Season of Hope
By: John H. Campbell
I'm not really an avid television watcher but I do my fair share. Most times when watching something on the television, it's a movie playing on cable or a DVD. Other than that, I get my news from C-Span, I watch the Food Network or the Travel Channel here and there, I really enjoy the HBO America: Undercover shows, and I even sometimes indulge myself in what I consider to be the guilty pleasures of "reality TV". But the two main things I find myself watching are the shows on the Discovery Networks, the shows that offer either a historical or an investigative insight on some specific topic.
The Discovery History Channel and more often their Times Channel will occasionally run documentaries offering a historical or an insightful look at a specific topic in a way which offers an expose of that topic without taking any defined side or position on the issue, sort of a non-biased view meant to give an explanation or an illustration about the subject matter being covered. Most of the time, the topics are related to different lines of thinking on a subject in society, or different aspects of culture. Often they cover different aspects of society including religion and religious matters, and have had some rather interesting shows.
Back around the weeks leading up to Halloween, they ran a series of shows (which could have been reruns, but I had never seen them) on the topic of "Hell," "devils and demons," and "End Times" theology. I don't subscribe to any of those beliefs personally in a literal sense. I do believe that "Hell" is a state of mind or spiritual being that we can create ourselves, and I do believe that we also allow our own personal "devils" and "demons" to be created out of our fears However, I do not subscribe to ideas about demonic possession, Hell as a literal "place" of "eternal punishment", or any of the "End Times/Left Behind" theology as I feel all of the above are a human invention designed and crafted to manipulate the behavior of others through the use of fear, a tactic which I feel flies square in the face of everything Jesus taught in His time on Earth and can create severe psychological damage. In any case, I don't think it is being very Christ-like or loving of one's neighbor to fill their head full of fear and paranoia, regardless of what "good intentions" might be used to justify such behavior.
However, I did find these documentaries very interesting. On one of the ones on the History Channel which dealt with the concept of "demonic possession" there were interviews with both psychologists who felt the concept was damaging and harmful to the individuals who were deemed to be allegedly "possessed" by their church, and there was also the converse, interviews with people who were absolutely certain, based on the teachings of their church that it was the real thing. Another show talked about the idea of the "Antichrist" as it related to "End Times" Theology, and again, several Pastors who subscribed to this theology were given equal time to express their beliefs on the subject.
A few of the Pastors they talked to in these interviews disturbed me a great deal; not because I put any validity on what they had to say, but the manner in which they seemed determined to assert their beliefs as absolute truth onto other people. One of them had a name I had seen before as being very involved with people in a position of high political influence, and who had quite a bit of prominence and notoriety among Americans as an Evangelical leader. I recognized him as the Reverend Ted Haggard, the president of the National Association Of Evangelicals and Pastor of one of the biggest "mega-churches", the "New Life Church" who was close buddies with the President. I had heard his name a lot before, associated with anti-LGBT legislation and several other issues and recognized him from other news articles I had seen.
Apparently, I was not the only person who recognized him. On November 1st of 2006, a gay male escort by the name of Mike Jones came forward and shocked the Conservative Evangelical community and the rest of the world by stating that Haggard was, and had, been a client of his for some time; the two had been sexually intimate and Haggard had used the drug Crystal Meth as part of their encounters. He had recognized this man on TV as one of his regular clients who had used another name ("Art") with him, had done a little detective work to see if it was in fact the same person. When he was certain that it was, he came forward and divulged this secret to the media. This caused Haggard to first deny, and then later admit to the allegations.
Should Jones have done things this way? I feel that Jones' reasoning for his actions and causing Haggard to tumble was simple and came from a place of sincerity, in a heart that longed for justice. It was said that Haggard was well known for his anti-LGBT rhetoric. It was not the extremist rhetoric of say, Fred Phelps (who has reached the status of cartoon character parody, even among the most conservative fundamentalists) or James Dobson (who distorts medical, psychological, and scientific evidence to create false accusations and fear to further his agendas).
From all I was hearing, it seemed as he was a proponent of a "kinder, gentler" homophobia which is in my opinion the worst kind of anti-LGBT preaching, the whole "love the sinner, hate the sin" party line that has an insidious way of camouflaging hate and prejudice so well that even the kindest and most open minded people can get behind it. All of the interviews with him I had seen indicated that he subscribed to a version of Christianity based in legality and fear, at least to some extent. And from all I was reading, it seemed as if Haggard was using the anti-LGBT talk for political influence and to get people into his mega church, and aggressively in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment. Jones saw the hypocrisy, and felt that he needed to speak up in the interest of justice and fairness.
At first, my thoughts were "here it is again." So often when a person-and especially more often than not one in a position of political or religious influence or both-is very vocally against equal rights for LGBT people, it is discovered that they themselves are closeted, and that they are in reality working against themselves while condemning others; in trying to fight the rights of others to be who they are, they are in reality trying to fight their own natural urges in an exercise of futility. Here I thought was another case of a conservative evangelical trying to rail against the rights of others, only to be exposed as being that very thing and having those very qualities which he was trying to destroy and crush in others.
But after all of this broke, in the aftermath, I have had some different feelings about it. Rather than doing as many are doing and being angry at the hypocrisy and rejoicing that the anti LGBT contingent of the Evangelical movement is eating some serious crow over all of this, my thoughts and heart are going out to this fallen preacher and hoping that this thing that happened will lead to healing not just for him but others who might be able to somehow benefit from the whole experience. I have been wanting to write about this for a while (and I will explain more in a bit why) and was doing a little research on Mr. Haggard.
While I did in fact read that he did support political agendas to ban same gender marriage, and was going right along with what his friends and associates in the Religious Right were reiterating over and over about the "defense of marriage", and "protecting the sanctity of marriage", I found out that was not the entire story. What I discovered was rather shocking, and telling, perhaps even a shade prophetic, in and of itself. Have a look at some of these quotes from the Colorado Springs Independent:
"Haggard, for instance, has called on fellow evangelicals to protect the environment, and to work against poverty and racism - priorities that scarcely make a blip on James Dobson's radar screen.
Dobson and Haggard also part ways over same-sex marriage. Focus on the Family strongly opposes any legal recognition of gay couples. While Haggard supports federal and state constitutional amendments that limit marriage to a man and a woman, he's more measured in his view of domestic partnerships.
"If the state wants to provide people who are in a different type of relationship the same benefits as marriage, that's up to the community," he says. "As a Christian, I would be hesitant to do anything that would deny people medical insurance or the ability to visit their partner in a hospital."
Haggard agrees with Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court decision that struck down anti-sodomy laws and, unlike Dobson, is generally cautious about codifying religious teaching.
"We believe within the church that sexuality should be only between a married man and a woman," Haggard says. "But there are many things that I teach in the church that I would never want integrated into civil law."
(Colorado Springs Independent, September 7-13, 2006)
For one, Haggard was steadfastly maintaining what his church taught against same gender marriage, but he was open to the concept of domestic partnerships. He applauded and supported the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence vs. Texas (2003) which made "sodomy laws" Unconstitutional and thought that it was best that the government keep out of people's bedrooms. He spoke up about environmental concerns and recognized the importance of the church having a strong hand in fighting poverty and racism.
Yet other digging unearthed the fact that last summer, when there was a growing debate about the American use of torture on suspected terrorists, Haggard stepped up to sign a joint statement that said torture "violates the basic dignity of the human person" and "contradicts our nation's most cherished values." The statement added, "Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed?" The same article referred to his responding to Pat Robertson's abhorrent comments calling for the assassination of Hugo Chavez with, "Pat doesn't speak for all Evangelicals."
I was reading all of this and thinking to myself, "well, he's not as liberal or progressive in thought as I or many of the LGBT Christians I know are, but this guy is actually closer to being one of us (meaning that he was open to a more progressive understanding of Christianity, one based more on Love than legalism) than most might have thought, even before his secrets were out." Yes, he was playing along with the Religious Right and by doing so offering sort of an unspoken support for their agenda rather than speaking up about his own ideas, but from some of his statements, you can almost see that the true soul underneath, one that might have seen there is a better way, was trying to speak out.
And it was then that I could no longer feel a sense of justice about the entire incident or even worse, gloat because someone who was practicing hypocrisy had been exposed, or feeling happy that these revelations had vilified and brought someone down. I don't naturally experience emotions like that anyway, but there was a part of me that thought justice had been served, and especially in light of the upcoming elections at that time. No, all I could feel then was sympathy. Do I think what Haggard did was right? No. Was I happy about the way Jones exposed him? I'm not sure. I think I would have been happier if I had heard that Jones had a serious talk with Haggard that had inspired him to come forth himself and said that he could no longer pretend to be something he was not. But I think that however it happened, it needed to happen, and I think in time and by the Grace of God, Haggard himself may see it as a gift and a chance for healing.
I think there is a lot of healing to be done. Especially first, and foremost with Haggard himself, if he is open to it. His letter to his congregation is the most telling of all:
"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem.
I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life. for extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I though(t) was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach."
And although plenty of people-both those who subscribe to homophobia and hate, and those who think Haggard got just what he deserved have had plenty to say about his above "confession," I think it is nothing short of absolutely tragic and a testimonial to the damage, dysfunction and pain that the demonizing of human sexuality and difference which is aggressively perpetuated by a great many conservative Evangelical Christians can do.
To begin with, one phrase from that letter really stands out to me: "repulsive and dark." The idea that he refers to his own sexuality and/or sexual orientation as "repulsive and dark" is a clear sign that healing from within is still needed and has not yet begun.
Even though I am very opposed to the use of Crystal Meth I cannot fault him for that either. It is no surprise to me at all that it was revealed that he used Crystal Meth in his sexual encounters with Jones and allegedly his wife as well. In my experience, the use of Crystal Meth to "enhance" sexual experience is a classic sign of someone struggling with their natural sexuality; the drug enables them to let go of inhibitions and feelings of guilt and shame which they should not naturally have if they were adjusted and comfortable with their sexuality and themselves. I have seen far too many LGBT people and even heterosexuals who were very uncomfortable with their own sexuality and who rather than do the work to accept themselves as they are, numb the inner turmoil and conflict with drugs and/or alcohol. For if someone is under the delusion that God does not and never could accept them as they are, the self hatred and loathing can become so strong that it requires this kind of "escape" or "self medication" in many instances. In any case, more often than not, drug and/or alcohol abuse is highly indicative of a person who deep down is not comfortable with themselves in my experience.
And someone who sees the person, or a vital part of the person who God Created them to be as "repulsive and dark" is definitely not comfortable with themselves and is suffering from low self esteem and a sense of self hatred, and most likely a great deal of fear and these are factors which are very commonly associated with drug and alcohol abuse.
The other comment which stands out to me is how he refers to himself as "a deceiver and a liar." I think perhaps his biggest deception and lie may have been in whatever comments he made from the pulpit to deceive LGBT people (especially himself) into the false delusion that they are not acceptable to God just as they are, without having to try and become something they are not or repress part of who God made them to be. The lie was not who he is, the lie was trying to be someone who he was not in order to please others, rather than merely being who God made him to be. The deceiving was living a double life instead of asking for the courage to come out as gay or bisexual and live an honest life; in falling short of expressing his true feelings and instead going along with what his peers were saying, holding steadfast in mixed company to the idea that his very nature was sinful when in fact, he was doing the things they and he condemned; in denying his own God-given feelings for the need for same gender intimacy and convincing himself there was a "war" that he needed to fight against himself - a war that sometimes spilled over to being a war against the LGBT Community.
So what good can come of this? Believe it or not, I think tremendous good can come. The one thing I was very happy to see exposed was that this incident does throw a wrench into the Religious Right rhetoric that a person cannot be an Evangelical Christian and LGBT or still support the equal rights of all people. Or, it might cause people to rethink some of their thoughts on the issue and become a lot less judgmental of LGBT people; just as studies have indicated that "abstinence only" sex education does not lead to the desired result but rather to a greater number unplanned pregnancies and an increase in STD infections, now we are seeing that LGBT bashing and attempts to shame the LGBT Community, just like "ex gay" ministries, are not ultimately leading to their planned results either, but rather to more pain.
I think some people when voting may have thought it wise to rethink some of their ideas about allowing their personal feelings and fears about the LGBT Community influence that; perhaps they were able to see much of the homophobia being espoused by the far Right as being the propaganda that it is rather than an actual relevant and real cause to vote about. Think on it for a moment: here is an Evangelical who had tremendous influence up to and including political influence who was revealed to be the antithesis of what it was he was teaching and that his Political affiliation was so sternly opposed to.
Is there a chance, a small mustard seed of hope that he might be able to openly accept himself as a gay or bisexual child of God and continue his ministry with some different understandings in a different place, perhaps no longer seeing who he is as dark and repulsive, but merely another wonderful variation of God's Diversity in Creation? Is there a chance he could come forward and use his once powerful political influence to call for an end to the seeming need of the Religious Right to demonize LGBT people? I think it would be fantastic to see Haggard become the first openly Evangelical gay or bisexual man, preaching the Social Gospel and sharing the Good News that God loves us all JUST as we are, without our having to "examine" that too deeply or change who we are.
Will healing come? Of that, I cannot be sure and I don't think that can be determined by anyone other than two parties: God and Rev. Haggard. But again, I feel that there is a tremendous potential here for healing and growth, not only in the lives of the individuals directly involved in this situation, but maybe Christianity as we know it today and society as a whole. I'll explain a bit further what I mean by that.
I continue to maintain that what we have come to know today in mainstream society as "Christianity" has gotten its priorities very skewed. While there is a constant barrage of propaganda about "protecting the sanctity of life," at the same time, there is the same amount of rhetoric about the importance of capitol punishment and the death penalty. Anything in media having to do with sexuality is both obsessed upon with a sort of morbid fascination while being vilified and every effort is made to censor it, while mean spirited comedy often most always falls under the radar and violence seems to be seen as "okay" in many cases: one case in point was a new "Christian" video game introduced recently which is based on the ever popular "End Times" books, "Left Behind" where players are put into a scenario where they are encouraged to either convert or kill "non-Christians" as part of the game (although even a great many conservative Christians were disturbed by that idea as well). That's an extreme example, but it seems as if among a lot of conservative Christianity, violence is seen as a part of life but any deviation on sexuality or acceptance of diversity is still seen as taboo. I find it very odd that something as life affirming and the potential for joy bringing as sexuality is seen in such a negative light, where something which is just the opposite, violence, which is life denying and a source of both physical and emotional pain, is not viewed in a light which is as harshly negative. It seems very backwards and not in line with the teachings of Christ.
The fear and negativity surrounding human sexuality and sexual orientation which continues to be perpetuated by a large faction, or majority of Conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity (many seem outright obsessed with it over anything that Christ taught about) continues to be hammered over and over as an imperative to be focused on. Yet as is demonstrated again and again, this continues to lead to pain, heartache and problems on both personal and societal levels and more often than not subtracts from, avoids or obscures the real teachings of Christ.
Another thing which leapt out at me in Haggard's confession letter was his comment that "I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach." I have to wonder if he really truly believed these things in his heart because he truly felt strongly about them, or whether he was believing and therefore teaching them because he felt as if he was required, or expected to by God or others, or just out of fear. Based on some of his thoughts that indicated that he might have leaned more towards a progressive view, I am strongly inclined to believe that he longed to embrace a more open view but lacked the courage to break free from the shackles of the group mentality and his own internalized fears. Regardless of which of those is true, with the attitude of many of his Evangelical peers and probably a great many of his congregation about sexuality and sexual orientation, is it any wonder, then, that he chose to try and repress his natural sexuality and continue to try and fight it?
I'm not certain what all it was that Haggard was repressing. Based upon his behavior of living life as a heterosexual married and monogamous man yet having a very closeted and hidden affair with a homosexual male escort, I think there are one of two possibilities: that he is a very deeply closeted and repressed gay or bisexual man. He could in fact be a gay man, who is in reality only attracted to other men, and who married in the effort to assimilate into the culture of his church and what he felt was expected of him by society and his understanding of God and Christianity.
But one possibility I have not yet heard anyone discuss but that immediately occurred to me as a bisexual is that he could in fact be a bisexual man, attracted to both other men and women. He did have a wife and admitted to being sexually active with her as well. Regardless of his sexual orientation, I think it was wrong of him to hide it from others, carry on a "secret" affair with a man, and cause pain for not only his family but those who could have been helped by his accepting himself and in turn encouraging greater acceptance-not mere tolerance-of those of us in the LGBT Community.
This is not in any way a judgment, nor fact, but strictly my opinion: I think that the only "sexual immorality" he is guilty of is by lying about his sexuality and betraying the covenant he had with his wife with a male prostitute. Were he a single man having a caring, honest homosexual relationship with another man, or even a married man having a caring and honest bisexual relationship with another man with the full knowledge, consent and approval of his spouse, then I would not see that as immorality. It was the lying, the betrayal and the trust and exploitation of another that I see as being a manifestation of "immorality" rather than the desires, or even one's actual sexuality. But even if he had merely had these desires, knew within that he had them and yet never acted upon them, I think there would still be something that could be seen or construed as immoral going on.
What I see as truly immoral was that he opted to deny a part of himself but to allow himself to be camouflaged among those who hated a part of who he was, in order to gain social acceptance, and then even more incriminating that he even took the stance at some times (not all times; to be fair, he did, as mentioned above allow some of his support of the Community to come through) of siding with those who sought to rip basic human rights from other LGBT people. From what I have read, one could tell if they examined his comments closely that he himself knew deep down that some of what he was saying against the LGBT Community was in fact, unjust and wrong. If you look even deeper, especially given the information that is known about him now, it can also be said that he was very much a victim of his own fears of that which he was hiding about himself.
Can that be forgiven? Absolutely. Especially among those of us who may have done the same in the past, before coming to a place of wholeness; I did so at one time and am ashamed to say I did; prior to coming out as bisexual many years back I said things that were against the very core of my being which I did not really believe, because it was "what everyone else said was right." Prior to my coming out, I spoke out against not only bisexuals but also bisexuals who were in honest two partner relationships like the one I am in today, even though deep down I knew I was bisexual and that I would eventually find the happiness and wholeness I was seeking in that type of relationship. I was condemning the very thing that I was inside. I deep down felt differently and knew differently in my heart than what I was saying, I knew that what I was agreeing with was wrong and incorrect when I agreed with others who condemned what I secretly felt and who I was inside. I simply lacked the courage to speak up about it, which stemmed from and was the direct result of my lack of courage to be and accept the person who I really am at the time.
I have known many LGBT individuals who were condemning of others and in opposition to LGBT rights for many years before their own coming out. They were not holding these opinions out of a deep, heartfelt conviction, but rather out of fear and a desire to "belong" among their peers, and perhaps out of insecurity that comes from knowing that ones beliefs are incongruent with that which they know to be the truth and reality. Yet these types of charades are built upon the same shaky house of cards as a faith built upon a foundation of fear and blind allegiance to dogma and rhetoric rather than rational thought combined with honest, seeking faith.
One of the reasons I was one of the ones who felt sorry for Haggard rather than rejoicing in the fall of a hypocrite and included him in my prayers as the whole scandal played out, and felt compelled to write down my feelings about the entire incident was because I have seen his scenario play out many times not only in the lives of LGBT and LGBT Christian individuals but many other bisexual men I have known. They would live the ideal "picture perfect" life of a married, heterosexual man on the surface, many times outright condemning any type of same gender relationships or sexuality among their peers and exalting themselves as an example of what a "real man" is (as defined by our still largely homophobic society) on the surface while leading a double life in secret. There is just as much if not more resistance among Christianity, and society in general to the idea of a person being openly and unashamedly bisexual as there is their being openly homosexual.
I have, as a bisexual man who is in a relationship with both a woman and a man honestly and openly, with no lies, deception or secrets, had my fair share of condemnation from both the most conservative Christians as well as some of the more liberal ones and people who were not identified as Christian at all. When faced with the realization of who I was long ago, I was left with two roads in front of me: the road which I see many bisexual men take, which is to see it as a curse, or "repulsive" and strive to crush and repress a part of who they are and ending up leading a double life and very often leaving a trail of broken hearts and lives in their wake, or to see it as a gift and a blessing and honestly pray and seek to find a way to live the truth of who God made me to be in a way which is hurtful or deceptive to no one. I thank God daily for taking the latter path rather than the former, even though many times, it is the road less taken and does not come without courage, faith and work.
Someday I truly hope that there is not only full recognition of all forms of same gender partnerships and marriages, but also more acceptance and understanding of bisexuals and the sometimes unorthodox relationships and marriages (by the standards of most religious thinking as well as secular society) that some of us have found peace and wholeness in, as I feel it will prevent so many of the betrayals of oneself, their families and spouses and of others. Someday I hope for a day when it same gender partners can be openly married and equal, and where it is not considered evil or immoral for a bisexual woman or man to have partners of both genders if they are honest and everyone involved is agreeable to the situation. Very few are open to or are willing to be understanding of bisexual issues at this juncture, but they do in fact exist, and even when those seem to be difficult to find, faith has always brought me through.
The factor which has most enabled me to have courage on the unique path I have chosen through life is my understanding of Christ and Who He is and what He taught. Through all the specific parables and teachings He gave, one thread runs consistently through all of them, and that is the concept that we honor and thank God, the Creator, in the way we treat others and that is by treating them with the same measure of love and respect by with which we would want.
I don't think He would care (or perhaps I should state He does not care, since I believe His Spirit is alive and well to any and all of us who remain open to it) about who we were but rather how we choose to express that. Jesus spoke little to nothing about sexuality and nothing at all specifically about same gender sexuality. While He was condemning of "adultery", remember that committed same gender relationships, or even consensual non-monogamy among bisexuals cannot in every instance really be considered to be "adultery" unless one is adherent to a literal interpretation of all of the books of the Bible or has adopted those concepts as an aspect of their personal belief system and understanding of God. Even then, Jesus Himself did say that Love came before Law......and in everything I feel in my heart, I believe that asking a person to repress a natural part of who they are is not "Love". I feel certain in my heart that He has no judgment at all against two women getting married to each other, two men being married to each other, or a bisexual person being intimately committed to both a female and male partner (so long as everyone is honest and respectful of everyone involved).
But no matter what one's individual views on sexual orientation, sexuality or relationships may entail, being a Christian to me has nothing to do with a person's sexuality (whatever preferences, likes and dislikes, or practices among consenting adults in caring relationships), or sexual orientation (homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, or transgendered), or what type of relationship or marriage fits best with who God made them to be. It has nothing to do with what movies a person watches, what music they like to listen to, or what foods they like or dislike. It is about one thing and one thing alone to me: Showing our gratitude for all that God has done for us and given us by always striving to demonstrate a sense and an attitude of unconditional love to all of God's children, just as God has done for us.
And to me, that means taking the leap of courage it takes to be true to oneself and others in a way that is respectful of all others, and being able to love ourselves as God made us rather than who others tell us we should or should not be. For if we can learn to love who we were Created to be and rejoice in that, we are better equipped to extend God's Love to others as Christ encouraged us to do. If we are caught in a trap of repression that leads to self loathing, we cannot truly embrace God's Love for us and therefore will not be able to offer the Good News of that Love to others.
I think Haggard meant well in a lot of his ministry before everything fell apart; he was one of the few of his peers who dared to open his mind a little further, and seemed to recognize the importance of issues that his peers often left unattended (speaking out against poverty, torture, and racism and supporting the environment as well as supporting the idea of the government staying out of the intimate lives of others, and even going so far as to offer some support to the concept of domestic partnerships-far from the ideal of marriage equality but in my opinion a huge step for someone of influence in the conservative Evangelical community to take). Looking at what I know now, despite some of his choices, I don't think he was as bad of a guy as many would have initially thought and that much of the anti LGBT rhetoric attributed to him had a lot more to do with guilt by association (the homophobic company he kept, which likely led to his own fear making him condemn those with feelings similar to his own). I am sorry that he felt as if he not only had to attempt to repress his own homosexual or bisexual orientation but also that he felt compelled to allow his own self loathing to spill out into the lives of others.
There is a verse that not many Christians I have met are not too familiar with from a book which does not appear in what we know as the Bible; it comes from the Gnostic Gospels, the Gospel of Thomas and is attributed to Jesus:
"If you bring forth that which is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth that which is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."
This verse seems especially appropriate in the case of someone who is living in a painful and dark closet from which it seems there is no real escape, a place of self hatred and denying their true identity, whatever that may or may not be. Never has something seemed to me to speak more to a person who is concealing their true identity and in doing so, causing themselves self inflicted, internalized self hate, and often those around them harm and hurt that cannot end until they can come face to face with their true self and learn to love themselves as God Made them. I often think how things might be different had this verse been taught along with some of the others.
But overall, I was left with a seed of hope in the aftermath of these events. Will Ted Haggard eventually be able to find his peace with God, and who God made him to be? Will it occur to him that perhaps there is absolutely nothing wrong with these desires, feelings and thoughts which are contrary to everything he believes and teaches, but rather that it is the things that he believes and teaches that are what are in need of healing and are based in a place of darkness and fear? Will he end up doing a heroic thing and commit to speaking out in support of LGBT rights, in order to possibly avoid, prevent or somehow circumvent tragedies in the lives of countless others similar to the one he found himself mired in?
Again, I have no idea, and that is between him and God alone. Looking at his actions, I am sorry he opted for a life that does not seem to live up to the best that God wanted for him, and adhering to a belief system that does not square with what seem to be the true beliefs of his heart or who God made him to be.
But I am looking at the potential for healing, peace and reconciliation with God not just for one individual (even though that alone would be a blessing) but perhaps for many.
Perhaps this will open new channels of dialogue that were previously closed or that would not have been considered between conservative Evangelical Christians and the LGBT Community. Perhaps this whole event has encouraged many who were so steadfastly opposed to any type of LGBT rights and equality to seriously reconsider those positions and remain open to other possibilities while maintaining the beliefs which work best for them on a personal level. Perhaps they will recognize the damage that a Christianity which remains fearful of individual differences and diversity can be responsible for, and revise their thoughts and beliefs to be more inclusive as a result.
Do I think we will see Haggard or perhaps another Evangelical Christian who either is outed or comes out as LGBT become one of the first openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered Evangelical leaders and form a new inclusive version of a "mega church" where ALL people are truly welcomed, "just as they are", similar to the Cathedral Of Hope once run by the Metropolitan Community Church? Although I am not too certain that Jesus would be all that keen on what we know right now as "mega churches" (I personally think that He would view them much like the moneychangers in the temples, marketing God and Spirituality as a consumer product rather than encouraging a personal relationship with God or "walking the talk"), but I think there is the possibility in the coming years of more very large congregations coming to be which celebrate God's Inclusive Love rather than excluding anyone.
I hope and pray that Haggard and those who are in the same situation that he was in will be able to find their peace with themselves, and with God, and be unafraid to make a leap of faith and speak out from their perspective. Only time will tell if some of them will see their "outing" as an opportunity for healing, and learning to embrace themselves as God Created them, or to descend further into a dark place of fear, guilt and shame and attempt to drag others along for the ride. And if nothing else, I hope that perhaps these events have made some of those who were so quick to condemn LGBT people think and realize that a person being born an LGBT individual is not the problem, but their condemnation of someone for being different is, in fact the real problem.
There is no way of being certain that those who are either living in a closet of fear, pain and desperation will be able to find a way to break free; I feel certain that God wants that for them, but ultimately, it is up to the individual and no one else to take God's Hand of their free will, however it is revealed to them and seek the help, and the way out that they long for, even if that longing is hidden and obscured under a veil of fear, anxiety and old ways of thinking that are often difficult and painful to break free from.
Some who either come to acknowledge themselves as LGBT of their own accord or who have their secret lives exposed such as Haggard may end up feeling an even greater sense of guilt and shame and allow themselves to be pulled further into a deeper hold of desperation by continuing to remain in a sense of low self esteem fostered by the emotionally and psychologically damaging fetters of fundamentalist self hating, delusional/reality denying and fear based thinking in regards to human sexuality. They may end up further demonizing themselves and find themselves weaving ever more tangled webs of deception and hurt for themselves, those around them, and ultimately, their feelings about their own relationship with God and sense of Spirituality.
But others may find Hope. Others may seize it as an opportunity for very real, however difficult Spiritual growth, and trust in God to bring them through it. Although God remains to me and many of us as a wonderful mystery, I can say from experience that if one desires growth, and assistance in the process of overcoming fears and becoming stronger in their faith, and finding Peace with God and the person who God made them to be, it can and does happen, if one merely and truly opens one's heart and mind to the possibility and is able to go to God from a place of pure honesty and a desire to be the person they were made to be in a way which is as loving and considerate of others as possible.
As I write this, the Holidays are upon us and in full swing. One of my favorite Christmas songs of all time is "O Holy Night" and it is one of many things which reminds me why the Christmas season is special to me. It is a time of year when I celebrate the birth of Christ, the One who helped me to know that God was to be approached with love rather than fear, that I was Loved Unconditionally by God regardless of what some others who feared who I am would want me to believe, and that the best way to demonstrate my gratitude was through being as loving a person as I can. Although others have deemed me as being an associate in the alleged "war on Christmas" simply by my inclusion of the words, "Happy Holidays" in my Christmas greetings to others, I have never forgotten the Reason for the Season.
It is during this time of the year that we often see people being a little bit kinder, more giving than they would be ordinarily, although I wish there were more people who would take that Spirit and carry it 364 days beyond the 25th. To me every day when we offer of ourselves, display compassion and forgiveness, and treat others with unconditional love and kindness, we are celebrating the meaning of the birth, and life of Christ.
The Christmas season is observed by many of us as the time we celebrate Christ's birth into life on this Earth, to bring us many things-valuable teachings, new ways of looking at and relating to God, and a better way of life. But most of all, He came to bring us Hope. Not condemnation, judgment, or a new set of stricter rules, or fear, or wrath, but Hope.
Whether or not the actual birth of Christ took place on the day we celebrate as "Christmas", I think it is very fitting that we observe the celebration of Christ's birth shortly after a time when many of us pay homage to gratitude (Thanksgiving) within a week of the ending of one year, and a new beginning of a New Year. To me, it represents the beginning of Hope anew for a better year, a better tomorrow, a brighter future for ALL of God's Children.
The hope that perhaps in the coming year, hearts and minds may become a little more open; defensiveness may be replaced with honest and respectful communication; those who are quick to judge may step back and examine the thoughts that are causing them to be judgmental and reevaluate whether or not their beliefs are leading them to be a more loving person, or preventing them from allowing God's Love to flow through them and on to others in need of it.
And the concept of the birth of Christ representing the bringing of Hope through a message of Love remains true to me; in His Life and Ministry, what he gave to us was Salvation from the fears and hardships which can plague us and that we will find ourselves facing and up against in this life at times. Perhaps my personal understanding of a "Saviour" is not along the same lines as traditional thought, yet it is deeply moving and meaningful to me and a gift I remain forever thankful for.
And it ties into my thoughts about all of these recent events. I have hope for many things in the New Year to come, as well as in the years after that. I hope that Rev. Haggard will find his peace with God, whatever that might be and however it works out for him and his family. I hope he will come to realize that God can love him as a gay or bisexual man just as equally as if he were a heterosexual man and that wherever the journey takes him that he does so in peace and with hope and all of God's Love. I hope that we will see the day soon when the prejudice against the LGBT Community still held not only by many conservative and fundamentalist Evangelical Christians but also by secular society will grow to have less and less hold. I hope that we will see the day when the church is less focused on the sexual behavior of people and more focused on the spiritual behavior and well being of people, and teach more about the values and morals of being a kind, compassionate and giving person rather than trying to uphold a "one size fits all" accepted doctrine about which sexuality is "right" and which others are "wrong." I hope that we will see more LGBT accepting Evangelical Christians speak up for the rights of the LGBT Community without stipulations or conditions, and acknowledge the full humanity of us as well as the fact that we too are the equally sacred and precious children of God.
I hope that we will see more churches spring up that truly strive to be inclusive, rather than "inclusive with conditions" (i.e., LGBT people can attend if they make an effort to "change"). I hope that those who are involved with the church who choose to have a political influence will focus on issues that I think Jesus truly would care about (such as fighting poverty, caring for the sick and needy, promoting an ethic of love and compassion for all people) than a few mainstream "talking points" (such as being against same gender marriage, reproductive rights, and religious freedom) that many who are currently lobbying seem to be focused on. I hope we will see more liberal and progressive Christians make their voices heard.
I hope for a day when whoever wants to celebrate their love to another through marriage regardless of gender has that ability, and same gender marriages are just as accepted as "traditional" ones. I hope for a day when it is seen as accepted for a bisexual to have committed relationships with both genders if that is the choice best for them and their partners. I hope for a time when there is no longer the omission of bisexual and transgendered people and concerns from large portions of the LGBT Community (which unfortunately still takes place at times.) And I hope for a day when youth growing up can receive honest and non biased or judgmental education about the diversity of sexual orientation and human sexuality, and that LGBT youth can find support early on so that they do not find themselves trapped in situations where they feel pressured to conform into what they fear others "expect" of them, and end up leading a life of pain, self hatred, and deceiving self and others. And I think most of all, I hope that those who know that Jesus taught a message of Love, of embracing a Loving God, and Loving one Another and not one of judgment and condemnation will continue to let our voice be heard, and continue to drown out the extremely vocal accusations of those who would use the name of God, and Christ to sanctify their own hatred-one borne out of fear, which is to me the most dark and repulsive force in the Universe (even though Love can overpower and destroy it)-for those who are different from themselves.
With all of the hardships and challenges that seem to be facing the LGBT Community, even with all of the progress we have all made, sometimes it can seem like a lot to hope for. But that is where faith comes in; the combination of faith, hope and love to this day remains to be one of the most powerful alliances I can imagine. And all I have to do whenever I want to strengthen my faith that there is a God of Love is to look around me everywhere in life; not just my loved ones and friends and family, but the skies, the stars, the entire world and all of Creation. To do so with an open mind and heart can do wonders for any times of doubt. Sometimes miracles are hiding right below the eyes of those who are looking too carefully for them, and the hope one was seeking was there all along if they would merely have been still and listened.
As we close out another year, I cannot speak for everyone, but I can say that for myself I am going to do as I always do; for whatever this past year has brought, both the difficult I learned from and the wonderful I rejoiced in, I will give equal thanks. I will then strive to see the New Year as a new start with hope renewed-for dreams and goals previously begun to be refreshed and more steps taken in direction towards them, a chance for always trying to see the good in others rather than the things they have done in the past which might have caused me distress, and the opportunity to pass on the hope God has blessed me with to someone else who may be in need of it. Although time and a calendar marking the beginning of a New Year is merely an arrangement of numbers designed to measure the passage of time, and this type of attitude can be adopted at any time of the year, what better time than now?
And here is wishing anyone who finds themselves in need of hope, no matter who you are, hope for the New Year and beyond: wishes for healing for those who may still be struggling with old fears and fears about God, wishes for those in difficult situations to find a ray of hope, and wishes for those who long for the knowledge that God Loves them as they are to know that it exists for you as well as everyone else. Hope is there, in the teachings and messages of Christ, in His Spirit which is there for all of us who choose to embrace it, and most of all, deep within our hearts, where God often speaks the loudest, and the clearest.
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