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The first televangelist interview with a gay man with AIDS

Rev Steve Pieters

An interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning with Jon Ronson, about his series ‘Things Fell apart’ and in particular, the episode entitled 'A miracle', prompted a closer look at the story of Reverend Steve Pieters and his interview on the PTL Club by television evangelist Tammy Fay Messner.

The PTL Club (Praise The Lord), was a televangelist Christian news programme that began in 1974 and was initially hosted in an abandoned furniture store in Charlotte, North Carolina in the USA. The series mixed "glitzy entertainment with down-home family values" and preached a "'prosperity gospel' which put a divine seal of approval on both the growing affluence of American evangelicals and the showy lifestyles of their television ministers."

Jim Bakker during a PTL broadcast with his wife Tammy Faye, 1986.
Jim Bakker during a PTL broadcast with his wife Tammy Faye, 1986.

Throughout the series, Messner provided a sentimental and emotive touch to stories, and also often sang Christian songs. She was also noted for her candid discussion of topics considered taboo amongst many of her Evangelist peers, ranging from penile implants to acceptance and compassion for the LGBT community.

At the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1985, Messner emotionally interviewed Steven Pieters, a gay Christian minister with AIDS on "Tammy's House Party," a segment of The PTL Club, during which they discussed his sexuality, coming out, diagnosis with AIDS, and the death of his partner. During the programme, Messner emotionally addressed her viewership, saying: "How sad that we as Christians, who are to be the salt of the earth, we who are supposed to be able to love everyone, are afraid so badly of an AIDS patient that we will not go up and put our arm around them and tell them that we care."

Pieters was diagnosed with AIDS in 1982 before AIDS became very widespread and well known. Being one of the first to be diagnosed with AIDS was very scary for Pieters, yet he realized it gave him the opportunity to spread awareness about AIDS. Being a gay activist throughout the 70s, Pieters was used to putting himself out there and advocating for gay rights. So when he was diagnosed with AIDS, Pieters knew he had to take action in some way and says that one of his most memorable experiences was his interview with Tammy Faye Messner. Pieters said that the interview rocked the conservative Christian movement and changed his and Messner’s lives.

Pieters said, “I learned a Native American saying that goes like this. The quality of life is not measured by the length of life but by the fullness. With which we enter into each present moment here. Now, none of us has any guarantees about being here tomorrow. All any of us have is this moment. This moment to feel fully alive, feel the joy, feel the joy of love and living, and love your family, (and) love your friends. Because, you know, that’s all we have. So be here now. Be fully alive”.


References, further reading and grateful thanks to: BBC and Jon Ronson Wikipedia California News Times LGBTQ Religious Archives Network IMDb Steve Pieters (for the header photo) Peter K Levy (for the televangelist photo)



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