Is Ted Haggard a Victim of Evangelicalism? January 29, 2009

Is Ted Haggard a Victim of Evangelicalism?

Hey everyone, this is Ron Gold from The Invisible Pink Unicorn blog. Hemant has graciously invited me to do some guest posts. It’s a pleasure to be writing here.

I just saw the new HBO documentary The Trials of Ted Haggard – it follows the former evangelical megachurch pastor’s life after he was exiled for having trysts with a methamphetamine peddling gay prostitute – and I have to say it changed my opinion of him. Before his downfall, I loathed Haggard for his homophobic and socially conservative viewpoints. However, what bothered me most was the extreme smarminess that he conducted himself with, exemplified in the movie Jesus Camp. So when he was caught in an embarrassing scandal, I celebrated, feeling that a hypocrite was getting what he deserved.

But in The Trials of Ted Haggard, we see that the once proud pastor is now a self-described loser who struggles to provide for his family. He is seen failing as an insurance salesman and unhappily drifting between motels and apartments.  The church he had founded has turned its back on him, and you can’t help but feel badly for the man.

For most of his life, Haggard owed a great deal of his success to his evangelicalism. He seemingly thrived in the evangelical world, and became widely admired and influential among his many followers.

But after seeing his documentary, I have to wonder if he isn’t really a victim of evangelicalism. From a young age, his religious beliefs taught his that it was not okay to be gay. Many of us have seen cases where sexually confused youths embrace religion, hoping it will turn them into good heterosexuals, though they are destined to fail. I would not be surprised if this were also the case with Ted Haggard.

I feel if he had never become an evangelical, there is a good chance he would have accepted his homosexuality, and never would have felt compelled to live a lie to the point where he resorted to hiring a male prostitute. I’ll probably never like Haggard, but he doesn’t deserve to live in the personal hell that is depicted in the movie.

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  • garrick

    This speaks to the larger issue that we, as individuals, should never really hate anyone. To understand someone is to know why we have faults and to love him.

    As to Haggerd, he made his own decisions just like everyone and we must hold him accountable. As some Christians are fond of saying, “hate the sin, not the sinner.”

  • Is Ted Haggard a Victim of Evangelicalism?


  • Gabriel

    No, I don’t think he was a victim. He is an adult man who spent his adult life preaching hate. Adults have choices that young people do not. Many adults look at their lifes and say something fairly similar to “I am not happy living like this” and they change. It isn’t easy to change but sometimes it is the best choice. I do not feel pity for him.

  • Krista

    This is bs. Are you serious? He lived like a king off of tythes and you know plenty of little old ladies gave him their last dollar in the name of Jesus. He’s a grown man who is suffering the consequences of his choices. Plenty of people grow up in fundamentalist homes and come out of it as gay, atheist, whatever, and get on with their lives. Of course it wouldn’t have been easy for him to come out and face his sexuality but many others have done it and he could have too.
    Please don’t feel sorry for this man. He’s a victim of himself plain and simple. Now he’s feeling pathetic and asking for pity? C’mon. Serious?

  • If Ted invented his own hell, he can also uninvent it.

  • He’s a victim the same way any of us are victims. Myself, I don’t like the word as it makes it seem as though I’m powerless. He’s a product of evangelicalism. His hateful personality is a memetic survival machine for his hateful worldview.

  • SarahH

    I don’t think it’s impossible for someone to be both a victim and an abuser. He certainly is an adult and legally responsible for his actions, and I agree that he’s ethically responsible as well. At the same time, he’s a victim of the same establishment he’s been serving.

    This somewhat sympathetic take on Haggard suggests that, had he been exposed to a different environment, he could have done some great things – and he still could, if he comes to his senses. His voice could be very powerful in the evangelical community if he accepted his sexuality and spoke out against the bigotry he both suffered and perpetrated – and its consequences.

  • Desert Son

    Is Ted Haggard a Victim of Evangelicalism?

    Sure, but really, is that the more pressing question? As an adult, he is responsible for his own actions.

    Yes, we are all influenced in countless ways as children. We continue to be influenced as adults. The difference is, as adults, ultimate responsibility for our actions still lies with us, regardless of the influences. Which is not to say that influences are entirely without culpability in some circumstances (cult leaders influencing adults to do wrong are culpable, to be sure, as just one example, but even then the cult leader bears responsibility for actions as adults), but Ted’s a grown up now, and responsible for himself.

    It seems to me the more relevant question is, now that Ted’s a responsible adult, what is he doing to try to be better as an individual in terms of the things for which he is responsible?

    I hope he comes to terms with wherever he falls on the Kinsey continuum. I think the guy’s a royal asshole, but I don’t rejoice that he’s suffering financial troubles, nor about the complex and painful effect all these events have on his extended family.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that he still has to own his actions, and who he is, and work toward not just understanding, but improvement in his own condition and experience. That includes owning all the ills he’s visited on others.

    Until then, he still has a long way to go before I start losing any sleep that he’s a “victim.”

    This is one of the things that bugs me about religious indoctrination: too many opportunities to pass the blame for actions onto something else (the devil, evil spirits, “original sin,” “pleasures of the flesh,” etc.). Too many built in mechanisms to absolve (psychologically, if nothing else) people of their own self-possession and agency. Too many built-in mechanisms to establish guilt over things that don’t deserve it in the first place (like whether you prefer consensual sex with adults of the same gender), and remove guilt over things that do deserve it (like condemning, without reasonable or humane basis, people for wanting to enjoy the same rights and respect that others have; or insisting that fairy tales replace legitimate science in our efforts to be a better species).

    Victim of Evangelicalism? Shit, we’re all victims of that, in a way. So what are we gonna do about it? What’s Ted gonna do about it? Will he start to make amends to those he’s wounded, or at least try to go forward without heaping further abuse on those he’s already wronged?

    We’ll see. We’re all victims of something or another at some point in our lives. It’s what we do after that where the real question of mettle arises, I think.

    No kings,


  • I think that this instance really shows everyone’s true colors. It shows how shallow and unforgiving the church really is, that they’re all in it for selfish and unjustified reasons, and that hate is a strong feeling that remains masked by the “innocent” belief in the supernatural. It shows that even though belief is a poor excuse, it is an influential one in fueling pure hatred.

    Yeah, Ted Haggard may have received what he ultimately deserved, but his family must be recognized as the real victims.

  • Homosexuals having to live in the closet instead of coming out and facing their families hatred based on religion, they are victims of evangelicalism. Not Haggard. He is not a young person who didn’t know what to do with his feelings. Even if Haggard was hiding them, he had no right to spread so much hatred around. He los his opportunity for empathy, he created a hell that now he is suffering. Karma is a bitch, but a pretty fair bitch.

  • Vincent

    I feel sorry for him only up to the point where he says Jesus has saved him from the misery of his prior life.
    He refuses to accept that the system of his prior life is the only reason he had a problem in the first place.

    I thought the documentary was too sympathetic. It never mentioned what he got from the church to leave. I understood he got a huge pay-out. What happened to it? They acted as though all he had were the clothes on his back.
    And the house in Colorado? What was that worth and why didn’t he sell it to buy a better place for his family?
    Basically it was a sympathy piece more than an actual documentary.

  • cathy

    It is like the cycle of child abuse, yes many abusers are often abused themselves as children, but it does not excuse their actions. Yes, Haggard was victimized by evangalism as a child and young man, but he chose to continue that cycle and harm others. I do not feel sorry for him, but maybe now he can change direction and start fixing some of the harm he has done.

  • Miko

    Actually, amazingly enough, I can help feeling badly for him. He spent years bilking people with religious propaganda and only fell to the level everyone else starts at. Similarly, I don’t feel bad for slaveholders over the financial “losses” they experienced when their slaves were emancipated.

    Sure, the reason for his fall was completely arbitrary and stupid, and I’m sure he’d be in a better psychic position if he’d never associated himself with Christianity, but he’s nonetheless only a victim of himself.

  • Ted is as much a victim as any other victim who’s been indoctrinated into religion, in the same sense that it’s not completely Tom Cruise’s fault that he was suckered into an evil cult. They’re all victims. I mean if we get really relativistic, nobody’s responsible for anything because free will only exists on a superficial level.

    But the buck’s gotta stop somewhere and to a large extent people must be held accountable for their own actions or else society itself crumbles. Haggard was an ass who reaped what he sowed. It’s just unfortunate that he’s got a family, which happens to include a daughter who’s fairly liberal and who disagrees with at least some of the more hateful things her father has preached.

    But don’t let the media fool you. I work in reality television so believe me when I tell you that what you saw is only designed to bring out your sympathies. That’s the goal. If the film didn’t hit anyone emotionally it would have been a bad film. The man’s evil incarnate. Not only was he a smug a-hole in Jesus Camp but also when Richard Dawkins interviewed him.

  • Zar

    You know how in bad action/adventure movies when the hero has fought and disarmed the bad guy and the bad guy kneels on the floor begging for mercy which the hero grants (because he’s such a good guy and all), but as soon as the hero sheathes his sword/puts down his gun the bad guy jumps up and attempts to kill him?

    This whole situation reminds me of that. Haggard isn’t sorry. He’s only sorry he was caught. If he were forgiven he’d be back to his old tricks, I think.

  • I think this is often the case with religion. Its perpetrators are also its victims. The people we’re angry at are also people we should feel compassion for… and vice versa.

    I don’t see this as a contradiction. I feel sympathy for Ted Haggard, his life was definitely warped by his religion. But other people in his situation made different decisions. They didn’t opt for dishonesty; they didn’t opt to screw up lots of other lives alongside their own… and they certainly didn’t opt for flat-out fraud. I have no problem feeling compassion for him as a victim, and also anger towards him as a perpetrator.

  • AxeGrrl

    here’s a comment I just read on the website about Haggard’s appearance yesterday:

    “About 3 years ago 20/20 or nightline had done a story on ‘the pastor who did not believe in hell’ Carlton Pearson.

    This caused a scandal in the church and Carlton was excommunicated not for immorality but for believing God loved everyone and all will be ‘saved’ even the so-called heathens and that all were going to heaven.

    Guess who was the non-forgiving minister they interviewed. Ted Haggard.

    Ted said this man was going to hell and did not show mercy toward Carlton even though they had been friends forever. Carlton erred on the side of love and Ted could only judge.

    The gay/lesbian churches excepted Carlton along with other opened minded believers but I don’t even think Ted can even take refuge with them because he is still confused and in denial.

    Boy karma is something else.”

    Given all of this, I think it’s safe to predict that Ted will NEVER ‘come out’. He’s ‘admitted’ it, but that’s not the same thing ~ as long as he believes that ‘demons’ gave him his homosexual tendencies, there will never, ever be any kind of ’embracing’ of his feelings (even if his wife divorced him and he was ‘free’)

    Very, very sad.

  • Maria

    But after seeing his documentary, I have to wonder if he isn’t really a victim of evangelicalism. From a young age, his religious beliefs taught his that it was not okay to be gay. Many of us have seen cases where sexually confused youths embrace religion, hoping it will turn them into good heterosexuals, though they are destined to fail. I would not be surprised if this were also the case with Ted Haggard.

    I agree

  • I also think this is more complex than he’s either a victim or abuser because he clearly was both. His upbringing and faith set him up for a conflict with his sexuality and that has to be a terrible thing to go through. However he was an adult making a lot of money off preaching against his own sexuality, being incredibly nasty and unforgiving towards other gays, and he was caught in his hypocrisy.

    The recent allegations about the relationship he had with a church volunteer in his early 20s also in my mind is not the actions of an honest good person of any faith (or lack of one) because he was in a position of authority over him and that would not have been right regardless of gender. So yes his church should take some blame but many of his actions have been manipulative, abusive, and dishonest and that can’t be laid at his church’s feet only his.

  • ri0tdorque

    I just watched an interview with that man last week on some news show. It talked about how he’s been “cured” of being gay after two years of therapy.

    The moment I heard that it made me sick. To sit there and say you can be “cured” trying to win himself back into the so called light it turns my stomach.

  • Ron Gold

    It’s interesting to see the wide range of thoughts you all have to my post. Believe me when I say that I’m not used to defending Ted Haggard, and I won’t be making a habit out of it either.

    To add to my thoughts, I don’t think he is innocent; he certainly is not. Maybe he’s 80% perpetrator and 20% victim, or something like that.

  • Mark in California

    Yes – he is a victim, just like many of us were when we had the deluded thinking of Evangelical Christianity. It is best not to hate – as you pointed out.

    Lets hope that he can “see the light” that many of us here did, and learn to accept and appreciate himself.

  • absent sway

    I agree that he was both victim and perpetrator but that the real victims were his family members.

    Beyond that, my take on it is that this is a good example of the foolishness of megachurches’ emphasis on larger-than-life leadership, and the feelings of entitlement on the part of leaders that too easily go along with it. It really is shocking for someone who has been spoiled with attention to find himself suddenly at the bottom of the heap; I think this will be as great of a challenge to him as coming to terms with his sexuality is.

  • Stina

    If he wonders what his life could’ve been without evangelism, he could take notes from Dan Barker, who is still very successful.

  • I haven’t seen the doc, but I’m not sorry for him. I saw him on Oprah and he seems to be doing really well. Apparently his church has already accepted him and he’s back in Colorado Springs.

    I really hope that this changes the way that evangelicals look at homosexuality and perhaps become more understanding of it. Or something positive …

  • Pseudonym

    The most insightful comment on this, from a few years ago, was from Richard Dawkins. I can’t remember the whole quote, but this was the general gist…

    His problem is that he picked the wrong religion: one which wouldn’t let him be what he is.

  • janz

    I still see hypocricy and bigotry…and a man who would have carried on if he hadnt got caught!
    Its one thing to sympathise with someone who gets brought up in religion so tightly. But to take it further and become one of the elite (and rich)..and not practice what you preach? Same as politicians who go on about ‘the family’ and ‘marriage’..then are caught with mistressses.

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