Randy Potts is the grandson of Oral Roberts, the famous 600-foot Jesus televangelist. Oral Roberts was part of my growing-up life, especially the years my dad was overseas. We would stay with my maternal grandmother, and our Sunday morning routine included Oral Roberts and Rex Humbard. I can still remember the strains of Oral's theme music Something Good (is Going to Happen to You) piping through my grandmother's eastward-listing, tarpaper-shingle house as we got ready for church.
Potts recently told the story of being the evangelist's grandson for This Land Press, a Tulsa-based multimedia magazine that so far has totally kicked ass. (Note: I want to write for them.) He was chosen as the Grand Marshall for this year's Oklahoma City AIDS Walk, and for that reason, I was asked to interview him. The Gazette story is here. As is always the case, I had way more material than I can use for a story, so I'm publishing the entirety of the email interview below. I asked Potts a few questions he did not answer, but presumably they weren't germane to the story I was writing, and they were quite personal, so I understand.
How much has changed now that your story is out in the media?
The main difference is that I now get letters from many gay men and women seeking help especially in regards to homosexuality and religion, and of course my family is also deeply upset that I am "linking the Roberts name with homosexuality which is disgusting." (this was from a voicemail I received after my video became public)
Have you had opportunities to talk to young people in faith communities who are LGBT, and what was that like?
Yes, many opportunities, both in letters and also in person in churches. It's been an amazing experience to get to reassure young gay kids that yes, they can keep the faith they were raised in and still be gay—that is the most common question gay teens have for me.
Your "it gets better" video is powerful. What was that experience like? Did you have a genuine sense that you're making a difference?
It was pretty stressful to put a video like that on YouTube. The letter to my uncle was from a private journal that I had never intended to share, but as I heard more and more news reports of gay kids committing suicide and began to watch the early "it gets better" videos I felt like I needed to make a contribution. At the time, I didn't know if anybody outside my group of friends would watch it, maybe a couple hundred from Facebook, but it quickly went viral.
Do you still consider yourself a person of faith, and if so, how did you make peace with who you are and what you'd been told the Bible teaches?
I consider myself exactly that, a person of faith,and don't publicly wear my religion on my sleeve. However, I am convinced that there is no conflict between Christianity and homosexuality. I read a lot of books, both pro and con, on the Bible's message regarding homosexuality and concluded that there was no clear, consistent condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible. There are passages that call it, along with eating shellfish and wearing blended cloth, an abomination. There are passages that say homosexuality, along with men with long hair and women in teaching positions, is unnatural. Modern Christians do not read either of these passages literally except in regards to homosexuality, for reasons they are unable to competently articulate. As long as there are Christian men with long hair eating at Red Lobster, there is no good reason why those same men can't also be gay and accepted by the church.
How did you get involved with the AIDS Walk? What do you hope comes of it?
I was asked by the organizing committee to be Grand Marshall as a way to help with fund raising, and I was very happy to accept. The primary thing I am hoping to happen as a result of all the media attention is exactly what my family finds so offensive -- I would like to publicly link the Oral Roberts family name with an acceptance and loving affirmation of ALL its members, gay and straight. The Oral Roberts legacy has done a lot to cause pain, and even suicide, in the gay community, and it's time for that to stop.
He agreed to answer a few more follow-up questions in a subsequent email. They are below.
Since you're working with gay teens on a regular basis now, do you plan on writing anything soon directed at them?
Yes, I am working on several projects right now, and hope to be able to say more about them soon.
Any plans on using more new media or social networking tools to get the message out?
Yes, I am working on something right now that I would like to take on tour in 2012, an exhibition of sorts. Here in Dallas I will be doing a test-run of it in October, and I'm talking to people in other cities, including Oklahoma City, about how to make it happen there. I also will continue blogging, writing articles, and speaking.
Scott Jones, whom we both know, pastors a UCC church, and he has regularly lamented the difficulty of reaching the LGBT community because they are so jaded about the Gospel and church. Any advice for ministers? Any words to those who are skeptical of the Gospel and church?
I see the same skepticism, and it is very justified, as I hear almost daily from men and women who are hurt and bullied by the church. The easiest way for gay-affirming churches to reach out is through service—to focus their efforts on manning HIV test sites, coordinating programs for homeless gay teens, offering free counseling to gay men and women. This, to me, is the message of the Gospels, that faith in action is paramount.
To those who are skeptical, I would encourage people not to throw the baby out with the bathwater—reflect on what parts of the religion you were raised in you miss, whether it was the fellowship, spirituality, or community service, and consider how you can reconnect with those things. The number of gay-affirming places of worship is increasing every year and many of them are not even "gay" but instead have a mixture of gay and straight couples.