Like Tony, I’d rather see the Ted Haggard story go away entirely. But it won’t, at least not yet, because Haggard feels he has more story to tell.
As Haggard’s former writer, I was called upon to comment or write in the days, weeks, and months after he was exposed. I ignored most of those offers (exceptions here, here and here; the first two were written in a fog and I long to revise them). I have turned down all offers to write since. I don’t have any pressing need or desire to write about it now, but because I would like to see the story be shaped in ways that promote understanding, I’ll offer what I can.
To be sure, Haggard does have more story to tell. Come January, we’ll get one big slice of that story through Alexandra Pelosi’s documentary, and another slice through whatever Haggard and his family tell the media. As those narratives come out, followed closely by reactionary media, I’d like to offer three points to bear in mind–three complex issues that are too often over-simplified; we’d all be helped if these issues could remain sufficiently complex:
1. Haggard’s sexuality is complex. Haggard has been a litmus test for the way people think of sexual orientation: some assume he’s gay and in denial, others that his gay dalliances were just one expression of his general deviance. The truth is much more complicated: like all of us, Haggard needs to work out, to carefully discern, the nature of his sexuality. It’s not as easy–for him or for countless others–as simply straight or simply gay, and it’s not healthy that our culture believes that sexuality is that easy. (Hanna Rosin’s recent story on transgendered kids is one painful witness to the complexity of sexuality.) Unfortunately, because of Haggard’s actions, he has to work out these not-simple matters in public. It’d have been better for him to to work them out in private, but we should all acknowledge that at the very least, if the truth of his sexuality is unknown to him–and if his explorations happened in the context of a long and fruitful marriage–we can’t presume to know the truth of his sexuality, either. We should let it be as messy as it is.
Note: The “completely heterosexual” story was prompted by a gaffe of one of New Life Church’s overseers. It was a terribly unhelpful comment, and it should never have been considered the most accurate reflection of Haggard’s mind.
2. The post-fall story is complex. Haggard was said to have entered a restoration process, then recused himself of it. We should be skeptical all around here. Did Haggard really submit to a process? And did the church’s overseers develop a comprehensive plan in the first place? In what way did they encourage him to follow through? What did they expect to happen during the process?
Part of the reason I’m pressing this point is that Haggard isn’t the first pastor to get into moral trouble, and it’d help us if we understood best practices for restoration. What is the model for restoring someone like Ted Haggard? What fruits of repentance do they have to show? What would a fully restored pastor look like? Would he plant a new church? Be back at his old post? Go into a different line of work? What are church members to expect in situations like this? Also, and importantly, what is the difference between a pastor of 150 people getting in trouble, and a regional/national figure like Haggard? How should restoration be approached differently when the public is watching via the media?
This is a great moment for education on these issues, and I’d hope that Christians keep asking these questions of their own church, and of the whole Church.
3. Haggard’s current family situation is complex. Most people won’t care about this, but when you write about or talk about Haggard, it’d be human of you to bear in mind that he’s a guy with a wife and 5 children, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter. The kids go to work and school and face friends and peers. Maybe that fact makes you angrier at Haggard, maybe it breaks your heart, maybe it makes you more sympathetic or able to see him as a human being. Whatever, as long as it removes Haggard from the realm of the abstract.