Haggard, ashamed, self-loathing … but not a hypocrite

I had not planned to comment on Ted Haggard, but yesterday Slate posted a letter from Haggard to his congregation. (Haggard is the pastor who was recently “outed” by a male escort.)

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.


Filed under Homophobia, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sexual orientation, sexuality

5 responses to “Haggard, ashamed, self-loathing … but not a hypocrite

  1. ozinkspot

    Wow, wonderful piece filled with compassion.

    It’s distressing to see how the sexual nature of humanity is dealt with in such a constricting and oppressive manner.

    At the same time, heart-warming to know that it is not the status-quo for everyplace.

  2. I think you’re right, it’s a good distinction: people like this are rarely the straightforward sort of “hahaha, fooled you, suckas! now off to snort blow off the asses of several ripe young things whilst laughing maniacally at your gullibility” that people think. They crusade precisely because they feel so crappy about themselves.

    which still doesn’t excuse them from dragging the -rest- of us into their personal mishegos; so, you know, my sympathy is limited, even with understanding.

  3. anyway i delight at the aptness of his name; it makes me think that in fact there -is- a God, or at least a great Screenwriter in the Sky, or something.

  4. I’m impressed at the thoughtful point of view you offer on a situation that is ripe, either for parody or vilification. Many Christians care about their fellow human beings, and are not instantly vindictive to homosexuals and their campaign for acceptance. The problem is they’re faced with an apparently insurmountable contradiction: homosexuality is explicitly condemned in the bible, yet the same book cautions us against judging others (“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” has made a lot of cheap theater from this contradiction).

    The recourse has been the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Gays will be welcome within the Christian household if they can resist their natural inclinations. If you think about it, the notion is quite “logical,” since most Christian churches welcome reformed addicts and alcoholics, prostitutes, etc. The emphasis is on salvation, with lots of reference to the parable of the Prodigal Son who is welcomed back with more joy by his father than has ever been shown to the good son who stayed and did the right thing.

    If one buys into this paradigm, then the only choice is deep denial and revulsion when the natural instincts re-assert themselves (as they inevitably will). The self-loathing this man feels is real, and you quite rightly (and compassionately) identify it, though we have all become cynical knowing that Americans love a reformed sinner almost as much as the father of the Prodigal Son.

  5. -nod- I see that playing out even outside overtly religious communities/dynamics/ideologies. On the left, even, ofttimes. Confession and self-flagellation=action.

    It is interesting, because it occurs to me that, you know, much as My People (Ashkenazim Jewish, non-religious for at least three generations on both sides) know guilt–oy, do we–it does tend to play out somewhat differently. It’s not, “works without faith is nothing.” It’s not even so much, “you are inherently tainted with the sins of your ancestors, and must work to purify yourself” (even though that myth is part of our collective heritage, too). It’s more: “You fucked up. Go fix it.” We tend to be pragmatic, in other words: atonement is about -doing,- not about purification. Feeling bad does come with the territory, yes; but it’s…yeah. Not quite the same. particularly not about sex, I don’t think, even among -most- super-conservative Jews.