Sunday, February 1, 2009

more on Ted Haggard: Why and How Christians need to change.

Here's an article brought to my attention by Miles. Thanks, Miles!

Carried on the Huffingon Post:
January 31, 2009
Some Sympathy for Ted Haggard

by Michael Shermer

I just watched the HBO documentary film, The Trials of Ted Haggard, produced by Alexandra Pelosi (which the media seem curiously intent on identifying not as a filmmaker but as the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House). The film is a follow-up to her 2007 film Friends of God, in which Haggard was prominently featured just before his downfall from revelations that he had homosexual relations with a male prostitute, with whom he also did methamphetamine. And all this happened right in the middle of the political debate about gay marriage, in which Haggard condemned homosexuality as an abomination and gay marriage as a sin that should never be legalized.

Now, I enjoy roasting a hypocrite as much as the next person, and I sat down to watch Pelosi's film sharpening my typing fingers in preparation for slicing this evangelical hypocrite to pieces, especially after just watching him on Larry King Live, in which he failed to apologize to gays for condemning the very "lifestyle choice" he also presumably made. (In his Christian worldview homosexuality is a choice--a bad choice, a sinful choice, but a choice nonetheless). But I came away feeling some compassion for Ted Haggard, sympathy for the devil as it were. I don't know if Pelosi intended her film to have this effect--I suspect not from her off-camera comments in the film as she follows the fallen preacher around Phoenix selling insurance door-to-door and bumming rooms off friends at which his family can live. But given what we know about the power of belief, and the fact that this man devoted his entire life and essence to being an Evangelical Christian and all that stands for--which is a lot when you are the titular head of the 30 million-strong National Association of Evangelicals--what a striking conflict his life has been (and by all accounts still is).

By now, most of us know that homosexuality is not a "choice," any more than heterosexuality is a choice. Asking a gay person "When did you choose to become gay?" makes about as much sense as asking a straight person "When did you choose to become straight?" The answer is the same: "Uh? I didn't choose. I've always felt this way." Right, and all the evidence from biology, psychology, and behavior genetics (twin studies) points to the fact that most people are born straight, some people are born gay, and some are even born bisexual, and that's just the way it is. In a large population (and six billion members of a large mammalian species certainly counts) with considerable variation in most characteristics, it is inevitable that even something as seemingly straightforward (if you'll pardon the pun) as sexuality will likely show variations on that central theme.

To find peace and happiness in life you have to be true to yourself, and herein lies Pastor Ted's conflict: Being true to himself meant being in absolute conflict with his religion, which was, at the time, not just his faith but his livelihood and the only means he had of supporting his family. As Upton Sinclair observed: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."

The only resolution for Haggard was to live a secret life, and when that secret was revealed there was no way for him to peacefully resolve his conflict. And from what was shown in the film and in his public interviews of late, that conflict is still not resolved for the simple reason that if you are gay or bi you cannot simply choose to feel differently, even if you are given such bizarre diagnoses as these suggested by his Christian counselors: "heterosexual with homosexual attachments" and "heterosexual with complications." Haggard's response was refreshingly honest: "I wasn't sure what that meant."

Me neither Ted, because it's a bullshit diagnosis by people who don't understand the psychology of sexuality because their religion is driving the science, and that's a recipe for quackery. Yes, you can choose (or at least try to choose) not to act on your feelings (don't go to gay bars, don't watch gay porn, etc.), but short of a Clockwork Orange scenario of extreme behavior modification protocols (and even this is unlikely to do the trick), Ted Haggard cannot and never will be able to square the circle of his sexual essence with his religion. Something has to go, and that something is his religion, or at least his religion's attitudes about homosexuality.

Christianity needs to change its beliefs about homosexuality and to quit condemning those--even those in its own flock--to a life of guilt, self-loathing, and conflict. Not only does Ted Haggard need to publicly apologize to the gay and lesbian community for condemning them, his Colorado Springs New Life Church--and Christianity in general--needs to apologize to Ted Haggard for ruining his life, not only by exiling him from his home, community and friends, but by forcing him to live a lie. The data are in: homosexuality is not a choice. Christianity needs to follow the data instead of forcing the data to fit its religious dogmas.

In the film you can hear the guilt in Ted Haggard's voice and see the self-loathing in his face. Ted Haggard is a broken man, broken not by his biology but by his religion. You cannot "fix" people's biology, but you can change their religion, and it's time for Ted Haggard to give up on his religion--and perhaps religion altogether. Short of that, perhaps one of the most charismatic religious movers and shakers of our time can change his religion from within by standing up to his fellow Evangelical leaders and saying to them (and to everyone else) something like this:

"Ladies and gentlemen, I was wrong. When I preached that homosexuality is a sin, I was wrong. When I proclaimed from the pulpit that being gay is an abomination, I was wrong. When I dissembled and pronounced that I 'hate the sin but lover the sinner', I was wrong. I say this not because I was a hypocrite in denouncing the acts that I myself was committing, but because our beliefs about and actions toward homosexuals is un-Christian. I make no excuses for my actions or pronouncements, but I will remind you that I was mirroring what was taught to me by my Evangelical mentors, whose beliefs about gays led them to comb the scriptures for passages that best suit their prejudices--much like the slave-owning Christians of centuries past justified with holy writ their abominable beliefs and actions toward their fellow humans by treating them as chattel. My mentors were wrong. My teachers were wrong. The church is wrong and I am wrong. Homosexuality is no more a choice than heterosexuality is a choice. People are born with their sexuality, and so to condemn a person to a life of guilt and shame over something they have no control, is to do violence to the very nature of human nature and to contradict truth and deny reality. So, in the words of the great Anglican defender of the faith and champion of religious tolerance, Oliver Cromwell: 'I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.'"

Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine (, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University, and the author of Why People Believe Weird Things and The Mind of the Market.


Tim Morris said...

Just because many believe it doesn't make it true.
Religion tries to define God and place Him inside their control.
Religion is a club with secrete handshakes and secrete rules excluding anyone that doesn't do it right. Christians worship their biblical interpretation and claim to have the only true faith because the book they worship says so.
I am at a place that I am not interested in being called Christian.

thomas tucker said...

This article contradicts itself.
Yes, there are a lot of people so There is going to be variability in people's sexuality- you can't just put people into one of three boxes labeled gay, straight or bi. So the counselors' diagnosis may be spot on. The scientific evdience does indeed show that sexuality is a spectrum and these counselors underlying pholosphy accurately reflects that.
Furthermore, on moral grounds, there is no reason that Chrisitanity needs to accept the notion that because someone has an urge for osmething, then acting on it is acceptable. Expand that idea to all kinds of urges, not just same-sex ones, and you will recognize how ridiculous that idea is.

Carol said...

I didn't write the article, it is quoted. Yes, there are many variations of sexual orientation, and yes, there is a range of all things relating to that.

You are exchanging "urges" for orientation. These are different, and you are not taking that into consideration. To compare "urges" with all things gay is a mistake. There is more to my personal makeup as a straight person, and the same holds true for gay people.

thomas tucker said...

I think that that is debatable, and is largely a difference in semantics.
I also think that it clouds the issue, and that is exactly what some people want for political purposes.
It clouds the issue because it obscures the difference between what is normal and what is abnormal, which remains a useful distinction in life. It makes more sense to recognize that heterosexuality is normative, and normal, and that deviation from that, no matter how common, is abnormal. I don't see any reason that we should lose he distinction between normal and abnormal, between health and disease.
Would you say that someone who prefers sex with animals, and there are such ( one fellow recently has even petitioned for the right to marry his dog) is a different orientation, or is it more useful to recognize that he has a flawed, abnormal sexuality characterized by the urge to have sex with other species?

Carol said...

I disagree. The American Psychological Association disagrees. And we aren't talking about sex with animals. We are talking about people who love and are attracted to other human beings.

Your relegation to gay people as those who are sick, abnormal, etc., condemns those who LOVE one another to spend their lives hiding. My point is that we, as Christians, to whom Jesus said to LOVE ONE ANOTHER, need to change our rhetoric and allow them all into the family of faith.

I don't see that you have your own blog. There are plenty of others saying what you say, and who, like you, offend me. I speak for those who are put down (by you) and that need support of their families and friends. We need to change and begin offering that. That was my point.

Carol said...

(Sometimes I make typos. Please disregard them.)

Dan said...

I am offended by that mentality aswell. I am in a long term gay relationship and to be compared to someone who has sex with animals, because I love another man, is completely ridiculous. My relationship with my partner, may not be historically "normal", but if you look at our dynamic, it is more normal that many straight relationships.
Thanks for being a Christian voice of support and defence.

hillsideslide said...

"You are exchanging "urges" for orientation. These are different..."

I like how you put that, Carol.

The word "urge" (and similar vocab) distances us from the reality that this is how some people are oriented to love.

Also, while Thomas can point out that there are MORE heterosexuals than homosexuals, he cannot (logically or scientifically) equate that with health vs. disease.

For example, are tall basketball players diseased b/c they are statistically in the minority on the scale of tallness?

What about Einstein? Was he diseased b/c his mind was abnormally brilliant?

Different is just different. No biggie.

thomas tucker said...

Can we not discuss, and even disagree, without resort to accusations of putdown adn condemnation?
To make your argument, you have to be able to explain why same-sex love is normal but inter-species love (and other abnormalities) is not. I don't say this to put anyone down, I say it to get you to think logically. If you can't make the argument, then should I accuse you of bigotry and condemnation, against proponents of inter-species love? Dan has certainly just spoken of their orientation pejoratively- why is that okay?
Look, the truth will you set free. And facing the fact that something is abnormal is the first step to freedom.
hillside- would you desribe schizophrenia as just a normal variation?
I can see that you don't want discussion; apparently, you just want comments form those who agree with you. So much for tolerance.

Carol said...

I put up your comments, didn't I? I'm letting you speak, but all I hear are attacks. Your criticism is coming through loud and clear.

I don't liken "interspecies" sex to gay sex because there is not two-way interaction, only physical. I'm not sure that we want to go there...
I have repeated that we are discussing love between two persons, and sometimes they have sex, just like NORMAL humans. It is emotional, mental, and physical.

To me, it seems that you wish to invest time in argument. I don't see a point in that, since you and I have already made up our minds.

deb said...


You're the coolest. :) Keep on saying what you're saying.

No matter how much people try to say YOU are not being rational, in reality, you are the only one (between them and you) being rational. All else is an attempt to make an absurd comparison.

If people want to liken gay relationships to sex with animals, why not liken it to sex with cars or buildings or trees? That would be ridiculous. But, it makes as much sense as comparing gay relationships to bestiality.

The topic of gay relationships is about relationships between equal, available, consenting adults who love each other. Not animals, buildings, cars or trees.

Keep on doing what you're doing. You're the best. :)

thomas tucker said...

I do appreciate the fact that you are posting my comments. I respect you for that. And I think we can indeed respect each other even if we disagree, so thank you for that also.
Even though our minds are made up, I still think it is good to discuss although you can call it argument if you like.
It is ironic, though, that you make disparaging comments about inter-species sex that would be seem by those who suffer from that orientation as judgmental, unkind, and lacking in both empathy and understanding. You can say its not as valuable because it's not between two loving human adults and those who practice such would answer: "so what, it's the way I feel and the way I find love.
Indeed, it's the way God made me. Where does your idea come from that it has to between two adults, and two humans, for it to be reasonable and normal? That's just your prejudice. " What would your answer be?
Well, the answer of course is that it is apparent to the common sense and to the mind unsullied by propaganda, just as the abnormality of homosexuality is to the same mind. We know instinctively that it is abnormal for it is written in the natural law. Even those who engage in it, know that at first, until the promptings of the natural law have been extinguished in their hearts and minds.

Tim Morris said...

If you can get a dog or goat to sign a valid contract then I say marry them if you want.
Thomas Tucker, do you feel left out? Or do you just want to be offensive because that’s what gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment? Trying to invalidate others relationship with bestiality arguments is so old news. Grab a science book and study actual research and try to learn something. Carol can't do all your homework. But you are not here to learn but to patronize and rebuke all in the name of self righteousness. You have proven your lack of interest in exchange of ideas when you defended your infantile argument about animals.
Blacks and whites had the same thing said about them when the desire to intermarry was first brought forward. It was illegal but since the restriction has been lifted I noticed no measurable increase in bestiality.

Carol said...

No, Thomas,
You wrote: Can we not discuss, and even disagree, without resort to accusations of putdown adn condemnation?

No, I guess we can't. At least not here. I have not put you down, nor have I accused you or condemned you. However, someone who comes to communicate or discuss real issues does so in a different manner than you have presented.
I'm not sure if the type of sexuality that you are defending is yours or not, but I'm also not convinced that it isn't just something you are touting in order to demean gay people. I think it is the latter. Thomas, you have spoken enough on this forum.

Dan said...

WOW, I don't even know what to say.
I get called pejorative for defending my relationship with my partner, as being different than beastiality...
Next topic please.. :)

hillsideslide said...

I'm looking forward to the day when we will have to tell the young'uns,

"Yep, back in the day, some people had to 'defend their relationships.'

You see, back then, instead of focusing building each other up, creating community and pulling together to solve our problems, people used to waste all kinds of time and energy fighting amongst each other.

There was infighting over whose love was "real" and whether or not a person was even worthy of uncondtitional love, let alone respect. (That part in Corinthians where Paul describes Love... well, we'd all but forgotten what that looked like.)

And back then, the Church was as fragmented as the society and families were: preaching division over unity, exclusion over inclusion, and fear over love.

Shamefully, for a long time, that kept us from doing what needed to be done: loving God and our neighbors as ourselves, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, caring for those who were oppressed, marginalized and plain ol' left out... you know, the business of The Kingdom.

Yes... we've come a long way."

Carol said...

I hope that comes sooner rather than later. We have to keep trying.

Sherryl said...

Wow, I do not know what to say about all of that. Except, I love you but don't agree with you. For you, Oprah and all of the rest who feel that Haggard was just born Gay ignoring the fact that he was molested twice as a child is crazy. Did the guys who molested him as a child, just know he was gay so they chose him." To say that some are bi-sexual so they will have sex with their spouse and same-sex sex is like saying men who are attracted to other women outside of their marriage can't help themselves.
Whether you believe it is okay to be Gay or not, you can't discount that it is clear in the Bible that sex is only for marriage with one partner.
I don't have this figured out, I am trying!

Carol said...


Thanks for the honest comment. However, most psychologists don't attribute sexual abuse to a cause for homosexuality. Many are molested but never become gay, and gay people don't all have abuse issues. It causes problems, but does not make up one's sexual orientation.
Neither heterosexuality, homosexuality nor bisexuality are reasons to be unfaithful to one's partner, so we agree there.
Since you and I both believe in monogamous relationships, I believe our laws should allow ALL people who want to make their commitment permanent, as well as to be able to participate in all the legal benefits of marriage, to be legally married.
Thanks for the comments, Sherryl. When you say, "I'm trying," to figure this out, it goes a long way in building bridges.

LiturgyGeek said...

Wow. I guess I'm abnormal because I'm left-handed. After all, it's normal to be right-handed. Maybe my family should have tied my left hand behind my back to force me to become right handed.

Maybe we Anglo Americans are abnormal because our skin color does not reflect the skin tones of the majority of the world. /snark

It's called VARIATION within a species. We can change those variations - through dying our hair, tanning our skin, wearing colored contacts, forcing ourselves to write with our right hands, or marry someone of another gender, but that does not change the fact that we are blond (or brown-haired), pale- (or dark-)skinned, left-handed, or gay. Just because someone is different from what society views as "normal" does not make them aberrant or that they should change who God made them to be.

Won't even address the rubbishy bestiality comment, as you know full well that's a straw man, and others have already taken you to task for it.

Maybe if we Christians loved more and judged less, we could reflect God in the world better.

truthspew said...


Great post! I see you're not guilty of single sourcing everything to the Bible. That's something fundamentalists need to learn.

If you want even more shocking statistics, read Kinsey's studies. Psychologist friend of mine turned me on to that research.

Gay people comprise a range of 5% to 10% of the population. Bisexuality runs 30% to 40%.