November 8, 2006

So, Ted Haggard, eh? Some of you might remember him from his clash with Dawkins (video link) in The Root of all Evil?. He came across as a fairly typically fundie nutter, and ended up throwing Dawkins off his land; to be fair, Dawkins did start out by comparing a service at Haggard’s mega-church to a Nuremberg rally. However, it turns out that Haggard’s positions were slightly more nuanced than the TV programme might have lead you to believe: he was concerned for the welfare of immigrants in a way which brought him into conflict with the Republican regime, for example.

Readers who’ve been around in Cambridge for a while might remember the fuss when Roy Clements came out (or, it appears, was pre-emptively outed by his wife and some Christian friends). Clements was senior pastor at Eden Baptist Church, the other big student church in Cambridge. He was also an internationally renowned author and preacher, famous for his clarity and insight.

In the UK, evangelical Christianity can best be compared to a fandom, right down to the interestingly-dressed people at conventions and the perennial arguments about the canon. Like any fandom, evangelical Christianity has its leading lights. As a newcomer to evangelicalism at university, it wasn’t uncommon for me to offhandedly tell other Christians about someone I’d heard preach and be told that I was lucky, as that man was a Big Name Preacher: the sort of person you might see at a Christian conference, but which it would take a University Christian Union with CICCU’s undoubted clout to get hold of. Clements was a Big Name Preacher (John Stott and Don Carson are other examples of people who are famous-to-Christians, who I heard as an undergraduate). Eden Baptist is no mega-church, and evangelicals in this country thankfully do not have the political influence they do in the USA, but both Clements and Haggard were published authors and influential pastors of large and important churches.

When the story broke, Clements dropped out of view fairly quickly. This was partly his decision, I think, but also partly down to some frantic retconning by Christian publishers and bookshops, who, according to Clements, suddenly found that his teaching actually hadn’t been so great after all (the vicar at my old church continued to quote Clements in his sermons, for which one must respect his integrity).

But then, a few years later, Clements was back with a website and a theology attempting to combine conventional evangelicalism with the idea that God thinks committed gay relationships are OK after all. Contrast this with Haggard’s decision to take one for the team in his final letter to his former church. There’s nothing wrong with your theology, says Haggard, it is absolutely all my fault, and I must change.

Should we respect Haggard’s integrity in staying the doctrinal course, or is there no merit in continuing to believe something so wildly wrong, or in being part of a movement so dedicated to doing harm? As for Clements, one could say he’s done a little retconning of his own. The Bible says less about homosexuality than the evangelical obsession with it would lead you to believe, but, arguments about the importance of the issue aside, if you read it the evangelical way, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion than the traditional one. To attempt to maintain an evangelical approach to scripture while denying this conclusion seems untenable, to this ex-evangelical at least. Better to give up these contorted attempts to salvage inerrancy (or even, perhaps, theism 😉 and just carry on doing what we know to be right anyway.

And with that, I’ll end on a song. Via Helmintholog, I give you a rollicking gospel number: Meth and man ass.