Monday, November 06, 2006

who is my neighbor? ted haggard.

although the haggard story broke late last week, i've avoided writing about it for a few reasons. one, it's way too easy to go for the easy ironic joke; two, i wasn't quite sure if i even believed the story (and, believe me, i'm not exactly a haggard fan); three, the whole situation sort of seemed cheap.

the downfall of a preacher is a sad thing. i've seen my own father go through two church splits (we were Baptists, after all) and it was difficult to watch a ministry dissolve right before my eyes, along with the trust that once existed between a man and his congregation. i don't think any kind of ministry really recovers from something like that. because of the intense and intimate nature of a pastor's call, the sudden divestment seems like betrayal and a waste of all those previous years. in my father's case, the ground shifted due to an overly ambitious assistant pastor (such a cliche, isn't it?) with a secret of his own to hide and my father stepped down rather than be embroiled in an long, undignified fight with a once close friend who seemed to think he deserved something he didn't earn. though my father looked ahead with something like optimism, the whole ordeal was hard on him, the family and the folks who left with us. for me and my sister, we saw an ugly picture of church politics and greed. we saw the ugly underbelly of our church laid wide open and we turned away from it as fast as we could.

for haggard, it wasn't his own congregation that betrayed him but what he called his own 'dark nature.' perhaps. i wonder which is the greater sin - haggard's still shadowy liaison with jones or his lying about what led to that liaison for all this time? or is it all of a piece? i was going to ask if it's possible to run from our 'natures' but that's what christianity teaches, doesn't it? we put off the old nature and, behold, we are all made new creatures. i guess there's happy, shiny NEW and then there's the rest of us - let's welcome Haggard among us - who are Newish. we're relatively shiny but with a few spots of tarnishing here and there.

what should a progressive christian do in this case? when a combatant in the culture wars has fallen, a great big arrow sticking out of his back, what should the progressive church person do? most of the commentary around has focused on the 'hypocrisy' of ted haggard. it's more than hypocrisy; if he's actually gay, lobbying for legislation that will outlaw the lives of other americans simply because of who they love, then that's internalized homophobia, that's self-loathing. and that's so much sadder than hypocrisy.

there are clever posts to be written about the limitations of christian celebrity, the futility of living with secrets, the double edged sword of judgment, the end of privacy, the muted pleas for forgiveness from the evangelicals when it's one of their own who fall but its absence when it's anyone else, but i won't write those. (though i could!) instead i just think about how sad it is. sad that a guy was brought low simply because the idea of being christian and gay was inconceivable.

to read:
The Revealer: Haggard's Downfall as well as the nerve article he mentions (the roll up of christian men's self-help books has a pretty good analysis of the imagery and language defining christian masculinity. personally, braveheart does nothing for me.)

haggard's restoration team lost dobson. guess all that tarnished christianity was just too much.


Molly Malone said...

you're beautiful, churchgal. i can't help but agree with your take on this, 100%.

and i'm sorry your family had to endure the most hideous part of church politics, twice even. luckily, my father has never suffered anything beyond whiners. but having witnessed first hand that kind of rift in a church we used to attend and as a member feeling bereft, i can only imagine it's 10X worse for the family of the pastor.


ding said...

thanks, molly.

i often think that if folks saw behind the curtain of ministry, they'd be shocked and they wouldn't be able to handle it. because the great big secret is, despite what goes on at the pulpit or in front of a congregation, a church is no different than anywhere else. there are back room deals, internal schisms, jealousies, secrets, machinations, agendas. it's an organization, after all.

whether that's good or bad is debatable. the Church as an ideal should have lofty goals (work of God, and all that) but it's still peopled with...people.

people come with a lot of baggage and not all of that baggage is nice or churchy.

Anonymous said...

My prayer is that the church will be what it is suppose to be especially when sin enters the picture. I hope that Mr. Haggard will get the help he needs. May his congregation show their love and understanding. We who call on the name of Jesus as our Lord, must see this as a reminder that we need to depend and trust God for everything.

As far as what happen at your childhood church, sometimes we pay the price for the things we do to others. There are two sides to every story. I have witness how people take sides with leaders because they are church leaders instead of looking at the bigger picture. Sin is sin and leaders sin, too. Innocent people sometimes suffer at the hands of the wicked(leaders), but God said, vengeance is mine, and he will repay.

Rick and Gary said...

I'm just surprised at how no one seems to care about his use of crystal meth. I guess the moral is that if you want people to ignore your drug addiction, have gay sex.

ding said...

rick & gary,

thanks for stopping by!

from what i remember from my shadowy years as an evangelical baptist, sex definitely trumps drugs in the Sin Hierarchy. we'd open our arms to a tweaked out crank head but, hey, a fornicator (no matter with which gender)?

no way, dude. that's just too much to ask.

all seriousness aside, though, you bring up a perfectly good point. in all the media covereage (both in the secular and christian press) it's the gay sex that gets more attention and not the drug use. (do we really believe that he bought drugs and didn't take it? in for a pinch, in for a pound.)

i think that this kind of lopsided focus tells us more about our own hypocrisies than haggard's.

ding said...

i meant to say 'in all seriousness.'

WTH?? not enough coffee, i guess.