Recently the Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue, a United Methodist pastor in the Virginia Annual Conference, posted a reply on the Gays and Lesbians in Luke page. At the time I puzzled over how or even whether to respond, and decided not to reply. I thought to myself, “He’s probably just an old Southern pastor whose title is awfully important to him, who likes to make official pronouncement defending traditional Christianity. Leave the old guy alone.” Words like “posturing” and “insecurity” came to mind, since I am intimately acquainted with them both and can occasionally recognize them in others.
John Huff replied to him, and his response prompted me to re-read the Methodist pastor’s comment. I decided to google him. I figured that anyone whose title was that important to him had probably used it before. I was right.
Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue Justifies the Anti-Homosexual Rejection Message
There’s nothing new here, but this is how the Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue replied to my “Gays and Lesbians in Luke” page.
I’m afraid I’m not a disciple of yours. There’s enough evidence to the contrary for me that homosexuality was, is and always will be an “abomination” before God. As our society continues to change toward gay and lesbian acceptance, one can see how decent men of faith might wish it to be otherwise than traditional and historical theology concludes. Yet in the end, homosexual acceptance is man made and this interesting theological newly concocted twist (no matter how imaginative) is just another attempt at it.
I wish I could come down on the side of gays and lesbians theologically and morally, but to do so would be to be unfaithful to the biblical text overall and thousands of years of historical Christianity. I cannot, no matter how I might wish to, tell gays and lesbians that God is ok with their lifestyles when God abhors (hates in the strongest terms) said lifestyles. It wouldn’t be loving not to be truthful to them in an attempt to give them a false hope of acceptance when damnation and hell awaits. I for one will not lull them into a false sense of Divine acceptance with this much on the line, even when societal pressure exists to do otherwise. For me it is not the loving thing to do. I would rather be told the truth and warned than to be placated with what amounts to new, man made imaginative “fables” just to make me feel better here.
This world is only for a short time while eternity is forever. Let God be true and every man a liar.
Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue
Except for juxtaposing the words “liar” and “respectfully,” there wasn’t much new there, nothing I haven’t been hearing for years. John Huff’s reply was simple and direct. “I suggest you take that Dr off your signature and replace it with Homophobic Airhead.”
When I researched the Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue, I found that my initial decision to leave his comment unanswered, to just leave him be, was a decision I needed to re-think. As it turns out, Frankie Perdue is just like the rest of us: an ordinary guy coping with adversity and disappointment, struggling to give his life meaning and significance, looking for answers. And, unless I’m misreading his own expressions of personal disappointment, struggle, and searching, he reminds me of me. We are similar in many ways.
After a brief bio, I will share excerpts from some of his formally published comments. Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue is a relatively transparent guy. He demonstrates a modest degree of pastoral self-disclosure, and some of you know that I value self-disclosure. His main professional interests (based on the web) include mental illness, grief, and suicide. You will see that two suicides figure very highly in his life and ministry. He expresses some excellent wisdom on the topic of mental illness. I think you will see clearly how his views of mental illness and suicide relate to the problems of gay and lesbian believers–if only his grace and understanding extended that far.
Frankie L. Perdue — A Brief Bio
Now living in Virginia, Frankie Perdue is originally from Three Mile Bay in upstate New York. On Frankie’s second birthday (August 1955), his father committed suicide. I can only guess how it would be if my birthday also marked the day of my dad’s suicide. When I was a little under 1-1/2 years old my own dad had serious suicidal ideations–i.e., he had a plan. That would have been May or June of 1956. He felt responsible for my mother’s death. My step-mother told me, “He said he remembered that he had you to take care of, and changed his mind.” I share my dad’s bipolar disorder, and I used to experience months of dark, suicidal depression before I was diagnosed. Meds really help.
Some time after his father’s suicide, Frankie went to live with the Gifford family. He shares what it was like to grow up living on a farm and hunting for food in a painfully condescencing 2003 letter regarding Vegans that you can read here. Frankie Perdue’s wife is named Edris Gifford Perdue, so I assume he married into the Gifford clan (2008).
Perdue’s pastor was Rev. David Larkin, a graduate of Elim Bible Institute. Elim was an outgrowth of the pentecostal Latter Rains Movement, and Rev. Larkin was the founder of Faith Fellowship Church, a non-denominational pentecostal holiness church. In the years that followed, the congregation Larkin planted, turned around and planted about eight daughter churches in the New York area, so you see the Holy Spirit in Larkin’s ministry was vigorous and powerful. This was likely Perdue’s formative religious environment. He remembers Pastor Larkin as “a stern but loving father to his kids.” (2008)
The Elim Bible Institute, Frankie Perdue’s first experience with higher education, intentionally remains an unaccredited, 3-year school to this day, awarding certificates and diplomas. One of its most famous recent grads is Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue. (wikipedia)
U.S. Army and Higher Education
After a four-year stint in the U.S. Army (1972-1975) Frankie Perdue used the G.I. Bill as far as it would take him. He graduated from Eastern Mennonite University and Eastern Mennonite Seminary with his BS, MA, and M Div degrees, and earned a D Min from Trinity Theological Seminary. At his 2002 seminary dialogue presentation, he was careful to clarify that he had more degrees than the program bio had reported.
I only have a BA and an MA. I framed them myself, and used to have them hanging in the hallway of our home. I’ve attended three seminaries, but never took a degree. I understand the allure of higher education, and what was for me the temptation to find my security and sense of accomplishment in academic degrees instead of God. I remember thinking in fourth grade, “None of the kids like me, but I’m smarter than anyone else in the class.” Such are the poignant, and pathetic (as in “filled with pathos”?), roots of me finding shelter, not under the wings of the Almighty, but in the wings and corridors of the university and seminary.
In his letter denouncing Veganism, Perdue writes, “Fact is, life is cruel and survival is about the food chain and where one happens to be in it.” I can’t help but think that this applies as much to graduate degrees and one’s upward career mobility in the UMC hierarchy as anything. It’s understandable–wanting to be at the top of the food chain.
Mental Health Awareness Sunday: “Restored Life”
In October, 2001, Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue preached a message for Mental Health Awareness Sunday titled, “Restored Life.” I can only express my hope that Frankie Perdue will one day express the same concern and support for gay and lesbian believers who suffer that brutal wall of rejection from their families, church homes, and their communities.
As Christians, we are given the command to “bear one another’s burdens.” When someone can’t carry their own load for a time, we help them to do it. That “load” can be physical, financial, and it can be emotional. Some ways we can help to carry other’s burdens is to simply “be there” for people in mental distress. To genuinely and without a judgmental attitude, listen to them. To gently and lovingly care for and about them.
We don’t have to have all the answers. We can accept one another, even when emotionally distraught or dealing with phobias, or depression, or irrational thinking, or anxieties we can’t explain or fully understand. We can help by being a sounding board and assisting that person to realize they momentarily aren’t thinking clearly or rationally right now. We can help them see that getting help is a good thing to do. We can help by referring them to persons specially trained to help with mental illness issues. . . . We can help by reassuring them that GOD is still with them, even if they can’t sense it or perceive it to be so in their current condition. We can help by affirming to them that they are not alone.
We need to be loving, kind and pro-active when we find someone so struggling. We need to refer that person to those most able to help them find their way out of “the Dark Night of the Soul.”
Sounds great. If only it we could generalize the non-judgmental listening, caring, and kindness for everyone, and not just the mentally ill.
A Theological Response with Tragic Results
A conference was held in 2002: “A Dialogue with Seminaries: Preparing Pastors and Other Caregivers to Respond to the Needs of Persons and Families Struggling with Mental Illness.” As the first presenter, Perdue shared a moving story about a young man in his first pastorate.
I’ll share a story with you and it may get a little emotional for me, but I think I need to share it. . . . I had one particular young man that came to our house and he was a
very big, obese young man; . . . he was a cross between Andre the Giant and Baby Huey . . . he was a wonderful young man in many ways and he happened to be the son of the pastor that I was replacing at my first parish. And he used to come and play with my little kids, and in many ways they were on the same level together because of his simple-mindedness.
But Barry had a lot of problems. . . . One day we were sitting out under the carport drinking some lemonade; and he said to me, “What do you think happens to people that commit suicide?”
Well, I was full of myself; I had just had all this great theological training and I was so eager to give him a great theological answer, which, I think, I did fairly well. I told him that I believed that persons who committed suicide were probably not whole at that time; that they could not be held accountable in the same way we would not hold a two-year old accountable for certain acts that they would do because they were just not at a place where that would make sense.
And I guess what happened was that in a sense I gave him permission to carry out what he had probably been thinking about for a long time. A week later the news came to me that he had committed suicide–blew his brains out in a rock quarry; and I had to be the one to go tell his father and mother that their son had committed suicide.
I wish I could go back. I wish I had had the training where I could have at least known that maybe the question wasn’t about theology, but it was something more. Maybe I would have had the knowledge to be able to say to that young man, tell me what is prompting this question; what is it that’s going on in your life that is causing you to ask such a question as this? I would give anything if I could go back and change that.
I hope the day doesn’t come when Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue feels such remorse once more, this time after a teenage believer goes home after sitting in church and blows his brains out, after Perdue declared, safely in his robes behind the pulpit, that the kid is an abomination to God, that God abhors (“hates in the strongest terms”) his actions, and proclaimed God’s absolute rejection of people like him–homosexuals.
When your audience is 16, your careful wording doesn’t matter; what matters is how your words are heard, how your words are internalized, how your words are acted on.
“I wish…I wish…I would give anything if I could go back and change that”
Perdue’s regret reminds me of Mary Lou Wallner’s reply to a letter from her daughter.
Undoubtedly, the most difficult part of your letter was the gay thing. I will never accept that in you. I feel it’s a terrible waste, besides being spiritually and morally wrong. For a reason I don’t quite fathom, I have a harder time dealing with that issue than almost anything in the world. I do and will continue to love you, but I will always hate that, and will pray every day that you will change your mind and attitude.
Mary Lou Wallner, on the advice of her favorite Christian radio host James Dobson, rejected her Christian daughter because she was a lesbian. In February 1997 her daughter Anna committed suicide. Mary Lou shared her story in the movie, For the Bible Tells Me So. Read her story here, here and here.
What do I wish I’d done? What would I do now? Grab my toothbrush, credit card, and car keys, jump in the car, drive to where she lives, and tell her I love her no matter what. I did not do that, and now I never can.
My own son is a committed Christian. In high school he was on the praise team at our church, North Clairemont UMC, and sang knock-out solos. He was the kind of kid who was in church whenever the church doors were open. But when he told the pastor he was gay, the first words out of our pastor’s mouth were, “What will people think?”
The pastor told him that he couldn’t allow him to be on the platform. Jonathan was still a virgin, mind you, so he hadn’t transgressed, but that apparently didn’t matter. Jonathan was also president of his high school Bible club–he had weekly club attendance between 30 and 35. The Bible club advisor suggested that Jonathan resign as president “for the good of the club.” After that Jonathan attempted suicide three times. Evangelical leaders closed ranks against my son. They silenced an innocent teenage boy. God forbid good Christian people should have to work through for themselves the problem posed by one of their own, a young believer they know and love, being gay. I can only guess at the twisted logic of guilty until proven innocent, of “Kick him out and let God sort it out.”
When teens come out to their parents as gay or lesbian, roughly 25% are forced from their homes. Here in San Diego there are about 400 homeless youth at any one time, and between 25% and 40% are LGBT. According to the journal Pediatrics LGBT youth are are 6 times more likely to suffer from depression and 8 times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people.
Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue’s Plea
In his remarks at the Seminary Dialogue conference, Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Purdue practically pleaded with representatives from the “ivory tower” seminaries to do something about the real problems faced by pastors.
I don’t care what you’ve got to do, but I wish you would let some of us who have been in ministry a while and dealt with some of these situations come and inform some of the ivory-towered people, you know, what is really going on in our ministries, in our lives, and what we are facing and having to deal with, and how inadequately equipped we really are to deal with many of the things that we are facing.
Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Purdue’s believes that homosexuality was, is and always will be an “abomination” before God, and that It wouldn’t be loving not to be truthful to them in an attempt to give them a false hope of acceptance when damnation and hell awaits.
In his off-handed dismissal of Biblical, carefully reasoned arguments supporting God’s love and acceptance of gay and lesbian believers, I’m afraid Frankie Perdue’s resort to evangelical clichés mirrors the mistake he made with Barry, the gentle giant who killed himself. Well, I was full of myself; I had just had all this great theological training and I was so eager to give him a great theological answer.
Frankie Perdue’s Plea from Other Lips
There are UMC pastors across the country who must try to mitigate the damage done to gay and lesbian believers by anti-homosexual parents and pastors. Let’s hear Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue’s pleas from the lips of Reconciling UMC clergy and congregations in large cities where hundreds of young people have been kicked out of their homes because they are gay, cities where many gay and lesbian couples and singles are searching for new church homes.
I don’t care what you’ve got to do, but I wish you would let some of us who have been in ministry a while and dealt with some of these situations come and inform some of the ivory-towered people, you know, what is really going on in our ministries, in our lives, and what we are facing and having to deal with.
Rev. Dr. Frankie L. Perdue wrote, “I would rather be told the truth and warned than to be placated with something to make me feel better here.”
Okay, fine. When a pastor’s words lead to a the suicide of a young believer, and that pastor has been warned, those words are hateful–full of hate.
- Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
- If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
- The one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Maybe the question isn’t about theology, but something more.
Or, maybe it really is about theology after all.