This letter was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on November 13, 2006. It also aired on the “Perspectives” program on KQED FM in San Francisco that day. The bold print in the text is the part I added to the Perspective piece when I sent it to be published on the UPI Religion and Spirituality site. An audio file of my KQED Perspective is available at the end of the text, courtesy of my friend JJ Chacon.
Dear Ted Haggard,
In the wake of your recent ecclesiastical discipline, you have promised to place yourself under the direction of your fellow pastors during your season of rehabilitation. I am a pastor, but since I don’t expect you to ask my opinion, I’m writing you a letter instead.
The path your life has taken bears public witness to the private hell that daily is endured by members of the clergy who are gay, who must choose between the sacred call God has placed on their lives and the full expression of their sexuality. Both are divine gifts, but most churches, by embracing one and shaming the other, force a choice that is painful beyond the imagining of most who are straight.
Some closeted clergy work out their pain through self-destructive behaviors. Just the other day I heard the tragic story of a fellow Presbyterian clergyman who committed suicide, apparently for the shame he felt in knowing that he was about to be outed to his congregation.
Other ministers who are gay seek succor in hypocrisy, and this seems to have been your approach. Hypocrisy also is self-destructive, as is your apparent use of illegal drugs and your decision to patronize a prostitute. But the use of hypocrisy to mask one’s sexual orientation is particularly insidious because it encourages members of the closeted pastor’s congregation to treat the gay people in their lives with spiritual contempt. In your case it also encouraged Colorado voters to deprive gays and lesbians of the possibility of marriage, condemning people like you to remain in lives of duplicity and self-destruction.
But we are Christians. We believe in the possibility of grace, and here’s a way forward, a path to redemption: come out.
There is, of course, one big obstacle standing in the way of your owning and celebrating your sexual orientation, and that is the Bible. As Christians you and I agree that the Bible is the unique and authoritative Word of God, but we differ in how we read the Bible. Unlike you, I don’t believe that the Bible makes a very good sex manual.
If society organized itself according to the Bible’s sexual mandates neither one of us would be very happy. It is true that the Bible condemns same-sex eroticism in four or five different places, but the Bible also endorses the idea that men should sleep with their maidservants (see Exodus 21:7-11; see also the narratives of Abraham and Jacob in Genesis). The Bible also forces a raped woman to marry her attacker (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Tamar is considered a heroine for dressing as a prostitute and seducing her father-in-law (Genesis 38); God condemns neither Lot nor his daughters in the Biblical story of their drunken incest after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Then there is the parade of great polygamist Biblical heroes, among them Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon.
It is clear to me that an honest reading of scripture gives us truth that transcends sexual mores, which are defined by human societies. Our job is to be faithful and loving within our historical and cultural context, and in twenty-first century America it’s not a sin to be gay.
It is a sin, however to be dishonest with yourself, with your family, with your church, with your community, with your God. So come out.
Come out for the sake of your soul. Come out for the sake of your family. Come out for the sake of those who have been hurt by your hypocrisy. Help Christians everywhere understand that it is not a sin to be gay. Come out for the sake of your colleagues who destroy their lives while guarding the secret of their sexuality.
Ted, you are a leader. If you are reading to this message, I beg you to redeem your disgrace. Use the gift of who you are to bring healing. Come out.
I bid you God’s peace,
UPDATE: Here is the audio: [audio:2006-11-13-ben.mp3]