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Telling Secrets

faith, fatherhood, and culture

THE COUNTRY, THE CHURCH, HER PREACHER, AND HIS LOVER

Sunday, November 05, 2006

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"All I'm hearing is, 'blah blah gay sex blah blah congress.'" - Granddad Freeman in The Boondocks, after half-hearing his grandson's explanation of the true roots of the Christmas holiday.

Once again America's obsession with sex strikes again. Nothing gets the nation's ire (and privates) up more than headlines splashed with the latest sex scandal. We are quick to hang up the stained undies for all to see and then raise our fists in consternation at the betrayal of our public trust. We can hardly speak without breathing heavily about gay sex (made appropriate for polite conversation by the gay marriage issue and priestly robes), pornography, white house interns and pubic hair on Coke cans. We are titillated beyond measure and we are addicted to being turned on by the news, music, movies, TV, and every day conversation.

Not long ago, folks on the political and religious right shouted with righteous indignation at Bill Clinton's indiscretion with an intern. Clinton unwisely tried to cover it up, which only led to the unveiling of more unsavory secrets ("Sure I smoked a dube, but I never inhaled."). Those on the left kept asking, "What's the big deal? Who cares what he does in private?" The mantra I heard repeatedly was, "Private life has nothing to do with public life." Clinton ended up impeached but not kicked out of office, an official handslap.

Now the tables have been overturned. Mel Gibson kicked off the whole recent shebang with his drunken anti-Semitic rant for which he apologized profusely and admitted to a lifelong struggle with alcoholism, which should have surprised exactly no one after watching the first couple "Lethal Weapon" movies. His apology, it turns out, is a model of public humility and honesty that most of us should aspire to even privately. Nothing to yank your panties off with this one, but it certainly shot the first arrow into the bruised heart of Christian morality. Even after the Anti-Defamation League accepted Gibson's apology, leftists kept twisting the knife.

Then Republican Congressman Mark Foley, a.k.a. Maf54, got busted for instant messaging sexual flirtations to underaged congressional pages. Disgusting stuff to read. You can see the wild desperation in his eyes as his wild bouffant flops around. Nothing like handing Bush-haters a canister of napalm and asking if they would kindly drop it on you. And yet, our collective voyeurism is delighted and we want to know every detail. Exactly what did those IM's say? Well, fellow quidnunc, you can satisfy your curiosity at as benign a place as Wikipedia. Don't worry, it is just objective information so no one will blame you for looking it up.

Meanwhile the gay sex debate rages on. One state approves it, then retracts. Then another state approves it and another, like Colorado, my home, tries to solidify its disapproval in its constitution, even though the constitution already defines marriage as the union of "one man and one woman" (not to mention the double standard of allowing heterosexual couples to live and copulate together with benefits while homosexual couples don't get the same benefits, even though no one on either side is married - maybe it's just me that sees the problem?). My leftist hetero friends are as adamant about supporting gay marriage as my right-wing hetero friends are about abolishing it forever. They go back and forth, thrusting and parrying each other, and then make the trip from their cubes down the hall to the bathroom to clean up.

Then, rising to a dramatic climax, Ted Haggard, devoted husband and father of five beautiful children, pastor of 14,000 and co-leader (with James Dobson) of the so-called "Evangelical," right-wing world is caught with his pants down in front of a young man named Mike, all this a week before the November elections in which the official state of gay sex would be decided. Ted, an adamant opponent to gay marriage, admitted this past Lord's Day that he was "a deceiver and a liar," and stepped down from his formidable pedestal before he was shoved off.

I can hear the righteous indignation spewing forth from my brethren and sistern now, from the left this time: "Hypocrite!" "That's why I don't go to church! Hateful hypocrites, every one!"

Too bad private life has nothing to do with public life. (Besides, Haggard only possessed the meth, he didn't INGEST it. And what's wrong with gay sex again?)
Too bad cheap political ploys like this work so well, on both sides of the aisle.
As Jesus said, "If you've never done anything wrong in your life, then have at him!"

What breaks my heart is the impact this will have on the rest of the Haggard family. Can you imagine growing up in that family from this point on? The thousands of people under his pastoral leadership will also suffer. For all of my distaste of mainstream evangelicalism, I know most of them are good people and well-intentioned, now thrown into great confusion.

What also bothers me a great deal about this affair is the same thing that has bothered me about the Church as a whole - and that is the bruises and flesh wounds Jesus continues to suffer at the hand of his "followers." As Roger the Shrubber so aptly put it in Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail, "There is a pestilence upon this land...nothing is sacred." I would add, "Neither within the Kingdom nor without it."

The thing that religio-political leaders like Ted Haggard and Jim Dobson, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton seem to forget is that they are all of them in fact still human and not merely an establishment trapped in a man's body. They are all of them sinners like the rest of us, and like the rest of us do things for which they must repent. The double-whammy for them is that they are also held to a higher standard, as Jesus' brother James says in his book. Haggard and Clinton became less than human by becoming an embodiment, and in so doing, bought into the legend of themselves written by and for them.

But everyone loves a good story about the downfall of a legend and multitudes clamor to play a part. Evangelicalism is wavering on the brink of the same abyss that swallowed the Catholic Church and secularists are shoving as hard as they can with books like Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg (who, for example, shows that the language of the Religious Right is frighteningly similar to the language of the Third Reich). Stories are cropping up in papers all over the country about inappropriate sexual encounters and child molestations by unknown pastors of small churches. And now, little unknown Mike comes out of the closet with the aplomb of a smart bomb and with the spontaneity of Rosa Park's refusal to move to the back of the bus. The Evangelical power structure is consumed by all the drama and violence of a meth lab explosion. Just in time for the November elections.

Jonathan Edwards would be proud. I can see him waving his prodigious finger in the air and yelling to a sweaty crowd, "See? See? I TOLD you, didn't I?"

And that really is the hope in this situation, isn't it? That there is a God out there who does indeed keep score. A God who requires repentance more than he does a happy face. His Church is full of unrepentant believers and make-believers who cripple His efforts to make the world what he intended it to be. I don't pretend to pass judgment on the state of Haggard's soul, but I suspect that these late events might be the best thing to ever happen to the man - God's merciful unveiling of the truth. It might have been less painful had he talked to his wife about it 3 years ago and, if he had continued to struggle, to talk to his Board of Elders. But, it seems God has finally yanked the demon institution out of his body and left him sitting naked on a bed of ashes, requiring a savior again. God, I believe, is remaking Haggard.

In exactly the same way, I pray that God is remaking the Evangelical church - crushing the plastic Coke bottles and cardboard pizza boxes, mixing in all the used Starbucks coffee grounds, and recycling the whole mess into something green and sustainable. Because Jesus is not a brand name, he is not an institution, he is not a political party, and apparently he will have words with anyone who says otherwise. Thankfully.

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  1. Blogger petra said:

    you certainly have a way with words..making a disgusting subject more disgusting :)

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