Liberal Grace

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

He doth protest too loudly

Does the Ted Haggard scandal show, once again, that "values conservatives" are all a pack of moral hypocrites?

Gays like to tease the anti-gay crowd, saying that only self-loathing closeted gays protest that loudly. Straight men, comfortable in their orientation, just can't get worked up like that.

As a lifelong fundamentalist and evangelical, I have to agree.

The loudest Christians tend to be the most troubled.

I'll use myself as an example: I have never had any sort of gay experience, whatsoever. So even when I was in the fundamentalist church, I could never get very hot under the collar about homosexuality. It was all abstract for me and, in my mind, gays were not in some especially despicable category. They were just sinners like any of the rest of us.

So why would someone stand up in public and get all red-faced, spitting, condemn-them-to-hell mad about the gays? Because homosexuality is not abstract to them, obviously. Because homosexuality very likely might be their own personal demon.

I'm not sure this is what's happening in Ted Haggard's case.

I'm not highly familiar with Haggard but he struck me as a fairly cool guy, for an Evangelical.

His Evangelical Climate Initiative even struck me as progressive. He didn't seem like a Jimmy Swaggart character, strutting and weeping while wagging his thick bible at the evil sinners.

But one has to wonder why a (presumably) bisexual guy like Haggard wouldn't just join a liberal church that accepts him for who he is. Wouldn't that significantly reduce his cognitive dissonance and resolve the hypocrisy issue? Wouldn't it just be easier?

I think Haggard doesn't want someone to tell him he's OK. He probably likes the moral certitude of conservative religion. Perhaps he wants people around him who agree with his internal self-loathing.

It's no secret that black and white morality is a major appeal of conservative religion but I wonder if an even different dynamic is at play with Haggard -- one that I don't hear talked about very much.

In secular counseling, there is the concept of the "wounded healer" i.e. emotionally damaged people who go into counseling as part of their own healing process. This is generally recognized and can be turned into a positive thing if dealt with openly.

When I was at seminary I wondered if similar moral dynamic was happening -- that a significant number of seminarians were there to tame their own moral demons. I have no empirical data to back me up but my anecdotal experience makes me thinks this is true: pastors are more likely to have (or had) some serious moral conflict in their lives. They didn't get into the pastorate because they were "holier than thou" but because they were less so.

Of course, this doesn't make pastors evil people or even hypocrites when they condemn the very sin they, themselves, are struggling with. But it does mean that you shouldn't put pastors on pedestals. It certainly means that pastors shouldn't voluntarily crawl up on those pedestals.

I think it could even be a positive thing -- if dealt with openly. In the case of Haggard, it strikes me as very sad.

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