‘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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  • Tonio

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

    Yes. So frustrating to me that so many people and so many belief systems cannot regard an individual’s sexual orientation with simple benign indifference. I keep coming back to the Amish as an example, and from the interactions I’ve had with them, I couldn’t even guess as to their stance on the use of technology by non-Amish. This is a good thing. I want to ask people like Dan Cathy why they even care whether someone is straight or gay. 

  • Hexep

    Here is a man who would crucify others for a deed he himself has committed, and is now being crucified for it.  If you live by the sword, as they say, then you die by the sword.  If this isn’t perfect justice, I don’t know what is.

    Or, to quote Zonker Harris, ‘Guilty, guilty, guilty!’

  • michael mcshea

    This corruption of the human potential, this self loathing thing regarding sexuality is mixed with a lot of false human tradition/meme and power politics.  That Christianity in its first thousand years followed the cross. That Charlemagne, aka General Constantine Deux, used force to make his Pagan subjects endure his cruelty and enforced religious belief system, to not to follow the true cross but instead the tortured version of the cross aka as the crucifix. 

    Somewhere between the message and love of Jesus and the popes and wannbe popes of evangelical Christianity lies humanity torn between the good and evil potentials of the species called man.


  • Nequam

    Or, to quote Zonker Harris, ‘Guilty, guilty, guilty!’

    Mark Slackmeyer.

  • Hexep

    I am fairly defeated and wish you the joy of your victory.

  • I share your desire for Jonathan Merritt not to suffer.
    Far more, though, do I desire him not to cause others to suffer.

  • Candace Chellew-Hodge is a wonderful person.  I’m proud to say I know her personally.  Had pizza with her just last week. :D

    Glad to see her on Fred’s blog.

  • LL

    Obviously, it’s far harsher on gay people, but they do something like this with other “transgressors” as well. When my sister (then 19) got pregnant out of wedlock, she had to go in front of the congregation (my mother’s congregation, the same one she belongs to now) and “confess” her sin (I guess as an FYI to everybody who hadn’t already heard about it). My sister had to do this because she still lived at home and my mother forced her to (my mother, not my father; he was raised Catholic and didn’t go to my mother’s church, or any church, actually). 

    I am pretty sure my sister still hasn’t quite forgiven my mother for this, and I don’t blame her. And my sister has not been back to that church for quite awhile, though she did continue to attend for years after that, a time during which she entered into a hasty, ill-advised marriage with another church member, from whom she is now unamicably divorced. So that worked out awesome for everyone. 

    That’s why it’s always amusing to me (well, amusing and also a little sad, I guess) when the religious folks yap about the government wanting to control us all and engaging in “social engineering,” as if it’s the “control” part they have a problem with, when the truth is, they just don’t want the government horning in on their territory. Making people feel like shit for making common human mistakes or living their lives the way they see fit is THEIR job, not the government’s. 

  • “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

  • When my sister (then 19) got pregnant out of wedlock, she had to go in
    front of the congregation (my mother’s congregation, the same one she
    belongs to now) and “confess” her sin

    Are you fucking kidding me.

    God, how someone could have the nerve to force a teenager to humiliate herself in front of a bunch of judgey dicks who have no business being judgey —


  • EllieMurasaki

    Did the guy your sister had sex with also go in front of the congregation and confess the sin? If so, it’s still an appalling thing to do, but at least it’s gender-neutral. I expect nothing of the sort happened, though.

  • ReverendRef

     Did the guy your sister had sex with also go in front of the congregation and confess the sin?

    Of course not!  It was the good religious folk who brought the woman caught in in adultery to Jesus to see what he would do; they didn’t bring the man who was also caught in the act. 

    Because, you know, it’s all about controlling and humiliating the women.

    It’s too bad someone didn’t have the courage to stand up and say, “Yo, where’s the dude?”  Actually . . . it’s too bad someone didn’t have the courage to stand up and say, “This is bullshit, and this is NOT how Christ asked us to treat people.”


  • Bnerd

    I feel for him. Our backgrounds may not be exact, but having grown up as a young kind in an Evangelical church, I understand the kind of self loathing that comes as a result of being in that culture and being gay. It’s a hideous thing. And knowing that, it’s no wonder Jonathan feels the need to still cast himself as “broken”. But I do hope he can overcome it. It’s his choice obviously. But to continue to live a lie, or deny yourself happiness as a slave to doctrine seems like an incredibly hollow, lonely and torturous life to live.

    Which brings me to my next point: I don’t believe Christians really comprehend what they’re asking of a gay man, a lesbian woman, a bisexual or trans* person when they ask them to live the kind of life Haggard and company will likely be forced to live if they want to stay in the tribe. They assume it’s just about sex. You hear it all the time. Opponents of equality think about gay sex more than I do as a gay man. They assume that’s the beginning and the end of what it means to be LGBT. Sex. That’s it. It’s not true of course. We have the same desires, feelings and emotions as anyone in any relationship. We like to cuddle. Hold hands. Peck each other on the cheek. Hug. Our attraction and our love isn’t based on “acts” but on innate feelings. That’s not controversial. Pretty much everyone operates that way. But they seem completely oblivious to that fact. And that means that they seem oblivious to the real pain, isolation and lonliness that the life they “wish” for us really entails. Perhaps if they were robbed of their love and told they couldn’t “engage” in the things they will always have a desire to, they would understand. But until then, it seems like a lost cause trying to tell these people how much harm they’re truly doing.

  • Wingedwyrm

    One of the worst parts is that, in their heads, that congregation was doing just the right thing by the 19 year old girl already facing the emotional trauma that is an unplanned pregnancy.  The same kind of mind thinks that it’s doing exactly right by Ted Haggard by making him go back to the script.

    It seems that there’s this belief, among the Religious Right, that there is a perfect life to live and that they can make people live by it.  Therefore, whatever done, by carrot or by stick, to force someone into that mold is right, regardless of how it may shock the conscience of someone who doesn’t see the ends.

    This is how the god of their faith acts and they follow suit.

    So, to believe that this method of creating a fence of law around perfection and using shame as an electrified fence is, in any way, flawed is to believe that God himself is flawed, that the bible doesn’t, on every page, show perfect morality, that everything they’ve come to believe about what morality is is wrong.  Therefore, nothing that challenges their views can even be acknowledged, let alone considered and used to test that entire framework.

    This makes it nigh-impossible to even communicate a differing position to them, let alone to actually get them to acknowledge a mistake.

  • The right-wing, moneyed stream of Christianity has been perfecting the message that all life is a burden and a struggle for nearly 2000 years. It was, and is, used to oppress women, poor people, slaves — okay, this list is going to be ridiculous. It was and is used to oppress anyone not on the top of the heap. 

    They took what was supposed to be a comfort (“the meek shall inherit the Earth”, etc.) and turned it into chains and a bludgeon. And they started doing it a long, long time ago. They’re good at it, they’ve been practicing for multiple millennia, and they are not going to stop until they all finally die out.

  • Wingedwyrm

    Item of note: It also oppresses those on the top of the heap, because it gives them more to lose and more visibility in their failings.  Queen Elizabeth never asked to have her family be made into a show-horse for a nation, judged harshly and made joke for even its lightest of failings.

    Now, she also eats better, has better healthcare (even in a nation with great healthcare), is assured her decendants will all have a better education, etc than everyone else in her nation, so I’m not going to waste too much pity there, but the injustice is there.

    Nobody lives in this kind of thinking truly free.

  •  The thing I keep asking is this: If you’re an evangelical christian who beleive homosexuality is a choice and a sin and can be cured through prayer and suchlike and is fighting to prevent marriage equality and civil rights for QUILTBAG people, then: how would you feel if your daughter was marrying a “reformed’ homosexual? Would you be comfortable that she was entering a marriage that would be happy and fulfilling to her?

  • 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.
    If he’s sticking to the script simply because of the need to stay in the tribe, this is true. But if he genuinely believes that same-sex sexual relationships are harmful/sinful – whether or not he’s right about that – then there’s plenty of evidence to show that he can in fact come to a healthy place where he does not deny the existence of his same-sex attraction, but he chooses not to identify with it or act on it. In the APA’s research into sexual orientation change efforts, the researchers came away skeptical that orientation itself could change, but suggesting that people can come to a healthy self-identity where they do not base their identity on their orientation. Research is here: http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf. I don’t think it’s fair to say that if someone with same-sex attraction chooses not to identify with it then they are denying who they really are.

  • Nicolae Carpathia

    then: how would you feel if your daughter was marrying a “reformed’ homosexual? Would you be comfortable that she was entering a marriage that would be happy and fulfilling to her?

    Your mistake is thinking that they care whether the marriage is happy and fulfilling for the woman.

  • etseq

    I beg your pardon????  I call BS!  This is exactly what this post was about – you want gay people to live a lie, risk suicide, ruin some woman in a fake marriage, just to satisfy your bigotry!  I suggest you reflect and repent if you are indeed a christian minister.  I sincerely hope you have never coerced a gay person to live such a lie and I only wish it was illegal in this country for you to treat your flock with such reckless abuse.

    I respect this blog but I have to say I am so glad that I was born gay into an agnostic family, saw religion from the fraud it is and did not have to contend with such superstitious child abuse that you so gleefully advocate.

    If I believed there was a god, I will tell you to repent or face your worst vision of hell.  “Pray” on that the next time a gay teen commits suicide.  

    Thankfully, there are Christians like Fred that I trust and respect – that helps somewhat to balance out the EVIL you spread.

  • JonathanPelikan

    Every time I see you post here or on the slacktiverse, Potentate, it lights up my day.

    Especially over there when I saw that on some thing you’d posted had accidentally got caught in a spam filter. In between laughing and rolling about I managed to mentally come up with a compelling ‘Carpathia-vs-spam-filters’ narrative that would have made a great 600-page Jenkinsbook.

  • JonathanPelikan

    So say we all.

  • That’s why I didn’t say “a woman” in general, but specifically their daughters. I would think that even the most “traditional” father would still love his daughter and want her to be happy consider his own property interest in his daughter to be ill-spent if she ends up in a marriage that is liable to either fail, fail to produce grandchildren, or get the family in the social papers when her husband is caught soliciting anonymous sex in a men’s room.

  • erikagillian

    They don’t only do that to girls who get pregnant out of wedlock.  Some of them do it to rape victims.  Apologize for being raped, just to be clear, and yes, in front of everybody.  I believe the pastor said something like yes, it’s 99% the rapist’s fault but that one percent.  When this was reported in a blog several people told stories of it happening in their churches too.

  • This is reprehensible and unforgivable. Pastors who do this, or who endorse it, have no business being in a position of authority over vulnerable people.

    Not that that’s news to anyone, but I felt like saying it out loud.