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White, James Melville "Mel" b. 1940  
 
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Mel White, co-founder with his spouse Gary Nixon of the nonviolent, direct-action organization Soulforce, which is dedicated to securing justice for glbtq individuals and families, spent over thirty years serving the Evangelical Christian community as a pastor, seminary professor, author, filmmaker, and ghost writer for such religious and political figures as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, and Pat Robertson. After struggling with his homosexuality for many years, White finally came out, broke his ties with anti-gay religious leaders, and became a glbtq activist.

In July of 1993, when leaders of the gay and lesbian community gathered in Washington, D. C. to protest President Clinton's announcement of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy, White, the newly appointed Dean of the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, made his first public appearance as an activist. The exhilaration he felt was mixed with fear over his imminent arrest and incarceration in the Anacostia police substation. As White sat in his jail cell later that night, he decided that his life from then on would be dedicated to fighting the poisonous rhetoric of the religious right. As he put it, "I felt God's call to do some justice on my own."

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James Melville White was born to strict evangelical Christian parents on June 26, 1940, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Soon after he was born, his family moved to Santa Cruz, New Mexico where he attended public schools and was deeply involved in the Youth for Christ organization. He and his two brothers and sister attended a small conservative Protestant church on Sunday for service and Wednesdays for Bible study.

In high school, White was active in sports and served as student body president. In 1958, he began dating Lyla Lee Loehr. They married in 1962.

White attended Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon from 1958 to 1962. After his marriage, he and Lyla moved to Portland where White worked for Portland Youth for Christ. He also attended the University of Portland, where he received his M.A. in communications in 1963.

During this time, White hosted a weekly NBC television series, The World of Youth (1959-1966). He also made his first Christian film, Dream Island, about two teenagers struggling with the issue of premarital sex. In 1965, White founded Mel White Productions, Inc. and over the next twenty years produced 53 film and television documentaries, several of which won prestigious prizes.

After White graduated from the University of Portland, he and Lyla moved to Los Angeles where he pursued his Ph.D. in communications and film at the University of Southern California. Soon after their move to Los Angeles, White visited a Christian psychologist and confessed that he was a homosexual.

As soon as he returned home, he made the same revelation to Lyla. Thus began White's twenty-five-year struggle as a homosexual man, the father of two children (one of whom is actor Mike White), married to a heterosexual woman. Throughout this time, Lyla remained by his side, encouraging him to do what he had to do to be happy.

White insisted that he wanted to remain married and to fight his sexual feelings, which he believed incompatible with his religious beliefs. Over the years he sought out numerous forms of "reparative therapy," ranging from psychiatric counseling and prayer to fasting, exorcism, and electric shock treatment, in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy his homosexual desires.

In 1965, White entered Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California to begin his theological studies. Not only did he receive a Ph. D. in religious studies from Fuller, but he taught there for over a decade, serving as professor of communications and preaching. In 1973, he became senior pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Pasadena.

Meanwhile, he continued to make documentary films and television specials and to write syndicated columns and books (including David [1984], co-authored with Marie Rothenberg, the story of David Rothenberg, a young man burned by his father; A Gift of Hope: The Tony Melendez Story [1989], the story of a thalidomide baby who became a composer and guitarist; and Aquino [1989], the biography of Philippines president Corazon "Cory" Aquino). He also became increasingly involved in the Evangelical Christian political movement.

In 1979, Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, and the Christian right movement took off like wildfire. White worked with many of the main players during this time, ghost writing biographies of Jerry Falwell (If I Should Die Before I Wake, 1986, Strength for the Journey, 1987, and Falwell: An Autobiography, 1987), Pat Robertson (America's Date with Destiny, 1986), and his hero, Billy Graham (Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1985).

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Mel White, Christmas, 1995. Photograph by Alan Light.
  
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