Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jennifer Knapp, a Pastor, Ted Haggard, and Larry King

Nope, that title is not the beginning of a joke. Unless by "joke" you mean "what these four pass off as thoughtful theological/life discussion".

The four folks mentioned in the title are on King's show talking about Jennifer Knapp's recent coming out as a lesbian. In one sense, the discussion is predictable: Knapp tells the story with some questions from King, the conservative pastor comes on and takes some questions, Knapp and the pastor have some back-and-forth (my favorite part there being where Knapp interrupts the pastor, only to insist 10 seconds later that he not interrupt her), then Haggard comes on and gives his two cents, which ends up being worth well less than that.

Denny Burk has all four videos here (broken up into 10 minute sections), and the rest of this post is a response to them.

First of all, I am no longer surprised when conversations like this on national television do not get us anywhere because most people simply have thought deeply about the issues. Most of the discussion sits around the least common denominator that national t.v. and radio have to be at if they want to appeal to the widest range of viewers (which they do- remember, the goal is ratings, not thoughtfulness).

Second, I am even less surprised when bad discussion happens at the desk of Mr. King. Some time ago my Dad pointed it out to me, and I have thought it was true ever since: Larry King is one of the worst interviewers alive. How the man became famous for this is baffling. He consistently interrupts his guests, often with thoughtless counterpoints that are downright distracting. At one point here he says to the pastor, "Is God omnipotent? Well then didn't he create homosexuality?" How I would love to see the comments that a junior college philosophy professor would write on a freshman paper with that syllogism on it. This is one of many examples.

Third, Jennifer Knapp shrouds her coming out in the standard culturally respectable ways. Everyone but those crazy fundamentalists are supposed to nod in delighted approval as she talks about herself as an "artist" (not that she's the worst songwriter ever, but there is no more pretentious word for pop singer-songwriters and rock musicians- don't we use that word for Bach and Picasso?). She applauds "diversity", talks about her interest in the "mysterious" Scriptures and the "sacred text" (why not just say "the Bible"?) and delves into some driveling reader-response literary theory--cause, you know, we all have our interpretations that cloud everything and blah blah blah. This is to say nothing about her babbling (and I don't believe I'm being harsh with that word) about Greek and Hebrew terms for homosexuality.

What stands out is this: Knapp wants to be a homosexual. That's understandable- I've acted on my impulses and feelings in ways that I wish I hadn't. But she clearly hasn't thought seriously about it, and I wish that she did before she waxes not-so-eloquent about it.

Haggard may be the worst of all of them. Should I be so struck by his total inability to articulate what the Bible says about this topic anymore? He even gets a total softball of a question from King: "Do you think homosexuality is a sin?" Haggard says everyone sins all the time. What he should've said was, "Yes, and I've experienced how that sin has ruined my life." If it's not a sin, Ted, then why did Larry introduce you by noting that you say you no longer have any homosexual desire? Why is that at all relevant? Burk is right: Haggard contributes nothing valuable to the discussion.

As for the conservative pastor, he is not much better, though frankly he is rarely given time to complete a thought. Still, must we say on national t.v. "God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve?" Why not just say instead, "I don't have anything thoughtful to say about this as a Christian, so don't bother listening to me"? Even if he does, in fact, have something thoughtful to say, comments like that write off his opinion a priori. The best thing he does is to direct the conversation to repentance instead of whose sin is worse. Every sin separates us from God, yes, but the issue is being repentant or not.

As long as t.v. stations air garbage like this (and I'm not hopeful that they'll stop doing so any time soon), no one will understand how Christians think theologically about homosexuality. This is the big frustration for me: here you have a group of "leaders" in various aspects of society and the Church having a mostly inane conversation about one of the most pressing topics in contemporary culture. This is inexcusable. At this point in American life, if you want to lead Christians in any way whatsoever, you need to be ready to address this topic with intellectual and theological integrity and from experience of dealing with real, actual homosexuals.


Elijah said...


Thanks for writing this. I could only watch a small portion of this stuff the other day because I knew it would be an utterly frustrating experience.

Regardless of which side one stands on this issue, there are categorical issues that simply don't make any sense. It's like telling third graders to talk about quantum mechanics and they start talking about the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they had for lunch.

Also, it's a shame that 'Christianity' in America has become so weak. It is not a grand scheme upon which all of the universe rests. It is not a powerful God who has chosen to invest his Son and Spirit into a broken world. It's a shame that they don't get more thoughtful contributors on these shows. It's a straw man through and through.

Maximus said...

This was a succinct and intelligent response to the interview that I sat and winced through in it entirety. Every time there is a debate/discussion on any major topic whether it be sexuality, reliability of Scripture, the resurrection etc. I can always think of a dozen or more people (in the orthodox christian camp) who would be far better representative and would do it for free! We should find a way to make a group/website/organization that critiques prominent "christian" scholars/pastors and rate them in their areas of expertise and congruency with mainline orthodox christina belief. That way news/radio/film people can't say they didn't know that there was someone out there better for the interview. I am sure the pick of Ted Haggard was specific to his recent fall from ministry and personal sexual issues in order to get ratings. But I think you and your folks and Christians in Context could start making a list like the one I described above, if for no other reason than to perhaps educate your readers.

Jared Totten said...


Not a bad idea. I will kick it off by putting in my nomination for Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason ministries.