By Carolyn Baker
During the past week, the secular and Christian worlds have been rocked by the unfolding of a made-for-Hollywood drama in fundamentalist Christian circles as a male prostitute from Denver exposed his three-year sexual relationship with Colorado Springs rabidly anti-gay pastor, Ted Haggard. While the gay and lesbian community and those who despise fundamentalism giggled and gloated, I experienced another emotion, even as I joined them in rejoicing over one of the most glaring revelations of jaw-dropping hypocrisy in the history of Christianity. While my atheist friends are yawning and moving on to what they consider more urgent matters, some of us in the gay and lesbian community who embrace a spiritual path, and may have once walked in Ted Haggard's shoes, are wincing at a particular nerve in our souls that has been struck during his demise.
Like me, Ted Haggard was born in Indiana in the town of Delphi on the Wabash River. His father was a veterinarian, a pig farmer, and later, a small businessman. While Ted was raised in a religious home, it was not until 1972 at the age of 16 that he had his born-again experience.
It is important for those not familiar with fundamentalist Christianity to understand what it means to be "born again" or to "accept Jesus Christ as one's personal savior." It is usually a peak emotional experience in which one admits that one was "born in sin" and opens one's heart to Christ who purportedly forgives one's sinful condition. Another way of saying this is that one admits that no matter what positive qualities one possesses, one is at his/her core, evil and sinful-even after being born again. One does not need to be a trained psychologist to recognize that this is a profound confession of one's inherent worthlessness which sets one on a path of self-esteem obliteration. Because of one's inherent worthlessness, one's only hope is total and complete surrender to Jesus Christ-but not the historical Jesus who supposedly lived and died in the first century BCE, but Jesus as interpreted by other born-again Christians.
While there are many varieties of fundamentalist Christianity, one in particular has skyrocketed in popularity in the past two decades, namely, the charismatic movement. That segment of fundamentalism teaches that one must not only be born-again, but must be filled with the Holy Spirit, as taught by St. Paul in the New Testament. Charismatic is an umbrella term used to describe those Christians who believe that the manifestations of the Holy Spirit seen in the first century Christian Church, such as healing, miracles, prophecy and glossolalia (speaking in other tongues or languages), are available to contemporary Christians and ought to be experienced and practiced today. Ted Haggard was a charismatic minister who preached the necessity of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
People often ask why "fundamentalism" is so named-what exactly is fundamental about fundamentalism? My answer is that, after all is said and done, there is only one fundamental: the literal interpretation of the bible. For many centuries since the beginning of the Christian church, there have been a plethora of interpretations of the bible, but during the nineteenth century, a number of Christian ministers and scholars who were also extremely politically conservative, such as Dwight L. Moody and Johh Nelson Darby, began teaching a rigidly-literal interpretation of the bible which, in their theology, spelled out specific "fundamentals" of Christianity.
The literal interpretation of the bible is not only extraordinarily problematic in terms of logic and collaboration with natural science, i.e., that "God created the earth" in six literal days, but if totally embraced, serves to encase and concretize the human mind in an intellectual penitentiary.
One of the fundamentals of human sexuality inherent in a literal interpretation of the bible is that heterosexuality is the only form of sexual expression acceptable to God, making homosexuality anathema. In other words, one cannot be gay or lesbian and interpret the bible literally. In more recent years, scholars such as historian John Boswell and the Reverend Troy Perry, founder of the gay and lesbian Metropolitan Community Church, have put the so-called anti-homosexual passages of the bible under the microscope of history and exegesis or critical interpretation, and revealed the absurdity of interpreting them literally.
While the work of such scholars as Boswell and Perry is monumental in liberating the minds and hearts of individuals struggling with gay or lesbian sexual orientation in a predominantly Christian, heterosexual society, any of those individuals who have been held mentally capitive by fundamentalist Christianity must be open to the alternative that such scholarship offers, namely, the internal, emotional freedom to follow and express one's natural orientation. Clearly, Ted Haggard is not.
The literal interpretation of the bible, regardless of one's sexual orientation, declares war on one's humanity. According to that (fundamentalist) interpretation, being abjectly sinful and worthless, human beings are on earth for only two purposes: to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior and to proselytize and "win" as many other human beings to Jesus Christ as possible as Christians wait for the literal return of Jesus who will rescue them from the bondage of human existence and take them with him back to heaven. In fundamentalism, one's focus must always be on heaven, not on one's earthly existence. Being thoroughly emodied-honoring one's humanity and the pleasures of physical existence is considered sinful. Therefore, in the domain of sexuality, what matters above all else is that one be only heterosexual, and if that is not particularly fulfilling or if one finds oneself attracted to someone of the same gender, one must supress the attraction and express one's sexuality only with someone of the other gender. In fact, even the attraction to someone of the same gender is considered sinful.
It should now obvious that if a man or woman is attracted to his/her own gender, he/she cannot feel free to act on that attraction or honor his/her sexual orientation if the mind is held captive by a particular kind of spirituality that proscribes such activity. Thus, on one level, spirituality and sexuality are inextricably connected. If one holds no particular spiritual orientation or a spiritual orientation that honors the body and one's sexual attractions, then one is free to hold whatever sexual orientation one chooses.
Of course, the best thing that could happen to Ted Haggard, in my opinion, would be for him to be exiled to the streets of the Castro district in San Francisco for about a year and be required to engage not only in gay sex on a daily basis but ongoing dialog with mental health professionals and spiritual advisors who honor his sexual orientation. However, a man who has lived a lie for 34 years in fundamentalist Christianity, most of those years as a Christian superstar, pastoring a 14,000 member church and serving as a spiritual advisor to a U.S. president, having himself created his own empire in the charismatic Christian world, is not likely to abandon the literal interpretation of the bible and go off searching for a more liberating spirituality that gives him permission to live the rest of his life as a gay man, comfortable and fulfilled in his own skin.
Even if Ted Haggard were not a Christian celebrity, even if he were just a regular guy practicing fundamentalist Christianity, he would no doubt be terrified at the thought of abandoning fundamentalism. He would be tormented by questions such as: "What if the bible is right? What if there really is a hell? Will I go there if I reject fundamentalism? Will I betray the Jesus I really love? What if I lose my friends and loved ones?" These are no small questions, and they all have one common denominator which is the quintessential element of fundamentalism: fear.
Ted Haggard has now turned himself over to a program of "restoration" and placed himself in the hands of three very creepy fundamentalist superstars: James Dobson, Jack Hayford, and Tommy Barnett. Dobson is a clinical psychologist, but as rabidly anti-gay as Haggard purported to be, and all three fundamentalist ministers preach virulently against homosexuality. Haggard says that "those men will peform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical life. They will guide me through the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family." Oh God, I shudder to contemplate what that will look like!
There is strong evidence that Haggard has already been through one one of the programs which the theological trio is likely to utilize, the so-called ex-gay movement which incorporates intense psychological counseling and bible study in a an extremely concentrated regimen over a period of months or years to "cure" homosexuality. One can gain a feel for the vehemence and abusiveness of the program by watching at video clip at the Ex-Gay Watch blog. Many individuals who have survived the program and have eventually embraced their sexual orientation report that the ex-gay approach was for them a living hell.
If Haggard has already "graduated" from the ex-gay treatment program, then his despair must be incomprehensible. He must either reject the fundamentalist paradigm and come out as a gay man, or he will merely complete the Dobson/Hayford/Barnett exercise in futility, proclaim himself "restored" as his accuser, Mike Jones, predicted and return to the charismatic clergy to write more books, make more videos, and preach more sermons castigating gay people, and hence, himself. One thing is certain, Haggard will never free himself of his attraction to men; it just isn't humanly possible, and his only alternatives are to embrace it or live a lie for the rest of his life that can only lead to internal anguish, harm the people closest to him, create physical symptoms, or, God forbid, force him to take his own life.
But the Haggard drama is only one in a long line of scandals that have jolted the fundamentalist world in recent years. What is it about that paradigm that produces so much duplicity? Shakespeare would say, "Methinks thou doth protest too much", and Jung would say, "We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses." Should we not be suspect of those who rail so vociferously against certain evils? All this time Ted and Gayle Haggard have denounced gay marriage only to wake up and discover that they are in one.
My principal intent in writing this article is not to convey a message of "poor Ted" but rather validate those individuals, of which there are millions, whose lives have been tormented by the soul-murder of fundamentalist Christianity. Some have committed suicide; others are in mental hospitals, addicted to drugs or alcohol, and many are living the same kind of lie that Ted Haggard has been living, according to him, all his adult life.
Like Ted Haggard, I harmed myself and my loved ones for years before I could extricate my mind from fundamentalist Christian programming and come out to myself and the world. Anyone who has been enslaved by a literalist interpretation of the bible can testify to the devastation that it ravages on the mind and soul and can only be horrified at the dominionist vision of the world that the religious right and its minions hold in which homosexuality would be eradicated, even if by imprisonment, and according to some fundamentalists, by execution. In that fantasyland, Christianity would be the predominant religion, women would be subjugated to the will of men, and educational institutions would teach only the Christian world view and its psuedo-science.
In other words, dominionism's vision (our nightmare) is a fascist society of heterosexual robots and submissive women whose souls and sensuality have been murdered by patriarchal piety. Yet fundamentalist Christianity is only one symptom of a soul-murdering society plummeting toward totalitarianism and away from the democratic republic its founders envisioned. I see no political solutions for the demise of that republic, but I believe that individuals and communities can most effectively weather the gathering storms by supporting themselves and each other with a life-affirming, nuturing spirituality that embraces our wholeness and the sanctity of our love for each other, whatever that orientation may be.
CAROLYN BAKER, Ph.D. is an adjunct professor of college history and the author of a just-published book, U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook Didn't Tell You as well as THE JOURNEY OF FORGIVENESS, published in 2000. She maintains her website www.carolynbaker.org where her books may be ordered and she may be contacted.