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Wayne Bessen

A return to reality

Focus on the Family’s James Dobson says he is ‘too busy’ to counsel Ted Haggard (pictured).
In the very week Saddam Hussein was sentenced to hang, George W. Bush has found his presidency in the gallows. Hussein now awaits his fate as a dead duck, while Bush will usher in his final two years as a lame duck. How bitterly ironic it must be that the Democratic landslide victory was fueled on outrage over the quagmire in Iraq and the president’s refusal to “change the course” even after the facts repeatedly changed on the ground. This is more a victory for reality than a win over a sleazy and atavistic Republican majority that empowered lowlifes such as Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff and extremists like Rick Santorum.

The GOP is learning that reality may take extended vacations, but it never completely vacates. Denial may be effective as a tactic, but at the end of the day it does not stave off tragedy. In an even greater state of denial than the president are Prozac Protestants, who must have become depressed and stayed home in larger numbers this Election Day. Who can blame them? First, we had Ralph Reed “humping in” on accounts with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, then we had Foleygate and now we have the fall of Rev. Ted Haggard.

Haggard was the pastor of 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs and President of the National Association of Evangelicals. However, what started as Haggard’s calling for the Lord ended with a call boy. Former sex worker Michael Jones accused Haggard of hiring him for sex and purchasing crystal meth, making Haggard a PNP (Party and Play) Preacher.

In a letter read to the New Life Church congregation on Nov. 5, Haggard confessed, “The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar…That’s part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life. The accusations made against me are not all true, but enough of them are that I was appropriately removed from my church leadership position.”

What was most bizarre about the Haggard meltdown was watching the cartoonishly emotional reaction by his befuddled congregation. The pictures were telling in that, once again, we had thousands of holy rollers weeping with make-up running down their faces, while passing around several dead forests worth of Kleenex.
 

I know I’m supposed to feel compassion, but I don’t (other than for Haggard’s wife and children.) I just want to shake these people and scream, “how naive are you?”

Time and again, the downfall of closeted conservative leaders is met by vacant stares and the collective refrain, “how could this have happened?” What seems to separate many Christian conservatives from the rest of the nation is the inability to learn from experience. It’s one thing if the Haggard scandal was an isolated incident, but how many times can these people get burned before they wake up?

In January, Oklahoma preacher Lonnie Latham stepped down from his congregation and the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention after being arrested for allegedly asking an undercover male police officer for oral sex. There have also been the recent falls of Spokane Mayor Jim West, New Jersey Governor James McGreevey and Rep. Mark Foley.

Even after the disgrace of all these prominent men, the church refuses to ask relevant questions and continues to promote the lie that homosexuality is just a temptation that can be changed. Indeed, Haggard even sought the help of James Dobson and other preachers to cure him of his impulses. But if this preacher couldn’t pray away the gay, with all the power and prestige he had to lose, who can, and how can Dobson help him? It is time Evangelical Christians exchange their anti-gay rhetoric for reality. (Dobson, afraid his therapy will be exposed as ineffective in a high profile case, later announced that that he will no longer help Haggard because he is “too busy.”)

Haggard is correct that there is a dark and repulsive part of his life, but it is not his homosexuality, it is his closet and the lies he used to maintain it. He built his empire on the backs of openly gay people and now he faces an awful comeuppance for his anti-gay sins.

In an interesting twist, social conservatives originally whined that the timing of the Haggard outing was political. They might be right, but too bad. Having played the sexual orientation card as an election year ploy for decades, they are in no position to complain about this November ballot box boomerang.

In a church of 14,000, at least five-10 percent of members are gay, including many children poisoned by their preacher’s toxic rhetoric. Perhaps the fall of Haggard will make it easier for these young men and women to come out. But first, instead of washing away Haggard’s supposed sins, the Christian Right must unwash their brains and repent for the holy Hell they have put so many good people through, including several of their most respected leaders.

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