Breaking Free from ABT: One Man’s Journey
Does Anchorage Baptist Temple really do exorcisms to cast out the demon from gays? Yes, they do, and they set family members against each other. In an interview with The NorthView (published in its April 2010 issue), RJ described his struggle to break free from ABT and come out as a gay man, a struggle that nearly tore apart his family. He shares his story in the hope that it will help others who are coming out or supporting a gay family member, and even help members of ABT.
“I sincerely hope people from ABT read it. Perhaps it will be a wake up call for them to stop ignoring the things going on around them and perhaps they will open up their hearts and experience a little more love.”
Thanks, RJ, and happy birthday!
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This is an interview with RJ, a gay man raised in Anchorage Baptist Temple. RJ agreed to this interview in the hope that sharing his story and what he has experienced and learned will perhaps help others who may be walking a similar path or, at least, let them know they are not alone.
Editor: Let’s start with the basics of your background.
RJ: My grandparents moved to Alaska in the 1950′s. My mother and I were both born here. My grandfather was a minister. My father was a chaplain who worked in the ministry. In my early years, I lived with my father in Talkeetna and did my schooling through a Christian home school program. Our whole family was very involved in church. In the 1990′s, when I was 11, we moved to Anchorage and became very involved with Anchorage Baptist Temple (ABT).
My father and step-mother both worked at ABT to offset the school bill as it is really expensive to go there. Both taught Sunday school. Sunday they drove busses to pick up kids for Sunday school. We attended Sunday school in the morning followed by church and church again on Sunday night. On Monday night we had bible study, Tuesday night was visitation, Wednesday we had church and Awanas, a Christian program sort of like the Scouts, Thursday night was prayer meeting, and Friday night was open gym or “Destination Unknown,” a youth activity. And, of course, I had school Monday through Friday. Saturdays we would often go to Reverend Prevo’s house for dinner or meet with other church people. For a long time, I looked up to my father and I looked up to Prevo so much.
Editor: How long did this last?
RJ: I went to ABT through 6th, 7th grades and was kicked out in 8th grade.
Editor: What happened in the 8th grade?
RJ: For years I believed everything I was taught. The church was my life. Then, I began to notice and to realize things about the people all around me at ABT and, at the same time, I began to suspect I was gay. I saw so much hypocrisy, too many holes, too much difference between what the church people were teaching me and how there were acting in their own lives. But we were not allowed to talk about it or to question. We had to pretend everything was good. The biggest sin was to question. Instead of providing an answer, they would ask “Why are you being blasphemous?” I began acting out and got kicked out of school several times.
Editor: How was it to realize you were gay, especially since you so looked up to your father, Prevo, and the youth ministers?
RJ: At ABT we were taught anti-gay propaganda. We were taught gay rights are special rights. ABT provides families with an anti-gay “educational” video by Focus on the Family to watch at home. There were also exorcisms which ABT called “demon warfare.” The youth ministers and everybody else were taught this same anti-gay philosophy. I started to realize they were talking about me. The first time I kissed a guy I vomited a day straight over the conflict that it felt so right and I must be a horrible person – the worst thing I can be.
Editor: How were things going at home since your father and step-mother were so involved with ABT?
RJ: The whole gay issue tore me away from my family. There are generations of ministers on my father’s side of the family and to this day they do not speak to me because I am gay. Before I came out, I remember my step-mother telling me that I was so like her brother except that he was gay and I would never be.
It was always made clear that it was not okay to be gay. My whole life began falling apart. When I was 13 I told my father I did not want to go to ABT church or their school. I told him I would go to church only if I could go to public school. He responded by locking me in my room with a board and nails. I kicked down the door and came flying through it like a hellhound with fists flying at my father. I got arrested for malicious destruction of property and went to McLaughlin for three days, followed by family court, a shelter, and foster care. My whole teenage time was spent bouncing between the Laurel shelter, foster homes, Convenent House, Maplewood, and my mom’s house. I was on probation. Lori Rodriguez was my P.O. and she was a phenomenal case worker.
Editor: Wow. What happened after you were thirteen?
RJ: When I was 14, I came out to my mother. I said, “Mom, I think I’m bi.” She said, “No, honey, I think you’re gay.” Later, she told me she thought I was going to be transgender. She told me I used to dress up with her make-up. My brother was a gay hate monger until I told him. When I was 15, I came out to my father in the Anchorage Daily News when they published a letter I wrote. He called me and asked, “Are you sure?” My step-mother said, “No, you’re not gay. You’re just confused.” I moved to Palm Springs when I was 17. Palm Springs was my “gay education.” My birthday there was a white party. What a way to turn 18! I made a lot of friends and learned about what that kind of gay life was like.
I returned to Alaska and, since I had no place to stay, I told my father it was just a phase, moved back with him, and back into the closet. I tried to pray my gay away. I begged God. I would have given anything to be straight.
Editor: Is this when the exorcism took place?
RJ: Yes. I went back to ABT. They had been studying Bob Larson‘s “Deliverance” exorcism ministry. They had a class to teach how to cast out demons on Friday nights. There was a questionnaire to determine if I had done something to open a portal which leads to demonic possession. The questions were things like did I try to control the weather, change stop lights, read horoscopes, use tarot cards and, of course, have sex with a man.
Editor: What happened at the exorcism? Who was there?
RJ: The exorcism took place at ABT. There were others there as well. I sat down and started crying. The Board of Directors, deacons, classmates, and family prayed over us. They anointed us each with oil and tried to cast the demon out.
Editor: Wow. I don’t know what to say. What happened next?
RJ: The reason I am telling you this is because I was in foster homes and shelters. I did not have anyone to look up to or with whom to talk. There wasn’t gay TV. Everyone said AIDS was God’s punishment. I want others to know they are not alone. When I was 19 I began developing a good group of friends, ones to last a lifetime. My friend Chris got me out of there. Tasha, who is another friend and a devout Catholic, said “Whether I agree with it or not, I don’t understand how what people do in their bedrooms has anything to do with me.” And, that gave me my first glimmer that maybe I was okay. They did social things with me when they knew I was gay. The father of one of my friends was a minister and he said “It’s not my job to judge you. It is my job to love you. If God is angry at you about anything, it is probably because you used to be friends with him.” I wonder, how can I have a relationship with God when everyone I know who follows him tells me I am the devil? When I do something wrong, I have a heavy conscious. But when I lie in bed with my partner, I feel no guilt. I know that being with him is right and I know God loves me.
Editor: Where are you now in your relationships with your mother, father, and ABT?
RJ: My mom is a great supporter. Mom was a cab driver and she took me to introduce me to Myrna’s and the GLBT community. She comes for all my Imperial Court functions. Last summer she was at the Assembly hearings. She saw a guy carrying a sign that said “I was born Black. You chose to be gay” and asked to meet Prevo. She said to Prevo and the group with him “Do you remember my son? He grew up in your church. I watched your message of hate try to destroy him, to teach him to hate himself. My God is a God of love and healing. This message of hate is something you are going to have to answer to God for one day.” Then my mom walked away. One of the men jumped up and said he did not want her to walk away angry and wouldn’t she please eat with them. She agreed and had a hot dog with them. Then she stood up and said “I sat down and ate with you. Will any of you sit down and eat with my son?” She was met with silence.
My dad is still a struggle but we are starting to build a dialog. My father has made significant steps in my direction. He sent me some e-mails which I ignored. Then one came and the subject line said “I don’t care that you’re gay. I just want to talk to you.” Considering where he started from, my dad has come a long way and I give him a lot of credit for it.
We have all made mistakes and ABT hates us now. I pity that church. You keep everything quiet, don’t talk about the problems the people are actually having. There is no real community.
Editor: I know you are telling your story to hopefully help others. What final things would you like others to know who may be having an experience similar to yours?
RJ: Get out and talk to as many people as you can. Ask questions. Ask other religious leaders. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. I don’t think any one person can impose on us their particular interpretation of things. You have to have your own personal relationship with God. I wish I had spoken up sooner. I discovered a lot of people already knew I was gay and did not care. The people that are going to be there for you are going to be there for you.
Editor: Is it okay if people contact you if they are walking a similar path and want to reach out?
RJ: Yes. I can be reached via e-mail.Tags: Anchorage Baptist Temple, Christianity, Identity NorthView, Identity, Inc., Imperial Court of Alll Alaska (ICOAA), RJ Haywood