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.