‘I hope he’s OK’

‘I hope he’s OK’ August 2, 2012

Here’s an excerpt from a 2006 post with my initial reaction to the scandalous outing of mega-church pastor and former National Association of Evangelicals president Ted Haggard:

There’s a script for how this will play out in the evangelical community — a script written out on [the NAE website]:

… homosexuality [is] a sin that, if persisted in, brings grave consequences in this life and excludes one from the Kingdom of God.

Individual Christians, ministers, and congregations should compassionately proclaim the Good News of forgiveness and encourage those involved in homo­sexual practices to cease those practices, accept forgiveness, and pray for deliverance as nothing is impossible with God. Further, we should accept them into fellowship upon confession of faith and repentance, as we would any other forgiven sinner.

All that language — forgiveness, deliverance, confession, repentance — really means here only that Haggard needs to go back to living a lie. If he agrees to live that lie, and with clenched teeth to continue proclaiming that others must join in living that lie, then Haggard will be “accepted” back “into fellowship.”

Haggard is now seeking “spiritual advice and guidance,” and there are tens of thousands of Very Nice Christian people praying for him. But his spiritual guides and advisors are all going to tell him to follow that script. Those people praying for him are all praying for him to follow that script. And that script is evil. That script is a lie.

That script remains an evil lie, but it’s still in place in the evangelical church. It still demands the same elaborate show of repentance and still makes the same hollow promises of “forgiveness” and “deliverance.”

It’s cruel.

At Religion Dispatches, Candace Chellew-Hodge further dissects this cruel ritual after the recent outing of yet another evangelical figure, a young Southern Baptist writer named Jonathan Merritt:

What makes me the most sad, however, is the continued peddling of the lie that to be Christian one must “suffer” or “struggle.” This is the line we hear the most from gay and lesbian people hoodwinked into suppressing their true God-given self to please popular Christianity. Merritt parrots this line, calling gays and lesbians people who “wrestle with the baggage they carry in life. People like me who passionately pursue God — on His terms and not ours — experience incredible times of struggle along the way.”

And, we can’t just skip by the jab at gay and lesbian Christians who are obviously living on “our terms” and not God’s terms when we reconcile our sexuality and spirituality. I’d like to give Merritt some really good news: you don’t have to “struggle,” because your sexual orientation is not “baggage,” it’s a blessing. This idea of the Christian life as “struggle” with “baggage” is a ruse to keep the queers in the closet. As long as they can be convinced that living for Jesus means struggling with baggage and feeling “periods of depression, frustration, and confusion,” they can keep the gay and lesbian believer from being what God intends — happy and struggle-free (at least around the issue of sexual orientation).

But, there’s no need for all this teeth-gnashing and struggle. Jesus (remember him?) actually says that he came to give us life “abundantly,” not a life of struggle, depression, frustration and confusion. The religion people invented after Jesus has given us plenty of that, but if we actually go back and base our lives on Jesus’ terms, then struggles disappear. If we are to judge our lives on what Jesus said he brings to us, then struggling is a sign that we aren’t in it. Abundance — as in an abundance of joy, compassion, love, peace, justice and all the other things Jesus prattled on about — would mark how our lives are supposed to be going.

The evangelical tribe offers LGBT Christians a script in which they’re assigned a role filled with “struggle, depression, frustration and confusion.” How is that good news? And how did we decide that forcing people to live a cruel lie was somehow the right thing to do?

When your moral argument calls for cruelty and dishonesty, then you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.

“But the Bible says …” No. The Bible does not teach us to be cruel and dishonest. Wrong turn. Really big one, probably quite a ways back.

As it happens, Star Foster grew up attending Sunday school with Jonathan Merritt. (Star blogs here on Patheos, where she’s helped to build the Pagan channel and has often helped all of us with her superior tech-fu.)

Her post reacting to Merritt’s outing, and to the cruel script yet again being re-enacted, models a kindness, compassion and honesty that we Christians would do well to emulate. The post is titled, “The Jonathan Merritt I Knew: Why He’s Not Quite Anti-Gay & Why I Feel Sorry for Him“:

When I look at the trajectory of Jonathan Merritt’s life, I often think there but for the twist of fate go I. Had I stayed in that church, and in that culture, I don’t know that I would have become Pagan. My Pagan spiritual life was borne of having a vacuum, a space, in which to explore the concept of religion from a new perspective. If I had remained in that culture and church, I would likely be a frustrated minister’s wife today. I would have attended a Christian college and be putting in 20 hours a week at church. I read Jonathan’s writing, and sometimes it feels like the ghost of the-Star-that-might-have-been is speaking to me. In my adult life I have used Jonathan as a strange sort of window into the life I could have had.

I know it has to be humiliating to be publicly outed when you’re not merely a public figure, but one struggling with faith and identity. I think many of those who are calling for him to embrace a gay identity have no idea how much he has to lose. Not book contracts or speaking engagements. His family, his friends, his sense of self. His faith. To struggle with your faith is a terrible thing. As a woman, I struggled mightily with the Christian faith. I have to agree with Candace Chellew-Hodge: if you are struggling then you are doing it wrong. I found a faith far more accepting of my sacred femaleness, and I can’t go back to fit into a Christian model of womanhood ever again.

Right now Jonathan is going through a really rough point in his life. I’m sure he’s had a lot of uncomfortable conversations. His life is changed forever. This scandal is going to be something that will be brought up constantly throughout his life. His life will not ever be the same.

I hope he’s OK.

Me too. I hope he’s OK too.

But if he sticks to the script and if he does exactly what it expects and requires of him, then this poor kid will never get to be OK.

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