FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Statement Regarding the Death of Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner
by The Reverend Canon Durrell Watkins of Sunshine Cathedral
Saturday, July 21st, 2007
As a religious leader, I am personally very sad to learn of Tammy Faye Messner’s recent death.
It was at one time very fashionable to ridicule Tammy Faye because of her glamorous appearance, sweet voice, and marriage to a televangelist who was convicted of fraud. But her dignity and strength of character saw her through those difficult days and saw her rise as an icon of popular culture and a friend of those who felt marginalized.
What I will always love, appreciate, and remember most about Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Tammy Faye Bakker) is how she was able to live a life of faith without resorting to the pugnacity or mean-spirited attacks that other religious leaders have too often displayed.
Tammy made history when on her program, “Tammy’s House Party,” she interviewed the Reverend Stephen Pieters, an “out” gay man living with HIV/AIDS at a time when there were no effective treatments for AIDS and when churches were either silent about the AIDS crisis or condemning of those who suffered from the disease. Tammy Faye, by contrast, interviewed Rev. Pieters and showed him respect and compassion.
Tammy’s public appearances were often characterized by her telling people she loved them. I can’t recall a single time that she responded to anyone with judgment or condemnation. While doing the reality TV show “The Surreal Life,” Tammy befriended porn star Ron Jeremy. I remember watching an episode where Sally Jesse Raphael asked Tammy Faye why she didn’t “stand against” Jeremy whose lifestyle represented so much that differed from her own. Tammy just sweetly and apparently genuinely responded that she didn’t need to oppose someone just because she didn’t understand his choices. She added that Ron Jeremy was one of the nicest people she had ever met.
Not surprisingly, Tammy Faye developed a large gay and lesbian fan base. Maybe it was because she worked with Jim J. Bullock on a short-lived talk show, or because RuPaul narrated her autobiographical documentary, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” or maybe it was just because she never once publicly said an unkind word about gay people, but her brand of all-inclusive, non-judgmental, truly loving spirituality certainly warmed the heart of at least this gay man.
Larger-than-life. Beautiful. Fun. Sweet. Kind. These are the words that come to mind when I remember Tammy Faye. I prayed for her in life, and I continue to wish her family well as they grieve this loss. Tammy Faye and I probably did not share a lot of theological opinions, but she definitely demonstrated for me how a person of faith ought to live…with tolerance, compassion, and kindness. I hope more of us will follow her example.
Durrell Watkins is the Canon Precentor and Canon Pastor-elect of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, FL (www.sunshinecathedral.org). He can be reached at Durrell@sunshinecathedral.org. Sunshine Cathedral is a Metropolitan Community Church affiliated with The Center for Progressive Christianity.