What’s going on in the Republican Party? And why all the gay sex scandals?
The elephant that sits neither quietly nor invisibly in the GOP’s room is that the Republican Party is as gay as the Democratic Party – just more closeted.
But when we go after the symptoms of internalized homophobia evident in GOP fall guys like Mark Foley and Ted Haggard – and not the problem that straps them into a homophobic Republican Christian conservative straight jacket – American voters will continue to be shocked and awed by news that one more of the GOP’s esteemed and revered bigwigs has lived an actively closeted gay life.
Rev. Ted Haggard was one of those bigwigs. Founder of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Haggard wielded influence on Capitol Hill because of his public vitriol against LGBTQ people.
As a public minister with a bully pulpit, Haggard bullied his followers into believing his fire and brimstone against homosexuality. But much of the bullying was to convince himself – because Haggard privately lived a different life, on the down low in drug-fueled homosexual trysts for at least three years.
Ashamed of “thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything [he] believed and taught,” Haggard wrote a letter of apology to his congregation owning up to his hidden life.
And one form of Haggard’s internalized homophobia was clear in the public repentance and verbal self-flagellation of his apology statement: “There is part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it all of my adult life.”
But Haggard’s rantings and railings against gays, we now find out, were also rantings and railings against himself. And it’s those rantings that helped make him a GOP insider.
Haggard was part of a cadre of men who participated in conservative Christian leadership conference calls with the White House, and he lobbied members of Congress on U.S. Supreme Court nominees. As a GOP insider, Haggard was one of this nation’s key advocates for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
But because no lie lives forever, Haggard’s sexual relationship with a gay escort, Michael Jones, exposed Haggard’s personal hypocrisy of preaching one thing yet living another.
“It made me angry that here’s someone preaching about gay marriage and going behind the scenes having gay sex,” Jones told The New York Times.
But the GOP doesn’t think it has to clean up its homophobic act, because evangelical Christians like Haggard, in the face of their own truth, demonize homosexuality while the GOP politicizes it.
In forgiving Jones for disclosing his duplicitous life, Haggard wrote in his letter of apology, “[Jones] is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins and others need to be dealt with harshly. So forgive him, and actually thank God for him.”
But what Christian evangelicals don’t get, and perhaps Haggard as well, is that homosexuality is not a sexual behavior that can be altered or fixed with the right number of Hail Marys, sermons of hell and damnation, or reparative therapies. Rather, it is a sexual orientation that is part and parcel of the continuum of human sexuality.
And St. Augustine’s theological qualifier in the context of LGBTQ people to love the sinner (us) but hate the sin (our sexual orientation) has both religious and political currency in this culture because it keeps the misinformed debate over sexual behavior versus sexual orientation going.
And with St. Augustine’s belief that our bodies fell into sin when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and with many conservative theologians and ministers viewing our fall from the Garden of Eden as God punishing humanity with our uncontrollable and unquenchable urge for sexual desire outside of procreation, our fall from grace is that we wander in eternal damnation through an erotic wilderness – with queers unquestionably leading the pack.
Haggard’s fall from grace is his act of infidelity toward his wife. His sin, however, is not his sexual orientation, but rather his participation in this country’s political and religious institutional structures that fight against LGBTQ people’s rights of selfhood, including his own. And these structures also intentionally degrade our human worth and violate our basic civil rights.
While it is this country’s freedom of religion that affords religious organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals and churches like New Life the right to their beliefs, even if they are discriminatory ones against LGBTQ people, it is not our government’s right. It is an egregious affront when our government politicizes these anti-queer beliefs into policy by their manipulation of conservative Christians like Haggard as one of their foot soldiers.
The perversion of it all lies not in what conservative Christians and the GOP say we are, but rather in what they refuse to accept in themselves.
Published in In Newsweekly on November 8, 2006