Featured Reviews, Volume 9

Brad and Drew Harper – Space at the Table [Feature Review]

[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”0997066903″ locale=”US” src=”https://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/512BFg7gZPL.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”222″]Pull Up a Seat at the Table

A Feature Review of 

Space at the Table:
Conversations Between an Evangelical Theologian and His Gay Son

Brad and Drew Harper

Paperback: Zeal Books, 2016
Buy now:  [ [easyazon_link identifier=”0997066903″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Amazon[/easyazon_link] ] [ [easyazon_link identifier=”B018RERD6E” locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Kindle[/easyazon_link] ]
Reviewed by Tim Otto.


(NOTE: The following outline [A-G] has some mild spoilers. If you wish to avoid them, skip to the first full paragraph.)

If you are evangelical, and married, here is an experiment you can try at home:

A. Make love to your spouse.
B. Give birth to a baby boy.
C. Notice that the boy prefers ballet over baseball. Boys more than girls.
D. When he is age ten go for walks with the boy. Have better theological conversations with the precocious, funny, sensitive boy than you have with most adults. Spend hours consoling him for his rejection by other boys his age.
E. Put the boy in an evangelical school in which baseball for boys, ballet for girls, and rejection by other boys, all get mixed up with God.
F. Wake up in the middle of the night crying. Realize you are crying because you love the boy so much. Spend the rest of the night awake, anxious about the principalities and powers arrayed against him.
G. When the boy is 17, learn that he has discovered sex. Realize that given his sensitivity, he is going to find other beautiful boys like him. Boys who, in some ways, understand his experience better than you. Boys whose caresses will feel like healing for the rejection he has felt. Boys he can hold, boys who will welcome it, boys who will return his affection.

If your results approximate those of father Brad Harper and son Drew, you should write a book (the above is an imaginative remix of the basic setup—that a conservative, evangelical pastor discovers he has a gay son). Space at the Table is a candid, funny, devastating account of the outcome. Brad and Drew take turns telling what happened. A terrific story, it features elements such as divine revelations, a fairy godmother, a recipe on how to cook yourself if you are gay, and a dead person who must ride in the backseat . . . in the middle.

Because it is a true story, you may want to take a couple of heart-hardening pills in advance. That is, unless you think books should saw through your chest bone, rip your ribs apart, and use your heart for a trampoline.

Ruth Patterson writes, “I do believe that we come from God and are returning to God, but we need a softening of the heart in order to see again and find our way home. I know of no way for hearts to be softened other than by a combination of love and suffering.” Both Brad and Drew have undergone the love and suffering therapy and as a result offer counsel to parents and gay kids with soft, sensitive, wise hearts.

This is the burden of the book. The authors redeem the pain they’ve undergone by sharing the lessons learned so that other people can avoid unnecessary suffering. Throughout the book, the narrative is interspersed with reflections by Brad, Drew, and others on topics like: Is my child’s attraction to the same-sex a choice? Why should I care about respecting my parents? How should I respond if my child comes out to me? Should I reveal my struggles with faith to my parents?

On each of these questions the authors offer hard-won wisdom borne out of mistakes, victories, and thoughtful reflection on their experience. Given that a high percentage of homeless youth are LGBT kids fleeing, or rejected by Christian families, this is an important book. Thousands of other parents and kids end up alienated from one another while continuing to live together. If you are a parent of an LGBT kid, or are an LGBT youth, this book is well worth a read. If you have friends in this situation, do them a favor and let them know about the book.

Although the book is about a serious topic, the power of the story, the authors’ adept writing, and the abundant humor, make it a good read in its own right. Drew, for instance, remembering how he was ostracized by other kids on the playground, writes:

I learned it was okay to talk with the middle-aged lady recess monitors, which is the relational equivalent of boiling oatmeal for breakfast every day—not thrilling, but

enough to keep a person regular. I learned all about their lives: they were lonely, dissatisfied with their existence, and embittered toward men.

We understood each other perfectly.

As the gay son of an evangelical pastor myself, I appreciated how the book decisively disproves the pop Christian psychology idea that homosexuality results from a distant relationship with the same-sex parent. Brad and Drew had an extraordinarily close and affectionate relationship, which makes the subsequent difficulties in their relationship all the more poignant.

Perhaps it’s just my special interest in the story that left me with a few queer quibbles. Given how evangelical thinking about gender and sexuality could not account for Drew in a life-giving way, how has Brad adjusted his thinking? While both authors are almost uncomfortably candid at points, I still occasionally wondered, “Come on, what we’re you really thinking during that difficult period?” Given the power of the story, I thought the advice sidebars were occasionally intrusive (if you have the same experience, I suggest ignoring the sidebars and going back to them when done with the story). I sometimes wished Drew could have done even more “showing” rather “telling” about how the experience of growing up in the evangelical subculture roughs up a gay person.

But overall, this book fulfills and surpasses its promise. Like all good books that narrate a particular situation truthfully, it has universal gifts to give. It dishes out a vision of love, humility, empathy, respect, and patience that will nourish any human relationship. Brad and Drew conduct a healing conversation informed by pain and love; it’s a privilege to pull up a seat and listen.

Tim Otto is an RN and pastor, lives in an intentional community, and is author of Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict Over Gay Relationships.
If you would like the chance to win a free copy of Space at the Table, like his Oriented to Faith Facebook page within the next week. [NOTE: This is Tim’s giveaway and not the ERB’s. Any questions about it should be directed to him]



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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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