Apr 14, 2015

The Gaithers: The Gay Connection in Christian Gospel Music

When I was growing up in the Nazarene Church, I hated the hymns even more than the screaming, Bible-pounding sermons: we sang three during every service, nine per week, all chosen from the same 40 or 50 in the Nazarene hymnal.

They were all slow, creaking antiques with archaic language, deadly dull, repetitive lyrics, and simplistic marching-band melodies.

I will sing the wondrous story of the Christ who died for me.
How He left His home in glory, for the cross of Calvary.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms.
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

What can wash away my sins?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

And those are the liveliest.  I felt like stripping off my Sunday suit and tie, just to mix things up a bit.


So it was a relief to go to NYPS (Nazarene Young People's Society) every Sunday before the evening service, where we got to sing "contemporary gospel," mostly songs by Bill Gaither:

If there ever were dreams that were lofty and noble, they were my dreams at the start.
And hope for life's best were the hopes that I harbored down deep in my heart.

The marketplace is empty, no more traffic in the street.
All the builders' tools are silent, no more time to harvest wheat.

Interesting images, a vocabulary larger than 10 words, and melodies that didn't put you to sleep.  Not exactly Led Zeppelin, but a thousand times better than "Leaning, leaning, leaning."


Born in 1936 in northern Indiana, Bill Gaither worked as an English teacher before nearly single-handedly introducing contemporary musical styles into the staid tradition of Christian music.

At first he was met with resistance: parents refused to allow their children to attend his concerts, and pastors denounced his songs as Satanic.  But by the 1970s, the new hip Jesus People-Campus Crusade crowd of evangelicals latched onto him, sometimes even the more progressive Nazarenes.

He performed in the Bill Gaither Trio, with his brother Danny and his sister Mary Anne and friend Gary McSpadden (the one with the whitest teeth).

Eventually their children, grandchildren, and various hot guys with bulges and very, very white teeth got into the act.


Ok, so what's the gay connection?

1. Did you see the way these guys hung all over each other?

2. Speaking of hung, live performances were always...um...interesting.

3. Bill Gaither singing "He touched me."

4. Mark Lowry, former member of the Gaither Vocal Band, is reputedly gay.


5. Marsha Stevens, the gay Christian songwriter who wrote the classic "For Those Tears I Died" (second left, with her lover Caroline Pino), appeared on Gaither Homecoming in 2002.  Gaither said "I appreciate your ministry," apparently referring to her ministry to gay Christians.

6. Son Benjy Gaither wrote and performs three songs in Bridegroom (2013), about the legal and emotional hurdles faced by a gay man after his partner dies.

See also: The Sanderson Boys Get Naked.