Jesus told a parable about two sons. One said, “I go, sir.” The other refused. But their behavior was a total flip-flop.
Rev. Haggard immediately denied the allegations, then partly admitted to some of them. But after being summarily fired by the overseer Board of his congregation, Haggard admitted much more: “I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life,” he wrote in a confessional letter to his congregation. The confession in and of itself is not news in this day and age. Rev. Haggard admits to “warring against” or struggling against “desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.”Whether struggling with or struggling against, millions of gay people could confess to having “been there, done that.” The war or struggle takes many different forms, however:
- the struggle to accept oneself as a gay or lesbian person and live out one’s life with integrity;the struggle to conceal one’s actual sexual behavior behind a facade of conventional heterosexual decency;the struggle to discern the will of God in matters about which the Scriptures are somewhat ambiguous;
- the struggle to gain sympathy and understanding of one’s life situation, character, values, relationships–in other words the struggle to change other people’s minds;
- the struggle to get justice and have access to ordinary civil rights guaranteed by constitutions, laws and courts.
What makes the Haggard case more newsworthy is that this man has been one of the most vocal opponents of gay people in the Christian evangelical scene. Haggard’s record on many issues is quite public. The other of several books, Haggard has been featured in many publications. One year ago, Christianity Today published a 3,500 word positive article about him: “Good Morning, Evangelicals! Meet Ted Haggard the NAE’s optimistic champion of ecumenical evangelism and free-market faith” by Tim Stafford (November 2005).
Especially as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, he has had the ear of the White House, phoning in for a conference call there every week. He has been outspoken against the efforts of gay/lesbian people to secure civil and legal rights, to be accepted as human beings, and to be welcomed into the church as fellow people of faith.Now revealed, we see that Rev. Haggard’s personal war was being fought publicly. Where he failed to win any victories over himself, he substituted highly vocal and public battles and skirmishes against what he considered “an affront to God.” Much of Ted Haggard’s struggle can be seen as “denial.” In the words of one of the founders of Exodus International, “denial is the sincere belief in something that is not true.”
In Rev. Haggard’s case, what is it that is not true? The evangelical message is that homosexuality is not necessarily a struggle: You repent. You turn to God in prayer. You get therapy. You change. You choose homosexuality instead of choosing homosexuality.
“I go, sir.” Haggard is emblematic of the simplistic, rigid absolutism of much of evangelical Christianity. They are intransigent in their belief that every word of the Bible is literally true, that God requires heterosexuality for salvation, that sexuality is a matter of choice, not orientation, and that if one is truly born again / truly loves God / is truly a Christian, you will not be gay. Haggard and his friends preach obedience, blind faith, rigid conformity to a conventional code of morality which they believe can clearly and indisputably be derived, word for word, from the pages of the Bible. Haggard and his ilk preach hell and damnation for anyone who does not obey this strict code of sexual morality. So Haggard himself is in a bind.
The real struggle is one of integrity. Who has it? The one who says, “I go, sir,” but does not? Or the one who declines, but does the will of God above?
Pastor Dan Hooper, Los Angeles