Preacher Man

Does anyone remember Ted Haggard? He’s the mega-church preacher from Colorado who got busted hiring a male escort for “massages”  and crystal meth back in 2006. I didn’t know who Haggard was at the time but the whole scandal gave me a big old shock because the male escort was named Mike Jones and I know a Mike Jones and he’s gay and I was thinking “Holy shit! Has my friend been leading a double life? Monogamously committed non-profit worker on the east coast by day, swingin’ stud in Colorado by night? Because that would be kind of bitchin’ but I really don’t want to see the fall-out if he splits from his long-time partner. There’d be a lot of ugly-crying going on there.”

Needless to say, it was not the same Mike Jones.

Anyway, in the wake of the scandal, poor Ted had to leave the church he founded, though he denies that anything more than a hand-job occurred between himself and the escort. (Which raises the question of why even hire an escort? Why not just watch porn? Porn won’t go to the media with the story.) I think that’s flatly shitty because I was under the impression that churches like Haggard’s New Life preached a lot about forgiveness and it sucks pretty damn hard that they couldn’t forgive one of their own. I guess that whole “hate the sin, love the sinner” thing goes up in smoke when the sinner is supposed to provide the spiritual guidance but, honestly? Isn’t someone who’s lived a little likely to have better perspective on major life issues and the complicated factors that go into decisions? Or do some people think being gay cancels all that out?

This month there’s a big profile on Ted Haggard in GQ. It’s a pretty standard piece detailing his past, his rise, his fall, and his redemption in founding a new congregation and living life on a smaller scale and being so happy and grateful for the love of his family. The part of it that I found the most interesting is the story of his college years. Haggard wanted to go be a journalist and he was not a believer at the time he started college. But his father promised him a car if he’d attend Oral Roberts University. He agreed, to get the car and also to write a book about life at that school. The book never materialized because he converted while he was there and he opted to become a preacher rather than a journalist.

Let’s for a moment, consider that story. Here was a young man, a man with secular but honorable ambition, a man with a mind open to experience, a man eager to explore a world. But instead of allowing him to take the path he wanted to explore, Haggard’s father sought to send him off to a religious school. Why? Is it because he felt so strongly about his own religion? Or was he seeking to control his child? Why did he want to encourage him into a more restrictive, more religiously driven environment? What was he afraid his son would experience if he charted his own path? What did he think Ted would discover about himself? Why didn’t he trust his son to find a righteous path on his own? The article said Haggard’s father was a mid-life convert so he should have known that spirituality can awaken at all stages. Why did he want to thrust his son into the midst of it rather than allowing a more organic discovery?  Or is it because he suspected something about Ted, something that Ted might not have known about his own sexuality, and he wanted to try and subvert it?

What would have happened to Ted Haggard if he had not been bribed into going to an evangelical college? Who would he be? Would he be an open homosexual? Would he have hurt so many people if he hadn’t been battling his sexual urges in private and with shame?

In the face of stories like this one, I am baffled how anyone could think homosexuality is a choice. Why would a man like Ted Haggard choose to cheat on his wife with a male escort, knowing that it could cost him his family, his livlihood, his entire identity really? Episodes like this show that sexuality is inherent and undeniable and that trying to live without acknowledging the truth of your own desires is going to hurt somebody, somewhere along the line.

Today, Ted Haggard says he’s monogamous to his wife, though he admits that if he were younger, he might consider himself bisexual and he still thinks homosexuality is not “G-d’s best plan for us”. While I admire his willingness to see that sexuality is part of his essential make-up and his commitment now to monogamy, I do wish he could get it into his head that maybe his G-d is ok with homosexuality. After all, that same G-d made homosexuals. Just sayin’.

I hope that when my son is old enough to be learning about his adult-self and making the choices that will determine his path in life, I have the wisdom to step away and let him be true to himself. I am trying to give him all the equipment he needs to make good moral judgments along the way and teach him the practical things to make life easier but I know I need to stop short of trying to over-lay my own ideas about how he should turn out on how he going to be if he’s an honest person. I need to keep my prejudices to myself (or get over them) so that he never feels like he can’t take a certain path for fear of being something I won’t approve of. I need to let him be his own man. Making him do my bidding by offering him a car or approval or a promise of redemption, if it means he lives a lie, is not good parenting. Teaching him to be a good person and then letting him be that person is.

I think Ted Haggard is probably a good person. I hope now he’s getting to live as an honest one.

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11 comments for “Preacher Man

  1. February 7, 2011 at 8:59 am

    I consider myself to be a spiritual person. I attend church every Sunday. I try and read my bible every day.I know that no matter if heterosexual or homosexual, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and any not above mentioned(just went through a class naming them all, LOL) God loves them (for those that believe with me) undconditionally. we all sin. Who is to judge that lieing isn’t worse than homosexual(if they feel homosexuality is a sin)

    that is my point anyway. And I agree with you. I think this post will stick with me when I have children and really remember to let my children become who they are, and who they truly want to be.

  2. February 7, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Interesting…thinking about the what ifs. What if Ted had enough gumption to defy his dad and pursue his life and not his father’s? What if that dad . . . seems this topic is not about religion at all. It’s about parenting. Shame on that parent. Shame on all parents for not letting kids lead their own life and make their own way. So much for unconditional love.

  3. Jennifer
    February 7, 2011 at 10:29 am

    I usually agree with you but I have a question and a comment.

    How does religious school = restriction?

    Ted had the option to go elsewhere to school. He made the choice to spite the car.

    If we have had a good experience in life don’t we want the same for our children? I have had a very good life within the church and want nothign more for my children to know that loving and nurturing environment. So I send them to religious school. I hope it is not restricting in the least. I am not sure of the fathers history or intent with his son but to many of us choose religious school (regardless of grade) for community, history and a nurturing environment. Even within a religious school there is freedom to explore.

  4. Lynn
    February 7, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Great post, MIAM.

    Jennifer, I agree with you in general regarding religious schools, that just because they are religious doesn’t mean they are restrictive. However, Oral Roberts University is a pretty restricted place. I have a (quite religious) African-American friend who went there and experience racism to the extent that she left the school.

    I used to babysit for a fairly liberal family and as the oldest got into junior high she started giving very conservative opinions. Her mother told me that she was surprised at herself but she wasn’t sure if she could take it! I’m sure my parents felt the same way when I came out as a liberal.

  5. February 7, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    It’s hard to say what his father’s motives were. My parents are devote Christians and they did try to encourage me to look into Christian colleges when I was looking around. As far as my parents, I think they were just wanting me to look into those schools to give me a “solid religious upbringing” while also getting a good education. So, in their eyes, it wasn’t controlling. They were thinking it to be more nurturing.

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