Sunday, February 01, 2009

Pornography of Shame

Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has made another documentary for HBO: The Trials of Ted Haggard, which follows the disgraced former head of the National Evangelical Association and founding pastor of Colorado Springs megachurch, New Life Center in his 18 month exile from Colorado (a condition by his church for him to receive one year of severance pay.) Pelosi had filmed Haggard a year prior to his "fall" for a previous HBO film, Friends of God. In that film Haggard had been one of the more reasonable and well-spoken voices in defense of the classical Christian worldview, and especially of the engagement of the church with the political realm.

The same well-spoken, friendly, and perpetually-smiling Haggard--even in heart-breaking circumstances--is still on view in The Trials of Ted Haggard, but to much different effect than in the prior film. While Friends of God often showed American Christians as odd, or even bizarre, The Trials marinates us in Haggard's misery and humiliation in a kind of pornography of shame, and paints a picture of an American Church that is judgemental, heartless, and cruel. Even as Haggard--to his credit--takes full responsibility for his actions and unflinchingly describes his behavior as sinful, inexcusable, and a betrayal of his family and the church that trusted him, we are clearly meant to feel Haggard and his family's pathetic state as a kind of brutality imposed on them by a ruthless and uncompassionate Christian community.

Haggard and his wife have been making the rounds of daytime talk shows promoting the film, presumably for money since, as the film amply catalogues, his financial situation is dire. My wife watched his appearance on Oprah and told me that he maintained that his homosexual behavior was wrong and clearly against Biblical teaching--to Oprah's consternation. My wife said she made several attempts to get Haggard to agree that there was nothing wrong with homosexual "love." And here we get to the heart of why I find it so disturbing that Haggard agreed to participate with Pesosi in making this film.

Regardless of Haggard's motivations--and I don't doubt that he convinced himself that he would be able to convey a positive message, perhaps even a gospel message, with the film--I think he has made himself an accomplice in a subtle piece of anti-Christian propaganda in advocacy of gay identity politics. As I wrote in this same blog a couple of years ago in Wordsmithing, part 5
With the redefinition of tolerance, those who would have been considered tolerant under the former definition--allowing the voice of dissent while sternly disagreeing with it--are now seen, by reason of the very act of disagreement, or statement of moral certainty, to be intolerant and therefore bigoted, hateful, and...evil.

Of all the weapons in the gay identity politics armory, the one most ubiquitously used is the accusation of intolerance. It is certainly the weapon of choice for The Trials of Ted Haggard. But it is not as a bludgeon or broadsword that Pelosi employs it, but rather with a graceful and delicate hand as she gently slips the blade into the kidney of her antagonist--Evangelical Christian orthodoxy--like a stealthy dagger, even as she embraces it with a friendly hug. And it works, of course, because of the success of leftists and advocates of assorted brands of identity politics in persuading the popular culture to accept a redefinition of the word tolerance. To once again quote myself:
Tolerance used to denote sufferance of the improper or eccentric as in a failure to prohibit, (owing to its origin from late Middle English, the action of bearing hardship, or the ability to bear pain); it has now taken on a connotation of acceptance or even agreement. Popular messages instruct us to "celebrate" our differences.

And it's that failure by Evangelical Christians to whole-heartedly accept homosexual behavior as normative and respectable, the refusal to celebrate the homosexual life as a worthy and proper variation of "family" (supplied, of course, with the requisite example of the long-term committed gay couple who are raising adopted children from troubled backgrounds)--it's that failure and refusal that engender such contempt and obloquy from so much of popular culture today.

I don't expect this to change anytime soon; perhaps never in my lifetime; perhaps never again. But I do lament a Christian--even if uwittingly-- participating in the defaming of Christianity.