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One recently lost his mega New Life Church and leadership as president of the National Association of Evangelicals when a part of his life, “so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it all my life,” was brought to light. (“My Dear New Life Church Family,” letter from Ted Haggard, Nov. 5, 2006). Another recently lost his major Republican political base when the so-called “terrorism” he had been warring against all his presidency brought him-and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, including Americans-to a dead end in Iraq. Ironically, the one was a spiritual advisor to the other, and “joke[d] that the only disagreement between himself and the leader of the Western world is automotive: Mr. Bush drives a Ford pickup, whereas he prefers a Chevy.” (“Cheer Up, Conservatives! You’re still winning,” by John Mickle Thwist and Adrian Wooldridge The Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2005)
Whatever their difference in cars, both Rev. Ted Haggard and President George Bush are apparently being driven from power by a similar dynamic: their inner struggle with socially unacceptable impulses and feelings of inadequacy that are too threatening to acknowledge. They defend against the very urges and self-doubts that unconsciously drive them by obsessively reacting against people who mirror what they believe to be their own inner “sinful condition,” or people seen as personifying their own aggression and “evil” propensity for power over others.
They demonize other human beings with the “demons” inside themselves. They seek to curb and destroy in other persons what they despise in themselves. In the name of “Christ” or “freedom,” of course. Certainly not in the name of their own unconscious reprehensibly-driven sexual attractions or “dead or alive” aggressive impulses. An understanding of their anti-introspective behavior, and their resistance to objective cause-and-effect soul-searching or self-examination, may bring some sanity to certain religious and political beliefs-and thus justice and healing of divisions that separate people into “normal” versus “objectively disordered” or “incompatible” sexual orientations and “good versus evil” ideologies.
The obsessive warring of many evangelical Christians against homosexuality betrays the need to dumb down their god. Rev. Haggard provides a classic example. In the film, “Jesus Camp,” a documentary on the indoctrination of children into evangelical Christianity, Haggard tells a huge audience, “We don’t have to debate about what we should think about homosexual activity. It’s written in the Bible.” (“Fired evangelist Ted Haggard appears in ‘Jesus Camp’ doc condemning gays,” Christy Lemire, Canadian Press, canada.com, Nov. 6, 2006) Haggard is actually telling children life is not about thinking but about believing. In fact, it is about not thinking-especially when their reality challenges or contradicts what is “written in the Bible.”
While Rev. Haggard confesses to life-long warring against a part of himself “so repulsive and dark,” the Bible itself has helped to keep him in the dark about himself. He
is passing on to children the very homophobic “darkness” passed on to him by what is “written in the Bible” and engulfing his life with shame and guilt and denial-and the lives of gay and lesbian persons with discrimination and physical and spiritual violence.
It’s written in the Bible?” So is anti-Semitism (Matthew 27: 15-26; Mark 15: 6-15; Luke 23: 13-25; John 19: 1-16) The enslavement of Black people (Ephesians 6:5ff). Patriarchy’s subjugation of women (Ephesians 5: 22-25). World domination by Christians (Matthew 28:16-20). And other “darkness” from which knowledge and truth have set us free.
Most evangelical and fundamentalist Christians who condemn homosexuality have had nothing whatsoever to do with their own heterosexual orientation-just as most gay and lesbian persons are born and develop as they are. To put a moral stamp of “natural” and “unnatural” on an individual’s sexual orientation flies in the face of genetically predisposed sexual development and preference.
Here a Christian doctrine of free will-and faith in a god who said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness” (Genesis 1:26)-serve to dismiss and explain away belief-threatening cause-and-effect understanding of genetically determined psycho-sexual development and behavior. The god of the infallible Bible is gay but not that gay.
The beliefs that homosexuality is “unnatural” and “sinful” and can and should be “cured” have been rejected by the American Psychiatric Association, and other such professional groups whose work is based on the scientific and clinical study of human behavior. Since 1973, the American Psychiatric Association has maintained “that
homosexuality per se is not a diagnosable mental disorder.” And in 1998, the APA’s Board of Trustees began opposing “any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or conversion therapy,” that assumes “homosexuality per se is a mental disorder” and “that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.” (“Position Statement on Therapies Focused on Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation (Reparative or Conversion Therapies),” Approved by the Assembly, May 2000.)
In cases where same sex attraction may involve free will or choice, it is still about two people loving each other. Two people committed to each other’s fulfillment.
Nor should any loving gay or lesbian couple’s right to marry be put to a vote by a state legislature-which Rev. Haggard’s state of Colorado did recently and banned with his strong support. It was his hypocrisy here that led his gay sex provider of three years to force him out of his sanctuary closet. Sadly, what is “written in the Bible” had forced him into that self-denying and destructive church closet.
The homophobic cry of “Let the people vote!” on gay marriage, now being heard loudly in Massachusetts, is not about democracy but about certain citizens trying to use the democratic process to impose their own indoctrinated “dark side” on gay and lesbian persons and drive them back into the shadows. It should not be about politicians like President Bush exploiting such “darkness” to shore up his conservative Republican base
before an election. Nor about Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney trying to capitalize on the same “darkness” to create a “conservative base” for his 2008 presidential run. The ethical and democratic issues here are not about preserving the traditional family but about honoring the rights of all members of the family born in those “traditional marriages.”
“It’s written in the Bible.” For many Bible-believing Christians, it is about authority not authenticity. Certain religious leaders and their followers need to protect their god-and themselves from knowledge. The more mysterious their god’s ways, the more they can interpret and control his movement with an infallible compass-the Bible. They need to believe that their god’s ways are “unsearchable”-beyond human cause-and-effect understanding. Therein lays these religious leaders’ authority and power over people-and their followers’ need to remain dependent and powerless. They dumb down their god to rev up their religious authority.
Thus “an organization of Christian fundamentalists claims that destruction brought on by Hurricane Katrina is God’s judgment against New Orleans for holiday festivals like the annual gay Southern Decadence party. ‘Although the loss of life is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city.’ said Repent America director Michael Marcavage on the organization’s Web site.” (“Religious groups link Hurricane to gay event,” Christopher Curtis, gay.com/ Planet Out.com Network).
The assignment of such divine judgment seems to be shared by evangelical Christian leader Rev. Franklin Graham, who said, “‘There’s been a black spiritual cloud [italics added] over New Orleans for years.'” Appearing at Liberty University, a Christian university founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell, “Graham spoke about how some believed God was using the hurricane to spark a religious revival there,” because “New Orleans is a city known for Satan worship, orgies and widespread drinking and drug use.” (“Some US Christians say Katrina was God’s handiwork,” by Paul Simao, Reuters Alert Net, Oct. 16, 2005) What would a white spiritual cloud represent? Goodness? Showers of blessings? The revelation of Rev. Franklin Graham’s own unconscious feelings of racial superiority? To what degree are spirituality and one’s god colored by one’s own racial conditioning and identity?
Civilized society punishes people severely for committing a fraction of the wanton and destructive behavior certain Christian fundamentalist and other religious leaders attribute to their god. It would seem that such leaders are projecting onto their god their own unconscious hatred and aggression. Such a destructive god should be restricted to history or banished to the heavens, or confined to a book, or studied in a laboratory to understand his terroristic nature-and not allowed to return and “move in mysterious ways” upon the earth and among human beings until his worshippers enjoy the therapeutic touch of a Golden Retriever, or unexpectedly discover the humanizing love of a gay or lesbian son or daughter, or experience unconditional love themselves from another human being, or benefit from the acceptance and clinical insights of a psychologically-trained therapist rather than be limited to the focus of a Biblically-based reparative counselor.
“It’s written in the Bible” accommodates an excessive need for authority and absolutes that provide security, promise a “cure-all,” alleviate feelings of powerlessness and legitimize anti-democratic beliefs and behavior. Thus, an evangelical Christian can believe “God is love” while denying to gay and lesbian persons their innate and inalienable birthright. Tragically, a birthright believed to be “so repulsive and dark” that Rev. Ted Haggard felt forced to strongly deny and war against it all his life-and even more so now as he faces the spiritual Catch-22 of “reparative therapy,” conducted by other evangelical Christian ministers being guided by what is “written in the Bible.” Bible-based “reparative therapy” is believed to be a further attempt to protect one’s god from empirical knowledge.
The threat that psychologically-guided soul-searching poses to evangelical and fundamentalist Christians especially is seen in the change in the training of ministers in pastoral care and counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The seminary has dropped “secular psychology” from its curriculum and “is taking its Christian counseling department in a new direction, one built upon the sufficiency of Scripture and designed to train pastors to deal biblically with the needs of hurting people.” This “wholesale change in emphasis [is] built upon the view that Scripture is sufficient to answer comprehensively the deepest needs of the human heart” [italics added]. The very psychological knowledge and supervised clinical training, through which ministers gain self-understanding and are thus better able to love themselves, and hence their neighbor, are dumped into a wastebasket. Replaced by “true ‘pastoral care’ as defined by the Scriptures.” (“Southern Seminary Launches new vision for biblical counseling,” By Jeff Robinson, (BP) news, Feb. 15, 2005)
It may be “written in the Bible,” but pastoral psychotherapist, Rev. Dr. Perry Miller states that he and other such psychotherapists and clinical supervisors of ministers-in-training “have had to pick up the pieces of people’s lives who have been counseled or supervised by such a limited model.” Miller stresses the importance of clergy gaining insight into themselves and other persons through integrating knowledge of the social sciences under the guidance of a clinically trained supervisor. (“A Threat to Clinical Pastoral Training,” by Perry Miller, Pastoral Report.com, The Newsletter of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, Feb. 23, 2005). The spiritual health of worshippers depends greatly on the emotional health of their religious leaders.
Self-knowledge is believed to be a fundamental qualification of any clergy person and of anyone committed to democratic values. One has to know where he or she is coming from in order to know where other persons are at. Self-knowledge helps one to avoid getting in one’s own way in living and working with other people. The more one is in touch with and accepting of oneself, the better prepared one is to experience and accept other persons as themselves-better able to experience rather than interpret their reality.
Jesus seemed to ground spirituality in self-knowledge and human relationships. When asked which was the greatest commandment in the law,” he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . [And] the second it like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 35-40) It is assumed that love of one’s neighbor depends on love of oneself: one’s ability to experience one’s own humanness and to embrace one’s own worth and rights.
“Love your neighbor as yourself?” The very church that Rev. Haggard founded in his basement 21 years ago, and built into a 14,000-member congregation, turned him away after he confessed to “sexual immorality” with a gay man. ” ‘We are a family’ . . . said interim pastor Ross Parsley, himself in tears. . . . ‘When difficult times come, families pull together.'” (“Haggard: ‘I am a deceiver and a liar,'” By Patrick O’Driscoll, USA TODAY, Nov. 6, 2006) A long-time church member stated, “We all love him [Haggard] because he’s a part of our family. You don’t just throw away a sister or a brother,” (“New Life Church Pardons Disgraced Evangelical Ted Haggard of Sexual Immorality.” By Nji Che, All Headline News, Nov. 6, 2006)
Rev. Larry Stockstill, Rev. Haggard’s and his wife Gayle’s own pastor for 22 years and his “spiritual mentor,” assumes that Haggard’s reparative therapy “may take two years. After that, neither his fellow overseers nor Haggard himself have ruled out a return to the pulpit. ‘We believe he will,’ Stockstill said. ‘Just not here'” [italics added] (“The Preacher and the Prostitute,” by Jill Smolowe, Vickie Bane and Ansley Roan, People, Nov. 20, 2006) Rev. Haggard’s “Church family,” though big, thanks largely to him, was not big enough to continue loving him as their minister. It is much easier to believe than to love. This may have been Jesus’ point when he was recorded as saying, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 35) That, too, is “written in the Bible.”
There may be far more hope for Rev. Haggard than for “the leader of the Western world” who prefers a Ford pickup to a Chevy. Faced with the truth of his hypocrisy, Haggard ended his denial with, “The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality. I take full responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar.” (“Letter to New Life Church Family, Nov. 5, 2006”)
No such words from President Bush. When Saddam Hussein was recently convicted and sentenced to death, by a US-controlled Iraqi court, Bush declared, “Saddam Hussein’s trial is a milestone in the Iraqi people’s efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law” [italics added]. (The New York Times, Nov. 6, 2006)
“The rule of law?” UN Secretary General Kofi Annan condemned the Bush administration’s pre-emptive war against Iraq as “illegal,” a violation of international law because it lacked UN Security Council approval. Annan said about Bush’s “advance of liberty” in Iraq, “Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it, and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it.” (The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2004)
“The rule of law?” Never mind the violation of the Geneva Conventions by the US military in dropping massive quantities of white phosphorus on the Iraqi citizens of
Fallajah during an attack on the city in November of 2004. (“US forces ‘used chemical weapons’ during assault on city of Fallajah,” by Peter Popham, The Independent, Nov. 8,
2005). The torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. The outsourcing of torture by “‘disappearing’ detainees into a network of secret prisons and by abducting and sending people for interrogation to countries that practice torture such as Egypt, Syrian and Morocco. (“Annual Report,” by Larry Cox, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA, May 23, 2006) And the detainment camp at Guantanamo Bay, which totally contradicts “the rule of law” in which America itself takes such pride.
Saddam Hussein’s trial and conviction and death sentence are “a milestone”? Said by “the leader of the Western world,” whose own administration is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people, in “bringing to justice” a tyrant who was a friend of, and aided and abetted by the United States during his brutal reign.
“I’d like our troops to come home, too, but I want them to come home with victory,” President Bush said at his November 8, 2006 news conference. He continues to talk about “victory” and “we’ll succeed unless we quit.” (The New York Times, Nov. 18, 2006) This denial of reality said in the face of overwhelming sectarian violence that is finally being recognized as a civil war-provoked by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. An invasion and occupation not based on “the rule of law” but on the role of lies: Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and ties to 9/11 that did not exist. It is not about the “victory” of “democracy” in Iraq but about the violation of another country’s human rights for oil and empire. How do you turn a crime into a “victory?” Or into a “mistake?” The invasion of Iraq was not a “mistake!” Nor a “failure.” It was a crime against humanity! Committed against the people of Iraq and of America. By a president driven by political power and the opportunism of his so-called “neo-conservative ” policy makers. And apparently also driven by “demons” within himself.
“See, you can’t talk sense to the terrorists. You must bring them to justice.” “All they can think about is evil.” “Flat evil.” “Evil doers.” “Killers.” “Murderers of women and children.” “Lenin and Hitler types.” Islamic fascists.” “A never-ending global war on terrorism.” “They want to create a unified totalitarian state and destroy the free world.” “A struggle for civilization.” “This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil, but good will prevail.” “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” These are the words of a man driven by projection not guided by introspection.
It does not appear that President Bush, who was stumped when a reporter asked if he had made any mistakes regarding Iraq, will follow the example of his “spiritual advisor” and also confess, “I am a deceiver and a liar.” But a majority of Americans used the recent national elections to begin saying that to him and to the world. History will make the same judgment. It is time for the new Democratic majority in Congress to bring this criminal war to an end now and begin our country’s atoning for the war crime by making restitution to the Iraqi people. Congress should end Bush’s self-justifying obsessive “vow not to withdraw troops ‘until the mission is complete'” (The New York Times, Nov. 29, 2006) and bring them home to their loved ones, and provide whatever restitution and rehabilitation they may need. It is also time for Congress to bring to justice the very person who is obviously consumed by the “dead or alive” need to “bring to justice” other human beings.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain, and a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.