Ted Haggard’s torment

Until a few days ago, 50-year-old Ted Haggard was the pastor of New Life Church (14,000 members), and the President of the National Association of Evangelicals (45,000 churches with 30 million members). Moreover, he had the ear of the Bush administration:  he sometimes participated in conference calls with White House aides.

But Haggard, who campaigned against gay marriage, was “outed” last week. His resignation letter was read to the church on Sunday. It is quite moving:

The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.

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.

For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. …

The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry. …

It is important that you know how much I love and appreciate my wife, Gayle. What I did should never reflect in a negative way on her relationship with me. She has been and continues to be incredible. The problem is not with her, my children or any of you. It was created 100 percent by me.

Please forgive me. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. I caused this and I have no excuse. I am a sinner. I have fallen. I desperately need to be forgiven and healed.

Please forgive my accuser. He is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins, and others, need to be dealt with harshly. So, forgive him and, actually, thank God for him. … He didn’t violate you; I did.

I am very impressed by Haggard’s apology. Few of us take such unequivocal ownership of our moral failures.

campaign against same sex marriage“I take responsibility for the entire problem … My problem is not with my wife, my children, or any of you … I caused this and I have no excuse … My accuser didn’t violate you; I did.”

I am almost sympathetic … almost, but not quite. If only Haggard hadn’t been actively campaigning against same sex marriage at the same time he was indulging his own homosexual predilections!

The phrase cognitive dissonance comes to mind. It

refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation. It therefore occurs when there is a need to accommodate new ideas, and it may be necessary for it to develop so that we become “open” to them.

Haggard was — and is! — a deeply conflicted man, as his resignation letter makes clear. His evangelical convictions tell him that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice; his personal compulsions tell him that homosexuals have little choice about their orientation.

Perhaps Haggard will now discover the compassion he might have cultivated years ago.

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mary P
    Nov 09, 2006 @ 08:55:19

    I can feel compassion for the man’s conflict. He can’t shake the desires that he believes to be sinful, and so he grows to loathe himself. His chosen world view didn’t let him believe that his homosexuality wasn’t a sinful choice, but simply who he is; he’d rather believe that his homosexual desires were the choice, instead of his world view. There are Christians who accept homosexuality, he could have chosen to join them, retain his faith and be true to himself, but he chose not to do so.

    There were lots of choices available in Haggard’s life, but he was blind to most of them, and moreover, misunderstood what was choice and what was not. What a terrible bind! In this, I feel a mixture of compassion and disgust, in equal parts. Here we have a man who’s taken on the responsibility of teaching others, and he can’t be honest to himself about his own life and behaviours.

    As for his crusading against homosexuals, it makes sense to me. He was crusading against it in his own life, with long episodes, so he relates, of success. Why should others wallow in their sinfulness, when he fought it so valiantly? When, for long periods, he thought he’d overcome? If he can, then so can others. He probably thought he was ‘helping’ them; in fact, I think it’s more likely he was fighting against himself when he fought them, for the openly, happily gay are that aspect of his own self that he loathes and rejects.

    Of course he inevitably failed in his strivings, because it’s not a choice, it’s a reality. And of course, he should have resigned when he started acting on his orientation once more. But I can understand why he didn’t: he’d overcome this thing before, what of his wife, his children, what of his career, the public humiliation. A mixture of pride, self-preservation, lack of integrity, love, consideration… Not an easy thing.

    While I despise how he acted, and the monumental hypocrasy of his life, and the misery he’s helped perpetrate upon homosexuals, I still feel compassion. He is every bit the victim of his convictions were the gays he persecuted.

    Like you, I hope he learns compassion from this.

    Reply

  2. thywordistruth
    Nov 09, 2006 @ 14:38:06

    I totally enjoy your blog and I also commented about this incident over at mine: http://thywordistruth.wordpress.com/

    My blog deals with topical (and personal) issues of the day from a Christian perspective.

    I’d love to know what you think about it.

    Blessings to you,

    Jim

    Reply

  3. juggling mother
    Nov 09, 2006 @ 18:07:48

    I do have sympathy for him as an individual, in that he has oviously hated himself for his whole life, which is sad for anyone. I do not have any sympathy for him as a public figure – he asolutely brought everything upon himself. If he has been “battling” his homosexuality all his adult life what on earth possessed him to publically denounce anyone who even considered it? I also think he has influenced many many people, and made the world a slightly worse place, so i don’t really care that he’s lost everything!

    Good speach tho. I can see how he rose so high in the church/politics:-)

    Reply

  4. 49erDweet
    Nov 09, 2006 @ 18:46:37

    Good post, Stephen, and excellent comments all. The Haggard case exemplifies the very reasons why I, as a Christian, become so uncomfortable when anyone wearing our mantle enters him/herself into the public fray – in any way. It is so easy to shifts ones focus from Christ to mankind, and our frailties and failures then become further grist for others’ mills – all to detriment of the world’s understanding of His original message. Sad, sad, sad.

    JM we are all failures. Everyone of us. And successes, too, sometimes. Please forgive those of us too endued with excessive pride and ego, because we truly don’t always ‘walk the walk’ in the manner we wish we would – or could.

    btw, Stephen, I can’t figure out how to use html script in this comment section???? And my cut and paste function from Foxfire’s Performancing extention won’t work??

    Cheers

    Reply

  5. juggling mother
    Nov 10, 2006 @ 10:57:20

    49er I do not agree that we are all failiures. I don’t consider that i am a failiure. i may not have lived the exact life I intended to, or expected to, or even thought I wanted to, but i have never failed imo, because I have not, unlike Ted haggard, condemned other people for doing something, while doing it (to excess) myself! nor have I ever done anything that was fundementally against my personal beliefs. I can see that it could happen if you were pushed into a corner and there was no other choice, but i hardly think that is the case with Haggard!

    the point about Haggard is not that he was a member of New life Church & had omosexual sex. But that he publically denounced ALL homosexuals as evil, undoubtedly making millions of peoples lives more difficult, arguably making many impossible, leading to unecessary deaths. The admittance that this is something he has faught against all his adult life just goes to show it was not a sudden realisation/ephiny, and that his very public voice was a complete lie!

    Reply

  6. Bill
    Nov 10, 2006 @ 11:11:32

    Good assessment. But I find in this case too many people do not see Haggard’s real sin.

    I feel sorry for Haggard, but he is not excused by the fact that Homosexuality is not a sin. Away from whether Homosexuality is or is not a sin (it isn’t as far as I can tell) Haggard still believes it to be one, even if he is on the verge of an epiphany that will change his world view (and I hope he is). If Sin is defined as a transgression of God’s will, then Haggard believing that Homosexuality is a sin is sinning, whether or not the act is actually sinful or not the act of doing something you believe to be a sin is a sin, and on top of that he hid his actions, and lied about them. The homosexual act was not the sin, it was the deceit, and the hypocrisy that was the sin.

    Haggard is due our forgiveness but not because he admits he sinned carnally but because he admits he is “a deceiver and a liar” which is not any worse than the rest of us as 49erdweet points out “we are all failures” and the bible confirms it “for all have sinned”

    Reply

  7. Stephen
    Nov 10, 2006 @ 12:11:38

    • Mary P.
    I feel a mixture of compassion and disgust, in equal parts. Here we have a man who’s taken on the responsibility of teaching others, and he can’t be honest to himself about his own life and behaviours.

    Well said.

    I think it’s more likely he was fighting against himself when he fought them, for the openly, happily gay are that aspect of his own self that he loathes and rejects.

    Again, well said.

    A mixture of pride, self-preservation, lack of integrity, love, consideration….

    Human motives are always mixed. Haggard’s letter shows a remarkably pure contrition. But why didn’t he step down voluntarily when he slipped into sin? Why did he campaign against same sex marriage despite his secret life? No doubt he was motivated, in part, to preserve his position of power and privilege. Once he was publicly humiliated, he had nothing more to lose — he can only gain by expressing contrition.

    • JM:
    I think he has influenced many many people, and made the world a slightly worse place.

    I don’t know if I would make such a sweeping judgement. Haggard certainly encouraged intolerance toward homosexuals. Although even there, he evidently left the door open to civil unions for same sex couples, so he was more tolerant than many evangelicals. (I didn’t find this out until yesterday, after I posted.)

    Did his ministry as a whole accomplish more good than evil or vice versa? I’m not competent to make that judgement.

    On your second comment —
    … nor have I ever done anything that was fundementally against my personal beliefs.

    I can’t make that judgement either, obviously. But philosophically, I would argue that we all fall short of our ideals from time to time. No one is 100% consistent with themselves.

    But I’ll grant you that “failure” is a strong word. Depends what 49er meant by it.

    • 49er:
    The Haggard case exemplifies the very reasons why I, as a Christian, become so uncomfortable when anyone wearing our mantle enters him/herself into the public fray.

    That’s an interesting perspective.

    As for your html question, I don’t know how to answer. There are no icons to use as shortcuts. But if you create your own html links or whatever, they ought to work.

    • Bill:

    One might argue that homosexuality is a sin for Haggard, because he believes it to be contrary to God’s will, but he did it anyway. Compare Romans 14:14,23 —

    “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. … Whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

    I agree with you and 49er, that we all fall short of our own ideals, let alone our neighbour’s ideals, or God’s ideals. As St. Paul wrote about the gentiles (who do not have God’s law), “… their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Ro. 2:15, NIV).

    Reply

  8. 49erDweet
    Nov 11, 2006 @ 17:36:12

    JM, did not mean we are personal failures, what I meant was that believers consider themselves to be children of God, attempting to walk sinlessly through this life to quietly demonstrate to non-believers the power of God to change lives. And in that pursuit – to live sinlessly – all believers are from time-to-time “failures”.

    Nothing personal towards your life was intended. I apologise for the offense.

    Cheers

    Reply

  9. juggling mother
    Nov 12, 2006 @ 03:43:14

    49r, no offence was taken, it just seemed a strange thing to say. Now you’ve explained it, I understand what you’re saying, but since so very many things are “sins” it seems a sad way to live your life, setting yourself up for “failiure” and providing yourself with unecessary guilt from childhood.

    I like my version of sin better, which just means living my life true to my beliefs. I get to be a sucess much easier:-)

    Reply

  10. juggling mother
    Nov 12, 2006 @ 03:52:34

    Stephen, “But philosophically, I would argue that we all fall short of our ideals from time to time. No one is 100% consistent with themselves.

    I can not think of any instances that I have done something against my morals, ethics or beliefs. As an atheist, I do not have a specific set of rules of behaviour to follow, and my personal beliefs are much more generic, so i guess it’s easier to say that for myself that for a theist. Also, I suppose some beliefs have changed over time, which gives me a let out:-) But in all honesty I would say I have been 100% consistant with myself – on the few occasions I have found myself in places I do not want to be, I have extricted myself, and in my general life, I have followed my own morals. I confidently expect to continue to do so.

    That’s not to say I lived a perfect life! But I have not warred within myself very often. And when those occasions have arisen, I have made the necessary choice to chaneg the circumstances.

    Reply

  11. Stephen
    Nov 12, 2006 @ 14:47:22

    JM:
    I can not think of any instances that I have done something against my morals, ethics or beliefs.

    That makes two of you. (You and Jesus.)

    Honestly, the only way I can credit that statement as being true is if you have very elastic mores.

    Reply

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