By now nearly everyone with Internet, TV and newsprint access knows of the sudden fall from grace of Pastor Ted Haggard. The fall happened long ago; it just took time for a whistle blower to come forward to set the inevitable tragic events into motion.
Surreal story–one we can gloat over–all the hypocrisy, the hubris, the injustice and ultimately justice in it. And of course people feel awful for the pastor’s wife and five children. And those of us who have been members of a church with a fallen leader can feel for this congregation suddenly thrown into a crisis of faith.
Reading of Ted Haggard’s crash and burn story, I think of my own over 10 years ago. Nowhere nearly as big and important as Ted Haggard, still in the Evangelical world I inhabited, I was a leader, a respected minister, a husband and a trusted role model.
I was the program manager of a Christian radio station in South Central Africa broadcasting English language Christian programs in large part because of the special blessing of the then Charismatic Christian president of the country where we set up shop. My staff respected me as did the many listeners who heard my weekday morning program. More importantly my wife loved and trusted me in spite of the fact that two years earlier she had to endure my “struggles” and homosexual infidelity.
I fell, and I fell hard. I still feel the shame from my actions, the inappropriate, reckless, selfish and sinful things that I did. Yes, I can say sinful because they were. Like Pastor Ted, I did not express my same-sex desires in open, honest, healthy ways. Instead saw those desires as evil, demonic, fleshly and deadly. If I ever acted on those desires, it was in secret and shameful ways all the while presenting myself as a model Christian, husband and leader, one caught in a private battle that I almost always refused to share.
I can justify and offer all sorts of explanations for my behavior. I can also beat myself up over what I did and the ways my actions hurt people. Neither response helps me or others. Bottom line–I did wrong, not because having gay sex is wrong, but infidelity and dishonesty and the way I went about getting that sex are wrong. As a result, I hurt people, most of whom were completely innocent many of whom loved me deeply, particularly my wife.
It took the shock of being outed in Africa to catapult me out of marriage, out of ministry, out of the fantasy of living my life as an ex-gay. But this did not drive me away from my intensity to change, to become that man of God I longed to be, the holy, heterosexual man of God, the normal man, the good husband, victoriously rising above the sordid and evil desires I felt.
Two months after fleeing Africa, I enrolled in Love in Action, the ex-gay residential program in Memphis, TN and submitted myself to their services for nearly 24 months. Eventually I succumbed to the realty that change was NOT possible for me, not the way that I had hoped.
Instead a better changed occurred, one in which I learned to view my same-sex desires as normal and neutral–not good, not bad, just normal. That I was not flawed or broken or sinful for having these desires. And armed with that knowledge, my actions began to change.
I began to make healthier choices regarding sex. I began to care more for people and began to see them in a new light. I still messed up; I still acted selfishly and recklessly at times. I had to unlearn a lot as I renewed my mind about myself. But a marked change occurred and my life stabilized. The crazy addictive madness no longer controlled me like it had.
Pastor Haggard has acted the hypocrite. He treated his wife shamefully and betrayed her trust along with thousands of others in his life. He has treated himself shamefully. He lived in shadows too long and the shadows took over. He preached against the evils of homosexuality as he sought to fight same-sex desires in his own life. He despised himself and then the rest of us.
Perhaps he will continue to fight against his desires, box them in, mislabel them, contain them until they build up with a volatile pressure that is bound to explode into unhealthy, unloving acts of shame. He must fight this militant evil he feels in his own soul or he will lose what friends, family and support he has in his Evangelical world. And then what? Run into the loving arms of the LGBT community? He may rightly fear that he will find little safe haven among queer folks right now.
Back in 1996 I had lost it all, yet I held on, afraid of the “gay lifestyle” and all that could happen once I submitted myself to reality fearing that I would even lose God, the one I failed and needed the most. But eventually I leaped and the net appeared. I found new life in large part due to the supportive family and friends who have loved me back to life.
I feel grateful that Ted Haggard has been exposed, but I cannot gloat over his demise, not because I am above all that, but because I am a brother with him in disgrace.
(To read more about the effects of gay and lesbians on their straight spouses, read the post and comments What About the Spouse?)