Sometime in the past year my online path crossed with a women who, had today-me met decades-ago-her, we might have been quite formidable opponents.
I connected with Elaine White after reading a post written by her and reposted by friend, Pastor Jim Rigby of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas. In the post, Elaine recounted her instrumental part in bringing the Christian Coalition to its take over of Texas politics in the 1990s. She cemented that role with a daily talk show on Austin radio and by her effective lobbying for the Christian right in Texas.
And then . . .
- Her 24-year marriage to a once-fellow missionary ended in divorce.
- A dear cousin whose life was in jeopardy asked Elaine to accompany her to an abortion, and she did.
- Another cousin announced he was gay.
Real life crashed into ideology.
She reached out for guidance to Pastor Jim, who she had debated on public television. In humility, she asked Jim, “What else was I obnoxious about?”
The two became friends across the table rather than across the divide. Jim met with Elaine for lunch most Fridays for over a year.
When life takes a detour from the plan or expected route, we are faced with choices. Do we allow the blimp that psychologists call “cognitive dissonance” to challenge us to embrace the opportunity and examine our tenets, or, do we take the more common route and retreat further into the safety of our beliefs without any examination?
A few summers ago, I discussed this dynamic with my friend psychologist David Jones while drinking wine one lovely summer evening on his deck in Greenville, South Carolina. David told me, though we are all eventually faced with situations of cognitive dissonance, less than one in five people will choose to allow the new information they face the potentiality of informing their thinking.
That is not a terribly encouraging statistic.
Parents whose children come out as gay or transgender are familiar with encountering this tension-filled decision. Will I allow what I know about my child challenge what I believe the Bible to be teaching about homosexuality or gender?
This is a tough place to be.
Part of my story of transition from ideological theology also involves crisis, not a crisis of faith, but a crisis of doctrine. I suspect this is a common theme in transitional thinking.
Can you then imagine the poster girl of the Religious Right, a woman who helped create and strengthen their presence in Texas and national politics, examining her beliefs and influential part in enforcing the beliefs of the religious right?
Elaine White has long left her place in the ivory tower of ideological theocratic politics.
I was blessed to spend two days in January in The Woodlands, TX with Elaine and her loving husband, Brooks Doughtie, a former drilling co-ordinator for Halliburton. (Yeah, interesting couple with great stories!) Pastor Jim Rigby officiated their marriage fourteen years ago.
We chatted like old friends over meals and walks. We talked about the tragic death of her son, Joshua Hucklebridge, five years ago. His small plane crashed as he was leaving the United Arab Emirates from a business trip.
I know so much of Elaine’s world from the other side because of the vast research I did to write two chapters of a condensed history on the merger of politics and religion for my own book, Walking the Bridgeless Canyon.
Engaging in conversations with those whose ideology and theology are contrary to our own can be frustrating. We may be tempted to drop them into the slot in our brains labeled “Forget it.” I have a few people I’ve placed in that category. But then, I am cautioned. I think of not only Elaine, but my own journey when personal crisis dislodged my sure-self.
Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and theologian says:
My scientist friends have come up with things like ‘principles of uncertainty’ and dark holes. They’re willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories, but many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of ‘faith!’ How strange that the very word ‘faith’ has come to mean its exact opposite.
I am thankful for those whose faith is strong enough to challenge uncertainties. These are those who may advance the Kingdom of God to His purpose rather than remaining in the stagnancy and biases of man’s constraints.
I am thankful that together, today-me and today-Elaine, are part of that advancement.