Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ted Haggard - Still in Denial

Ted Haggard has been making the rounds on the talk show circuit to promote a new HBO documentary about him. For those of you who forget who he is, this article Ted Haggard: I Deserve What I Got sums it up:

Ted Haggard's fall from grace made national headlines. As president of the National Association of Evangelicals, he had millions of followers.

But in 2006, his career as a spiritual leader ended abruptly when it was revealed that he'd had a sexual relationship with a male prostitute. Haggard seemed to be a devoted husband. He was married with five children and pastor of Colorado's New Life Church. But he was living a double life.

In a goodbye letter, read by another pastor, Haggard made this confession: "I am guilty of sexual immorality. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all my adult life."
Yes, he had been guilty of adultery. But to his Evangelist congregation, he was guilty of something far, far more shameful — having gay sex.

A new HBO documentary titled
The Trials of Ted Haggard (available to HBO subscribers on-demand through February) tells a compelling story about how destructive homophobia can be. Not only by the members of Haggard’s former church toward him but even by Haggard toward himself. Despite openly admitting that he still has sexual thoughts toward men, he still refers to himself as “a heterosexual with complications” instead of being gay or even bisexual. Or more accurately, still in denial.

Haggard was not only banished from the church he helped to found, but was also as part of a severance agreement banished from his home state of Colorado. So without a job or even a home to call his own, he and his family are constantly on the move looking for a place to live while Haggard for the first time in his life looks for employment outside of the church.

At least for me who is a 50-something struggling for some time to find work in my previous field, watching the HBO documentary showing a 51 year old man looking for work after his livelihood has been stripped away is disturbing. His experience and education have virtually no value in the secular world as he is seen trying to (unsuccessfully) sell health insurance door-to-door in a commission only job. The only saving grace is that his wife decided to stay with him so he at least has her love and support. Without that, Haggard who admitted to suicidal thoughts might not be with us. For all we know, many in the church he founded would probably say “good riddance”. To forgive is part of being a Christian, but for these people — including Haggard himself, forgiving someone for being gay or bisexual is apparently asking a bit much.

But maybe accepting his sexuality is indeed the first step to leading Haggard out of the wilderness. Openly gay and bisexual people serve in many positions like in Congress (Barney Frank) but those like Haggert and
Larry Craig who deny their sexuality have been constantly under destructive media scrutiny. But more important for Haggard, there are some Protestant denominations like the Presbyterians who accept openly gay clergy members. If Haggard were to finally come clean on his sexuality, perhaps he could find a home preaching in a more tolerant church like this instead of pursuing a futile return to a church that will likely forever reject him for what he is.

Totally coming out of the closet does have its risks. There is a chance that his devoted wife who has stayed with him through thick and thin may be finally pushed over the edge and leave him. But if she has stayed with him through everything else that has happened, chances are she will still accept him and be there for him. But most important, he has to finally make peace with himself for who he is as
Andrew Sullivan so eloquently writes:

I feel for Haggard - because he is trapped between who he is and his internalized belief that God cannot love him for who he is. But God can love him for being gay. And does love him for being gay. This is hard, I know. Accepting God's unconditional love for me was the hardest part of keeping hold of my Christian faith. My childhood and adolescence were difficult to the point of agony, an agony my own church told me was my just desert (sic). But I saw in my own life and those of countless others that the suppression of these core emotions and the denial of their resolution in love always, always leads to personal distortion and compulsion and loss of perspective. Forcing gay people into molds they do not fit helps no one. It robs them of dignity and self-worth and the capacity for healthy relationships. It wrecks family, twists Christianity, violates humanity. It must end.

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