By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
White plays to his reputation. Dressed in a rumpled brown suit, his shirt collar open, he paces the stage, thinking out loud, channeling the word, improvising--a preacher through and through. He makes the call, the crowd responds.
"Jesus had a hard time going to the cross. But Jesus was no wimp."
"Satan's next big move will be against our youth."
"The problem our children have is spiritual....We depend more on education than our relationship with God."
"Now don't get me wrong, I got nothing against education. But it's not helping us with our morals. Most of these universities are teaching us their beliefs, removing God."
The sermon is nondenominational, born-again. In the Greek alphabet, White says, X is the first letter of Christ's name. The letter X is a cross. Our children are the children of Malachi. Generation X. Our children are going mad. He quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He rages about how we've turned into a country of rights instead of a country of righteousness. And in the presentation's most inexplicable twist, he calls the media to task for letting women reporters in the locker room to interview pro athletes.
Outside the theater a gaggle of protesters has been organized by the PrideAlive program, a gay and bisexual men's support group sponsored by the Minnesota Aids Project. They form a small circle, peacefully carrying signs urging MFC to "stop the lies." Endorsed by other local and national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations, this counter-punch is as much about the Minnesota Family Council as about Reggie White. Bob Tracy says the politically active conservative's ability to synthesize issues, from sex education to school violence, is not only disturbing but effective. He says it's all part of a legislative push that in 1999 has resulted in abstinence-only amendments on a number of bills, an attempt to reverse St. Paul's decision on contraceptive services, and the adoption of language that would nullify a 1988 law requiring public schools to provide AIDS education (see "Sex and the Single Issue," page 16). "It's all part of the same old right-wing religious agenda," Tracy warns. "And it's shrewd. After all, who in their right mind would be against something like abstinence?"
By the time White is done speaking, most of the demonstrators have cleared out. ("I know they're sincere," MFC board chair L. David Henningson tells the crowd inside. "I also know they're sincerely wrong. It tells me we're making a difference. We're making them nervous.") As White wraps up the night's sermon, though, a few gay men are still milling around under the State's marquee, handing out flyers that read, "We are living proof that you can change." When White's entourage wanders out the front door a few minutes ahead of the crowd, he absent-mindedly grabs one of the leaflets. Thirty yards down the sidewalk, he glances at the literature. He stops, pivots, and returns at a quick step; not to scold, but to congratulate. Neglecting to read the fine print, White mistakenly thinks these young people are Christian missionaries trying to save homosexuals from themselves. When he realizes the literature was put out by an organization called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays, he retreats.
Considering the conclusion to White's address, the exchange is either funny, sad, or both: "If no one's calling you a homophobe or a bigot, check yourself," he'd shouted to a chorus of alleluias. "Because you're doing something wrong."
Act Four: The Kids in the Hall
When Katie Gozola was confirmed at Bloomington Baptist Church in the ninth grade, she was presented with a "purity ring"--one lone pearl set into a thin gold band. She plans to wear it until she's married to a man like her current boyfriend, a Christian with his priorities in order. "I believe sex is a gift from God. It's meant for marriage," the polite, well-spoken student says. "It's like holding hands: The first time you do it, your heart pounds. Then it gets mundane. If you have sex before you're married, it won't be as special. It will become mundane."
A 17-year-old senior at Jefferson High School, Gozola is sitting at a table at the Caribou Coffee Shop in Lund's grocery store on 98th and Normandale in Bloomington. She's joined by her friend Ben Olson, a 16-year-old sophomore from Bloomington's Kennedy High School and their twentysomething youth-group leader from church, Laura Smythe, who also works as the assistant director of New Life Family Services, a nonprofit abstinence resource center and adoption agency. While Smythe takes notes and nods encouragement, Olson and Gozola reflect on questions about temperance, sex education, and the awkward task of coming of age in the late 1990s.
"I thinks sex was meant to be between one man and one woman," Olson says, soberly searching for just the right words. "That was the original plan of God. It was the best idea."
"The thing is," Gozola chimes in, "in the sex education classes I've taken, they don't teach you about the pressure. I've learned more about saying no from Laura."
"Almost every client who sees us and learns about having a second virginity gets tears in their eyes," Smythe says. "Because they didn't know they had a second chance. They're never told they have a choice."