Saturday, January 10, 2009

I love Ted Haggard.

Sincerely. The guy is not bad, err, for teaching how loving the evangelical church truly is to us gay human beings. He brings out all the contradictions so richly. Indeed, his is a story of love and betrayal.

Check it out below.

Ted Haggard is OK with gay marriage but not really

So was talking with Ted Haggard Friday for an upcoming story we're working on about a Jan. 29 Alexandra Pelosi HBO documentary on his rapid fall from grace after a gay sex and meth scandal. One day Haggard was a confidante of President Bush and head of a politically powerful national evangelical group that represented 30 million folks and the next he was social pariah -- banned from being a minister, unhirable and living out of U-Hauls. Getting nailed in a gay sex and meth scandal will do that to an evangelical Christian guy.

Suddenly, we're talking Prop 8 and gay marriage and it sounds like Ted doesn't have a problem with gay marriage. (He is still married to his wife of three decades. More on that later.) Key words: "sounds like." Bear with us because this takes a bit.

A key point in the doc is how conservative evangelical Christians -- the folks who often preach about loving the sinner but hating the sin -- literally banished Haggard from Colorado. "Exile" is how Haggard described it in the doc. "The church told me to go to hell." Nobody -- church or state -- will hire him, and he's now selling health insurance door-to-door. (He recently returned to his $700,000 home there, though.) Still, it's bleak. And for those of you who say, "He deserves it," Haggard replies, "They're right. I do."

In the film, he talks about how the church could have used his story as an example of how to preach forgiveness. But churches are a business, too, he said, and acknowledged that he was bad for biz. So how is the church blowing opportunities to reach out in other places?

"I think we're blowing it right here in California with the No. 1 way evangelical believers are communicating their belief are things like Prop. 8," Haggard told The Chronicle Friday.

"The gospel is so much better than trying to interface our personal commitments in scripture with civil law. We as Christians know that God hates divorce, and we don't want to be advocates of divorce, but we certainly aren't opposed to there being divorce laws for society. And believers use those divorce laws a lot. There are lots of things that are principles in Scripture that we need to be very thoughtful about whether or not they should be inculcated into civil law."

So are you saying that you're now for gay marriage?

"Prior to my crisis, I was for equality under the law no matter how people grouped. Whether it was two old spinsters living together or a homosexual couple or a heterosexual couple, I think it ought to be the same under the law. But prior to my crisis, I thought the word 'marriage,' I thought it was worth defending the definition of it -- the traditional definition of it, and I no longer believe that. I'm looking out a window right now and the steel in the frame is married to the glass. So marriage doesn't just mean the union between a man and a woman, it also means where two pieces of steel come together or where the curb meets the street, it marries the street."

Ted, that's too much metaphor. Do you think gays should be allowed to marry each other?

"I think the government should recognize the union between people whether they're gay or not in whatever the language they choose, whether they call it a marriage or a civil union, it's up to them. If the government is going to be in the business of recognizing people grouped together as couples, then they need to that across the board. It's a big change for me."

"It's not a change in my view of civil liberties. I've always believed this. It's a change in semantics. I'm saying prior to the crisis, I would defend marriage as the sacred term for the church to use for heterosexual monogamous couples. Now I've broadened that and said it's not worth having a war over the definition of a word. I believe that under civil law people should be respected. And it should be equality under the law. So either the government needs to get out of recognizing that couples are together and make everybody file the same tax returns, etc. Or they need to recognize all of them. I don't think it's wise for the government to separate based on what goes on in a person's bedroom."

Now, less than an hour after we spoke, an HBO publicity person called to say that Haggard wanted to be clear that he wasn't saying he was for gay marriage. Uh, OK. Sounds like we're playing semantical chicken.

I asked Haggard whether he has had any inappropriate sexual experiences since his "crisis."

"I have thoroughly discussed my sex life with my wife and my therapist," he said. "I am very pleased with where I am today and I am completely contented with my relationship with my wife."

And is she?

He laughed. "You'll have to ask her."

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