Harper, Brad and Drew Harper. “Space at the Table: Conversations Between an Evangelical Theologian and His Gay Son”, Zeal Books, 2016.
Father and Son
It took years of struggle for Drew (the son) and his father, Brad, to overcome the differences in belief that threatened to destroy their relationship. For Brad and Drew Harper the problems were not theoretical and it was very difficult for both men. Brad and Drew take us on their journey as parent and child “from the churches of Middle America to the penthouses of New York’s party scenes, through a pastor’s-kid childhood and painful conversion therapy to the hard-won victories of their adult relationship”.
On one hand, “Space at the Table” is a memoir but it so much more than that. It is a guide that shows us a way through the roadblocks that threaten to tear apart families and the evangelical and LBGTQ communities as well. Brad and Drew invite us to sit at their table and partake of the very strong love that they share.
We have both narrative and analysis and as the authors tell their story, they each try to make sense of it from their different perspectives. When Drew first came out, he and Brad (the father) agreed that he should seek out ex-gay therapy. And then the narrative shows the outcomes of the therapy (which were mostly pain and confusion). Based on what the narrative says, we can draw our own conclusions about ex-gay therapy. We also get more explicit recommendations about ex-gay therapy.
In the narrative sections of the book, the authors writing to each other at least as much as they are writing for their readership. Each chapter contains alternating passages written by either Drew or Brad, and these are often written in the second person.
We also hear from members of the evangelical community and it would have been great to get some third-party perspectives in the LGBT community as well. Father and Son are totally vulnerable in how they related to each other and to God during their processes of growth. For Drew, the process was growing up, coming out, and working through his own questions and beliefs about God and sexuality. For Brad, the process was raising and loving his son and figuring out how to embrace his son and stay true to his deepest spiritual beliefs, even when his son’s actions contradicted those beliefs.
The intersection of faith and sexuality one of the most complex, hotly debated, and potentially most damaging conversations going on today and too often the conversation ends in shattered relationships, broken hearts and broken families. Brad and Drew, and indeed the whole Harper family tell a different story. They fought to make space for each other and stay in close nurturing relationship with each other, even in the face of fundamental differences. Father and son hold nothing back. We laugh with them and we cry with them and that is a good thing. We all need to let our emotions out ever so often. This is a painful story because those taking part in it are honest and sincere people.
Aside from the narrative, we are given what are called relationship tools for navigating the conversation about faith and sexuality. Brad and Drew share their story with practical wisdom and humor, even through it is in the form of a conversation. We see that ending a relationship over a theological belief deprives both parties of seeing the beauty in each other. Of course, we do not get all of the answers and never will. When people try to keep a relationship alive, it takes work and is a challenge but we see that it can be done.