Pastor Ted Haggard wrote in his letter to New Life Church last Sunday, "An example must be set." As a fellow pastor reading those words, I agree and respond with a great hope and a lesser fear.
The great hope is that Pastor Ted will set an example for embracing human sexuality as a gift, and homosexuality as a variation of that gift. In so doing, a man of his charisma could change religious and political views toward homosexual people and inaugurate an era of greater understanding and acceptance of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
My lesser fear is that, yet again, the example set will be to reduce sexuality to mere behavior, pushing such behavior shamefully into the shadows. In his letter, Pastor Ted describes his sexuality in exactly this way: "There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life."
This past week's shocking revelation was that Pastor Ted is a gay (or bisexual) person who has been demonizing himself and others for many years. Pastor Ted himself has preached that such an orientation is a sin. To call something "sinful" that is a fundamental part of who we are is to force into the shadows an element of ourselves that could potentially be a source of great joy to ourselves and others.
It may come as a surprise to many (and this is without dispute) that "homosexuality" is a term totally foreign to the Bible. Homosexuality is a modern term that describes a same-gender sexual orientation. Modern people, including the vast majority of professional psychologists, acknowledge that sexuality expresses itself in multiple orientations. Men love other men and women love other women in mutual, sexually healthy relationships.
While the concept of "homosexuality" is not known to any of the myriad biblical writers (don't let certain translations of the Hebrew and Greek original fool you), biblical writers do know something about sexual immorality, and such acts are always the result of power imbalances, violence and deception.
Pastor Ted writes, "I am a sinner. I have fallen. I desperately need to be forgiven and healed." Our hearts should groan with compassion when we read these words. And our minds should ask: "For what should Pastor Ted be forgiven?" For being gay? Not necessary. Such is not a sin in biblical faith. Being gay is an orientation that can be a healthy part of a person's identity when given room to express itself without shame.
Instead, let us forgive Pastor Ted for withholding this important part of himself for all these years. Let us forgive Pastor Ted for using the pulpit to ostracize others who have had the same struggle. Let us forgive Pastor Ted for deceiving himself, his church and his community for so long.
And let us encourage him to set an example, especially those of us who have been critical of him when we thought he was a morally upright and righteous straight man. We now know he is none of these things. His own failings remind us of our own. Let us ask ourselves, "What are the ways in which I fail to practice what I preach? What part of myself do I keep in the shadows and fail to bring into the light? How can I contribute to a society that encourages healthy expressions of sexuality?"
Love conquers fear every time. This is the great Christian hope. Let us love Pastor Ted for who he is and let us have compassion for the ways in which he has failed. Let us also have compassion for gay and lesbian people, many of whom belong to Pastor Ted's former congregation, who have been hiding for too long. Pastor Ted, starting now, set the example you spoke of, embracing the darkest part of yourself and holding it up to the light.
Benjamin Broadbent serves as senior pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ of Colorado Springs.