The Rev. Ted Haggard, pictured above, evangelist, head of the 30-million member National Association of Evangelicals, pastor of 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and a married father of five, is in big trouble. A prostituted man Haggard has been paying for sex every month for three years has outed him, reporting that Haggard also often bought and used methamphetamine when the two were together.
I’ve been watching this since yesterday. First Haggard said he was innocent, it was all a big plot strategically timed to undermine the anti-gay-rights movement in the days before Colorado and seven states are scheduled to vote on gay rights legislation and amendments. James Dobson stepped up to the plate to offer his support to Haggard and to voice his outrage over the accusations, as did other leaders and church members. Haggard said he had never been unfaithful to his wife.
But today, various church leaders say he has admitted to at least some of the allegations. It’s tempting to roast the guy, and I know that’s what lots of people will be doing.
I won’t be.
Haggard is in for it, for one thing. The first order of business for church leaders who will make decisions about Haggard, his future, his life, is going to be to get him into some sort of group or program which will help him to “repent” of his homosexuality and change his evil gay ways. He’s probably going to try very hard to do what these “leaders” tell him to do because if he doesn’t, he’s history, and he knows it. They’ll put him on some kind of a performance plan with periodic checkups to make sure he’s thinking the right thoughts, lusting after the right sex, and fleeing the people he’s supposed to be fleeing from. He won’t be preaching anymore, no more teaching, no more leading, no more writing. Those who have followed his ministry and who have been his friends will begin the process of scrutinizing every aspect of his life, analyzing everything he’s ever said or done. Some will be enraged and will tell him so, making everything all about how much he has disappointed them. Some will be crushed. Life as he’s known it for all these years is over.
His wife and his children, of course, are going to be devastated. But this is just the beginning for them, too. His wife is going to be reminded time and time again of the importance of forgiveness and submission. If Haggard apparently “repents” and agrees to the program laid out for him, she’s going to be expected to support him and stay married to him. She, too, will be set upon a performance plan with periodic checkups to determine how committed she is to being a godly wife. It’s going to be hell– for all of them.
But in the end, if they survive what the church is about to do to them, there is the possibility that Haggard and his wife will finally come into the light, maybe for the first time.
I was once outed in a spectacularly public way, too. I was a leader in the same circles Haggard is a leader in. Like Haggard, I was a good leader, a good speaker, dedicated and committed, but ultimately I couldn’t walk the walk, couldn’t believe it anymore, broke, couldn’t live that way anymore, bailed, jumped ship. Powerful Christian evangelicals do not take kindly to this kind of thing. They can be expected to do all they can, all in their power, to silence you, shut you up, because if they can’t shut you up, then you might just tell the truth — about them, about their religion, about your own life. And when you tell it, it will have a credibility they cannot destroy.
I hope Haggard, his wife, and his children come through all they are about to go through without ending up with wounds that can never be healed, brokenness that can never be mended. I hope the progressive community, the GLBT community, feminists, come alongside to encourage Haggard to be honest and true to who he is, come alongside his wife to encourage her to be honest and true to who she is and to do what she needs to do for herself, including getting a divorce and moving on with her life without looking back. I wish them all the best. Living in the leadership fishbowl of the Religious Right makes people sick, makes people crazy. I hope they can get well.
If they can, they might be, ultimately, committed allies in the work we are all doing as political radicals to create a better world, where men, women and children can be free, can live life by their own lights without being ashamed of who they are or who they love. And I know as sure as I’m sitting here, writing this, and remembering, that there are probably many hundreds and even thousands of people who are part of Haggard’s church, part of his world, or who have followed his ministry who are also gay or lesbian. If he gets free, they might get free. That’s what the church is worried about and so they will work very hard to silence him and his wife now. I won’t be participating in that or adding any fuel to that fire.