Ted Haggard and Christian Right Sex Scandals
Tanya Erzen printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Nov 03, 2006 at 05:18:14 PM EST
On Thursday, Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church  in Colorado Springs and head of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), put himself on administrative leave and resigned as president of the NAE amid allegations of drug use and sex with another man.  Haggard's megachurch is one of the most powerful in the country.  He regularly speaks to officials at the White House, and the NAE includes 45,000 churches and 30 million members, making it one of the most powerful religious lobbying groups in the United States.   Haggard's church has supported Coloradans for Marriage , which has overseen the campaign for a state constitutional ban on gay marriage in Colorado.  
In the midst of the Mark Foley page scandal, these revelations about Haggard are neither particularly surprising nor new.  If anything, evangelical leaders have a long history of public sexual scandals or "falls."  In the 1960s, Billy James Hargis, head of the Christian Crusade appeared on over five hundred radio stations nationally where he claimed that homosexuality and communism would destroy the Christian family and youth.  
One of the first rules of the Communist revolution is to corrupt the morals of the youth primarily by illicit sex or a breakdown in the moral code.

In 1974 Time Magazine published a story detailing allegations that Hargis was having sex with high school boys who were part of his "All American Kids" youth choir.  Five students revealed that Hargis invited them to his farm where they had sex.  Hargis avoided responsibility for his behavior citing, "genes and chromosomes," and then later claimed that he had been attacked and defamed by "liberal newspapers."

Similar scandals have plagued the ex-gay movement.  John Paulk, a prominent ex-gay spokesperson who worked for Focus on the Family was featured in a national ad campaign attesting to "coming out of homosexuality."  At ex-gay conferences he claimed ex-gays must  "continue to speak out boldly against the radical homosexual agenda while we minister to those who are trapped in the lifestyle."

In September of 2001, two men who worked for the Human Rights Campaign recognized John Paulk in a gay bar in Washington DC called Mr P's.  Paulk initially tried to flee, then he denied that he knew it was a gay bar, protesting that he was only looking for a place to use the bathroom.  Paulk maintained that even his decision to enter the bar couldn't be blamed on his own volition.   Satan had been working in his life, he said, and gay activists were calling and threatening to ruin him.  This is what drew him into the bar.

Whether Haggard will blame his current situation on threats from gay activists or liberal newspapers remains to be seen.  The notion of redemption built into evangelical theology translates into how prominent figures like Haggard, Hargis and Paulk are dealt with by prominent Christian Right leaders.  John Paulk appeared on James Dobson's radio show to explain the charges against him and come clean even if he later resigned.  The idea is that if Haggard testifies to the "sin" of homosexuality," he can receive forgiveness and redemption from other Christians and from God.  

How will conservative Christians view Haggard?   The Christian worldview that New Life church and the NAE shares understands homosexuality as among the worst of all sins but accepts and forgives the behavior while disavowing gay identity.    Many conservative Christians conceive of homosexuality as a choice or a lifestyle.  Separating behavior from identity enables conservative Christians to love the sinner and hate the sin, even if at bottom their fears and antipathy toward gay people remain.  This distinction enables Haggard to claim "I've never had a gay relationship."

The Haggard scandal exemplifies how the Christian Right promotes anti-gay politics in the guise of love and compassion.  Haggard kept his sexual life secret while he railed against gay rights from the pulpit and in the political arena.   Will conservative Christians blame Haggard's fall on the liberal media or gay activists as they blame the demise of marriage on a so-called "homosexual menace"?  Perhaps conservative Christians inclined to vote for anti-gay marriage amendments will reevaluate their politics when they go to the polls next Tuesday.

In addition to Colorado, Tennessee has a Defense of Marriage Act on the ballot next Tuesday.  Six other states including Idaho, Arizona, Wisconsin, Virginia, South Carolina, and South Dakota
have ballot initiatives that would deny domestic partnerships, civil unions, and same-sex marriage.  

by Tanya Erzen on Fri Nov 03, 2006 at 05:26:11 PM EST

The whole "love the sinner, hate the sin" schpiel just doesn't pass the smell test.  There is far too much anger involved, for one thing.  We don't see anything like that with much more trivial sins, like murder, for example.  (Unless, of course, we're talking about abortion.)

The only way to really explain such intense anger is as a form of self-hatred projected onto the other.  I didn't used to think this way.  I thought that the repressed homosexual impulses of homophobes was a cute little twist, an afterthough, a little "gotcha!"

I remember first thinking this when an early 1980s book, God's Bully's outed Terry Dolan, the key figure in the National Conservative Political Action Committee.  But as more and more time has gone by, and the pattern has played itself out over and over and over again, I've become convinced that there's nothing trivial or ironic about it.  In fact, folks like Dolan--who was relatively open about his sexuality in the anonymous club scene, if I remember correctly--are relatively healthy.  Heck, I think that Haggard is even relatively healthy.  After all, he was actually able to act on his feelings, even while being in denial about them.

No, the real sickos are the ones in aboslute, total denial.  The ones who go out with baseball bats.  They're the source of sickness in our society.

by Paul Rosenberg on Fri Nov 03, 2006 at 10:45:08 PM EST

The "notion of redemption" is not unique to the theology of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists.  Christians on the left, right, and center believe that those who confess their "sins" (adultery, etc.) can be restored, renewed, and redeemed by the atonement of Christ.  

I do feel especially sorry for Haggard's wife and five kids.

In an interview with MSNBC, Tony Campolo talks about the pain and hurt that Haggard has caused both evangelicals and the gay community.  He calls on "evangelicals to humble themselves and remind people that all of us are better than the worst thing we have done."  You can watch the 7 minute interview HERE.

by Big Daddy Weave on Sat Nov 04, 2006 at 03:18:54 PM EST

See Ted lecture youth about the sin of homosexuality: from Jesus Camp the movie on YouTube.

by cyncooper on Sat Nov 04, 2006 at 05:30:31 PM EST

Rev. Debra Haffner (http://debrahaffner.blogspot.com) writes this morning, "Ted Haggard dramatically illustrates how soul damaging the denial of the blessing of sexual difference is. How different his life would have been had he accepted his own sexual attractions and made decisions about his sexuality that were life affirming rather than so now ultimately destructive to himself and his family. We're going to hear a lot of talk about forgiveness and redemption by people on the right as they discuss this case. May we pray for God's grace that perhaps at least some will see how their own hateful attitudes towards GLBT people need forgiveness as well."

by Religious Institute on Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 09:35:11 AM EST

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