Last November, the New Life Church, a model fundamentalist mega-church he had founded in Colorado Springs, ousted fifty-year-old Ted Haggard, its senior pastor.
A darling not only of Republican Christianity (Haggard participated in regular conference calls with Bush), but of his own 14,000 member religious empire and the National Association of Evangelicals over which he was President, Haggard first lied about knowing the out-of-town male prostitute that claimed they had a three-year relationship. Soon, though, Haggard admitted buying methamphetamine from him, undisclosed “sexual immoral conduct,” and a long battle against feelings contrary to Haggard’s beliefs.
Haggard immediately “got help” from a small “restoration panel” of right-wing, anti-gay leaders. Within days one of them, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, swiftly abandoned his “close friend” because Dobson was too busy. “This could take four or five years and I just have too many other things going on,” Dobson told CNN’s Larry King.
In mid-December a second pastor of the same mega-church stepped down after admitting “sexual contact with another adult.” Christopher Beard was the 35-year old leader of New Life’s “intensive” adult leadership program.
All this isn’t surprising. An obsession with sexuality usually acted out against LGBT people and any women who aren’t submissive to men often accompanies right-wing Christianity.
In fact, sexual and religious addictions aren’t strange bedfellows. Just go back, as sexual addiction experts do, to the Father of Western Christian theology, St. Augustine’s Confessions and his later theological demonization of sex, to find a classic case of these cross-addictions.
All of this made a previously filmed HBO special with Haggard as the film’s on-screen tourist guide to Evangelicals quite eerie. One of the first scenes in the documentary “Friends of God,” which first aired January 25th, shows Haggard bragging with some parishioners about how often they — you guessed it – have sex. Sex must have been very important to him.
Then on February 5th, only 3 months later, Haggard was declared “completely heterosexual.” In fact, a member of the four-man board of “overseers” said this was a “discovery” Haggard had made after an intensive three-week “counseling” program at an undisclosed Phoenix “treatment center.”
Whatever Haggard had learned from this intensive course in being straight, and the twice a week “Christian counseling” he continues to receive, he and his wife plan now to pass it on to others. He told their old congregation in a February email that they plan to take an on-line master’s degree course in psychology “so we can work together serving others the rest of our lives.” The “overseers” had recommended he leave town and do secular work.
All of this sounds painfully familiar to thousands of LGBT people who once trusted and hoped in right-wing Christian psycho-spiritual talk to “cure” them.
It reminds them of the rejection, threats of abandonment, pressures, and fears they encountered that forced many into ex-gay programs that took their money, played on their vulnerabilities and needs for acceptance, and offered an opportunity for program leaders to act out their own fears of really being gay. These programs eventually disappointed them when they realized they were all smoke and mirrors, brainwashing and abuse.
Not surprisingly, these in many ways lucrative conversion techniques are contrary to settled science. Over a quarter of a century ago all the major professional psychological organizations declared that homosexuality isn’t an illness. Then, in 1999 eleven professional organizations condemned so-called therapies still hyped as turning people heterosexual. They were, professional studies concluded, not only ineffective but potentially harmful.
The small rival group that the right-wing relies upon because it continues to justify views based in religious bigotry with long-debunked scientific theories, now is also in trouble because one of its own wrote that the civil rights movement was irrational and that supporters of human rights are intellectually stunted. In its Winter 2007 “Intelligence Report,” the Southern Poverty Law Center documents the failure of this group, which calls itself the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, to fully repudiate these statements.
Among other things, Gerald Schoenewolf, a New York psychotherapist and member of the Science Advisory Committee of NARTH wrote in an angry polemic: “Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle . Life there was savage and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off.”
All of this reminds us that all discrimination goes together, though often only one kind is in the open. Any oppression represents a lifestyle, a way of relating to others who are different, that hides many oppressions.
It also reminds us that being, acting, thinking, and feeling “straight” are learned behavior, not natural. Like going to acting school, we can learn to perform the straight role.
No matter what our sexual orientation, we usually learn “straight” through the extended course that is growing up in the USA. We enroll in it early.
It envelops and entrances us relentlessly because the major figures and institutions in our lives enforce straightness. In fact, we’re scared into it by the fears of what might happen to us if we don’t perform straightness well enough – violence, threats of violence, ridicule, humiliation, isolation, and rejection.
Haggard’s short, accelerated version was an intensive review session built on the fact that straight is learned behavior. He relearned it out of these fears. They motivated him to do what would come closest to “restoration” of the straightness he hid behind before — a lifestyle that brought him attention, love, a career, feelings of importance and acceptance, power, and denial of what still remains within that straightness can hide for long periods of time.
Sexual orientations are natural to people – heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, uncertain-sexual, asexual. You name them.
We don’t know definitively the cause of heterosexuality. Science hasn’t finally determined this yet. Though, we do know it’s set very early in life.
Still, some, scared that their own heterosexuality is extremely fragile, are shaking in their boots, afraid that their sexual orientation will come and go due to brief encounters or bad parenting. They’re often religious people who don’t really believe that their heterosexuality is a divine gift to celebrate. If they could believe, they wouldn’t be so scared or oppressive, and they wouldn’t have to play the straight role to get along.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.