A very sad case in point

Poor Ted Haggard. I know I use that phrase ironically much of the time, but this time I mean it sincerely. It's bad enough to base one's value system on a narrow, suffocating, self-loathing ideology. But the man's entire career has consisted of promulgating that ideology, and his only (essentially nil) chance of regaining it is to appease those who espouse it themselves.

He's the subject of a new documentary, airing on HBO.

If you're at all familiar with Ted Haggard's story, you've probably already judged the man badly. In 2006, the founder and former pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., admitted to buying crystal meth and having sex with prostitute Mike Jones. As the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals and a strong supporter of former president George W. Bush, Haggard was against gay marriage and spoke out against homosexuality.

Branded as a hypocrite and exiled by his church, Haggard was forced to move away from his home in Colorado for a year and a half. During that time, documentary filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi followed Haggard with a camera and asked him questions about his life in the wake of the scandal. The results form HBO's upcoming documentary "The Trials of Ted Haggard" (premieres 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29).


Pelosi: Pastor Ted, last time I saw you, you were the king of a huge megachurch. Where did all your friends go?

Haggard: They left. I violated the rules. I shouldn't have done that. So we're calling this stage in our life our exile. We've been exiled permanently from the state of Colorado. [The church was] instructed to take me and my wife and our children outside of the state of Colorado permanently to put down roots someplace else.

Pelosi: And how does it feel to be an exile?

Haggard: We're miserable.

Let me make myself plain. Being gay is not a choice. People who suggest that it is a choice are either not gay, or gay and miserable. Neither is it a disease, a form of demonic possession, or any other manner of disorder, perversion or crime against nature. I don't need to link to any studies to validate this, because I know my own life well enough to comment upon it with authority.

Now, I was raised in a very, very conservative church. Probably not unlike Haggard's, come to think of it. I know the people who attend these churches, and I can honestly say that they are generally lovely in a lot of wonderful ways. They are sincere, and earnest, and genuinely concerned for the welfare of humanity's collective soul. They are generous and charitable and hard-working and dedicated in a way that much of secular America could learn from. And churches like those are pure, unadulterated hell for gay people.

I was taught, in a Sunday school class that is still clear as crystal in my memory, that gay people were out to deliberately spread AIDS. I heard at a youth rally in high school that gay people belonged on a desert island. And there has been no greater relief, no more rapturous understanding or more wonderful homecoming than finding that many, many Christians (to say nothing of the rest of society) think God is perfectly happy loving gay and lesbian people just exactly the way they are.

For all of Haggard's role in spreading the same claptrap that now smothers and hounds him, I forgive him. Gay people should forgive him, because so many of us have had the same poisonous vitriol poured into our ears that we know how hard it is to shake. We were told that God hates gay people, and some believed it, to the detriment of they ability to understand and feel joy. Pity this man, and his family. And hope that he, and his family, can come to a peaceful understanding of who he truly is, and can create a new life as it's truly meant to be.

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