Sunday, 11 February 2007

An Open Letter to Rev Ted Haggard

Dear Mr Haggard:

You don’t know us and we don’t know you.

Like everyone else we heard about your fall at the New Life congregation of which you were founder and pastor. Unlike many others, however, before that we had never heard of you at all. We are proud of that. We don’t own a TV. We never could have seen you on TV.

We had a bit of curiosity about you when we heard about the scandal but we didn’t even bother to search for you on the Internet to find out something of your life story.

A week ago, however, for a change of pace on our blog we wrote a post about you. That post is here. We were just relying on what we had seen in our newspaper-based sources, although we did read your original letter of apology to the New Life congregation.

A few days after we wrote our first post, we wrote a second, which is here.

Out of courtesy and good breeding, we referred to you in both posts without using your name.

Much to our astonishment, however, the day after we wrote our second post you came out of your three-week intensive counselling session in Arizona. Moreover, some things said both by you and by the leadership pastors at New Life left us wondering.

So we looked up a few things about you—where you were born, where you went to school, how you came to found the congregation in Colorado Springs, your religious affiliation, the New Life congregation’s statement of faith and so on. Our little research showed us that we didn’t know enough about your background and about the scandal when we wrote our first two posts. So we wondered what to do: leave the posts as is; change them silently; or change them with ‘UPDATE, 11 Feb. 2007:’, a practice that is not to our taste? We decided that an open letter to you would handle all the issues and might even reach you.

First of all we sympathize with you and with your wife. You should respect your wife: she has stood behind you and beside you throughout this affair. You should love her as a person who has genuinely loved you. Be careful, however: she might break.

In our two posts on the subject of your sin our message was: ‘To err is human; to forgive divine.’ We do not want to suggest that sin is not sin, but we do want to suggest that sin is the human condition. We shouldn’t sin. We do. So we have to humble ourselves; we have to repent.

The sequel in this scandal astonished us: your email after the three-week intensive, the remarks of one of the leadership pastors that you were ‘completely heterosexual’ but a little given to ‘acting out’, the remarks that you and your wife were going to another city to study on-line for a Masters in psychology. Like many Christians we were appalled by this evolution.

In our first post we remarked on the proposed use of a lie-detector to ‘get at the truth’. That seemed preposterous to us, so much so that we wrote in that post that we did not believe that it was actually said by a responsible member of the New Life congregation. But when we did our bit of research, we found that it was indeed said by the head of the oversight board. This is mind-boggling. This is fascist. Did they actually put you through a lie-detector test during the three-week intensive? Where is the discernment of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit does not need lie-detectors to get at the truth.

Many people have mocked your three-week ‘miracle cure from homosexuality’. It seems to us that the ‘oversight’ pastor who made the relevant assertion merely meant that the ‘reputable secular counselling centre’ had checked you out during the three-week intensive and found that you had a fundamentally heterosexual orientation—or found that you yourself now thought that you had a fundamentally heterosexual orientation. Your sins were merely a sort of ‘acting out’—whatever ‘acting out’ means in this context. Even with this more charitable interpretation, however, the evolution of this scandal is bizarre—and in this scandal we have been shown to be far too ready to give people the benefit of the doubt as to whether they have honesty, guts and common sense about what they are doing. Your own original letter of apology to the New Life congregation spoke clearly and sincerely of a serious years-long struggle with unspecified sins and of a periodic backsliding into them. This just doesn’t jibe with a diagnosis of a fundamentally heterosexual man ‘acting out’ for an as-yet unknown reason. There is much more to it, much more that you are genuinely going to have to work on. And unless your accuser is an arrant liar, you have much work to do indeed.

So what should you do?

A noted Lutheran blogger was dismayed that the ‘oversight’ pastors counselled you to ‘get out of the congregation, get out of the ministry and get out of town’.

During the first phase of the scandal, before he shut down his blog, a noted liberal blogger, Billmon, remarked concerning the attitude of the leaders of the congregation towards you something to this effect: ‘Where is the Christian love? God help me, even I am starting to feel sorry for the guy.’

We agree that the attitude of the ‘oversight’ pastors is exceedingly harsh. Brutal. However, we think that you should take their advice to ‘get out of the congregation, get out of the ministry and get out of town’. Why? Because we think that this will get you out of the ‘oversight’ pastors’ hands.

Leave the New Life congregation. Leave the ministry. Leave Colorado Springs. And above all, leave the ‘oversight’ pastors. Your first problem is that you have them as pastors for your own life in Jesus. They are clearly at cross purposes: They have political responsibilities for a political movement; they have 14,000 members of a congregation to keep happy; they have a religious movement to keep on the road. You are obviously last on their list of priorities. Good. Get rid of them.

We just read some of the details that are leaking out about the secret written agreement between you and the leaders of the New Life congregation. There is a lot of room for scepticism here as to the integrity of this post-scandal process, although the leaders through their spokesman do admit that the three-week intensive was the beginning and not the end of your rehabilitation.

We would again counsel you: Get free of these people. They are part of your problem.

You are going to need someone to mentor you for the next few years. That might be a psychiatrist; it might be a genuinely wise and pious Christian. You have a fundamental problem in that you have been messed up not only by sin, but also by the publicity surrounding the scandal, the ‘oversight’ pastors’ handling of you and even the public prominence you used to have.

You have to get on an even keel. This is not something that can be done in a public environment. It can only be done one-on-one by someone who actually respects you as a person, but who is not going to indulge you on anything. We are reluctant to emphasize the second part of the last sentence because the movement you come out of is far too confrontational and authoritarian: we do not want you to go from one authoritarian context (the ‘oversight’ pastors) to another (your hypothetical mentor).

You have to start turning inside yourself to see who you are. This is going to be a problem with your authoritarian background because you have clearly been covering up a number of emotional drives with the superstructure of the religious dogma you hold. We ourselves are Christians, Orthodox Christians, and we are not saying that you should quit believing in Jesus Christ, or even that you should become a ‘gay Christian’. We are saying that you should develop a much deeper relationship with Jesus Christ that transcends the authoritarian ‘third-wave’ Pentecostalism you grew up with. Only in that way can you be healed. We do not think this is possible if you continue having the ‘oversight’ pastors in control of your external and interior life.

We would ideally recommend that you find an Orthodox Elder and become attached to him, but this is not something that realistically can be expected. It would be far too great a chasm for you to cross to become Orthodox—unless it were to happen far down the road after you did a great deal of work on your interior life, starting with the mentor you find. Or mentors. There is no reason to require one mentor for all time, although we should only have one mentor at a time.

We would suggest you lead a simple life for a number of years, preferably in a rural or semi-rural town. We have no idea what your economic condition is, although you have received some kind of ‘golden handshake’ from the congregation. If your economic condition is such that you can, spending a lot of time in simple manual labour such as working in the garden would be a very great help to you. A simple life under the sky and sun for several years (even spending the evenings learning psychology on-line) would help you considerably. You are going to have to find yourself, to stabilize your interior life, so that you can enter into your interior world to see who you really are.

Of course we would also suggest that you avoid, as they say, occasions of sin.

We are puzzled by the notion that you and your wife Gayle are going to do an on-line Masters in psychology. Is the ‘on-line’ because the ‘oversight’ pastors counselled you to stay away from people? Well, if they genuinely believe that you are ‘completely heterosexual’ and merely prone to ‘acting out’ a bit, this seems far too cautious of them. But if they recognize deep down that you have a serious ‘issue’—let’s use the right word: ‘problem’—staying away from people for a time is reasonable.

But what is an on-line Masters in psychology going to do for you and your wife? If you actually intend to enter the helping professions, you are going to need practical training in clinical psychology. You just can’t learn clinical psychology on-line. You have to be an interning student in a clinic. And this is not merely a matter of showing up in person a few days a month for classes on campus.

But if it’s just a matter of learning a few facts about human psychology to while away the time, well on-line is just the same as correspondence courses. They tell you what books to read. Something to do. But don’t expect to do anything with the degree.

What the idea of an on-line degree in psychology says to us, however, is that you and the ‘oversight’ pastors are floundering. You all don’t have any idea whatsoever what you are doing. You are all very, very far out of your depth in this affair.

There seems to be the air of a cover-up here. Not only the traditional cover-up of pretending something to be true publicly that privately you know to be untrue, but, more grievously, the air of personal cover-ups on your part and on the part of the leadership of the New Life congregation. It’s what the Gestalt psychotherapists call a cover-up: a pretending to ourselves that things are different inside ourselves from what really is the case. It is also called ‘denial’.

The whole affair is appalling.

We would suggest: find a mentor; start working on building a simple Christian life with your family.

May God help you.

Orthodox Monk

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