The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

No Sympathy for New Life

I’m probably not going to come across very compassionate here, but at least I’m being honest. I saw yesterday that David Kuo posted a link to a news article about layoff at Ted Haggard’s former mega-curch. I can only imagine they’re dealing with quite a shortfall in the aftermath of Haggard’s fall. But it was Kuo’s brief comment that got a reaction out of me.

Lost in all the “big” news about Haggard is the big and very hurt church that still lives in Colorado Springs everyday. They need our prayers.

Not to be cold-hearted, but my first reaction is “So what?” Whatever hurt the folks as New Life are suffering is one they inflicted on themselves as far as I’m concerned. And while I feel for the people who’ve lost jobs and security in the post-scandal scenario, there are a lot of other people suffering from hurt dealt them by churches very much like New Life, and people very much like the one’s still sitting in New Life’s pews. I’ll save most of my sympathy for them.

I’ll admit, the news out of Colorado Springs doesn’t sound good for New Life.

In the wake of a scandal involving its founding pastor, the Rev. Ted Haggard, the New Life Church in Colorado Springs has been forced to lay off 44 of its 350 workers to offset a sharp drop in donations.

Mr. Haggard resigned as president of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals in November and was removed as senior pastor of the New Life megachurch after a former male prostitute said that he had had a three-year sexual relationship with Mr. Haggard and had helped him obtain methamphetamines.

After initially denying the accusations, Mr. Haggard confessed to buying drugs from the former prostitute, Michael Jones, and admitted to what he termed “sexual immorality.” Mr. Haggard has since gone through counseling, and was declared “completely heterosexual” by a member of a panel of ministers appointed to oversee New Life.

Since the announcement of Mr. Haggard’s removal on Nov. 5, New Life’s donations have fallen to $4.9 million in the past four months, compared with $5.3 million in the same period a year earlier, said Rob Brendle, the associate pastor. The drop was previously reported in The Denver Post.

So, they’ve lost about $400,000 in donations, which amounts to about a 7.5% decline from last year, resulting in a layoff of about 12% of their staff. The numbers, in those terms, don’t sound like much. But there’s no loss that doesn’t come with some degree of pain.

“It’s unfortunate and sad, and it hurts,” said Tim Chambers, 43, who has attended New Life for 10 years. “There are a lot of emotions that come with this, because a lot of these employees have been around a good while.

“But these individuals are getting a lot of love and support. And I think this is going to help us move forward when our new pastor comes in.”

But wait. I’m reminded of something I wrote when the Haggard scandal broke, which reminds me that to some degree New Life brought this on itself.

Here’s the thing. When you prefer or even require your homosexuals to be closeted and/or psychologically and spiritually tormented, you do not get to bitch when something like this happens, because you made it inevitable.

See, when you start moaning about why this was exposed now, as opposed to questioning why there was anything to expose in the first place, you’re digging down levels deeper than your usual baseline neurosis, which is the equivalent of if ignoring the fact that the elephant you’ve been pretending isn’t in the room has just crapped in the middle of it. And he’s crapped just what you’ve been shoveling all along. What doesn’t occur to you is that if Foley and Haggard had been able to be healthy, happy, honest homosexuals in your world (an impossibility because first you have to be willing to consider that one can be gay all those things as well) then Foley would still be in Congress and Mark Jones would still be an unknown former male prostitute from Colorado instead of the newest media whore from Colorado.

But back to what I said. You made this inevitable? How? Well, I’m reminded of a saying I heard in recovery circles years ago: We’re as sick as our secrets. I’d extend that by just adding that our secrets make us sick. Require someone to keep a secret, or construct some pretty serious disincentives to honesty, and … well … you make people sick.

And sometimes it spreads further than you intended. I remember that when he was exposed, Haggard was one of the major backers of Colorado’s anti-gay marriage amendment, with his church behind him. An amendment which, now that it’s passed, may have long term negative consequences for gay and lesbian families in the state. For example, the employees laid off from New Life are eligible to be carried on a spouse’s health insurance, if they’re married. Same-sex couples in Colorado are not.

Haggard’s church has also supported his rapid “de-gaying” program, designed to rid him of a lifelong “struggle” with his sexuality. Indeed, undergoing such a program was a prerequisite for Haggard to remain part of their evangelical community in any form. In other words, more of the same; requiring anyone who’s same-sex oriented remain closeted, or extend their spiritual and psychological torment in a lifelong losing battle with who they are. For Haggard, that basically means going back to his old life, and just trying to stay away from the meth and the mimbos.

There’s a certain tone-deafness in all of this that suggests the folks at New Life still don’t get it. Back in January, Kuo posted that Mike Jones — the male escort who exposed Haggard — paid a visit to New Life, and claimed it “never hit the headlines.” Well, except for USA Today and the Denver Post two days before Kuo posted it. But the response he got was confusing, at best.

“A couple of ladies cried when they were touching me,” Jones said. “I was thanked for exposing the church, for helping Ted Haggard. A couple of them said they hoped I get God into my life. And they all said ‘God bless you,’ every one of them.”

… When associate pastor Rob Brendle encountered Jones in the foyer, he commented, “The last time I saw you was on the other side of a split screen” during TV interviews.

Brendle characterized Jones’ presence as a reminder of both grief and God’s faithfulness.

“I told Mike, ‘I don’t want to impose my religious beliefs on you, but I believe God used you to correct us, and I appreciate that,”‘ Brendle said. “The church’s response to him was overwhelmingly warm. One of the wonderful and enduring truths of Christianity is to love people the world sets up to be your enemies.”

“Get God into his life”? Because, of course, you can’t have God in your life — let alone have any hope of being a good or moral person — and be gay.

Correct them? How? What exactly has changed at New Life besides the budget and the payroll? The church continued to clean house after Haggard’s exposure, dismissing another staff member for “sexual misconduct” not involving Haggard or a minor. And the dismissal was followed by this statement.

Brendle said Beard’s resignation was voluntary and is another step toward making sure the “disordered moral life” demonstrated in Haggard’s fall is “excised from the church.”

“We recognize there will be increased scrutiny of our church in the wake of the scandal,” Brendle said. “We welcome that process in order to reinforce the high standard of personal integrity and morality that has characterized New Life’s employees for 22 years.”

But the “disordered moral life” Haggard led was not the result of his homosexuality, but rather the hypocrisy and deception required of him in order to remain a part of the evangelical community he’s been a part of all his life. I know from experience what it does to you when you realized cannot be who you are and keep your home or your place in your community. The price of maintaining the only life you’ve known is suppressing an integral part who you are, or even pretending to be something else.

What I don’t here, and haven’t heard,is anyone at New Life asking the kind questions Tony Campolo asked, on the occasion of Mike Jones’ visit.

We have to wonder: What drove him into prostitution? From whence did he get that low self-concept which, according to sociologists who study prostitutes, always characterizes these precious children of God?

Do we, the Church, bear any responsibility for how Mike Jones might feel about himself? Might he have heard some of those sermons which define homosexuals as “abominations” in the eyes of God?

Was it the war that so many leading Christians, including Mr. Haggard, have declared on the gay community that made Mike Jones feel that it was his “moral obligation” to expose the hypocrisy in evangelicalism?

Did he feel so oppressed by the way in which we have generated political movements that threaten to deny gays and lesbians their civil rights that he was motivated to strike back in the only way he could?

I have heard so many of my colleagues in ministry express deep concerns over what this scandal will do to the image of the evangelical movement, but I have heard little concern among us for how all of this will impact those Christian gays and lesbians that we know. They are in our churches. They teach in our Sunday schools and sing in our choirs. Most of them are closeted brothers and sisters who suffer in ways that are impossible for the rest of us to even imagine. They are good people who do not take drugs or visit prostitutes. Will the ugliness of this sorry mess feed a diabolical stereotype of them, which is too often circulated in our churches by unkind preachers who have little, if any, understanding of homosexuals?

Nor do I hear them saying anything like what Campolo said about Haggard’s “restoration.”

The real question is, when he does get counsel, when he does enter into this restoration process, will he be forthcoming and honest about everything? Will he just say, I have a little problem on the side? Or will he begin to face the fact that maybe I have a sexual orientation that does not offer an easy fix. And if he does turn out to be homosexual in his orientation, he’s going to have to live with that orientation and figure out what this means for the rest of his life, because there’s not an easy fix for that. And to suggest that a few prayers and a few spiritual things, some scripture reading, is going to solve the problem, it won’t. That’s a good beginning. But — and with God’s help, he can go beyond that. But I have to tell you, you do have to go beyond just a spiritual experience in the process of restoration.

That, if you ask me is the real lesson of the Haggard affair. But it’s not one that the folks at New Life seem to have learned, because there’s no indication that Haggard or anyone else would get much support at New Life, who found away to “live with their orientation” that didn’t jibe with the meager options presented by their evangelical community (most like either lifelong celibacy or heterosexual marriage). The idea that Haggard or a gay man like myself might find healthy (and healing) expression of his sexuality in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship with another man doesn’t appear to be a consideration for them as it is for Tony Campolo’s wife, Peggy.

The interviewers immediately sensed that I was suggesting that there are no easy answers that we evangelicals can offer to gays and lesbians who ask us about changing their sexual orientation. I added to their anxieties when I went on to say that it is very rare that sexual orientations ever do change. I never say “never” because with God miracles are always possible. I make it clear, however, that barring miracles, we evangelicals have little to offer in the way of positive suggestions for those who are struggling with being homosexual in a homophobic world. In reality, we only have two proposals – celibacy, which is my answer; and monogamous partnerships, which is an answer posed by my wife.

It worthwhile to examine Campolo’s position a bit further as he expands on it in this interview.

Q You and your wife, Peggy, famously disagree on same-sex marriage. Describe your disagreement.

A We agree on some aspects of it. Both of us believe in monogamy and that the state should have nothing to do with marriage, homosexual or heterosexual. We believe the state should guarantee civil rights to all people and oversee civil unions, as is done in Europe. Then, if a couple wants to get married in a religious sense, they would go to a church. When President Bush says marriage is a sacred institution, my first response is, what the devil is the government doing messing around with something sacred?

My wife says same-sex marriage fits into her understanding of scripture. It doesn’t fit into mine. She makes a biblical case for it; I make one against it. We don’t go to the same church; she is in what’s called “a welcoming and affirming” congregation.

The bottom line is, you interpret scripture using your reason, but you also look at what your community of faith has come to believe. My wife’s beliefs contradict some traditions that have stood up over time. She says that opposition to gay marriage is archaic, like slavery or second-class status for women. I don’t buy that.

However, I’d like to add that I’m dismayed that even though Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, somehow it’s become a defining issue of our time. Why, when the Bible has just a few verses about it and 2,000 verses about helping the poor, do I always hear about this issue whenever I tune in to a Christian radio show?

Campolo’s position can hardly be called the epitome of stark raving mad liberalism, but it’s not apparent that New Life has come anywhere near even that much understanding.

So for all their talk of being “corrected,” concerned with “morally disordered lives” and wishing that Jones “had God in his life,” New Life doesn’t seem to have learned anything. And thus, whatever pain they may be feeling as a congregation, they are putting themselves in a position to cause a lot more pain for a lot more gays & lesbians and their families.

So,you’ll pardon me if I reserve my sympathy for those people.

5 Comments

  1. Terence, have a heart.

    Oh. The Poor things! Sniff! Sniff!

    They have to sell a church to make up the funding shortfall. Gasp!

    My heart bleeds for the the poor mites.

    THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

    As we say in Australia, Stiff Shit Sookie Babies!

    If you really need to eat. Eat the bricks you built your churches out of.

  2. I have no sympathy for New Life either. Rifts that split churches before have been over being unable to reconcile the expectations and artificial structures around GENDER and COLOR and anti gay sentiment is an extension of misogyny.
    I find that these homophobic backlashes and relashes are also about an overreach for power and control.
    People by nature aren’t so timid and illiterate en masse as they used to be.
    And gay folks aren’t as ignorant of their identity, nor so isolated from those of their like.

    Churches like this are trying to reinvent the homosexual and roll back most people’s intial or usual indifference to who is gay.
    Churches like this work to have a response of horror and disgust, where the neighbors of gay people might not otherwise.
    Why DID Haggard use a prostitute and drugs?
    To him and his church, this is the fulfillment of what they believe gay people to really be.
    The snake in The Garden, rather than a brother or sister of Adam and Eve.
    I’m getting especially sick of a faction of Christians who are lying outright against gay folks to who they hope really doesn’t know better and they avoid the consequences of this.

    Religious reconciliation with taboo things has already occurred with important results, even if not always positive.
    For example, there are religions that say you can’t accept blood and body part donations.
    Or perform autopsies.
    But they can’t say the REST of us cannot, and yet are they complaining that this is somehow a compromise to their religious freedom?
    No.
    What makes us better in our faith, is faith also in letting light in, allowing openness and integration so that information and truth can be revealed and understood.
    These painful and horrendously incremental foot dragging regarding the excuse to treat gay people badly, is religion and so therefore there is no responsibility when the consequences are the destruction of your church and gay and lesbian lives for themselves and their families.

    The resistance is causing more harm than good. Indeed, no good at all.
    And those who claim moral authority and who claim to be qualified to teach it, would know that…and seek out the solutions, with the participation of gay people.
    As long as gay people are shut out of this process, and straight people commit worse sins to maintain supremacy, their churches deserve to go down in flames.

  3. I have no sympathy for New Life either. Rifts that split churches before have been over being unable to reconcile the expectations and artificial structures around GENDER and COLOR and anti gay sentiment is an extension of misogyny.
    I find that these homophobic backlashes and relashes are also about an overreach for power and control.
    People by nature aren’t so timid and illiterate en masse as they used to be.
    And gay folks aren’t as ignorant of their identity, nor so isolated from those of their like.

    Churches like this are trying to reinvent the homosexual and roll back most people’s intial or usual indifference to who is gay.
    Churches like this work to have a response of horror and disgust, where the neighbors of gay people might not otherwise.
    Why DID Haggard use a prostitute and drugs?
    To him and his church, this is the fulfillment of what they believe gay people to really be.
    The snake in The Garden, rather than a brother or sister of Adam and Eve.
    I’m getting especially sick of a faction of Christians who are lying outright against gay folks to who they hope really doesn’t know better and they avoid the consequences of this.

    Religious reconciliation with taboo things has already occurred with important results, even if not always positive.
    For example, there are religions that say you can’t accept blood and body part donations.
    Or perform autopsies.
    But they can’t say the REST of us cannot, and yet are they complaining that this is somehow a compromise to their religious freedom?
    No.
    What makes us better in our faith, is faith also in letting light in, allowing openness and integration so that information and truth can be revealed and understood.
    These painful and horrendously incremental foot dragging regarding the excuse to treat gay people badly, is religion and so therefore there is no responsibility when the consequences are the destruction of your church and gay and lesbian lives for themselves and their families.

    The resistance is causing more harm than good. Indeed, no good at all.
    And those who claim moral authority and who claim to be qualified to teach it, would know that…and seek out the solutions, with the participation of gay people.
    As long as gay people are shut out of this process, and straight people commit worse sins to maintain supremacy, their churches deserve to go down in flames.

  4. Maybe they wouldn’t have had to cut so many staff if they hadn’t given Haggard such a large payout for his hasty exit.

  5. I, too, have little sympathy for the church. Yes, Haggard betrayed them, but they have also betrayed him. Too easy solutions – it was just a minor lapse – will not produce the healing needed. But the congregation needs to address where they have been complicit and not just by rooting out the ‘bad’ stuff.

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