In the Name of the Father

Growing up Wiley Drake Jr.

•Offered the opening prayer at the National Day of Repudiation of Jesse Jackson, which was commemorated in front of the federal building in Westwood on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday with signs reading "David Duke in Black Skin," "Wake Up, Black America" and "J.J. is no MLK."

•Persuaded the convention president to write a letter commending radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger for her "courageous stand" against homosexuality.

•Backed moves within the convention to do what was once unheard of: make the Southern Baptist Church more inclusive to African-Americans.

•Told 200 protesters outside Gray Davis' Riverside office—where a cardboard cutout of the governor was tarred and feathered—that "the demise of the human race has just begun" with Davis' signing of three "pro-homosexual" bills.

•Called on the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to rescind benefits for same-sex partners of county employees.

•Delivered a sermon titled "When Should God's People Pick Up Weapons to Defend Themselves and God's Work?" after his desire to carry a concealed weapon became public.

•Lobbied the convention to support the "male-only authority" of churches and families and decree that the Bible is without error.

•Joined clergy and militia groups in defending an Indianapolis Baptist church from being seized by the Internal Revenue Service over a tax dispute.

Drake concedes he enjoys all the attention his exploits draw, confessing in his Southern drawl, "When I see a Channel 7 van, I run after it." But, he slyly adds, "there is a method to my madness." He is among those media-savvy types who believe any press is good press so long as your name gets out there. He points to a recent company party at which there were 400 hot dogs left over. Instead of throwing them out, Drake says party organizers "remembered seeing my ugly mug in the media and brought the food over here."

First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park's parking lot. A dark, bitterly cold weeknight. Their bellies full, several homeless people are laughing and carrying on as they lay out bedrolls on the cold shelter floor. It actually seems like a fun place to hang out. Meanwhile, the area across the lot, around the church buildings, is downright spooky. As you walk past trees with leaves rustling in the wind, strange-looking men pop out from the shadows. One goes over to the communal showers, which is the next door down from the youth ministry, sees that it's occupied and shouts, "Shit!"

Good thing Pastor Drake isn't around to hear him cussing.

Inside a small office next to the youth-ministry room, Wiley Drake Jr. sits in a metal folding chair. He talks about growing up with three older sisters, a doting mother and a father who gave up drugs and drinking about the time he was born. He was 3 when his family moved from a posh New Jersey neighborhood to a depressed small town in Arkansas. He remembers having "loads of fun" in the South despite the family of six being crammed into a two-bedroom shack.

When he was about 6, the Drakes moved to Texas, where they stayed for three and a half years before returning to California. Wiley Jr. attended a private Christian school for part of third grade and all of fourth before his parents removed him for home schooling, where he remained through high school. His father says he home-schooled his son because he was upset with the school system and its lack of moral values. And this was a Christian school he was talking about. Looking back, Wiley Jr. figures there were things he missed while being home-schooled, but, he thinks the friends he made at church balanced out his social life.

Like any teen, he went through a rebellious period but credits his staunch Southern Baptist upbringing for making it less dramatic than in many households. There were no problems with drugs or alcohol. But he does admit to times of feeling disenfranchised at church. "I almost wanted to have nothing to do with it," he says.

Drake Sr., who confesses to having been "somewhat of an absentee father because of my ministry," credits his wife with keeping their children on course. His oldest daughter is an author, an early childhood-development educator at Cal Baptist University in Riverside and a minister (although not a head minister, thanks to the recent Southern Baptist ban on female pastors her father helped enact). Drake's second daughter is married to a minister in Bakersfield. His third daughter is a housewife who is not involved in the ministry.

As a teen growing into manhood around the homeless, Wiley Jr. says, he learned a lot about people. He still looks back fondly at the nice man who used to sleep on the church sidewalk. He believes homeless people are just like anyone else; they're just at the worst point in their lives. He reckons we'd all react as they do if we were in their battered shoes.

Earlier, his father walked past a row of lockers that were removed from airports and bus stations because of bomb threats and relocated to his homeless shelter. "Part of Wiley Jr.'s responsibilities is he's the vice president in charge of lockers," he joked. Residents can rent a locker for $2, which is applied to maintenance and—more important—gives them a sense of responsibility. The head pastor commented that his son has done a lot of work with the homeless over the years and is very patient with them.

« Previous Page
Next Page »