The unquestionable upheaval in the lives of Ted Haggard, his family, and now former congregation, brings back so many sad memories of the last days of my association, albeit as a mere member of a much smaller congregation, with Calvary Gospel Church in Welland, Ontario. It was twenty-five years ago last February that a Calvary pastor wrote a letter to the editor of the Welland Tribune.
The letter was in response to the now-infamous raids by Toronto police, in February, 1981, of several gay bathhouses which resulted in one of the largest peace-time mass arrests in Canadian history – second only to the FLQ ‘crisis’ in 1970. The pastor’s letter heaped praise on the police and expressed moral outrage toward men involved in sexual activity with one another at such establishments, or anywhere else for that matter.
I was angered because, as the saying goes, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” W hile I was not among those arrested it is only because I did not happen to have been in a Toronto bathhouse on the night of the raids. I very easily could have been, as I was a frequent patron of these establishments whenever I was in Toronto. These were dark times for me as I, on one hand, privately tried to suppress my homosexuality within my church community and, on the other, explored my sexuality – yes, sometimes carelessly – during these discrete bathhouse visits.
One day I had lunch with the interim pastor of Calvary. I told him about my struggle which, at the time, I was still committed to doing all I could to change. He said, however unintentional his prophecy, “Don’t be surprised if this is an on-going issue,” or words to that effect. I am guessing this was based on the common view of homosexuality, among fundamentalist Christians at least, as being something tempted men (and women) give in to rather than simply a given.
In the aftermath of the raids, and as AIDS cut its first deep swath, the Toronto gay, lesbian and bisexual community coalesced into what would become the political and social force that it is today.
I attended one of the largest of the early demonstrations in response to the February 5 raids, the first being the night after, on February 20. These dates are seared in my memory.
I heard of an upcoming day of community-building at the University of Toronto, called “Gay Awareness Day”, which I also eagerly attended. There I picked up a pamphlet, whose title was something like “Homosexuality: What the Bible does and does not say”, and learned of Metropolitan Community Churches.
The moment I read it I experienced self-forgiveness and acceptance sufficient enough to give me the courage to soon disclose my homosexuality to my family and begin quite a longstanding, if inconsistent, relationship with M.C.C. Toronto, supplemented by attendance at First United Church in St. Catharines, as I had moved there from Welland later in 1981, and where I came out to then-Minister Alan Bennett.
It is worth pausing to reflect on the double life I had been living with such difficulty for the previous few years, traveling to and from Toronto on my days off to immerse myself in a limited experience of the gay community, then returning to Welland where I privately prayed that God would heal me of my homosexuality and worshipped with Christians whose literalist treatment of the Bible reinforced my guilt and shame. I even went so far, emulating the spirit of “Me thinks he doth protest too much”, as to write a letter to the United Church Observer – the church of my upbringing which I had left to go to the fundamentalist one – condemning their prophetic debate which paved the way for the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers. As long as I could not embrace my ‘completeness’ or ‘wholeness’ – that which I am convinced now is a given – my sexual orientation was doomed to torment me. M.C.C. helped me immeasurably, as does the United Church of Canada (to whom I have long since returned) nowadays.
So much has happened since my ‘coming out’ which, truthfully, was only the beginning of the process of whatever measure of self-acceptance I have today. Now there is an ‘on-going issue’ the resolution of which can be questioned, like the reopening of a scab, at seemingly any time of neurosis. The very raison d’être of this blog, I would submit, is a testament to my struggles.
Unfortunately, based on the text of the letter he had read at his church today, it appears Ted Haggard is relying on the fundamentalist view of homosexuality to guide him. Goodness knows there is enough of a collective mindset among that stratum of Christianity to reinforce a belief that homosexuality is wrong, full stop.
If he is straight (and if so, more power to him), and his homosexual activity was therefore adulterous only, he must deal with that. Adultery is a universally-accepted sin, or falling short, no matter what one’s religion or lack of religion.
If, however, he is gay or bisexual and has been suppressing it à la Mark Foley all these years then I can only hope that he does not rely solely on the counsel of his neighbour James Dobson, of “Focus on the Family”, who is most likely going to direct him toward the ex-gay movement. Think of the good he could do some day if he came out and joined other gay Christians, trying to live out their faith, however oxymoronic (or just plain moronic) that might seem to outsiders! Haggard’s national campaigns against gay marriage will take a lot of undoing.
Yes Haggard has a family and they are all understandably in need of healing, even “focus”, right now but trying to be something he may not be (straight) will only lead to protracted misery for all concerned.