Over the past couple of days, I’ve had the opportunity to watch both the HBO special, The Trials of Ted Haggard, and the interview that Haggard and his wife Gayle did with Oprah.
Some troubling stuff there.
Considering that both Oprah and Alexandra Pelosi are firmly in the camp that typically views Bible-believing fundamentalists as irrational nuts clinging to outdated ideas about homosexuality, I was really bothered that Haggard allowed his story to be used by them in such a way so as to further their case against most Evangelicals, who typically view homosexual tendencies as a temptation to be battled rather than an innate identity to be embraced.
In both appearances, Ted Haggard comes across as a very nice man who was boxed into dishonesty about his sexual identity because he identifies himself as an Evangelical. Pelosi’s documentary made Haggard look like the pathetic victim of a belief system that just needs to ditch its outmoded ideas about homosexuality and allow the poor guy to move back home and be loved by his church again. Oprah’s interview showcased Haggard’s newfound “honesty” about his mixed-up sexual orientation.
For someone who is supposedly going through a “restoration” process that most Christians assume contains at least an element of Godly sorrow for how his sins hurt New Life Church, Haggard came across as disgustingly eager to throw his former church under the bus in order to make people feel sorry for him.
Haggard had to have known that permitting Pelosi to follow him around with a camera as he showed off his sad new life of unemployment, disgrace, and relative poverty would make his former church and his board of overseers appear terribly mean-spirited to anyone who does not think that it’s a sin to be openly and actively gay.
Also, I have a hard time believing that Haggard didn’t deliberately paint his life as even more pathetic than it actually was, just for the sake of the camera. For instance, at one point in the documentary, Haggard gestured to a U-haul truck and made the statement that it contained “all” of his family’s earthly possessions. Considering that the Haggard family has now moved back into their Colorado Springs home, which they continued to own during the time that Pelosi was filming them in Arizona, that particular statement almost HAD to have been a blatant lie, as that U-haul truck obviously was not large enough to contain all the contents of their house. Unless the Haggards had had a gigantic garage sale before heading out to Arizona, they still had a bunch of “earthly possessions” that were stored somewhere else besides inside that small U-haul truck.
Also, maybe I’m missing something, but I have a hard time understanding how the Haggard family could have really been in such dire financial straits so quickly, since it is a fact that New Life Church paid them somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000 in severance.
It was bad to watch Mr. Haggard buddy around with Oprah on her show, too. Not only did he seem just a little bit too comfortable with all the attention as he appeared to revel in the psychobabble about his “complicated” sexuality – he also never spoke up to clearly disagree with Oprah’s continued (and rather forceful) assertions that by denying his gay feelings (and not permitting himself to act out on them), he was denying who he was.
It was especially painful when Haggard’s wife Gayle attempted to state the typical biblical position that not every tendency is meant to be embraced…that there are elements of choice in terms of which behaviors we decide to pursue. You’d think that the former pastor would have been all over that one – or at least, that he would have clearly stood with his wife, who has so faithfully stood with him. But no. Watch this portion of the interview for yourself:
(Random aside: does anyone else join me in thinking that the Haggards’ body language toward each other does not bode well for their relationship? They sit on Oprah’s couch with knees angled away from each other, putting practically as much physical distance between themselves as they can.)
The whole thing begs the question, why is Haggard willingly putting himself back in the public eye, particularly in venues where he’s got to know that his story makes traditional Christians – like the pasty-faced and poufy-haired “suits” who comprised the board of overseers responsible for setting the terms of his dismissal and restoration process – look bad?
Anyone savvy enough to have once been the president of the National Association of Evangelicals has got to be savvy enough to understand that in the world’s eyes, nobody should ever “struggle” against his gay feelings in the first place.
It’s a funny thing, but when Ted Haggard was initially disgraced for his bizarre secret life, I actually felt sorry for him. Any honest Christian knows how far one’s own life all too often falls from the ideals that the Bible sets out. We all have struggles, and we will all sin, even after we become “new creatures in Christ Jesus.” Mr. Haggard’s particular sins were perhaps more dramatic than the run-of-the-mill stuff that most of us battle, but nonetheless, my heart went out to him.
Now, though, I’m starting to think that Ted Haggard has bigger issues than merely struggling with a sexual attraction to men. He seems to have an almost pathological need for attention and sympathy. Before he’s ever declared “officially restored,” I hope that he and his therapist explore what drove him to seek such attention and sympathy from those – Oprah and Pelosi, and also the world at large – who do not share his purported values.