Ted Haggard is a Test

I’ve been meaning to write a post on old fashioned virtues. I realized I didn’t know what they all were, so I looked them up. I found a beautiful site about The Virtues featuring painting and quotes for each of the 12 virtues.

They are listed as: ~ Faith ~ Honesty ~ Gratitude ~ Perseverance ~ Forgiveness ~ Patience ~ Courage ~ Respect ~ Generosity ~ Discipline ~ Compassion ~ Humility~.

The incentive to write about these came in an email from Amy of Chattering Mind, a spiritual blog from over at BeliefNet. She suggested I write something about the Ted Haggard scandal, “something compassionate, spiritual, expansive”. I shot back an email saying, “something compassionate about Ted Haggard? You think me a comedian?”

She then responded with a reference to the Sinclair Lewis’ story about Elmer Gantry, the hypocritical minister who gets caught as a womanizer drunk and has to face his ministry, who in turn bow to him in open forgiveness. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but I know well of the story. (Amy ended up posting about this here)

What of the forgiveness of his flock? Is their forgiveness automatically his redemption? How can we know they don’t know any better? Blindness comes in all sizes. Then again, most people are generous in their willingness to forgive. Most people desperately wish to have faith in humanity, rather than in some invisible spirit.

How do we work with the virtue of forgiveness? How far do we go in opening our hearts to a man who has obviously cared for little more than fame and power, whose hypocrisy is magnificent in its malodorous stature?

As a gay man who has endured a lifetime of repression and societal oppression, I have trouble with the answers to those questions. Perhaps, if I had had more acceptance from society and religious culture, it might have tipped the emotional scales for me. I might have been able to bond more easily to one man, instead of searching somewhat aimlessly for love without clear guidelines. Perhaps, just perhaps, I would now be happily committed and married to a man I love if it hadn’t been for hypocrites like Haggard.

Forgiveness is a gift, earned by the repentance of the one who committed the crime and given by the compassion of the forgiver. God may automatically forgive, but men need to struggle with it. I struggle with it now.

No crime goes unpunished, whether by society or by the sinner’s guilt. Haggard needs to feel shame for his malignant proselytizing, his lies before his God, the pain and evil he has committed by his duplicitous life. Shame is a powerful tool for cleansing the soul, but it is often misused as a tool of oppression and power, to keep people down and submissive. It is not this sort of shame I speak of here, but the inner-shame which can heal by its purging catharsis. I speak of the courage to embrace humility, to acknowledge our smallness before the great unknowns of the cosmos.

So what is Haggard’s shame? How will he show us his repentance? Perhaps he should open his doors to the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of men and women whose lives have been punctured and leeched of dignity by his vitriolic, hypocritical poison.

I would go and see him. I would not allow him to kneel before me and kiss my feet, to weep for forgiveness as Elmer Gantry did in the movie. I respect his human dignity. (I also fear he might pause too long at my crotch)

I would ask him why he lied before his God, why his couldn’t see his bitter hate for homosexuals for what it really was; self-hate. I would see through his crocodile tears, which I’m sure he’s capable of. I would struggle to have patience and give him time to explore his shame, to be cleansed by humility, to appreciate the compassion and forgiveness of a fellow “sinner” such as myself. The interaction of my struggle with his is what is important here, not our differences.

My heart would soften and grow in the process. We cannot hold grudges when the healing power of forgiveness moves us. I don’t think any sane person could. If we cannot forgive him, how can we forgive ourselves?

Most importantly, I would feel gratitude for any humility and repentance he felt. Perhaps that is where we could meet eye to eye, on the open and expansive field of common gratitude for this life and its shared lessons.

So, I offer Ted the gift of my forgiveness. Yet, I wonder if he would even know how to open it.

8 thoughts on “Ted Haggard is a Test

  1. This is tough one. I have never understood Log Cabin Republicans or guys like Haggard or Foley or any of the gay staffers for Republican officials. It seems so incongruous to me to support an organization that openly hates you and works tirelessly for your oppression and marginalization.

    I have to chalk it up to self loathing, but it kills me every day to see people who know first hand what it is like to have to hide who you are just to be accepted by a group that thinks you are an abomination.

    I feel for all these folks, but it would be much easier for me to forgive them if they hadn’t have been such vocal collaborators. There is a big difference between going along to get along and flipping the switch at the gas chamber.

    I just ran into Jim McGreevey here in Atlanta and we talked about his coming out, and of course his new book. But here is a guy who took his lumps, but came out far more free and happy. I hope it is the same for these two men. Haggard still has to face his actions and still has to live in a country where “God Hates Fags”, but at least now he is free to be himself. So I guess we can wish him luck and hope that he will now be a voice for good – because couldn’t he do so much better work taking any sympathy from his flock and turning it into positive energy to help the LGBT community vs. hurt it.

    That’s my two cents. Thanks for stopping by Modern Humanist, I’ll be happy to link you on the blogroll.

  2. Navillus- You are more in line with my thinking in your comment, but I try to advance my ideals in my writing here, I strive to move beyond the conflict, both outer and inner, which keeps us all down with it.

    Thanks for stopping by, and for the link.

  3. I’ve been thinking a great about forgiveness and compassion lately. A thought, a breakthrough occurred to me recently. We have no need for either when we are the center of the universe — no need to give or recevie compassion or forgiveness, because those who don’t think as we do are just wrong.

    However, if we aren’t the center of the universe, as you stand outside the center — a giver who care about people — we don’t people to accept or recevive our compassion and forgiveness. Merely the act of being able to feel them makes a change in us that, as you say, makes us softer. We open ourselve with compassion and forgivess to the humanity of each other.

  4. As I wrote this article, it occurred to me how much we all need each other’s trust as humans. A community of one has no boundaries, but it also has no heart.

  5. David,

    As I said in my blog on this subject today, Haggard is as much a victim as he is a perpetrator. The hate of a homophobic society infected him with the self loathing that promoted his homophobic tirades. This does not excuse him or free him of responsibility for the harm he has done, but it should allow us to understand that the real demon in this is not a miserable, tortured gay man, but rather the homophobic society that tortured him.

  6. Bruce- I recognize the vicious cycle of homophobia which afflicts and infects us all. But individuals must be responsible for their actions. Extending your reasoning, one could say all homophobes are just victims of others pressuring them to be homophobic.

  7. David,

    One is always responsible for his actions. The Nuremburg trials made that very clear. I have no intention of absolving Haggard et. al. for their homophobic rants. My point is that to attack the problem, we have to put it in its proper context.

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