A lot of ink has been spilled over the story of Ted Haggard’s resignation amid revelations of sexual impropriety.
There is much chatter about abuse of power, the vulnerability of religious leaders in general, whether mega-church ministries set themselves up to fall in such spectacular ways, what are the warning signs, and so on. The center of gravity for these speculations is The Haggard Story, a supposedly sordid drama of lust and betrayal played out in four acts: Act I ‘The Pedestal’, Act II ‘The Scandal’, Act III ‘The Fall’ and in closing, Act IV ‘The Recovery’.
Liberal magazine The Christian Century covers the story in its November 28 issue with an editorial and accompanying news piece that more or less follow this boilerplate. The ‘scandal’ is framed as a fall from grace, a turn toward ‘sexual or chemical addictions’ accompanied by power-fueled hypocrisy.
But why is it that Haggard’s sexual liaisons with a male prostitute are framed in this manner? Forget for a moment that this is how Haggard himself and his charismatic cohorts have characterized it. Why should we view his situation as a personal ‘fall’ rather than as emblematic of a greater struggle going on within the church today – the struggle for equality, acceptance and ministry for all GLBT Christians?
Forget for a moment the sordid hype. Isn’t the real scandal here the way in which Haggard, even now, is still unable to come to terms with his sexual identity and accept himself as a beloved child of God, just as he is? That such a respected and surely learned man of God, who must have ministered grace to thousands of others, can not find within himself that same free gift of grace?
It’s a scandal that un-biblical sex-negative dogma has such a sway over much of the church that even liberal journals like The Christian Century can’t call a spade a spade. The lies that forced Ted Haggard to live a double life and pushed him toward dangerous and self destructive activity are the same lies that threaten the sanity, safety and wellbeing of millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people every single day.
The real scandal is that people are still forced to live this way in the twenty first century. The same lies are pushing Ted Haggard and thousands of others into so-called reparative therapy, which itself is a Great Lie and serves only to deepen the scandal and worsen the pain.
What we need is a non-scandalous response to a scandalous situation. Gay spiritual leaders have, as far as I can tell, reached out to Ted with grace and sincerity.
The Colorado Springs Gazette quoted Rev. Nori Rost, MCC clergy and founder of spiritual justice advocacy group Just Spirit, as saying “I feel a lot of sympathy for Ted. Having been a pastor, you live in a fishbowl anyway. It must be very painful for Ted and his family.”
In a November 6 press release, Soulforce urged “compassion for Haggard and accountability for the National Association of Evangelicals.” Executive Director Jeff Lutes said
Rev. Haggard is just one more tragic example of how lives are destroyed by the lies about gay and lesbian people perpetuated by the NAE, the Religious Right, and both the Protestant and Roman Catholic Church. Taught by the church to hate himself, the only option from his point of view was to lead a psychologically and spiritually damaging double life marked by denial and self-destructive behavior. Rev. Haggard is a victim of religion-based bigotry that regularly demeans and demoralizes gay and lesbian people and refuses to acknowledge that we are part of the American fabric, and that many of us form loving families and practice a deep faith in God.
Our community's anger at Rev. Haggard's hypocrisy is completely understandable. However, my hope is that our community will take the high road and extend an olive branch of friendship and support when he is ready to fully come out as a gay man. Dobson and the others will counsel him to bury, deny, and repress his sexuality even deeper than before. They will wound his spirit, and he is going to need our prayers and our compassionate message that God loves him, affirms him, and calls him to live his life openly with honesty and integrity.
Soulforce subsequently launched a campaign for LGBT and allied people to write letters of concern and compassion to Haggard. Apparently over three hundred people from different walks of life have written to him, many addressing themselves as people of faith coming from a conservative Christian background having once struggled with denial and being in bondage to anti-gay misinformation.
Some on the right might no doubt characterize such words and acts as part of some ‘homosexual agenda’ to exploit Ted Haggard’s sad circumstances for political ends. To accept such a viewpoint would be to fail to see the heartfelt concern of ordinary people who genuinely care about what the man and his family are going through. Unlike the fear-and-power mongers on the religious right, many of us know all too well what it is like to be on the receiving end of judgment and condemnation.