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Trapped in a box

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So Pastor Ted's gone away for awhile and it might be a very long while to go through what the media seems to have universally accepted is a "restoration."

And what a euphemism that is. Restoration, the return of something that was removed, or the restoring of something to a former condition, perhaps has a softer ring to it than "reparative therapy" or "sexual re-orientation" or "conversion." All of those have been buzz phrases for the ex-gay movement, and are as vague as everything else about the Haggard story, other than the claims of meth use and three years' worth of gay sex with a prostitute.

Haggard has only admitted he was guilty of "sexual immorality," of being a "deceiver and a liar."

"There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it all of my adult life," he wrote in his letter of apology to his congregation.

The "team" of three elders overseeing what they call the "restoration" of Haggard, which includes the cousin of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, will likely hook him up to a polygraph machine. They've talked about administering a drug test. They might hack into his computer hard drive. There will be psychological counseling, and a lot of praying.

A few applications haven't been discussed, at least publicly. But in the world of "ex-gay," where counselors insist that somebody's "wrong" sexuality can be driven out like some kind of demon, all sorts of methods have been employed.

There's a program that confiscates any Calvin Klein clothing that is owned by the patient (too gay-looking). And a treatment in which you wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it whenever you have a homoerotic thought (a dead giveaway to whomever happens to be in the same room). Men are even taught how to "properly" cross their legs; ankle atop the knee. Only women should sit with one leg propped completely over the other.

Counseling sessions can include efforts to convince men that their gayness is a direct result of their mothers being overbearing and their fathers distant and emotionally unavailable. Lesbians may be informed that they were certainly sexually assaulted as children. If they don't remember any such thing, it must be because they have repressed it.

In the extreme, exorcisms are conducted; electroshock is used.

As straight as many "news stories" deliver the reports about these sorts of "restorations," many aren't buying it.

"These are outdated theories that don't hold up, and Focus on the Family just keeps perpetuating [them]," says Jeff Lutes, the executive director of Soulforce, an organization based in Lynchburg, Va., that battles, through nonviolence, the religious and political oppression of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Many gays and lesbians responded with fury screaming, "Hypocrisy!" when the Haggard scandal broke. Soulforce has launched a letter-writing campaign, a call to extend the fallen evangelical compassion, just as he has been criticized for showing them none.

At the same time, the group is calling on Focus on the Family and the National Association of Evangelicals the 30-million-member-strong organization that Haggard led until his downfall to take responsibility for making the pastor a "victim of religious-based bigotry."

The campaign has already generated more than 200 letters expressing compassion and support, Lutes says. The group plans to send the letters to New Life Church, to be forwarded to Haggard's undisclosed location.

"I'm a licensed professional counselor, and one of the reasons I got into Soulforce is, there are so many people who have gone through these [ex-gay] programs and were still in various stages of recovery from the incredibly damaging effects," Lutes says.

The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association represent just two of many mainline groups that have discredited claims that homosexuals can be "cured." Lutes notes with sad irony that someone who has been perceived as an enemy of gays and lesbians now finds himself trapped in their box.

"My heart really goes out to him," Lutes says.

degette@csindy.com

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