell me.

"And she said, 'Well, son, I don't know, but I'm so glad I have a son who stands up for his convictions and follows what he believes.'"
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Article Details
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Author:Kennedy, Sean
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 19, 2006
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