By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Ted Haggard, the onetime National Association of Evangelicals president and Colorado Springs-based megachurch pastor felled by a gay sex and drugs scandal in 2006, is the subject of a new HBO documentary by Alexandra Pelosi. Debuting this Thursday, The Trials of Ted Haggard shows the former Christian Right heavyweight moving his family into a new hotel or borrowed house ever few months and searching vainly for work after the church he founded, New Life, exiles him from Colorado Springs and bars him from ministry as part of a severance contract. The film marks Haggard's return to the public stage; he'll appear on Larry King and Oprah this week.
I've already posted the part of my interview with Haggard, in which he claims to have gotten a supportive message from filmmaker Pelosi's mom—Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, a claim the Speaker denied. But the most interesting parts of our discussion dealt with Haggard's evolving views of theology, the church, and homosexuality in the years since the scandal. Here's the first half. I'll post part two, which includes questions from God & Country readers, shortly.
You disappeared for a couple years after the scandal broke. You relished the spotlight before the scandal ... does it feel good to be back in it?
The portion that feels good is the ability to answer questions and clear up misunderstandings and misconceptions. The subject of course is incredibly embarrassing and so I'm certainly not proud of what I'm having to talk about. However, it is good to help people fill in the blanks in their minds.
What do you feel are the major misunderstandings?
Various groups have contrasting misunderstandings. The homosexual community needed to hear from me about what was going on inside of me. Groups like the National Association of Evangelicals needed to hear a personal apology from me. The people of New Life Church needed to hear of the disappointment I had in myself and that I apologize to them and that I continue to love them deeply....
Why did the homosexual community need to hear from you?
It was originally presented, right after the scandal, that I was a hateful, anti-gay preacher. Number one, I was not. Number two, for the things that I do believe, like the Bible is the word of God, I wanted to apologize to the gay community for the hurt that I did cause them. Because I think I'm much more compassionate and understanding and contrite than I was then because in the process of the scandal the volume of hate mail I've received [was] incredible, from the right and the left. And so now I understand more what a homosexual feels like being subject to religious ridicule and it makes me very compassionate and I don't think I had that degree of compassion before.
Have your views on homosexuality changed, in terms of the science or the theology?
It has.... When I started in counseling, I thought I was a spiritual disaster and a complete idiot for what I'd done. And the counselor started out by saying "You're spiritually OK." He asked, "Have you repented?" Yes. "Have you memorized scripture?" Yes. "Have you been through inner healing?" Yes. He said, "According to the Bible, you are in fine relationship with the Lord Jesus." And I said I think I am. I love Him. I've never rebelled against him willingly. This has been a wrestling in my life, never an acceptance thing.
And then he said, "You are rationale—have you read books on the subject?" Yes. And he said "Ted, if you could pray about this and be OK, you would have done it. If you could think about this and rationalize your own life, you would have done it. This is not spiritual nor reasonable. It is physiological." And he started to teach me how the brain works. And in that process, over two years, I've grown in eliminating the incongruities in my life. I've learned physiologically how the brain works and how that related to sexuality.
Now theologically, I still believe that the Bible has an ideal for all of us and that ideal for sexuality is that it should be expressed in heterosexual, monogamous marriages. However, I know that mankind is diverse and that is why the Lord provides forgiveness for all of us and love for all of us. Just as the Bible says, I hate divorce but we all understand loads of Christians have been through divorce, so we know God has other things that he has an ideal in our lives that we as human beings just aren't going to achieve.
Does that mean that one can be a good Christian homosexual just like one could be a good Christian divorcee?
It means that every human being is in equally desperate need for redemption and that humanity is so far off track that we shouldn't hate each other and that there is certainly no basis for any born again Christian to judge another born again Christian. We as people of faith are the fellowship of sinners that have been graciously redeemed. We are not the fellowship of the self-righteous.
So should a church accept a homosexual without trying to change his or her sexual orientation, just like it would accept a divorced woman without trying to reunite her former husband?
Churches need to accept everyone. And everyone needs to equally submit to the changes that the Holy Spirit's working into their lives. But even the unrepentant sinner in first Corinthians that Paul had put out of the church in second Corinthians he said, "Now take him back—don't leave him out too long or his sorrow will be too deep." And churches of all places need to be places of love. Jesus said that you can identify his disciplines by their love for one another, not by how they beat each other up and throw each other out... I was making a mistake pre-scandal by being too judgmental and by forming "evangelical opinions" without each of those opinions being informed by the Gospel and being saturated in love.