Ted Haggard–My Brother in Shame

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?)

This post has 30 Comments

  1. Contemplative Activist on November 7, 2006 at 10:51 pm Reply

    Peterson you put things so well – with such gentleness and compassion.

    I do admire you sometimes. 🙂

  2. Heath on November 7, 2006 at 10:54 pm Reply

    I love you, Peterson.

  3. Anonymous on November 7, 2006 at 11:06 pm Reply

    Thankyou for this. I’ve felt realy worried for him this week. Everyone acts as a hyprocrit at some point, and his has unfortunatly been so public. I really hope that he finds some peace somehow, and good people who will come alongside him. Esther

  4. alex resare on November 7, 2006 at 11:14 pm Reply

    This is. You are. I am…

    speechless.

  5. Bruce Garrett on November 7, 2006 at 11:29 pm Reply

    I found new life in large part due to the supportive family and friends who have loved me back to life.

    Lazarus unwrapped. Now I know a little better, why that passage in your show is so powerful.

  6. Peggy Senger Parsons on November 8, 2006 at 1:23 am Reply

    Thanks for writing this Peterson. I have been uncomfortable all weekend with the shame of gloating, my own and others. Jon Stewart was merciless (and funny) last night. I want to live in aworld that give him no material.

    When the news of this first broke, I was theorizing that it was risk taking run amok. The personality that takes a church from a basement to 14K is a personality that needs a high degree of risk. I know, this is me. When things go too good, you get bored and all sorts of nasty stuff sounds interesting. In myself I notice that I start quoting Thelma and Louise – not a good sign. I had hoped that he had simply succumbed to this.

    But whe he admittedd that it was something he had struggled with “for his entire adult life” I felt worse cause it means he probably is gay. Which means he hates himself. And now that Dobson and company are on the job of his ‘restoration’ he won’t like himself any better any time soon. Big nails in the closet door. I have been praying for some little door to open somewhere for Mel White, or You, Peterson, or someone like you to get to him. How many years of purgatory will he have to endure. Maybe all the time he needs, but still.. God help him.

    More generally, I am praying that I, and all of us will learn to get over the addiction to gloating. Watching starlets wrinkle. Politicians get caught. Marriages fail. And using it for a laugh and to make us feel better. I do it a lot more quietly than I used to, but I do it, and I don’t want to ,

    God help us all.

    peggy senger Parsons
    freedomfriends.org

  7. KJ on November 8, 2006 at 1:38 am Reply

    Agreed.

    My first reaction was, “But by the grace of God” since I knew prior to coming out that this was the train wreck for which I was heading. So, I took no joy at the news and, given the circumstances of family, the outing and evangelical setting, am not surprised that Ted is unable to shake what binds him.

    In time, I pray that Ted, and his family, will choose authenticiy and life and not further bondage and self-destruction.

  8. Anonymous on November 8, 2006 at 1:57 am Reply

    Peterson, I know you’ve been slow to share some of those years.

    Thank you.

    Yours is a very inspiring story.

    You should really think about a book.

    I’m not kidding.

    (BTW…I haven’t seen you on instant messanger in awhile.)

  9. Elliot on November 8, 2006 at 2:00 am Reply

    You’re incredible, Peterson. Great post. And thanks for the comment on my new blog! I hope the paper comes along well, too.

    Oh, and I’m writing a new story! Must tell you about it!

    Also, I agree with Alex’s comment on here. 🙂 He worded it perfectly!

  10. Anonymous on November 8, 2006 at 2:09 am Reply

    God bless you for your sharing of your story.
    (A devout Catholic with a family member with same sex attraction.)

  11. Michael on November 8, 2006 at 3:04 am Reply

    Yo Peterson, I knew I’d find the best insight about “The Haggard Affair” on your blog.

    In a way, Ted finds himself in the same position as Paul – forced to become a member of the people that he famously reviled and persecuted, and that he built his Pharisee reputation on. Maybe he’ll overcome in the same way, and if he does, may our hearts accept him the same way the early church did Paul.

  12. Diana_CT on November 8, 2006 at 3:44 am Reply

    No, I don’t gloat over this either. Those of us who have been in the closet know the personal hell that we put ourselves through.
    As the Eagles song “Already Gone” so nicely states it….
    “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
    And we never even know we have the key”

  13. Scotmagicman on November 8, 2006 at 8:20 am Reply

    Peterson, you continually amaze me by your insight and your inspired comment on what’s going on in the big wide world.

    Here in the UK I never heard of this guy and all the horrendous outfall, but reading your blog leads me (yet again) to 2 conclusions. 1. The importance of true forgiveness within the wider Christian community. 2. How absolutely vital it is to be totally honest and transparent in ALL our relationships – work/play/home/church – and especilly in our relationship iwth God.

    I wonder how many millions of Christians will find themselves angered, confused and alienated by this man’s experience. There will be a great need for healing. I,for one, sincerely hope and pray that Christians reading this will seriously pray for this man and in whatever way possible bring support to him and those whom he interacts personally with.

    I too have been the pseudo-christian closet gay hypocrite. That is now largely over and behind me, and my walk with God and with my fellow beings has been strengthed so much since I admitted my gay nature both to myself and to God.

    Peterson – you have helped me greatly in this process. Thank you

  14. Willie Hewes on November 8, 2006 at 8:23 am Reply

    Thank you.

    I’ve not read a lot about this case, what with not being American, Evangelical or gay, but it requires few words to get the rough picture. It requires words like yours to really understand what’s going on though. So, thank you.

  15. Anna HP on November 8, 2006 at 12:00 pm Reply

    Sweet P!
    My offer is still here, if we were straight, marry me!! 😀

  16. Anonymous on November 8, 2006 at 12:58 pm Reply

    Peterson, I loved your post. When this story broke, I was thinking of you. (I was going to call you, but I’ve been travelling.)

    I heard yesterday that Dobson is going to oversee his couseling. It will be interesting to see how that pans out (though, obviously, very sad, because we all know what the outcome will be — kind of like watching a train wreck in slow motion which you can’t stop).

    When are you coming down to visit??! 🙂

    –Tom D.

  17. Scott on November 8, 2006 at 5:17 pm Reply

    Hi Peterson,

    I’m amazed at your wisdom. Thank you for sharing your life. Tom Haggard should read this blog.

    I’m getting ready to send a letter to my dad about my relationship with Scott. This is the first time that I’ve talked openly with my father since going to LIA in 1994. I’m scared, but it has to be done.

    I have found so much encouragement in your words, especially this latest blog. I am currently unlearning a lot as I renew my mind about myself. I’ve got a long way to go, but the important thing is I keep going.

    Again, many thanks for this blog. I hope that one day we’ll be able to meet in person.

    Peace,

    Scott Tucker

  18. KJ on November 8, 2006 at 6:14 pm Reply

    Scott,

    May the Spirit create new life where there is now none.

    Peace of Christ

  19. Plain Foolish on November 8, 2006 at 6:49 pm Reply

    Thank you. I have been struggling with my impulse to gloat, and this spoke to me.

  20. Jerry Maneker on November 8, 2006 at 8:23 pm Reply

    A wonderful post, Peterson! You state, “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.”

    Unfortunately, I doubt he has any support in the world he inhabits. I don’t call it “evangelical,” because it’s a different animal. In any case, my concern is that his seeking “Christian restoration” means in his and much of the public’s mind, getting “counseling” from the very kind of people who created this “problem” for him and for all those who have been demonized by them and him.

    Dobson bowed out of being on the “team” who “counsels” him, but I’m afraid that he not only won’t get support as a gay man from those with whom he aligned and aligns himself, but will also get minimal support, if any, from the LGBT community which he has done so much to hurt. I’m afraid that if he continues on the road of linking “Christianity” with “restoration” to becoming an “ex-gay,” he might well find himself in a position so isolated, filled with self-loathing, that he might even commit suicide.

    This is not hyperbole! I’m very afraid that a man in his position, brought down so publicly, undoubtedly feeling extraordinary guilt for what he has put his family through, filled with shame at being what he considers to be “sinful” and “evil,” being led to believe that he can be “restored” and not being able to meet the criteria of “restoration” set by his “counselors,” being alienated from his previous “friends” and many other professing Christians, not being able to integrate as a whole person within the LGBT community, may well drive him to suicide.

    The fact that he identifies as “Christians” those who largely contributed to his and other LGBT people’s problems and demonization, is also a major risk factor for suicide!

  21. Stuffed Animal on November 8, 2006 at 8:52 pm Reply

    Never have I gloated about Ted Haggard’s unfortunate life choices and subsequent downfall. I don’t think it’s funny, and I see no value in sarcasm. I am upset with Mr. Haggard, however, and I’ve expressed that feeling. I know in my gut there are many others like him in the evangelical movement.

    I can’t forget that the kind of self-hatred the Haggards of the world possess is projected at others, at Gay people who have chosen to live their lives with integrity regardless of how difficult that is. Ministers like Haggard make life unnecessarily hard for them. They cause Gay people to be disowned by their families, ostracized by friends and co-workers, discriminated against in the public sphere, and sometimes even harmed physically.

    I can’t persuade myself to feel sorry for him yet, particularly not when he seems to be firmly on track back to a life of deceit. It will be easier for me to forgive him when he truly repents and stops lashing out at folks like me. I realize that’s not a Christian attitude, but then I never pretended to be a perfect Christian. God is still working with me.

  22. KJ on November 8, 2006 at 9:17 pm Reply

    Hey Kids!

    Theme song for this thread — Amy Grant’s “Out In the Open” from her “Simple Things” CD. Downoad it! Now!

    Please.

    Peace

  23. David W. Shelton on November 8, 2006 at 11:41 pm Reply

    Peterson,

    Your experience and your post is exactly the kind of voice we need to be reading about Pastor Haggard and so many others who are in his position.

    I firmly believe that we should have compassion not only for his family, but for him as well. We all know what it’s like. And Peterson, you’ve expressed it far better than I ever could. Thank you.

  24. p.alan on November 9, 2006 at 12:39 am Reply

    Eloquently put, Peterson. I am not sure I could afford him as much comfort-room as you have been able to do. He will be wise to not dive into the LGBT community at large, but rather find himself a group of ex-exgay folk. I can see that he has a long road of self-discovery ahead of him, and the community at large would devour him.

    Will Haggard officially come out and then strike a book deal, as McGreevy has done? I am sure it may make him a millionaire…or somewhat close. If so, I will likely puke. When someone wants to hear a story about a gay man who lived in denial, married, started a family, remained faithful to his vows, gave his marriage more effort than insanely imaginable, divorced & THEN came out…Then I will have a story to sell. Any interested?

  25. Jonathan on November 9, 2006 at 12:39 am Reply

    WOW!!

    You left me speechless Peterson! What an amazing account of what can happen when we finally allow ourselves to be the person that God created. My prayer is that Haggard finds himself as he goes through all this. I have a feeling if he does, like with you and with me, it won’t be the person he expects it to me.

    I’m hoping to make it out to see you Sat. I can’t promise, family life being what it is, but I’m working on it.

    j.

  26. Lorcan on November 9, 2006 at 10:54 am Reply

    Wonderfuly put, fFriend
    Thine in the light
    lor

  27. Thee, Hannah! on November 9, 2006 at 3:40 pm Reply

    Wow, what a great post.

    I thought I would be tempted to gloat but was pleasantly surprised to find that I wasn’t. Maybe I’m making progress on my sympathy for evangelical Christians after all.

    Really, though, I cannot imagine what it must feel like to feel so strongly against something that he knew, deepy down, that he couldn’t deny. Terrifying. I hope that he can now find peace and self-acceptance instead of fighting this.

  28. liberata on November 10, 2006 at 2:32 pm Reply

    Just last evening I heard an Evangelical spokesperson interviewed on NPR talking about how they had been “betrayed” by the Republican party. He said that the party, if it wants to keep its evangelical membership, will have to get serious about adopting a platform including banishing homosexuality and abortion in our country.

    I don’t think these people get it. Gay sexuality (I don’t feel like talking about the abortion question, other than to say that it must remain legal) just should not be part of a political party’s ticket. It’s time for sexuality between consenting adults to go back to where it belongs: the private bedroom; and for heterosexuals (like myself) to stop treating homosexuals as “the other” (and worse). The government should have nothing to say about it and political leaders should once and for all stop aligning themselves with right-wing exhibitionists.

    We should help children by helping families–regardless of their composition– providing them with universal healthcare and funding for childcare and stop all this self-righteous nonsense.

  29. Woodog on November 11, 2006 at 4:22 am Reply

    Thank you for sharing your life in such a beautiful way.

    woo

  30. Jim Johnson on November 11, 2006 at 1:59 pm Reply

    Peterson,

    God bless you for what you went through and your willingness to share it with the world to help others get through those issues. I posted about it on my blog because I think as many people need to read this as can be pointed your way.

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