Steve Pieters, Pastor Who Spoke of AIDS in Famed Interview, Dies at 70

In 1985, when fear and homophobia still dominated much of the talk about AIDS, the voice of AIDS-stricken, gay pastor A. Stephen Peters, was distinctly different.

That May, at St. Augustine-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Santa Monica, California, he presided over a Mass for AIDS patients attended by hundreds, and declared: I am sure of God’s love for me. God did not give me this disease. God is with me in this illness. ”

In September of that year, he told the Los Angeles Times about the ostracism facing AIDS patients.

“Some people ask, ‘How is it different from cancer?'” he says. “Well, most cancer patients aren’t told not to use a friend’s bathroom or serve dinner on paper plates. I ate my meal on a paper plate.”

One appearance he made that year was particularly influential. In November 1985 he Interview by Tammy Faye Bakker Broadcast on the PTL (Praise the Lord) television network, it reached millions of mostly conservative Christian viewers.

It was a sympathetic interview, in which Mr. Peters spoke candidly about being gay and his illness, and Mr. Bakker (who was then married to televangelist Jim Bakker) criticized the audience for his intolerance and dissatisfaction. He appealed to be governed by compassion rather than fear.

“How sad it is that we, as Christians who should be the salt of the earth and who should be able to love everyone, are so afraid of AIDS patients that we don’t want to go up,” she said. said. And put your arms around them and tell them we care. ”

The PTL network has millions of viewers, and in the years since, the interview has been credited with helping change at least some viewers’ perceptions of homosexuality, AIDS and faith. It is Some televangelists implied or outright claimed that AIDS was God’s retribution against homosexuality. Ms. Bakker (later known as Tammy Faye Messner after her divorce and remarriage) called on Christians to show empathy instead.

Years later, among those impressed with her position was actress Jessica Chastain, who won an Oscar last year for her role in Ms. Bakker. “Tammy Fey Eyes” The interview with Mr. Peters, played by Randy Havens, was a pivotal scene. (The 1985 interview was also included in the stage musical Tammy Faye, which opened in London last year.)

“That interview is why I needed to make this movie,” Chastain told Variety at the film’s premiere in New York in 2021. I’m 100 percent sure there were people who realized they were judging their families unlovingly — conservative Christians watching at home. I believe that interview saved a family and saved a life. ”

If Mr. Bakker disappoints in that interview, Mr. Peters has long resisted AIDS and survived for decades despite repeated health battles. He died on July 8 at a hospital in Glendale, California, near Los Angeles. he was 70 years old.

His spokesman, Harlan Boll, said the cause was a sepsis infection.

Peters has been a missionary, has performed with a gay men’s choir in Los Angeles since 1994, and is the author of his book, Love Is Greater Than AIDS: A Memoir of Survival, Healing, and Love, which will be published next year. I was looking forward to its publication. hope. In it, he said, he was often asked why he thought he had survived AIDS when many others had not.

“Whatever the reason, I am so grateful to be alive. What an honor!”

Albert Stephen Peters was born on August 2, 1952 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. His father, Richard, was a math teacher and wrestling coach at Phillips Academy, and his mother, Norma (Kenfield) Peters, was a tax accountant and homemaker.

“Ever since I was about three years old, I knew I was different,” Peters told Bakker in a 1985 interview. “And he grew up feeling completely out of place.”

He said he realized he was gay as a teenager and told his Congregational pastor about it.

“He was taken aback,” he said. “He said to me, ‘Don’t tell anyone. Never tell anyone about it.'”

After graduating from Northwestern University with a BA in Speech in 1974, Metropolitan Community Church When I moved to Chicago, I felt called to do a ministry focused on the church’s primary audience, gays. He received his master’s degree in theology from McCormick Theological Seminary in 1979, then became pastor of Metropolitan His Community Church in Hartford, Connecticut, before moving to Los Angeles in the early 1980s. There he was assigned to the Metropolitan Community Church in North Hollywood, where he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984, although he had already shown symptoms in 1982.

He has faced numerous health problems over the years, but just being able to face them was a triumph. In 1984, he said, he was given a year to live. The following year, he spoke at a Los Angeles task force on AIDS convened by Mayor Tom Bradley and county superintendent Ed Edelman, urging officials not to ignore those who had already been diagnosed.

“If I had given in to the constant despair I heard about AIDS, I might not have given up and lived to 1985,” he said.

Peters has a brother.

At the opening of 2021’s Eyes of Tammy Fey, Peters commented on the impact of the 1985 interview.

“Over the years, a lot of people have come to me and said, ‘I saw your interview live, because my mother wore PTL all the time. It changed my life because I realized that I could be gay and be a Christian at the same time,’ it’s time,” he said. “Or, ‘My life changed when I realized AIDS was real and I had to start taking care of myself.'”

Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

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