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.


Anonymous said...

Don, I think you've made excellent points. I have seen other situations where there was someone disgraced, and after the story had died down, they, also, felt the need to go forth and "tell their story." In all cases, including Haggard, I believe the most beneficial thing to do is to remain quiet. If a person is attempting to be restored in his or her personal life and relationships, then quietly and personally work them out. Going before the public opens wounds (and not just the "sinner" is suffering from wounds in these situations); family and friends and, in this case, the Church itself has been dragged through the mud. Haggard should have known that anything he said or did would be fodder for scoffing commentators. If, indeed, he did it because he needs the money, that adds to his sins as far as I'm concerned, and he needs to be restored from THAT, too! I want to say to these guys in public life (politics & the Church) who have these secret lives (usually regarding sexual infidelities or perversions) - in this day where there are cameras and recording devices virtually everywhere, and where people will sell their stories to news media in a heartbeat, you're just not going to get away with these things. They WILL come to light. For the sake of the country (here I'm thinking of Foley in Florida who was carrying on with young boys & who caused Republicans to lose ground in the House & Senate and probably all sorts of elections) or the Church (Haggard & others) simply bow out. There are always personal and family situations that can be sited. Buy GET OUT OF LEADERSHIP! To allow the destruction of the country and the Church because of our "stuff" just angers me enormously. This self-centered, egotistic attitude is as sinful, if not more so, than the sexual misbehaviors. It's the "it's all about ME attitude." Here I quote another Evangelical leader: "It's not about you."

Don Mitchell said...


I agree completely. My wife asked me if I thought Haggard could ever have any sort of ministry again. I said only some sort of outreach to those who suffer from his own problems, but even then, only in a position under someone else's authority. Never in leadership. And certainly never again as pastor. I think his church handled his situation perfectly appropriately in asking him to leave the state for a year. Unfortunately, in his participation with the Pelosi film, he completely undermined the very purpose of his year-long exile: the cooling down of the media assault on the church--and the Haggard family, for that matter.

Thanks for your comment. Please feel free next time to leave your name at the end. You can do that even though you post as Anonymous.