Ted Haggard is back in the news.
Disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard’s former church disclosed Friday that the gay sex scandal that caused his downfall extends to a young male church volunteer who reported having a sexual relationship with Haggard — a revelation that comes as Haggard tries to repair his public image.
Brady Boyd, who succeeded Haggard as senior pastor of the 10,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, told The Associated Press that the man came forward to church officials in late 2006 shortly after a Denver male prostitute claimed to have had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with Haggard.
Boyd said an “overwhelming pool of evidence” pointed to an “inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship” that “went on for a long period of time … it wasn’t a one-time act.” Boyd said the man was in his early 20s at the time. He said he was certain the man was of legal age when it began.
Reached Friday night, Haggard declined to comment and said all interviews would have to be arranged through a publicist for HBO, which is airing a documentary about him this month.
Boyd said the church reached a legal settlement to pay the man for counseling and college tuition, with one condition being that none of the parties involved discuss the matter publicly.
It was only a matter of time, I suppose, before these stories hit the news. I’m not surprised, and I don’t think anyone who knows what it is like to be in the closet is surprised either.
For those who either don’t get it or are still shallow enough to laugh and point — perhaps too loudly — the closet and all the baggage that comes with it is a lonely and claustrophobic place to live your life. What’s worse, the more you try to stay in there, bolting the door shut against the real world and perhaps holding your family, your wife, or your children hostage with you, the worse it is when you finally come out. Meanwhile you torture yourself with denial and the instruments you use to enable the denial like booze or pills until the pressure becomes too much. It’s like trying to compress water — you can’t do it — or it comes out in catastrophic ways.
I don’t know Ted Haggard personally, but I know a lot of people like him, and for a while I was in there with him. Fortunately I had a family that didn’t judge me — even though I was irrationally sure they would — and I felt strongly enough in my spiritual beliefs that I was able to let go of the community I grew up with and embrace another one that I knew would welcome me. I was fortunate. For whatever reason, real or imagined, Ted Haggard was not. And now he is paying for it. He already has lost something he valued — his spiritual community — and he has endured the hatred, scorn, and mockery that came with his public outing. And while I may have been angry with him for his hypocrisy and his inability to accept the fact that being gay is hard-wired at the factory, so to speak, I always knew what he was dealing with.
So let me say this to him, speaking as one gay man who’s been out of the closet since he was 22 and who spent the ten years before that very aware I was in it: it’s okay, Ted, to come out now. I don’t approve or condone your denials or the harm you’ve caused your family, your children, your church, or those who believed you when you said it was a one-time thing; but then, we’ve all done that. The thing you need to do is to make amends. Don’t apologize for being gay, apologize for your actions. Don’t deny what you are, but acknowledge who you are to those who mean the most to you. What you did in the past must be made right with no excuses, and you must shun the false hope of the religious alchemists who say that you can be made straight. There is nothing wrong with being gay, and besides, you can’t turn lead into gold if you’re gold already.
Ted Haggard has a lot of growing up to do. Being in the closet keeps you in the dark about what it’s like to live in the world as a whole person, and once you get out, the light can be disorienting. That’s okay, too. He’s going to stumble and perhaps try to get back in. But pretty soon, he will discover that once you get used to it, you stop thinking of yourself in the terms of gay, straight, or whatever. You are just you.
And that’s okay, too.