"I have a big moutha big one!" a grinning Star Parker, 40, admits to a packed room of women at a recent Christian women's conference. "In twelve years of marriage there have been many times I practically threw the Bible at my husband rather than give a soft answer," she blares, then quietly confesses, "God has worked very gently with me, and I've sensed him saying, 'If I can be gentle with you, can't you be gentle with your husband?'"
If confession is good for the soul, Star, born "Larstella," has proved it again and again. Ever since the Lord delivered her from a life of drug abuse, crime, promiscuity, multiple abortions, and welfare dependency, the outspoken founder of a social policy think tank called the Coalition on Urban Affairs has been telling her story to anyone willing to listen.
And people are listening. Star, at the forefront of a new African-American conservative movement, speaks regularly in high schools and colleges, appears on television shows like Politically Incorrect and Oprah, criss-crosses the country as a social policy consultant and conference speaker, has hosted conservative radio talk shows, and has just completed a twelve-week book tour for her newautobiography, Pimps, Whores, and Welfare Brats (Pocket Books).
But for all of Star's ability to wow an audience with her wordsher father used to tell her as a child, "Larstella, talkers rule the world!"it's her untroubled spirit that speaks volumes about her belief in Christ's power to forgive. Ask her how she can share her sordid story so freely and she'll shrug as if the answer's obvious.
"When we confess our faults to each other and pray for each other, we get healed, according to James 5:16," she says.
Star's "healing" began with her conversion in 1981 in response to a sermon about Jesus Christand life hasn't been the same since. Today, she lives in Southern California with her husband, Peter, a pastor who's fifteen years her senior, and their two daughters, Angel, sixteen, and Rachel, eight. Star, the same woman who once thought nothing of aborting her first four children, now works from her home and limits business trips to twice a month in order to be available to her family.
Here's how God drew her from a life of rebellion into one of meaning and purpose.
What led you down the path of rebellion?
I was born in 1956 and grew up the middle child with four sisters and brothers. I rarely saw my father, who was in the Air Force. My mother, who he'd married right out of high school, was always working to help make ends meet. My parents raised us by the secular "I'm okay, you're okay" doctrine that says people should be allowed to make their own rules and shouldn't judge other people's lives.
Consequently, they didn't judge my life. To make matters worse, when we moved to East St. Louis in 1969 after a three-and-a-half-year stint in Japan, I was suddenly exposed to the racial problems in America. I was twelve years old and Dr. Martin Luther King was already dead, cities were burned, and there was a lot of anger and tension among blacks, so I just joined right in. I bought into the lie that there was nothing in America for me except institutional racism and glass ceilings that would keep me from getting promoted. So I became very rebellioushanging out with older guys and breaking into homes. I even helped one guy rob a liquor store. When I got arrested for shoplifting, my white school guidance counselor told me not to worry about it, because I was a "victim of racism, lashing out at society."
When my family moved to Mount Holly, New Jersey, my dad helped me get a part-time job at McGuire Air Force Base. I'd been a tomboy up until age sixteen when I went on a date with an older, white military officer who drove a Corvette. I naively went into his apartment, and he pressured me into sex. After that I became sexually active and hostile to whites. In 1976, I saved up three hundred dollars and moved to Hollywood with a girlfriend. We wanted to live glamorous lives and dance on the black TV show Soul Train.
How did your life turn from party girl to welfare mom?
I got pregnant, so I went to a clinic and used a girlfriend's medical welfare sticker to pay for an abortion. A few months later I got pregnant again and went on welfare for two months to collect some money, then had another abortion. When a worker at the clinic asked, "Weren't you just here?" I said, "Hey, if it weren't for people like me, you wouldn't have a job." Within three years I'd had four abortions, all tax-subsidized. That's when I started feeling empty inside. I thought, I've got to be a better person than this. How can I justify continuously killing my offspring? I decided I wasn't going to do that any more.
Did you stop having sex?
No. In fact, within three months I was pregnant again. And even though I was living with a guy at the time, I knew somebody else was the father of the baby. But because I'd promised myself I wasn't going to abort again, and I didn't want my boyfriend to know I was messing around, I moved out. I could have moved back home with my parents in New Jersey, but I didn't want to leave California. I was twenty-three when I quit my job in circulation at the Los Angeles Times so I could go on welfare, which I stayed on for three-and-a-half years. By collecting $465 a month from Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), plus food stamps, and by getting a part-time job that paid in cash "under the table," I could rent a nice apartment and earn far more money than working an honest forty-hour week. Later, I had no trouble dropping my daughter, Angel, off at a government-funded day care, selling some free medical-care stickers to buy drugs, and hanging out at the beach all afternoon. Now I look back and say, "God, how was I so blind?" Yet through my sinful lifestyle I'd totally lost my understanding of right and wrong.
What led you to become a Christian?
While I was newly pregnant with Angel, I walked into a small advertising agency run by three young black guys to interview for a job. When I told them I didn't want them to report my income, they said, "We don't work like that here. We're Christians."
I started mocking them and said, "Why would you want to be so straight in this racist society?"
They said it had nothing to do with being black or white. In fact, they said I needed to be born again to work there!
"Born again? What are you talking about?!" I said.
They pulled out a Bible and said, "The Lord Jesus died for you and he was raised again for your justification. He has suffered the consequences for all the sin in your life." As they told me how much Jesus loved me, I started feeling guilty for some of the things I'd done. But even though I prayed with them, I wasn't yet interested in changing my lifestyle.
A month before my baby was due, I got sick with preeclampsia, a life-threatening blood infection. When I boarded a bus to get to the doctor, I nearly fainted, so I was rushed by ambulance to a medical center and transferred to UCLA Medical Center. There they delivered my premature daughter, Angel, by emergency cesarean section.
During my week-and-a-half stay, Kenneth, one of the born-again Christians at the ad agency, called. He was the only one who came to visit meand pray with meat the hospital.
While I recovered at home, Ken called again and said, "Star, God has great plans for your life." I said to myself, God has great plans for my life? Why? I'm a drug addict with a kid and I barely know her father. It didn't make any sense that God would want me.
But over the next year, Ken kept calling and inviting me to church, so I finally took the bus to his church, Crenshaw Christian Center. And I loved it. The people were so wonderful that I went back the following Sunday. And that day the preacher said, "Do you want to come down the aisle and give your life to the Lord?" I did. So they took me in a room and counseled me about how to be born again. Then they gave me a Bible and told me how to live a Christian life.
What did they tell you?
They explained one story about a woman who'd been living very promiscuously. The Lord talked to her about the five men she'd been shacking up with, then told her to "go and sin no more." So they told me to go and sin no more.
That really stuck with me, so I decided to give it a try. I said, "I'm going to tell these guys I'm not having sex anymore until marriage." As a Christian, I had a reason to abstain because Romans 12:1 says God has called me to present my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to him. As guys approached me, I said nobut it was still a daily struggle for a long time. Without sex as a part of the relationship, all the guys I knew lost interest.
I also stopped smoking pot and doing drugs. One Sunday, I was introduced to Paula and Gerald Lee, a young black couple with three children. When they invited me to their house for lunch, I was fascinated. Paula was a black stay-at-home mom who actually lived with her husband and kids in a house with a nice backyard. I was used to single black women raising kids alone and living on welfare in a high-rise apartment!
The Lees talked to me about setting goals. Although I was still on welfare, soon I was taking marketing classes at a university and I took an apartment with another single mom in order to swap babysitting. Soon there were five of us single moms living there, sharing the responsibilities of watching our kids.
How did you get off welfare?
Quitting welfare was a big hurdle for me. I had become so dependent on the government that I'd lost a sense of who I was. Although I'd worked in the past, I believed I was entitled to that money. Then one Sunday morning, when I was sitting in the back of that packed church, the pastor seemed to point at me. "What are you doing living on welfare? The government is not your source. God is!" He referred to Philippians 4:19, which says God will supply all your needs, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. I sat there and contemplated the magnificent riches of God, the One who'd created the universe. I realized if he could do that, he could help me with my bills.
So I wrote a letter the next day and told the county not to send me any more checks. I was "trusting God." And within three months I got a good job at a food distribution company.
In the meantime, I began to long for a Christian husband who could also be a father for my child. So I came up with an idea to start a newsletter that would list upcoming Christian social events for singles at all the local black churches. Soon I began knocking on church doors and seeking advertisers in order to start Not Forsaking the Assembly (NFTA), based on Hebrews 10:25. I'd drop off copies at a hundred churches. After a few months, I had enough money to buy a used car and get my own apartment.
How did you meet your husband, Peter?
One of my neighbors worked for a black outreach ministry founded by Rosey Grier and convinced me to write an article about it in my magazine. I went to check out the ministry with my daughter, Angel, on a Saturday and was introduced to Peter, who did mission work for the organization. He was busing some inner-city kids to watch the filming of a Christian TV show and volunteered to take Angel along. Well, after that bus trip, Angel wouldn't let him go. When we got home, she said, "Can Peter be my daddy?" Next thing I knew, he invited me to Thanksgiving dinner, and we hit it off. Peter's past was similar to mine. He was a drug addict before he allowed God to help him clean up his life.
After Peter and I married and had our daughter, Rachel, he started pastoring a small church and helping me in advertising sales with my magazine, which was growing. In April, 1992, we'd just moved into office space with seven employees and an $8,000 phone system when the Rodney King verdict was handed down, acquitting the police officers who'd beat him. The next thing we knew, people were rioting and parts of Los Angeles were burning down. Many of our black advertisers lost their businesses and couldn't pay us. In one month, our advertising revenue went from $18,000 to $2,000. It was a struggle, we were in debt, and our magazine didn't survive.
That must have been a real shock! What happened next?
In spite of our debts, my husband was reluctant to shut down the business. At first I was impatient with him. I said, "Come on, get over it. We've lost everything. Let's move on!" But then I realized I needed to be quiet and gentle-spirited in order to assist him without making the situation worse. So whenever the pressure mounted to take my frustration out on him, I talked to a woman I'd befriended in our church. One day, instead of screaming at him, I said quietly, "Peter, we've got to close the business." I was shocked when he said, "I know." Ultimately, the Lord worked through both of us to be patient and content in the midst of that challenging time in our relationship.
And God is so faithful. Eventually, I was asked to host my own three-hour radio talk show from my home from nine to midnight, which fit nicely with my desire to be available for my family. My outspoken conservative views on topics like welfare, abortion, and the L.A. riots caught the attention of the secular media and led to talk show appearances, a college speaking circuit, and other opportunities. We paid our debts, and Peter's now finishing seminary.
After being hostile toward whites, how did you manage to fall in love with a white man?
When I became a Christian I started taking the Bible literally and seriously. My minister pointed out that we should not be racist and hate white people, so I believed himI simply made a decision not to hate white people anymore. Peter and I decided not to let the color of our skin interfere with our relationship.
Have you encountered any problems because of your biracial marriage?
Peter and I haven't personally, but our daughter, Angel, has. After the riots, we moved south to Orange County from a totally black environment to a predominantly white environment. That was an adjustment for Angel, who was twelve years old, an awkward age. In her all-white grade school, she withdrew from others. Then, when she started high school, she only hung around the blacks, and she dropped some of her interests, like modeling.
That move propelled me to manage my time better in order to spend some extra time with Angel. Thank God I was sensitive enough, by his Spirit, to do that, because the time we spent together has resulted in a close relationship and a balanced, motivated daughter. Angel is a stellar studentat age sixteen she's already graduated from high schooland her friendships look like a rainbow. I'm so glad Angel has friends of all colorswhite, black, Asian, you name it.
Racism is something we must change one heart at a timeby deciding to love each other as people for whom Christ died, and to treat those in the church as sisters and brothers in Christ, regardless of color.
What should Christians do about the social problems of poverty and welfare?
The immediate solution is to win our neighbors to the Lordfamily members, people at our job, etc. Evangelism is critical. We're also called to be Good Samaritans. Unfortunately, the current government welfare system usurps authority from God's people to take care of the poor and destroys the incentive for people to build strong families. The church is the one with the best track record of getting people out of poverty, off drugs, out of lawlessness and sexual promiscuity, into employment, and into lifelong marriage.
How have you advised your daughters to avoid the wrong choices you made?
I don't ever tell them their color will stop them from succeeding. Instead, I ask them, "Where do you want to be twenty years from now? Picture yourself, and then come backward. Would you be haunted by this decision or that decision? Would it take you off course?" It's crucial, as parents, to help your children set goals.
Setting distinct goals has helped my sixteen-year-old daughter keep her focus. Angel likes boys, but she doesn't date because it would distract her from her purpose. She'll be attending college for dramatic arts this fall, so she'll spend her time in plays and theater classes most nights.
Also, we've raised both girls to understand that God is pleased with marriage followed by children. My husband and I talk openly with Angel and Rachel to make sure they know that the sexual relationship is reserved for marriage and understand why they should be pure. We tell them how valuable they are and that sex is a gift to transfer only to their spouse.
Many times, people send out "Just Say No" messages, but they don't answer the "whys." Why should I stay away from drugs? Why should I be sexually pure? But the Scriptures give the reasons and the means to say no. When you start thinking about what God has done and what it means to know him and the power of his resurrection, it's easy to say "I'll wait one more day and then another until I'm married." After I became a Christian, I waited five years for my husband, and it was worth the wait.
Do you recommend Christians expose their faults as you have?
Although only God can forgive sin, sometimes it helps to get godly counsel from a trusted Christian friend. One day I was discussing my abortion experiences with a woman when she casually asked, "What did your husband think when you talked about your abortions?" I said, "Well, my husband had to be saved from a few things of his own."
She admitted she'd had an abortion more than twenty years earlier, then said, "I've never told my husband. Maybe I shouldn't." I softly suggested, "If you're telling me, then maybe you need to tell your husband because it's still bothering you."
So many women are burdened by secrets that keep them from fulfilling their callings to nurture their family, impact their community, or share their faith. The reason people are so guilt-ridden in Christ is because they have unconfessed sin. They may have confessed it to God, but it's very difficult, humanly, to get beyond the guilt unless you tell someone you trust, "I messed up!"
Even if you don't have any "secret sins," you still have a tremendous story to tellthat "yes, against the odds, I was able to keep myself pure" or "The Lord protected me from some real trouble." Whenever I tell my storyincluding what God has done in my lifeI know it helps others get on that path of freedom for themselves. And in the process, I'm also healed.
Copyright Â© 1997 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.