Stranger at the Gate
Reviewed by Robert L. Kuyper
Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America by Mel White
New York: Plume/Penguin, 1995. 347 pages $11.95.
This book, by the former ghost writer for such evangelical Christians as Billy Graham,
Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, will have the effect of discouraging many who struggle
with homosexuality. I recently received a letter from an evangelical pastor who
quoted Mel White to show that my efforts with Transforming Congregations were pointless.
Although, I had read several ex-gay written reviews of the book, I decided to get
the book and see for myself.
The book is auto-biographical. Mel White struggled silently with homosexual
desires in the 1950's when the subject was mentioned in neither church nor school.
Despite this background, he married and had children. After a distinguished career
as an author and film maker, he declared his homosexuality in 1991, joining the
Metropolitan Community Church where he now serves as a pastor. His wife agreed to a
"time-share" arrangement whereby he kept his family and his male lover. It
would seem that he is "on top of the world," yet something is wrong.
To anyone familiar with those overcoming homosexuality, the roots of his same-sex
desires are not hard to see. Years of therapy have not been successful for him,
either because the therapy was misguided and/or he is in deep denial.
He tells of his defensive detachment from his father, who loved sports, tinkering with
cars and other masculine things. Mel spent his teenage years with writing, drama and
other artistic pursuits. He never gives us his father's viewpoint, but it is obvious
that Mel White perceived the distance between him and his father, whether his father
perceived it or not. Of course, it is the perception of the child that counts.
He traces the perfectionism which is all too common among homosexuals to his
grandmother who was conceived to replace her sister, killed in a tragic accident.
She spent her life trying to live up to the image of a sister, "perfect" in
death, and passed this perfectionism onto her grandson. Mel spends his life trying
to live up to the demands of perfection, which he perceives to come from his heavenly
Reading into the situation, one cannot help but wonder at the anger he expresses
against the important figures for whom he was a ghostwriter. He is angry at
their lack of recognition and response to him; after all, ghostwriters are just that, not
recognized. Does he project the situation with his father onto Pat Roberton and
He is a good writer. The book is very easy reading and hard to put down.
But it is a subtle propaganda style of writing which makes the reader work hard to
analyze the truth of what the author is saying. He frequently says, "The facts
are," "It is certain," or "Science has proved," without as
much as a footnote or reference.
Several times he expresses the opinion that he wished he could march with Martin Luther
King in the South, evidently ignoring that in the California of his youth, there were
racial problems in which he could have been involved in a search for justice.
Instead he went on choir tours, but in his statements he subtly ties the gay rights
movement to the Black civil rights movement. He does it in a way that the casual
reader will unconsciously accept since he presents no rational comparison or statistics
which we can examine.
He does the same with the ex-gay movement. He really says little about his
therapy and his attempts to be an ex-gay. He tells us of one experiment in which he
was to administer an electric shock to himself as he saw a picture of a naked man.
Of course that did not work, since it did not deal with the root causes of his
At one point he says, "Using a false name, I attended ex-gay meetings in Orange
County and contributed money that helped lead to the founding of Exodus, a national
organization dedicated to helping homosexuals escape their sinful lifestyle." (p.
176) The only problem with this statement is that it is in a chapter dated 1982-83 and the
first Exodus convention was in 1976.
He is critical of Pat Robertson for failing to offer proof that people can leave
homosexual lifestyles, when he himself then says, "...the verdict is in. The
facts are certain." He believes no one can be healed, but never quotes even one
scientific study, much less discusses it. (pp. 270-271)
He was not successful in changing, so we are to believe that no one can do it despite
the many, many people who have changed their behavior and desires. His subtle
propaganda on this point will be discouraging to many who are finding their way out of
homosexuality. He spent his life in a fury of activity trying to please God.
Into works-righteousness instead of grace, now he is furiously trying to please a
politically correct God. Peace is still eluding him.
If you read his book, you will find it helpful in feeling the pain of someone growing
up with homosexual conflicts in a society that does not discuss sexuality openly. It
illustrates why we need Transforming Congregations to bring the struggle for healing out
into the open.
He says that as he grew up, he cannot recall homosexuality being discussed much less
condemned, yet he instinctively knew that to act on that behavior would be wrong. He
concludes that his homosexual desires are natural, but one could just as easily conclude
that his disgust for homosexual behavior is natural and God-given. He never heard
either viewpoint discussed as a young person.
He must choose one or the other and unfortunately he has made the wrong choice.
Let us hope that his influence will not mislead others into making the same misguided