In retrospect, he sees a "crippled version" of himself as a married, closeted gay man: "I was incredibly shy. I muttered. I didn't want anybody to hear me speak. If I had to get up and talk to a group of parents, I would shake uncontrollably. My clothes were big and baggy, I didn't take care of myself, I didn't even look in the mirror. I was almost a hermit. I went to work, I raised my kids, and all my interests were just—almost like a teenager in his bedroom, listening to music, in my own head." A friend from college, Matthew Kalloor, remembers Randy driving him around Oklahoma City in his mother's BMW convertible during this time, when Kalloor was struggling with his own marital collapse. At one point, seemingly out of nowhere, Randy turned to him and asked, "Should we just drive to New York City and just ditch all of this?"
A couple of years later, at the age of 27, while Randy was standing alone in the kitchen on a Saturday morning, something snapped. "I'm gay," he heard himself blurt. He stood there for a while, letting the sounds of the words ricochet around the room, both terrified and thrilled by them. And then he said it again, louder this time: "I'm gay!" Instantly, the air seemed more oxygenated, the colors of the room more vivid; his face was flushed and vibrant. The sensation lasted for two days, he says, during which he felt as if he were "walking in my skin for the very first time." On the third day, however, the same reality that had smothered his uncle Ronnie began to tighten its choke hold on Randy: He was a husband, a father, a member of one of the most lionized families in American Christianity. And, as only he and the kitchen walls knew, he was gay.
"God made the female breast, young man. What's wrong with you handling it, fondling it?" This is Oral Roberts, from an audio recording of a sermon—or, rather, a disquisition on human sexuality that's by turns hilarious and disturbing—thought to be from the mid-1980s. Homosexuality was never a regular punching bag for Oral the way it was for later televangelists like Falwell and Robertson, who seized on gay rights for political and culture-war firepower. But in this speech, Oral let it rip. "When it comes to homosexuality, it's not only wild, it is insane!" he roared. "And the heat becomes so intense, the sexual heat becomes so intense, the male organ doesn't want the vagina of the woman, but to turn that person over and to enter into the rear where the poison comes out, and it keeps coming out until they develop AIDS with no immunity against disease, and they D-I-E—they die!"
Even today, Randy doesn't know what to make of this recording. Honed by years as an itinerant preacher and then by decades on television, his grandfather was a lucid and silky orator who wasn't prone to rambling—certainly not to this sort of bizarro maundering. (The weirdest moment might be when Oral goes into character as a beer-guzzling horndog: "I go to church, too, but, uh, you know, it didn't make me queer. Well, I wouldn't buy that 100 percent. Um, please erase that from the tape, uh, I didn't—let's edit that out, will you?") But the note of terror in his grandfather's speech ("they die!") makes poignant sense to Randy. "I think he was convinced that homosexuality killed his son," he says. "Some evangelicals see it as a spirit or a demon of homosexuality that invades you, that it's an almost personified thing that will completely strangle and kill you. Not even so much as a choice, but something you give in to, something that can afflict anybody."
By the time Randy came out to himself in the kitchen, another Roberts—besides his late uncle—had been outed. This was his brother, Stephen, who says their father—Ron Potts, a licensed minister—"figured it out" after going through his drawers while visiting him during his time in the Air Force. The family reaction, he says, "was pretty harsh. I felt ostracized in a way I'd never felt." But Randy's coming-out, Stephen notes, truly caused a schism. For one thing, Randy had a wife and three small children. For another thing, though, Randy had always aligned himself more closely—if ambivalently—with the Roberts family. According to Randy, when Robyn told his parents he was gay, during some of the darkest days of their long, often bitter divorce, communication trailed off. "I never had the classic 'Sit down, Mom and Dad—I'm gay' coming-out moment," he says. "I don't think the word gay has ever been spoken. They'd call it my 'lifestyle.'"
Randy felt that his parents, metaphorically at least, swiftly changed the locks. In 2005, when Munna died, the brothers were denied entrance to the graveside funeral by an armed security guard. Randy said to him, "That's my grandmother inside the coffin." The guard replied, "I know who you are, and you're not on the list." "I hadn't seen that coming," Randy says. "I had to hold on to people, I was crying so hard." Four years later, when Oral died, Randy heard the news on the radio. He found his way into the massive public memorial service on the ORU campus—Stephen, scarred by his experience at Munna's funeral, didn't attend—where his mother delivered a eulogy. "She's giving her speech about her father and then looks out in the audience and sees me," Randy recalls. "She didn't even know if I was there or not, but she saw me and lost it. Just went off and started saying, 'There are people who will tell you you won't go to hell for evil acts, and I just want everybody to know that you will.' Four thousand people were looking at their shoes, and it was really uncomfortable. My mom's telling me from the stage that I'm going to hell."
After his grandfather's funeral, Randy, wounded, looked for a way to channel his feelings. A little less than a year later, he decided to dip into Oral's old playbook. He filmed a monologue—a sermon, really—for the It Gets Better Project, a video series launched by the author and newspaper columnist Dan Savage that aims to give hope to troubled gay teens. It's a searing, uncomfortable, and potent speech—ostensibly a letter to his late uncle Ronnie—in which Randy displays many of the same oratorical skills that brought his grandfather a worldwide following. (Unspoken, however, is what might be the most essential line of the address, which appears onscreen at the end of the video: "Falling in love will not send you to hell.") Soon after, he began speaking in churches, sometimes with a bodyguard in tow, and now, with The Gay Agenda, he's about to barnstorm the country in much the same way his grandfather did in the 1940s—albeit with a different message. "Coming out as a Roberts kind of forced me to face up to my past," he says. "Hopefully I'm reversing some of the legacy left for gay people like me."
"It's obvious how much happier he is with his life right now," says Stephen, a sentiment echoed by friends. With an inadvertent pun, his college buddy Kalloor says Randy's "personality has come out." He has also taken up freelance food writing and is working on a book about homosexuality and the Evangelical community. His children are now 9, 11, and 12 years old, and he shares custody of them in Dallas; his relationship with his ex-wife, he says, is a functional co-parenting one. After about a year of dating Keaton Johnson, a student in social work at El Centro College who's 10 years his junior, he recently proposed; the two are planning to marry in New York City in May. As for the Roberts family, he's broken off all contact with his father. His mother, he says, has left voice-mail messages asking why he's "dragging the family name through the mud." Still, he hasn't given up on reconciling. "I don't think she hates me," he says. "She's convinced I've chosen a path to hell. It's an ideology that's consumed her, and you can get past those things. But, you know, I'm not giving much either." He lets out a melancholy chuckle, then takes a sip of coffee and frowns. "I'm not saying, 'Well, I'm not going to be gay.' I tried that. For 11 years I was married. I tried pretty hard." In November, Roberta Potts published a memoir titled My Dad, Oral Roberts. There's just one passing mention of Randy, about a good report card he once brought home. Stephen goes unmentioned. (Roberta Potts declined to comment for this article.)