Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Haggard the happy heterosexual

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I don't have much to add to the whole sordid Ted Haggard affair beyond what I wrote back in November, which included this:

The drug use, the closeted homosexuality, the solicitation of prostitution -- a life of hypocrisy, of empty moralism, of fear and self-loathing. And then the initial denials and subsequent admissions. And now the confession. It's such a good story, if a predictable one...

I suspect that Haggard will one day return to his church -- a purified man who has overcome his demons, but not an honest one, not a self-aware one. And the church will welcome him back. And this story of overcoming will be told over and over again as a lesson to all. We all have our dark side. We all know what it's like to succumb to it. Praise be to Ted Haggard for fighting the good fight and for being an example to us all.

So it will go. And then the gay-bashing will continue. And the self-hatred, for each and every one of them, will find its outlet in outward hatred of the diseased Other.

Well, the predictable has become reality. Meet the "new" Ted Haggard:

The Rev. Ted Haggard emerged from three weeks of intensive counseling convinced he is "completely heterosexual" and told an oversight board that his sexual contact with men was limited to his accuser.

But he hasn't yet been welcomed back. Rather, "the four-man oversight board" -- which I'm sure has expertise on such matters and knows what it's doing -- "strongly urged Haggard to go into secular work instead of Christian ministry". Haggard and his wife will pursue online Masters degrees in psychology -- ooh, how challenging -- and move away from the righteous hotbed of Colorado Springs, temptations and all, perhaps to Iowa or Missouri.

My friend Steve Benen puts is this way (in a post that is right on the mark): "An awful story has managed to get even more pathetic." Haggard claims to have suffered from sexual addiction, but he also claims that that his homosexuality (and, indeed, his entire extra-marital sexual contact) was limited, in practice, to one man. That isn't addition. And it's rather incredible. Either Haggard is lying or he is hiding behind a clinical problem. Or both.

Regardless, it seems unlikely -- no, it is impossible -- that "three weeks of counseling at an undisclosed Arizona treatment center" has cleared up his "sexual immorality," as he put it. Nor is it possible that he is now, as a member of the oversight board put it, "completely heterosexual". Leaving aside the valid point that no one is either completely heterosexual or completely homosexual, can it be true that his homosexuality was merely a temptation, a "feeling," that could be overcome in therapy? No.

Andrew Sullivan: And so the psychological and spiritual abuse that Haggard has imposed on others and is now imposing on himself continues for another cycle of denial and pathology. And that is what, sadly, a great deal of Christian fundamentalism is caught up in: a vortex of denial of reality and rigid psychological resistance to self-acceptance... And Haggard is getting sicker." Steve again: "This whole charade is a bad joke. No serious person can believe that a man can be buying meth, having gay sex with a prostitute, and lying to everyone he cares about in November, and be fully 'rehabilitated' in early February after three weeks of 'therapy.'"

The Haggard saga is indeed "a bad joke" -- to us. The problem is that there are too many people out there who are more than willing, more than happy, to take Haggard's recovery seriously, to believe that homosexuality is merely a disease, an immoral disease, that can be overcome through self-denial masquerading as therapy. They may do so because they themselves are in denial, or because they fear the unknown, the Other, both within and without. We all need our lies, after all. Some are just less noble than others. And some -- like this one, like the hypocritical lies of Haggard and his kind, lies that enable abuse -- are not only self-destructive but destructive of others, socially destructive.

Those lies are alive and well in the evangelical community from which Haggard has been temporarily banished. And his story, the fall and rise of a sinner, only serves to strengthen them.

No matter what becomes of Haggard himself, that is the real tragedy of this whole sordid affair.

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