“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”
That is what the Rev. Ted Haggard would be saying in confession today, were he were a Catholic. Alas, he is not a Catholic, just a prominent evangelical minister. You might say that until yesterday he was the nation’s No. 3 evangelical preacher, right after Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Before yesterday, Haggard held the lofty title of the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Now, as you have likely read, Haggard appears to be the latest casualty among prominent Christian hypocrites. Specifically he is accused of buying methamphetamine and paying for sex once a month over a three years period with a gay Denver masseur. Both are vices far removed from those he has consistently preached.
It should be time for a full confession from Rev. Haggard. What we got today was a qualified confession: while sorely tempted, he never really succumbed. So what he did was okay, sort of, except for the hypocrisy thing and the small fact that buying methamphetamine, even if you never use it, is a serious crime. He is like Bill Clinton claiming that he never had sex with Monica Lewinski because intercourse never occurred.
Needless to say, I do not believe that Haggard passed on either the meth or the gay sex. Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. He too was tormented by the Devil. Reputedly, he succeeded in keeping Lucifer at arm’s length. Haggard may want to emulate his Lord but Jesus did have the tiny advantage of being God. Haggard, however, is not God. He is a human being like the rest of us. Therefore, his assertions are not plausible. They fail the Occam’s Razor test, to say the least.
I am sure the 14,000 members of his New Life Church are very loving and forgiving people. Yet somehow, I doubt many will accept his explanation. Evangelicals may be passionate in their faith, but they still inhabit the real world. Likely, many of them are struggling with their demons too. Their demons may not be gay sex nor getting high. Yet it is clear that they do not go to church because they are saints. They may want to become saints, but, like their minister, they remain fallible human beings. They are searching for a permanent way to act contrary to their innate and fallible humanity. Like their minister, they are likely searching for Godot.
Likely, the full scandalous details of his relationship and drug use will soon come out. Perhaps he can join former Florida congressional representative Mark Foley in rehab. The parishioners of the New Life Church will be left scratching their heads wondering why they had such faith in this charlatan. Maybe the devil led them astray.
Haggard preached against homosexuality, although curiously not as forcefully as other prominent evangelical ministers. It is unlikely he found the masseur Mike Jones by thumbing through the Yellow Pages. Moreover, I doubt he was complaining to his wife about lower back pains before making those many trips to Denver for “massages”. Finding vice is now very convenient. My bet is that he simply used his local web browser and searched through the Denver Craigslist erotic services for men looking for men. To find the meth, perhaps he browsed the Craiglist casual encounters page and looked for homosexual men who wanted to go “skiing”.
There is no question that I do not like hypocrisy. I have railed against it with politicians, and it would be inconsistent of me not to decry preachers who are also charlatans. While we should be used to it by now, we should not be surprised when it happens. For none of us are perfect: we are all human beings.
Yes, we are all sinners, and that includes prominent evangelicals. We are all driven by itches that we need to scratch, but we know we should not. Therefore, while I castigate Haggard for his predictable hypocrisy, I also feel a small sliver of compassion for the man. For I know, like everyone on this planet, I have a few demonic itches lurking inside of me too. While a prominent part of me does not like having these itches, in one sense they give me comfort. They tell me that, thank goodness, I am no saint. I am a human being. Moreover, as a human being, I have free will. I can choose to “sin” if I want to. Having these itches means that I am free. It tells me that I am alive. It tells me that at least someone else cannot control some part of me. Perhaps these sins are tickets to our own personal destruction. Nevertheless, these sins might also be something else: messages asserting that there is an authentic human being inside of us. It is not necessarily God-like, but it is genuine 100% authentic fallible humanity.
Since we are human beings, sinning is in our nature. We can no more purge sin from our lives as we can change our eye color. However, sinning is not the only thing in which we can excel. We can also excel in loving. And in taking pleasure in food. And in drink. And in enjoying a good joke. And in swearing. And in having good, dirty sex. And in the pleasure of hearing an opera. And in feeling some vicarious satisfaction when a hypocrite like Haggard gets his just deserts. By accepting my humanity, I even have the freedom to feel defiled and loathsome about myself if I want to. All this freedom may not bring me happiness, which by its nature is elusive, but it at least it demonstrates that I have free will, and that I am someone entirely unique. I am not just alive, it means I feel alive.
So welcome to the human gene pool, Reverend Haggard. I am sure you genetically were programmed to excel in informing the rest of us on how we are sinners and how we can move from sin toward holiness. Still, you remain a sinner just like me. I take both pleasure and comfort in this fact. I do not want you to be the upright and moral man that, until a few days ago, you appeared to be to your congregation. I want you to be a human being with failings just like me.
I am a human. You are a human. We are sinners. We are brothers too. Perhaps instead of drowning yourself in a predictable orgy of repentance and confession by parroting someone else’s words and ideals, you should say some things that perhaps are authentically you instead. My guess is they would go something like this:
“I am a human being. Like the rest of you, I make mistakes. While I try to learn from my mistakes and become a better person, some part of me will always be a sinner. I accept that this is part of the human experience. It is part of who I am and always will be. I will do my best to live my life by being faithful to the person I really am, rather than the one I want you to perceive. While I have hurt many people, including my family, and myself I have also learned some important things about myself. I have learned what it means to be a human being. In some mysterious way, perhaps God wants me to embrace both my good and my bad sides, and be humbled by the complex, fallible, mysterious but embracing mystery that makes me a human being.”
I wish he would say this. I would chime in “Amen, brother!” That is what I would like him to say. Somehow, I doubt this will be forthcoming.