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    November 04, 2006

    So what if Haggard's a hypocrite?

    Posted by: Chris

    That's what some conservatives are asking, and it's worth it to answer the question.

    That Ted Haggard is a hypocrite, there is little doubt. Based on the allegations he has already admitted, this mega-church pastor and evangelical leader bought crystal methamphetamine and received a massage from a gay escort. His church board concluded today that "without a doubt… committed sexually immoral conduct." More than likely, we will come to learn that, as alleged, he paid the escort for sex, perhaps over a three-year period, all while Haggard was married with five children.

    Beyond the general hypocrisy of engaging in such conduct despite his pastoral role, Haggard has also been active in support of a constitutional amendment on Tuesday's Colorado ballot that would limit marriage to heterosexual couples. As Haggard's accuser, Denver escort Mike Jones, has put it: "What he is saying is we are not worthy [of marrying], but he is." 

    Haggardpoints_1For anyone who's felt the sting of religious disapproval, such hypocrisy resonates because it takes the moral judges down a few notches. For gay people who live our lives on the business-end of the extended forefinger from religious conservatives, comeuppance for a hypocrite like Haggard (an adulterous, drug-using, "john") is both galling and satisfying. Who is he to judge?

    But hypocrisy only gets you so far. We certainly can't claim that all those who oppose same-sex marriage or condemn gay relationships are similarly hypocrites, or even argue that if they don't live up to some other aspect of their sexual teachings, it somehow proves their judgment on homosexuality is bankrupt. "Let he without sin cast the first stone" is fine as far as it goes, but embrace it too closely and you'll find you're left with no one entitled to say much of anything about anything.

    We also can't conclude from Haggard's morality tale that being an evangelical Christian is more likely to lead to cheating on your partner, paying for sex, or buying crystal meth than does being gay. Plenty of completely out, well-adjusted gay men engage in one or more or all of the above. We can't even claim Haggard is worse than his accuser, who admits to years of being an escort and helping Haggard buy his meth. Jones isn't a better man simply because he never preached against such things. Hypocrisy isn't the only standard to live by.

    Andrew Sullivan has posted an excerpt from a piece by David Frum from National Review that defends Haggard as all in all a better man than most gay folks for at least trying:

    Consider the hypothetical case of two men. Both are inclined toward homosexuality. Both from time to time hire the services of male prostitutes. Both have occasionally succumbed to drug abuse. One of them marries, raises a family, preaches Christian principles, and tries generally to encourage people to lead stable lives. The other publicly reveals his homosexuality, vilifies traditional moral principles, and urges the legalization of drugs and prostitution. Which man is leading the more moral life?

    Frum concludes the admittedly-hypocritical preacher is more moral for making the effort, and rather than be condemned for his preaching, he should be congratulated for it:

    If a religious leader has a personal inclination toward homosexuality — and nonetheless can look past his own inclination to defend the institution of marriage and to affirm its benefits for the raising of children — why should he likewise not be honored for his intellectual firmness and moral integrity?

    Frum's hypothetical gives a free pass to the role Haggard's anti-gay teachings played in leading him to do what he did. How can Haggard be said to be defending the twin pillars of marriage and family when, by resisting his "inclination toward homosexuality" and marrying a woman, he's wrecked both marriage and family? If Haggard was too close to see that, surely Frum shouldn't be.

    But the biggest problem with Frum's hypothetical is that it doesn't allow for a third, not-so-hypothetical gay man, who opposes Haggard's theological and policy positions without "vilifying traditional moral principles." This third man, "inclined toward homosexuality," doesn't try heterosexual marriage, which places at risk the happiness of a wife and children, but instead accepts that he's gay and settles down with another man, perhaps even to raise a family and otherwise "lead a stable life."

    Haggard's conservatives allies, including Frum, don't have to be hypocritical to pass judgment on this third gay man's path, even though it is an honest one and backed by the wealth of social science support. They're just horribly unjustified. For them to persist in their judgment, despite evidence like Haggard of the wrecked lives that will result, isn't hypocritical either, but it's arrogant and cold-hearted. And to advocate that our government adopt as the law of the land — in our founding documents, no less — their moral-theological view isn't an example of hypocrisy, but it's downright oppressive.

    And that, my friends, is much worse than being a hypocrite.



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