Before reading the letter, I had not devoted a great deal of thought to Haggard, other than to comment on how unfortunate it is when people’s lives and professed philosophies are in conflict. But when I read this letter, I was taken by the depth of the self-loathing and shame that this man feels.
He writes about a part of his life that he finds “so repulsive and dark” that he has been “warring against it” for his entire adult life. This thing that he has been warring against he later refers to as “dirt” that reemerges after periods when he thought he has vanquished it, and during these times he says he finds himself with thoughts and feelings that are “contrary to everything” that he believes.
He claims to have sought help from many sources, none of which were effective. He is now going to let men like James Dobson perform a “thorough analysis” of his mind and spirit, and then let them try to heal him. (Slate reported that Dobson himself apparently backed away from an initial offer to help counsel Haggard.)
Haggard claims total responsibility for the situation he created and says that an example must be made of him. He clearly believes that sexual desire is something we can resist and must resist, unless we are oriented to a very narrow sexuality permitted within monogamous heterosexual Christian marriage.
He asks his congregation to forgive and even to thank his accuser because he believes that ultimately this will give the world a chance to see how his church, and Christians, by extension, “deal with our sick and wounded.”
I cannot imagine the personal horror of belonging to an organization and holding so deeply a faith that inspires such self-hatred. People have called Haggard a hypocrite. Sadly I think he is probably not a hypocrite at all. I think he believes every word of what he preached, and yet, unable to alter the pattern of his desires, and unable to squelch them entirely, occasionally indulged them as secretly as he could
That he sought out an escort does not surprise me. That would have been his safest outlet, as Dan Savage pointed out in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. That he was discovered is not entirely bad either, but I wish that his response had been to say “I need to face my sexuality and I need a church that will support me in that.”
For people struggling with their sexuality and their Christian faith, it is important to remember that there are Christian denominations which do not hate their gay members. The US Episcopal church ordained a gay bishop three years ago and while this is far from the norm, many congregations within a range of mainline Christian churches have found room to welcome their gay and lesbian members. In addition, there are non-denominational Christian congregations that welcome LGBT folks openly. For a list of some, click here, and online network click here.
I don’t advocate Christianity, specifically, nor do I condemn it. I find many of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are inspiring in their focus on love, compassion, honesty, and social/economic justice. I find these same teachings evident in other faiths and traditions also.
It is a terrible thing when a church claiming love and the compassion as its foundation uses the faith of many to protect the privilege of a some by persecuting others.