News this morning that prominent conservative “evangelical” (in scare quotes because of my earlier caveats with that word, since I’m using it here to denote a form of American right-wing Christianity) Ted Haggard has been caught in a sex scandal. This pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and president of the National Association of Evangelicals ostensibly has been regularly soliciting sex from a male prostitute.
Its not looking very good for Haggard:
Haggard, 50, initially denied the allegations, telling 9News Wednesday night that “I’ve never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I’m steady with my wife. I’m faithful to my wife.”
But KKTV in Colorado Springs reported that New Life Associate Senior Pastor Ross Parsley told a meeting of church elders Thursday night that Haggard had met with the church’s overseers earlier in the day and “had admitted to some indiscretions.”
Parsley told the elders that Haggard had said some of the allegations were true, but not all of them.
This is a fast breaking story, and these are currently just allegations. But if true, Haggard will be the second high-profile “defender of traditional marriage” (read: against marriage and/or same sex union rights for gays and lesbians) to be exposed as homosexual in the past several months. Like Foley before him, this will stun the religious right. And maybe it should.
There’s something deeply troubling about people denying who they are and feeling forced to live a lie. Let me be clear, I’m not sure that’s the case here. And these people are all fully responsible for their behavior. I know that Foley was molested as a child, and that’s likely a catalyst for his behavior. But what the Haggard and Foley cases have signified for me, as well as the recent book tour by ex-Governor of New Jersey Jim McGreevey, is just how wrong it is for us to continue to suppress gays and lesbians and to try to make them into something they are not.
Andrew Sullivan has long been an advocate for these things. I think he’s right on in his assessment today:
I’m afraid I feel for Haggard. This is what happens to a man psychologically and spiritually destroyed by actually advancing a lie he knows to be a lie about homosexuality as a “chosen lifestyle” while being gay himself.
… Denial is a very powerful psychic force. When combined with addiction, it can fuel destructive behavior. In a human being, it can destroy a person, a family, a marriage, an entire life.
One more obvious lesson: The religious right’s lies about who gay people really are must end. Surely now. The victims are also Christians like Haggard. They are countless kids and teens in places where they are taught to hate themselves, and subsequently act out the psychic damage years later. I am not saying Haggard isn’t morally accountable for everything he has done, for the lies he has spread, for the hatred he has enabled. That hatred will now come back to him, like the sorcerer’s apprentice whose magic of electoral homophobia soon overwhelms him as well. It’s brutal pay-back, as it was for Foley, as it often is for every closeted gay man in the end. In the end, their lives lose integrity; and they know it; and then misery; and they feel it more than anyone. I’m praying for Haggard, as I hope he is praying for me and every sinner. But the lesson of this to the religious right surely is: go and sin no more. Stop the lies. Stop the bigotry. Deal with the reality of gay people, our souls, our wounded hearts, our humanity, our right to be treated equally by our own government. It’s what Jesus did. And it is your true calling now.
So there you have it. Oh, and also of somewhat tangentially related note, Bill Tammeus has an interesting comment on Pastoral Care to Homosexuals on his blog. For the record, Bill and I share a similar exegetical understanding of scripture with regard to homosexuality.