Sunday, July 22, 2007

How Tammy Faye Changed My Mind

Like many of you, I find Christian hypocrisy horrifying. As a Christian, I have a hard time reconciling the Jesus of love, compassion, and poverty with the 'religion' that celebrates worldly wealth and condemnation of others. The excesses of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker during the 'PTL' days seemed to be the prime example of everything that was wrong with that particular style of Christianity - the constant begging for money on the air, soliciting (one might even say strong-arming) the donations of the poor, the elderly, the lonely and gullible, who often sent what they could not afford to send in the hopes that God would bless them for it, all the while using those donations to live high on the hog. The idea that God shows His favor by conferring earthly riches upon His followers is antithetical to everything that the Christ taught us.

I'm sorry to have to say I found a certain amount of satisfaction in the fall of Jim and Tammy Faye - an embarrassing bit of schadenfreude which is un-Christian in itself. But the idea of manipulating people for money in God's name repelled me, and I was glad to see someone actually have to pay in some way. That whole group of holier-than-thou evangelists - Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard and the like - often are found to be unholier-than-thou, excoriating others for behavior that they are later discovered to be involved in, often far more than those they chastise.

So imagine my consternation, years after the PTL scandal, to find myself sharing the green room of the Roseanne show (where my husband and I were in the house band that played on taping day to keep the studio audience amused between takes) with none other than Tammy Faye - now Mrs. Roe Messner. I was about 8 months pregnant with my second child, so I was spending a lot of time sitting down and eating, when we weren't playing in between takes. Tammy Faye was a guest star. It was the last season of Roseanne, where she wins the lottery and the story line went wild, and there were all sorts of unusual guest stars (Arianna Huffington, for one) so it was always fascinating.

Anyway, sitting there by ourselves in the green room, I couldn't imagine that Tammy Faye and I would have anything to talk about, but she broke the ice by asking me about my kids, and talking about being pregnant. From then on, we talked about husbands (she adored hers, as do I), and Palm Springs (she hated it - she thought that palm trees looked like 'upside-down brooms') and Burbank and Florida and North Carolina and babies. Every once in a while someone would come in and gush over her (usually someone gay, with a picture for her to autograph) and she was always friendly and funny and totally charming.

Tammy Faye and I chatted for about 3 hours in that room, and I left a little bit different than I went in. I met someone who broke the stereotype I had formed in my mind about 'that type' of Christian. She survived one of the most publicly humiliating scandals a person can imagine, and came to embrace the gay community - which her particular denomination considered hellbound - while managing to keep her real faith intact. She learned what it's like to be hated and despised by strangers, and was loved by a community who understood that, and understood her, and she understood and loved them back.

It takes a lot of gumption and courage - and faith - to come back from something as devastating as that with an open heart and head held high, but Tammy Faye did it, and I became one of her fans that night. My wedding anniversary was coming up that week, and Tammy Faye asked me what we were going to do. I told her that we usually went to Chadney's, a steak restaurant in Burbank that we considered 'our place', but which had recently closed, so we hadn't decided yet.

"Oh, then you should go to the Smokehouse," she declared. "It's Roe's and my favorite place. It's all wood paneling and big comfy booths. You'll love it."

We did go to the Smokehouse for that anniversary, and we did love it. It has now become 'our place', thanks to Tammy Faye.

This week, my husband and I will go to the Smokehouse - this time in honor of Tammy Faye. Thank you, Tammy Faye, for helping me to be more open-minded and less judgmental. That's the kind of Christian I want to be.

Update - there are so many people who have written about Tammy Faye and/or linked here that I want to share them with you all too. As I find more, I'll add them. Interesting to see all the different takes on Tammy Faye.

Blue Gal
The Omnipotent Poobah
Mock, Paper, Scissors

I don't know if you all ever saw the episode she was on (I don't watch TV much myself) but Roseanne and her sister were at some posh spa, in reclining chairs facing the audience, and the makeup artist had her back to the audience and was talking to them about subtlety and the 'natural look' and 'less is more' and how the goal of makeup is to look like you don't have any on, etc., etc. - and then, of course, she turns around and it's Tammy Faye.

I think her saving grace was that she could laugh at herself. We should all be so fortunate.

Update II - Princess Sparkle Pony has Tammy Faye audio and album covers!

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