Sunday, December 21, 2008

An Open Letter to Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard, the disgraced evangelist who was accused of sex and drugging with openly gay-for-pay call boy, Mark Jones, has resurfaced today in the news as the subject of a forthcoming HBO documentary by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's daughter, Alexandra.

I have not yet seen the film, but advance information suggests that while Mr. Haggard continues to live with his wife and children in an attempt to save his family, he says that he has "never claimed to be heterosexual" and has had a "lifelong battle" with his sexuality.

It is with this in mind that I began thinking about how I might reach out to this man if I ever had the chance and I decided to write this blog.

Dear Ted:

With all this press about the new film about you, and the revived attention to your past indiscretions, I imagine that this is quite the holiday for you personally. I understand that after you fell from the grace of your church, your professional life has taken quite the hit as well. Selling insurance is in many ways I guess what you've been doing all along.

We open gays are struggling ourselves at the moment too by the way. As you know, it is difficult to have someone hate you because of something about you that you can't change. But what made it particularly difficult for me growing up was that not only was my family telling me that being gay was bad, the church that I spent so much of my childhood in also followed the traditional script that gay is a choice and therefore condemnation was acceptable. To me, that meant that I was so evil that even God did not love me.

I have to admit that I am not familiar with your teachings about gays before you were "outed". I would bet that you were exposed to the same kinds of homophobia I experienced and were therefore a product of the same indoctrination. My church taught me to hate myself before I even knew who I was. I understand, Ted, what it's like to fear rejection by the people you love and to live every day of your life remembering to hide who you are and to pretend that you're something your not, just to bask in the illusion that things are ok.

In my own adolescent mind, the choice was drawn for me- reject myself or reject my God. As is the case with many fundamentalist religions, there was no "in between", no gray areas about this. You were either straight and good or gay and bad. You pick.

Living a lie was my first choice. Like you, I tried to have it all. I tried to hide who I was from everyone including my parents, my church, my friends and myself. I prayed to God for something different. I begged God to fix me or kill me. And, as you well know, God did neither. Eventually, I could not hide it anymore and I chose to reject my religion and my concept of God. I remember the moment that I said "ok God, since you're not taking this (gayness) away and you're not taking my life, I'm going to go the other way and accept myself as who I am." I remember swallowing hard and wondering if I'd just sealed my fate into hell if the God of the fundamentalists really existed.

But then something started to happen. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I began to feel less anxiety and less fear. I began to meet other people just like me. In my college classes, I began to understand that the world does exist in shades of gray and that no one has a lock on the "truth". My black and white world began to fall apart and I began to think differently. What I once thought was off limits to me, namely a full and fulfilling spiritual life, started to emerge.

Since then Ted, I have to tell you that things have only gotten better. The tortured life I lived (both inside and outside) began to improve. I found people who weren't so concerned about judging me. And I realized that all though myths about homosexuals weren't really true at all.

One might say now, Rev. Haggard, that I have had nothing short of a blessed life since I acknowledged my own inner truth. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that I am a "Christian" in any organized way, I would say that the story of the person who was Jesus Christ inspires me today. As does the Buddha and the Kabbalah and Sufi mysticism.

Today, because I've learned to love myself as I am, I am more inclined to love others. Because I love the man I chose to settle down with, I feel a deep contentment that I never imagined was possible.

Not to say that I don't continue to struggle because I do. Nowadays, I struggle with people who continue to perpetuate the negative myths and the stereotypes about gay people that have long been shown to be false. I struggle with the Rick Warrens of the day and the people who support Prop 8 in California. I get really angry at religious leaders who refuse to seek the truth about this issue and subliminally encourage the lunatic fringe out there to act on homophobic impulses by committing hate crimes. Ignoring the truth intentionally is one of life's true evils I think.

Ted, I am curious about your inner life right now. Perhaps you have made your peace in your own way. Maybe you have been honest with yourself about who you are. Maybe you have found a way to be gay, Christian, a father and married to a woman that works for you. Maybe not.

But my first reaction to the stories about you (,2933,470038,00.html) were to identify with the awful conflicts that you've had to face. It is a place that I am familiar with.

If no one's said this, I am sorry that you had to go through this. If you are in the beginning process of acknowledging that you are gay, I applaud you and your courage. I encourage you to live your truth and I see an enormous opportunity for you to share your story in ways that will bring healing to other lesbians and gays out there who face the same struggles you've faced. And anything that you might have said disparaging gay people in your ministry is forgiven.

I would not be surprised if you are tired and feeling alone in many ways right now. Many of us have faced similar battles, if not quite so public.

Welcome to the LGBT community. If you need to talk, let me know.

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