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Feeling Haggard: Life by Which Letters?

"Ousted Evangelist Confesses," the AP headline reads. Ousted, perhaps “outed,” and already judged, by himself and others.

In his letter to his congregation, Reverend Ted Haggard wrote, "I am guilty of sexual immorality. I am a deceiver and a liar. A part of my life is so repulsive and so dark that I have been warring against it all of my adult life." Haggard’s departure from New Life Church creates an opportune moment for Christians to return to the four Gospels as their centerpoint.

Jesus said, "Forgive, not seven times, but seventy-seven" and "Judge not." He did not judge or condemn prostitutes, lepers, thieves, or homosexuals. He forgave those labeled unforgivable. And he had x-ray hearing that could detect almost any lie.

Why lie? Haggard says he resorted to deceit “because of pride.” It’s more likely he lied for the same reason the Samaritan woman at the well did: to avoid the invisible guillotine of judgement, the shame that slices through one's psyche and causes a hemorrhage of the soul. To be subjected to this kind of judgement is to suffer a death within, a cutting off from hope and future. “He surely knows the shame he brought on his family, his church, his friends,” Haggard’s assistant Stephen Larsen was quoted as saying in the 11/05 edition of the Colorado Springs’ Gazette.

Haggard has stated publicly only that he paid a man for a massage, while his church’s independent Overseer Board stated, “Our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct." What constitutes sexual immorality in this case? Massage? The sexual orientation of the masseuse? If Haggard’s relationship with Mike Jones included sexual intercourse, as Jones affirms, does the sexual immorality lie primarily in the homosexual nature of their relationship?

In the Old Testament, Leviticus writes, "The man who has intercourse with a man: they have done a hateful thing.” Pero, cuidado, amigos. Divorce is also a "religious offense," according to this writer, as is: a tattoo, rounding off your hair, and eating shellfish. For the faithful who like scallops, have married a “woman divorced,” wear page boy hairdos or sport fashionable tattoos, Leviticus's pronouncement on male intercourse bears re-thinking.

In the New Testament, Paul condemns homosexuality. Research has proven that not all the letters attributed to Paul were written by him. Whatever he did or did not write, however, Paul was never and is not now a Jesus substitute, nor should his writings, however inspiring, replace Jesus’s teaching. Just a reminder: Paul was no fan of heterosexual marriage, either.

Reverend Kelly Williams, senior pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, told the Gazette: “As evangelicals, we have not done a very good job of addressing homosexuality.”

Jesus’s teachings in the four gospels indicate that deceit and infidelity are the fundamental “sins” committed by Reverend Haggard. These are the fruit of a serious inner conflict, not the basis to judge a fellow human being, or the sexual orientation of any other human being. Sexual orientation is not a question of integrity. How one expresses that orientation is. I hope that any re-addressing of the topic of homosexuality by evangelicals will be done with this distinction in mind. Most of the addressing to date has been based on judgement and condemnation, with no solid connection to Christ’s teaching or behavior.

What do we know?

The National Association of Evangelicals’ website states, "Knowing Reverend Haggard, we found the initial reports of misconduct to be shocking and difficult to believe." Did they know him? Could they know what it took for him and from him to "war against the repulsive and dark side of his life?"

“We are thankful for the . . . mercy of Christ who is able to forgive all sorts of sin,” the NAE statement continues, without putting the words “we” and “forgive” together. The Gazette article speaks of “healing and restoration.” What will happen if “healing and restoration” result in Haggard realizing that he is not heterosexual? What would the NAE and New Life Church do? Would they look to Paul, Leviticus, or Jesus to guide their response?

WWJD, says the bumper sticker: “What would Jesus do?” What did he do? He listened, understood, forgave the repentant, and told his followers to do the same. He recognized sin, but did not judge the sinner. He told sin-spotters to take “the logs” from their eyes, not only to see their own shortcomings, but also how fear of judgement leads people into dark, difficult, and lonely places—where they hurt themselves and those they love.

WDJS: “What did Jesus say?” "Judge not" and "Forgive." What more did Leviticus say? “You will not sow two kinds of grain in your field, nor wear a garment made from two kinds of cloth.”

All the books of the Bible are meaningful, but it’s important not to confuse reading with following, learning with choosing, and thus end up “serving two masters.” It’s difficult to see how Christians one-up the originator of their faith with words that were not his. Jesus spoke of “the way,” not “the ways.” No one can forgive and condemn at the same time. It’s not humanly or spiritually possible. And it cannot possibly be considered Christian.

Text and images, copyright 2006, Ysabel de la Rosa.

Image 1: Saints on the Sixteenth Floor, Madrid. Image 2: Group dancing the Sardona after mass in Barcelona.

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