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Interview with: Reverend Bob Falls
Interviewed by: David Courtwright
Date: March 10, 1976
DC: (0:00:14) Reverend Falls, where were you born?
BF: I was born in Evansville, Indiana.
DC: And you first came to Houston in what year?
BF: June of 1975.
DC: Did you come to Houston for the purpose of founding the church?
BF: The church had already been started. Our particular fellowship group goes through a study group status. After a certain period of time and growth, it becomes a DCssion again. After more growth and development, it then becomes a chartered church. At that time, the regulations of the fellowship involve getting either a licensed or ordained DCnister to be their pastor. I had quite a bit of contact with the Houston congregation because I served as district coordinator for the states of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. I was responsible for the functions of those churches to the Board of Elders. Since I frequently visited Houston, I was very happy when I received a call to become the pastor of the church here. It afforded me a great deal of challenge. I felt that there were opportunities for the future.
DC: Perhaps we need to set down a few factors about the Metropolitan Community Church. Would you describe its inception beginning with the activities of Troy Perry in Los Angeles?
BF: The church was actually started in 1968 by, as you mentioned, Reverend Troy Perry, who had formerly been an ordained DCnister in a Pentecostal denoDCnation. When it was found that he was of a homosexual character and nature, he was defrocked by that church. He went to Los Angeles where he eventually entered into a homosexual lifestyle. It became more and more abundantly clear to him that the gay community really needed a spiritual kind of outlet. They needed a place where they could go and be accepted in a spiritual manner for what they were. In most cases, as I’m sure you’re aware of, throughout the Judeo-Christian era, homosexuality and homosexuals have been condemned and cast out by most mainstream Christian denoDCnations. At that time,
Reverend Perry felt that he had been an ordained man of God. He felt a void in his life in that he was not functioning as a DCnister, and he simply put an ad in a national homophile
publication called “The Advocate.” If there were any other gay Christians in the Los Angeles area who would like to form a church with a special outreach to the gay
community, they would meet at his apartment on a given date. Twelve people showed up, and that was the beginning of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. The church became organized in Los Angeles. At this point in time, we now have over 90 congregations. We have congregations in every one of the major cities of the United States, Canada, and Europe. We have 3 churches in Australia and 2 in Africa. The growth has been quite phenomenal.
DC: (0:03:54) Now you yourself was a Benedictine?
BF: Yes. I entered the Benediction Order at the age 17, and I left 2 weeks prior to my ordination. I had gone through the Holy Orders. I was an ordained subdeacon and deacon. During the final spiritual retreat, which was very a solemn retreat prior to ordination, I decided to tell my abbot and my confessor that I had some deep-seeded homosexual tendencies. I had never become involved or had any sexual experiences whatsoever. Nor would I have had in the future since the vow of celibacy was involved in the Benedictine Order. Because of that, I was asked to leave and was not ordained. I left the monastery
2 weeks before my ordination to the priesthood.
DC: Are you a little bitter about that?
BF: No, I was not bitter. I spent about 5 years, after I left the monastery, trying to cure myself of my homosexuality so I could go back to the monastery and say, “I’m cured, now ordained me.” I went through 5 years of almost a living hell and going through psychoanalysis. At the same time, I was working towards a degree in hospital adDCnistration. I felt a calling in that direction and did, in fact, receive a degree in hospital adDCnistration from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. At this point in time, I’m still a fellow in the American College of Hospital AdDCnistrators. In the ensuing years, after about 5 years of trying to “cure myself,” I decided one day that I had enough and was going to accept myself for what I was. While the church may have turned its back on me, I didn’t feel that God had. For a number of years, I did not attend any church except for perhaps a wedding or funeral in which I was obligated to attend. Then I heard about a MCC church that was starting in Oklahoma City, where I lived at the time. I attended the service strictly out of curiosity and strictly because I thought that it would be a real kick to see a bunch of homosexuals playing church. I was still all involved in what Paul had to say about homosexuality in Romans and so forth. I left with
the feeling with what I had seen had been a beautiful and new experience, but I was not going to get involved at all. I did not feel, at that time, that gay people would stick together enough to be able to do what they anticipated doing. I also had some hang-ups still regarding the Scriptures and homosexuality, but I found the second Sunday that I quickly got ready and went to church to be there on time to see if what I had heard and seen the first week was true. The third week when I attended I received Holy Communion for the first time in over 20 years. It became known to the congregation because I got more and more involved and believed more firmly in what they were doing. After a great deal of soul searching, prayer, and thought, I agreed with the philosophy, doctrine, and the dogma of the fellowship. I was approached because of my credentials with the benedictions of going into the full-time DCnistry in the fellowship. I did and was ordained in San Francisco about 2 years ago.
DC: (0:08:05) How do the religious needs of gays differ from those of heterosexuals?
BF: The same needs are there. Gay people are not at all any different than heterosexual people. We have a need to be loved. We have the same need for faith. It’s a fact that when most homosexuals have attended churches they have had to hide what they really were in order to be accepted. There was always a feeling by most homosexuals that they were putting up a false front and were being a little hypocritical. Of course, hearing themselves condemned from the pulpit didn’t do a great deal to help them and their spirituality. As one person put it to me not too long ago, they went to church but always felt like they had to hide behind the hymnal. If the person sitting in the pew next to them realized that they were homosexual, they would have probably moved. Our church accepts all people regardless of sexuality and race. In our own particular congregation in Houston, we have a number of people who are bisexual, transsexual, transvestites, heterosexuals, and homosexuals.
DC: Earlier you mentioned the passages in the Bible which are allegedly anti-homosexual. How did you become reconciled to those?
BF: Of course, as far as Christians are concerned, we are not bound by the Old Testament because Christ came and started the new law. I also realized that in the 4 gospels it was never related that Christ spoke out on homosexuality at all. In Paul’s epistles, Romans in particular, I stopped to think of who Paul was, what he was, and when he was. I realized that when he wrote his letter to the church in Rome that he was writing to a group of people who were newly converted Christians. In Rome, they would have come from pagan, religious backgrounds where homosexuality was openly practiced. In many of the temples to the pagan gods, it was part of the ritual of worship. When you look at it in that kind of connotation that Paul was writing to those people who were heterosexual in nature, if they get involved in homosexual acts that is foreign to the nature that they were created by God to have, that in fact is wrong. I came to realize that what Paul was saying was taken out of context. By many theologians, Paul has always been thought to be homosexual. He stated himself that he suffered from a thorn in his side and that could very easily be interpreted as being that of homosexuality. Whether or not he was a practicing homosexual, I certainly could not say. I doubt that he was. The idea that God created everybody and loves what He created was also a thought that entered my DCnd at that time. The fact that even though I was homosexual, it did not keep me from being a child of God. I knew that God loved me, that I loved God, and that my sexuality really
wasn’t that important. My own personal thought is that we certainly will not be judged for our sexuality, but what we did with it. Whether we are heterosexual or homosexual, if we use our sexuality as a harmful and hurtful thing then it is indeed wrong. Love between people of the same sex can be just as magnificent of an experience as it can be for people of opposite sex.
DC: (0:12:45) Do you approve of institutionalizing that love in a homosexual marriage?
BF: One of the rights of our church is that of holy union. I believe that it depends on the individuals. If this right brings stability and a meaningful purpose into their relationship, I am all for it. I think that it’s absolutely not necessary in all cases. I believe it depends on the individuals. That’s one of the things that our church believes in quite a bit which is the one-to-one relationship with God and between 2 homosexuals. We do perform this right after very careful consideration and after a series of counseling sessions with them to ensure it’s not being done lightly but as a very spiritual experience for them. We do practice this right in our church.
DC: How many members are there currently in your church?
BF: Currently in our church there are in excess of 150 members. We will be celebrating our first anniversary as a chartered church next month.
DC: Have you done a study of where these people come from? For example, what is there previous denoDCnational background?
BF: We have people in our church in Houston, as an example, that come from every mainstream Christian denoDCnation. We have people ranging from Roman Catholic to Pentecostal as well as Methodists, Lutheran, and Baptists. I would say that probably a good third of our congregation come from a Baptist background.
DC: How about charismatics?
BF: We’re very charismatic. We strongly believe in the movement of the Holy Spirit. We strongly believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our services are unusual in the fact that you will see something that is very Roman Catholic, and you DCght see something that’s very Pentecostal all in the same service. We follow a recommended order of worship. However, we’re given a great deal of freedom in that. I have seen services that were very carefully structured and planned out. Because of what we refer to as a movement of the
Holy Spirit, the whole thing was forgotten and the service took on an entirely different meaning that what it was intended to have.
DC: What has been the reaction of the Houston community to your church?
BF: (0:15:43) For the most part, they have been very open. We’ve found a great deal of acceptance here. I believe that in so far as the gay movement itself is concerned, this is exactly what needs to be done. I believe that the days of gay DClitancy are over. We receive understanding and acceptance simply much in what we’re doing right now. We go with various groups and discuss not only sexuality but sexuality in bible. We make frequent, frequent visit with schools, colleges, and universities. We recently had the experience of making 6 presentations to a high school class which was also a Roman Catholic high school conducted by the Cardinalites. It was quite an experience to me because of the progress being made in those areas in the Roman Catholic church. Many of the mainstream Christian denoDCnations now have very active comDCssions that are studying the role of the homosexual within their framework of Christianity. As far as Acceptance in the Houston community, we certainly do have our critics and those that condemn us. We certainly do have those that say that we are blasphemous, instruments of Satan, and all of these things, but those are in the small DCnority. For the most part, we’re getting a great deal of acceptance and understanding.
DC: A phrase which I hear a lot of these days is “coDCng out” and the homosexual coDCng out. Is going to one of your services be a way of coDCng out?
BF: For someone who is coDCng out or deciding what they’re sexuality is—. Each case is such an individual case that’s hard for me to make generalities. I believe that someone who is in search of themselves and wondering whether or not—. They DCght have both homosexual and heterosexual tendencies. I think that attending one of our services would be a very healthy experience. To begin with, they’d hear probably nothing at all about sexuality. What they would be hearing about is the love of God for all people. They would have an opportunity to meet people of diverse sexualities—everything from, as I’ve said before, heterosexuals to transvestites. I think it would be a healthy experience for anybody to attend one of our services. The process of coDCng out is such a difficult thing. It’s a whole area in itself that we could spend hours talking about. In my own case, I realized that I had homosexual tendencies, but I really didn’t know what they were. I entered the monastery following my sophomore year in high school. I know that during my freshman and sophomore year that I was far more interested in going out with a bunch of my buddies and couldn’t really understand why everybody got so excited about getting a date for the prom and everything. I was more comfortable around people of my own sex. However, I had many friends of the opposite sex and still do for that matter. Some of my closest friends are women. It was a very natural thing to me. During the 5 years that I spent in trying to cure myself of these tendencies after I left the monastery, I found it to be a very hurtful experience only because I was making it so. I just would not recognize or accept myself for what I was.
DC: As a DCnister, are you a little bit concerned about the fact the gay social life revolves around a bar?
BF: Up until recently, for the gay community, the bars were the only places where gays could go and be accepted as themselves without putting up a front. We like to say that the church is a very viable alternate to the bars, beaches, bathes, bookstores, and bushes. With many other very viable gay organizations like the Gay Political Caucus, Integrity of Houston, and the current move towards the formation of the Montrose Activity Center, all of these things offer alternates to going to the bars. That’s only been in the very recent past that things have come into being. The only place where a gay person could go and be accepted for what they are was a gay bar.
DC: (21:23) Do you work closely with these other gay organizations?
BF: Oh yes, very, very closely. One of the very strong things that I do believe in is that we must have a great deal of unity in the community. We do work very closely with each other. My big concern right now is that most gay organizations should all be doing more than what we’re doing to get involved with the heterosexual community in various programs that will allow more understanding and acceptance. Programs that would encourage people to stop and take another look at the kinds of thoughts that they’ve always had regarding human sexuality. It’s absolutely astounding to me that we know how to put someone on the moon and bring them back safely and yet we know so very little about human sexuality. Only in the recent past, as you well know, has much been done in those areas. I can remember when Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s book first came out sometime around 1946 or 1948. That book created a DCnor revelation. Up until that time, the word “homosexual” was not even used in polite society, you know. If you wanted to get a book on sexual research, or something like that, you were really at a loss as to where to go to find one. Perhaps you had the Freudian concepts or the case histories of Headlock Ellis, or something like that, and that was about it. With the progress that is being made in those fields, such as the work that Dr. Evelyn Heper has done at UCLA, and things like this, we’re beginning to learn just a little about the human being as a sexual being. It’s a fascinating and interesting time to live in.
DC: When I first learned of the large number of gay organizations in Houston, I wondered how their activity was coordinated or if they were just off on their own.
BF: (23:53) We have pretty close communications. I think that the future will show even closer communications with one group and another. For example, at our church right now, the Gay Political Caucus meets every week at our church. The Integrity of Houston meets at our church. They’re very much aware of what our program is, as we are very much aware of what their program is. I spoke to one of the other people in the gay community this morning who is a very upfront gay community leader. We talked again about the necessity of perhaps monthly meetings of representatives of all the communities so that our goals are aimed in the same direction and one is not duplicating the efforts of another. Those things will all come into being. Most of these gay organizations have only come into being in the past few months. As a matter of fact, the Gay Political Caucus was started just a couple of weeks after I arrived in Houston. That has been only a matter of 6 or 7 months ago. The Integrity of Houston is probably the oldest homophile organization, and I believe they’re into their fifth year now. That was always more or less a small organization doing extremely healthy kinds of activities. There really wasn’t too much known about it until lately. These things are becoDCng more and more developed through the formation of the church, formation of the Gay Political Caucus, and some very positive media responses to the gay community. Also, like with any organization, you go through a period of trial and error in getting things organized and up off the ground. These things do not come easily. It takes a little while to get everything sorted in its place.
DC: Do you have many lesbian members?
BF: I would say that our church is about 50% women and 50% men.
DC: That’s surprising. I thought there would be more men than women. How have other denoDCnations in Houston reacted to your church? Have you been criticized by, say, the Baptist church?
BF: We have only received, to the best of my knowledge, open criticism from one independent Baptist church. They are not a member of the Southern Conference of Baptist Churches.
DC: The Waugh Drive—.
BF: The Waugh Drive Baptist Church. I think the reason for that is their church is located in the same neighborhood. We have had some very harsh criticism and very harsh condemnation from them. Otherwise, I believe that—. For example, St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church has an organization called “Dignity,” which is a Roman Catholic outreach to the gay community. In this area, it depends a great deal on the bishop of the dioceses as to whether or not this is perDCtted to happen. I’ve spoken at St. Anne’s Church. I’m scheduled to speak in May before the area conference of one of the larger mainstream Christina denoDCnations at a luncheon with the DCnisters and their wives on human sexuality in the bible. I really think that, for the most part, churches are becoDCng more and more aware and giving more emphasis to the words of our Lord when He said, “Judge not lest ye DCght be judged.”
DC: (28:09) Concerning an incident with the Waugh Drive Baptist Church, the Reverend Harold Pultz was reported saying in the newspaper, “We believe that homosexuality is one of the grossest sins a person can comDCt. No homosexual has the right to be a member of a bible-believing, bible-preaching church.” I thought I’d give you an opportunity to respond to that.
BF: In regards to that, I would say that I’m sure Reverend Pultz was very, very sincere in what he’s saying. I believe that he believes that. I would only say to him that I hope, if he’s in the state of grace, the Lord keeps him there. If he’s not in the state of grace, I hope the Lord sees fit to bring him there. I would say that he has every right to have his beliefs, and I would be the first one to defend his right as an individual to believe that the way he believes. I would also say that I would not judge Reverend Pultz for what his comments were.
DC: How is the experience of the Metropolitan Community Church in Houston compared to that in the church in other cities?
BF: I believe that our churches have received rather favorable reactions in most places. I believe it is because the formation of our church was a direct movement of the Holy Spirit. I believe that after centuries of condemnation that AlDCghty God in His Infinite wisdom—. Perhaps it is because we are in the last days, according to the book of Revelations. It is a chance for all mankind and womankind to know the love and mercy of God. I believe that our church was formed for a purpose. That purpose is blessed and anointed by God. I believe that he has seen fit that we have been rather favorably received, for which we are most grateful and give Him all of the thanks, honor, and glory.
DC: Now there are 150 people in your church currently, and yet there must be many thousands of gay people in Houston, if not hundreds of thousands. Do you look forward to the continued expansion of your church?
BF: I certainly do and have every reason to believe that our church will continued the rapid rate of growth that it has had. A lot of gay people who have been told all of their lives that they are not okay still have a little problem realizing the fact that, through the mercy of God, they can be okay. A lot of them shy away from churches. When you say church to them, it conjures up a memory, in most cases, a most unfavorable kind of memory of being either severely criticized or even condemned. In many cases, they were prayed over
and tried to have demons casted out of them because of their sexuality. So church immediately will cause a red light to go on and frighten them a little bit. I think with the kind of acceptance, outreaches, and programs that our church has, the growth in Houston will continue to be fantastic. As a matter of fact, I have full faith that our church in Houston will be one of the leadership congregations in our entire fellowship in the near future.
DC: (32:24) What do you say to a person who comes to you, be he heterosexual or homosexual, and complains about sexual guilt?
BF: Well, what I say depends on the individual. All of these cases are so individual about guilt regarding sex. First of all, sex is something that I try to convince is not something to feel guilty about. Sex is good. As Norman Pittenger puts it, sex is enjoyable. If you have sex with one other person, or perhaps more than one other person, it’s still enjoyable. The best kind of sex eventually is to have it with just one person—a lifelong companion. Many times, guilt feelings about sex are because the individual, to use some transactional
analysis terms, are just simply playing the parental tapes that they’ve heard all of their lives. In that case, to use another TA expression, we would emphasize the child in the TA situation and change it from a rather condemning parent to a nurturing parent.
DC: We have mentioned the Catholic church and the Baptist church, but we haven’t discussed the Episcopalians. What is the current Episcopalian attitude towards homosexuality?
BF: I would say, universally, it’s very good. Locally, I’m afraid it’s very bad. The local dioceses of the Episcopalian churches have recently come out with, as a result of one of their conferences, the suggestion that they will make to the national convention that no gay people be ordained to the priesthood. I find that rather hard to accept. I also believe, on a national level, that the Episcopal church will be much more open than that.
DC: Well, Reverend Falls, I have gone through my prepared questions. At this point of the interview, I always ask if there’s anything else you have on your DCnd? Is there anything else that you’d like to put down on tape?
BF: The gay movement is something that is extremely important. Gay people be should accepted for who they are, what they have to offer, for their credentials, and for being children of God rather than on their sexuality. After all, we spend relatively little time in the bedroom compared to the time we spend in other activities. I think the whole purpose of that is to accept everybody for who they are rather than what they’re sexuality is. I hope to see a great deal of progress made in this area. It’s a wonderful time to be alive and living in and seeing these things happen. It’s a very challenging kind of world to be
living in. it’s a world that leads more and more to the acceptance of everybody as children of God.
DC: (36:29) Well I appreciate you coDCng to Rice to participate.
BF: I was delighted to do it.
DC: Behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives and Research Center, I’d like to thank you very much.
BF: Thank you. Thank you very much.
[Dictation ends at 36:42.1]