So off they go, as I predicted they would, down the path of “accountability” and rehabilitation for Ted Haggard. It’s all in place. They’ve lined up James Dobson, Tommy Barnett and Jack Hayford. Haggard is going to be asked to take lie detector tests because they can’t and won’t believe anything he says. The above three will perform an extensive “investigation” of Haggard’s actions and life and affairs, personal and business. Haggard will probably be sent to various counselors for his gayness problems and his drug problems and his sin problems and his prevarication problems and his spiritual problems. He will be given a list of “proofs of repentance” — which they might call something else, but it’s all the same thing — limiting and restricting him so far as where he can go, who he can see, what he can and can’t do personally, with his family, with friends, professionally. He will have to report to the accountability team regularly, providing them with evidence that he is fulfilling all of the various proofs of repentance and is mending his ways and making adequate progress on the road to restoration. If he thought he was experiencing pressure before, he ain’t seen nothing yet. He is going to be watched and monitored like a hawk. Everything he says and does will be scrutinized. He’s going to be expected to answer for every move he makes.
My prediction? What the conservative Christian world wants very badly to see work, won’t work. It will not be successful for anybody — not for Haggard, not for his “counselors,” for his wife and family, for evangelicalism, for the conservative Christian world, for the Religious Right, for a watching public. It’s already established that Haggard will never lead again in the church he started. That was quite a church and he was deeply loved there. On the church’s 20th anniversary, Haggard and his wife were presented with a Bible which had been completely handwritten, in pen and ink, by members and friends of the church. Those are people who loved their pastor and his wife. He can’t go back, and he can never build anything like what he built there again.
Then, having ever had gay sex, or any kind of extramarital sex, in that world is pretty much a death knell in terms of having any hopes of actively participating in a church ever again. You can’t come back from that. No matter how meticulously Haggard fulfills the proofs of repentance, he will not be trusted — not to lead, not to teach, not to work with children, probably not even to clean the men’s restrooms. All we have to do to understand the fate of those who transgress as Haggard has is take a look at what ultimately happened with Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Larry Lea, Gil Moegerle (Dobson’s former co-host who divorced his wife and married a Focus on the Family employee), Joyce Landorf (anybody heard of her? No? A once close friend of James Dobson who appeared on his program many times, a gifted and prolific author and leader, she became persona non grata when she divorced her husband and then remarried probably 30 years ago now in a marriage that has continued until today. Did her intelligence, writing and speaking skills depart because she divorced and remarried? Nope. Does it matter in that world? Nope.)
I don’t think Haggard is likely to stop having encounters with men. He’s 50 years old, and he says he’s had these longings all of his life. So far, prayer, Bible study, a good wife of over two decades, a fine family and many friends have not changed this. So far, God Himself has not changed this about Ted Haggard, despite, I am very sure, thousands, maybe millions of sincere prayers and petitions.
I noticed some things reading through the articles. One thing I noticed was that when Jones, the prostituted man who outed Haggard, learned Haggard had resigned, he cried. He said he was sorry, that he never wanted to hurt Haggard or his family. I noticed that Haggard told his congregation, through the confession and apology he wrote, that they should not blame Jones, that instead, they should thank him. I think there was a connection there. There’s no way to know the nature of that connection exactly, but my hunch is, the connection will continue on, with all of the implications.
I think the public reaction to Haggard’s outing, including among feminists, is abominable, horrifying, and homophobic to the seventh level of heaven. Beneath the liberal glee, just as beneath the conservative anguish and anger, “He’s GAY. He’s GAY,” can be discerned very clearly. That’s just about the worst thing that can be said about a man–in that world, in any world, really, but one. And that one remaining world where there is no shame or sin or grief in having had sex with men or loving men is in the world of gay and lesbian people, including gay and lesbian Christians.
I think it’s to gay and lesbian Christians that Ted Haggard, his wife and family ought to be directed right about now. I think if there were any real concern at all, for him or his family — as opposed to for appearances, superficialities, face, reputation, and especially, political victory as the Religious Right defines it– that’s where leaders in Ted Haggard’s world would send him and his loved ones.
Well, that’s where I would send him. Here is a short list of people who I believe might have some answers — spiritual, personal, human — for Ted and Gayle Haggard and their children and who could provide them with the support and friendship they need right now. In fact, this short list of people has answers for all of Christendom, and, for that matter, for all the world.
First, the former Rev. Benjamin L. Reynolds, 45, of Haggard’s own city, Colorado Springs. Just a month ago he stepped down as pastor of Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church, giving up leadership of a church he had loved and led for 16 years and had attended since he was a child. He is gay and announced this to his church. There was no prostituted man, there was no scandal, there was just a man telling the truth of his own life.
According to this article:
“I am so empowered by my decision,” [Reynolds] said during an interview Friday. “I just wanted to be clear about who I am, to be clear with those I love in my truth.”
He would not comment directly about Pastor Ted Haggard, leader of both the National Association of Evangelicals and the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, who stepped down from both on Thursday amid allegations he had a three-year relationship with a former male escort.
“I was saddened to hear the news and have been in prayer over it ever since,” Benjamin Reynolds said. “That’s all I’ll say.”
He’s right there in town, you know?
This is V. Gene Robinson, a presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. He is openly gay and lives with his partner of many years. At one time, he was married, and he has children.
This is Ella Robinson, Bishop Robinson’s daughter, who supported her dad in his appointment as Bishop, as did Robinson’s ex-wife. At his appointment, Ella read a statement from her mom, written for her dad. She said:
Gene Robinson is a good man, a good priest, a good husband and partner and good father.
That’s my mom’s story and here’s mine. Divorce is never a good time but it was through love and dedication that both my sister and I were able to come away with more happy experiences and memories than sad ones.
I think Ella and her dad and mom might be people who could reach out compassionately, wisely and intelligently to the Haggard family.
This is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In a recent sermon in the United States, Tutu said:
“Jesus did not say, ‘I if I be lifted up I will draw some’,” … “Jesus said, ‘If I be lifted up I will draw all, all, all, all, all. Black, white, yellow, rich, poor, clever, not so clever, beautiful, not so beautiful. It’s one of the most radical things. All, all, all, all, all, all, all, all. All belong. Gay, lesbian, so-called straight. All, all are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All.”
…“Isn’t it sad, that in a time when we face so many devastating problems – poverty, HIV/AIDS, war and conflict – that in our Communion we should be investing so much time and energy on disagreement about sexual orientation?”
…[The Communion] used to be known for embodying the attribute of comprehensiveness, of inclusiveness, where we were meant to accommodate all and diverse views, saying we may differ in our theology but we belong together as sisters and brothers” now seems “hell-bent on excommunicating one another. God must look on and God must weep.”
The woman above is one of my long-time sheroes, Carter Heyward, a Second Wave radical feminist, a lesbian, a liberation theologian, and a retired Episcopal priest and author of many amazing and inspiring books. Her writings ooze not only brilliance but compassion, sensitivity and empathy. It might take a while before Gayle Haggard would be able to talk with Carter Heyward. Maybe it will never happen. But if she could gather the courage, I believe she would never turn back to the old world, the old life and its ways. This is vintage Carter Heyward:
I have experienced a difficult tension between revelation and concealment of myself. I was raised to “tell the truth.” This little moralism has served me well in many ways, such as in my decision to come out as a lesbian, a decision I have not regretted. Today, however, I see how little I knew when I came out about taking care of myself emotionally, spiritually, and physically. It is possible, I am learning, both to take care of ourselves and to take public stands. Possible and very hard….
Whenever we speak the truths of our lives in situations in which our truths are unwelcome, we are like intense light, difficult for others to bear… In coming out, we do not know any more than others about how to live the implications of our lives as openly lesbian women or gay men….. In this situation, some measured concealment … is often wise…
If we are to live with our feet on the ground, in touch with reality, we must help one another accept the fact that we who are Christian are heirs to a body-despising, woman-fearing, sexually repressive religious tradition. If we are to continue as members of the church, we must challenge and transform it at the root. What is required is more than simply a “reformation.” I am speaking of revolutionary transformation. Nothing less will do.
Well, these people would be my dream team. Unfortunately, so, so sadly, the world of evangelicals and conservative Christians would never seek these amazing men and women out.
I think the Haggard family will struggle and will enter into very rough times in the days, months and years ahead. I think the day may well come when the family, or some of its members, may want nothing more to do with God, Jesus, the Bible, Christianity or Christians. I hear that. I will feel them should those days come. But if those days should come, they may well find that despite their efforts to shrug it off and leave it behind, their faith clings to them, stubbornly. Maybe then the people I’ve listed will be people they will seek out.
I do not mean in this or my other post to minimize the destructiveness of Haggard’s teachings or work, or, for that matter, of his wife’s. But those teachings and their work took place in a certain context, and it will not do to omit analysis or discussion of that context, to brush them off as so many losers, whack jobs and hypocrites.
I thought Dave Hill of The Guardian expressed it well this morning in his essay:
I am not anti-religion or anti-American. As I have written before, I find blanket attacks on faith fail to recognize how individual, sustaining and enriching religious observance can be, and I thank America for its impossible optimism and its wealth of popular culture that has stirred and enlightened me for forty years. But one sure measure of any society’s psychological wellbeing lies in its attitude to homosexuality, itself but one aspect of its outlook on gender and the sexes generally. Conservative America is in a cage of its own making about gays. Ted Haggard is in that cage. He, his congregation and his political brethren would do well to learn from their allies in this world.
My posts about this have been a departure from my ordinary woman-centeredness. I think, as Hill suggests, that the treatment Haggard has received, is receiving and will receive has to do not only with America’s outlook on homosexuality, but with its outlook on gender, just in general. The way gay men are treated in the world is, in fact, a feminist issue.
But that’s not really why I wrote about this. I wrote about this because Haggard’s story is my story as well. I fell from grace, too. I “sinned” too as my then-community understood sin. I was called a hypocrite and viewed as a hypocrite. I was subjected to public humiliation and degradation, was attacked and mocked with the same out-of-control gleefulness I recognize in those attacking Haggard and his wife. I lost the magazine I began and built with my own hands and life and which I had given all the energy and love I could give it. I lost my best friends, who remain lost to me and will be lost to me until I “repent” and return to the fold — and I never will. I lost my beloved community and all the support I drew from it. Comparatively late in my life, in my 40s, I had to start all over. I am not a person given to suicidal thoughts, that’s not me, but the closest I ever came to taking my own life was in those dark, despairing, anguished moments of being publicly, nationally “exposed,” (including with the participation of the good Mr. Dobson, on whose program I also appeared, and more than once, years ago, in what now feels like another life, another world, and it was.)
My apologies for the departure from the concerns and issues which energize my life and command all of my attention these days 12 years after my own excommunication– women’s issues. Girls’ issues. Women and girls are my people, and I intend to devote the rest of my life to them, to us. But when something like this happens in the world, I remember, and I have to stop and write about it.