So January has basically been a write-off for blogging …. It has been an unexpected month of navigating unpredictable pain levels with a stubborn cluster of kidney stones that apparently cannot be zapped and simply need to be endured until “this too shall pass”. I’ve heard enough rock and stone jokes to last me till retirement and God and I have had more than several conversations about what the possible purpose of such a disruption of pain could be….
In the midst of varying pain levels it has been a month of deadlines, new opportunities, and feeling behind the 8-ball on cultural commentary.
The Bridging the Gap project is at the intense stage of completing final edits and graphics to release the pilot version. In fact, we’ve already run two segments with one pilot group and will be getting packages out to the other ten groups hopefully Monday. It is amazing to me how you can work on a project for more than a year ….. and then in 2 hours see this experience be dramatically impacted by the make up of the group who are engaging with it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to observe one pilot group in action …. though at times it’s been tough to keep my commitment to myself to not interject with my own commentary when the discussion sometimes veers into what I perceive to be unhelpful territory. I think I have permanent bite marks on my tongue :)
In the midst of kidney stone madness, I also had a number of commitments for speaking engagements. (Many thanks to all who were praying for me to have the physical ability to get through them.) I was working with some new teaching material that is focused on navigating turbulent times of transition and change within the Christian church and the implications for how we work through our disagreements about gay issues. I’ll share more of that in another blog post. In the midst of it, I have found myself staring uncertainty and anxiety straight in the face. This is the reality of seeking to build bridges in a contentious climate.
What has been so interesting is to simultaneously encounter Ted Haggard’s re-emergence on the media scene and the polarization such a sensationalized story can generate. As I read through some of the commentary on the HBO documentary (which I haven’t actually seen – no HBO for me), Ted’s appearances on Oprah and Larry King, and new revelations from another young man who was involved with Haggard, I am reminded of the turmoil the divide between evangelicals and the gay community creates.
There are those who continue to espouse a simplistic, and in some cases overtly legalistic, stance. Then there are those who are clearly wrestling with how to embody the love of Christ in such a complex case. Ted, it seems, continues to wrestle deeply himself. It seems to me that he is very committed to trying to articulate a message about Jesus Christ, while at the same time struggling to express authentically the realities he has spent the last two years trying to face and own. These realities are profoundly painful and difficult: He lied. His hypocrisy has had devastating consequences in compromising his desire to share the gospel of Christ. He has betrayed and wounded the people he loves the most. These are the tragic realities he has to wake up and face every day.
But he also needs to figure out for himself, without the drugs and the compulsive and addictive behaviours, what the meaning and reality of his attractions are. There are those who insistently badger him with what label he ought now to adopt. Gay. Straight. Bi-sexual. But with this insistence comes a lack of understanding of the tension a follow of Jesus faces. This tension arises from one’s desire for fidelity to Christ.
It would seem that Haggard associates a number of other descriptions to the word gay other than the common cultural understanding that the term gay simply describes someone who experiences same-gender attraction. It seems that he is sensitive to the common evangelical assumption that to say you are gay assumes that you are sexually active with members of your own gender. Clearly, in fidelity to Christ AND to his wife, he does not want to say that. But it seems to leave him in a no-man’s land of struggling for authenticity – and being unsure of how to express that - with the knowledge that evangelicals are watching him carefully. Personally, I believe it is unfortunate that stereotypes about gay people continue to afflict the common evangelical understanding – leaving those who are persistently attracted to their own gender with very few options to express that honestly without a whole lot of extra baggage.
Assumptions. Fear. Anxiety. Outrage. Can we even imagine a day when these are no longer the primary responses of the evangelical community to the real life of a person addressing persistent same-gender attraction and deep and personal questions of faith and fidelity to Christ?
It is such redemptive imagination that motivates the Bridging the Gap project. We believe there needs to be a generous and spacious place for someone like Ted Haggard to own up to his mistakes in the past, to wrestle through the implications of his faith for his future, and to express authentically his reality without fear of layers of assumption and judgment being piled on top.
I, for one, want to see Ted Haggard have every encouragement and support to live out his clear convictions, to walk in renewed fidelity to Christ and to his marriage vows, to know God’s grace in his weakness, to love well, and walk humbly with his God. And I pray that he will find the safety and language needed to do so with authenticity and transparency with his close family and friends.