Haggard’s Cure


When I wrote this post, I assumed that the person who informed the press that Haggard was “completely heterosexual,” someone who was acting in an overseer’s capacity over Haggard in some respect, would accurately relate Haggard’s own view of his progress.   At the time that seemed like an obvious assumption–what motive could his church have for exaggerating or misrepresenting his healing?  Why would they risk getting egg on their face and looking like dupes again, by making some over-optimistic claim that Haggard wouldn’t even make for himself?  Wouldn’t they be more likely, as those overseeing and counseling him, having been burned by his deception in the past, to encourage him to be more humble, more cautious, more moderate in his views of himself?   I sort of imagined it in my head as Haggard arguing with them, “Guys, I swear!  It’s for real this time! I’m completely heterosexual!”, and the committee only grudgingly, gradually relenting and agreeing to convey this news to the press.  I was angry at them for agreeing to go along with this lunacy.  (Unless it was a miraculous transformation.  Even then, I think a little caution in declaring this miracle authentic would be wise.) 

But the more that I think about it (Eve Tushnet planted the seed of doubt in the comment thread below), the assumption that the overseers would necessarily accurately convey Haggard’s view of his sexuality seems slightly less obvious.  It has occurred to my inner cynic that perhaps the overseers in the church (and the special team of people who agreed to oversee his counseling/healing process) just might want to make this whole thing disappear, get it over with, rather than deal with the messy long term reality of the struggle.  Let’s just say he’s fine, and ship him off to the Midwest!  I’d hate to think that they would do this, but it’s possible. 

I see that the email  that Haggard sent to some members of the church–two days before the “completely heterosexual” statement hit the presses–seems extraordinarily restrained in its claims about healing, and the word “heterosexual,” not to mention the phrase “completely heterosexual,” does not appear.  He says, rather, “As part of New Life’s efforts to help me, they sent Gayle and me to Phoenix for a three-week psychological intensive that gave us three years worth of analysis and treatment. We all wanted to know why I developed such incongruity in my life. Thankfully, with the tools we gained there, along with the powerful way God has been illuminating His Word and the Holy Spirit has been convicting and healing me, we now have growing understanding which is giving me some hope for a future.” 

So, if Haggard doesn’t think he’s completely heterosexual, or healed, or whatever, much of what I have to say below may not apply to him.  If it is his church overseers who decided themselves to declare him completely heterosexual, I am doubly (or more like octuply!) horrified at them for making a statement that I believe is likely to bear destructive fruit.

Anyway, I’ve edited this post in order to correct it accordingly–making explicit my assumptions in some places, and getting rid of them in others. 


 The “same new reader” has requested a post on Ted Haggard’s cure.

Well, I don’t think it’s likely that he’s completely heterosexual, if that’s what you’re asking.  Of course, we have to remember that “completely heterosexual” can mean almost anything in certain exgay or evangelical circles, depending on whom you talk to.  But let’s assume that it means that his sexual attractions are solely directed towards women, that he has no sexual interest in men whatsoever.  And, let’s assume for this discussion that “completely heterosexual” is how Haggard would describe himself, something which is not clear, as the assertion of his complete heterosexuality was made by a church overseer and not by himself.

The way I see it, there are three possibilities at this point:

1.  He was instantaneous, miraculously changed.

I’ll admit, I don’t understand why God would change Haggard instead of the many other people I know and love who would be delighted to experience such a transformation.  But, then again, I’m not God, and there are a lot of things that God does that I don’t quite understand. 

2.  He’s flat-out lying, intentionally b.s.-ing everyone.

I know it’s not nice to suggest this.  I’d point out, though, that after the scandal broke, he was stunningly deceptive and slippery in his statements, always denying everything until denial is totally futile, and then admitting to as little as possible.  More like a politician than a shepherd of souls, if you ask me.  I would put more stock in his honesty if he had been forthright from the beginning. 

3.  He genuinely feels and believes that he is fixed.

There’s two ways this could be brought about.  I don’t know what took place in his intensive therapy, but perhaps it was some sort of Clockwork Orange thing.  I think it’s entirely possible that at least in the short run, a man could be made to believe that he is completely heterosexual through aversion therapy or programming or the like.  I’m inclined to think that in the short run, any sort of belief or behavior can be produced in a human being. 

Or perhaps (this is the second way) it’s not a matter of therapy at all, but simply the good old time-honored techniques of self-deception and wishful thinking.  In the short run, when we want to badly enough, we can believe almost anything about ourselves–even without a professional’s aid.  It is very easy to take a temporary fluctuation or easing up in our attractions as proof of a “cure”.  It is easy to reinterpret our feelings, in the short run at least, treating them as something other than they are. 

This sort of thing is fairly common among people who desire attraction change.  If I had a nickel for every person who ecstatically shared with me how much their attractions were changing, how much they were experiencing God’s healing touch, and then months or years later told me it was all a crock (usually on their way back to embracing homosexual relationships), well, I might not be rich but I would definitely have a lot of nickels. 

There can be a lot of fluctuations in our experience of our sexuality (over days or weeks or months) that don’t necessarily mean much.  So, for example, as I’ve discussed before, my sexual attractions evaporated almost completely in the residential program.  And there were times outside of that when I discovered that wasn’t attracted to a particular woman, or that I took a certain sort of interest in a man, and made it out to be something much bigger than it was.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying seasons of lessened attraction to the same sex or increased interest in the opposite sex.  But I think we set ourselves up for serious disappointment if we take any of these things as conclusive proof of permanent healing.  You can very easily find yourself a week or a month later right back where you were. 

This is not to say, however, that attraction change is impossible, that all experiences of fluidity are but fleeting and deceptive. I do not think we have evidence for saying as much, and my own story suggests otherwise, at least to me.  I know other people who have gone through exgay ministries and/or therapy who tell me they have experienced attraction change that is meaningful to them, even if it isn’t “complete heterosexuality,” and in many cases I believe them.  (I’m baffled by the tendency of some to take all exexgay/antiexgay testimonies at face value, and to dismiss all exgay testimonies.  It seems to me that both groups in general could have motives and reasons for seeing things through somewhat distorted lenses.)  Furthermore, while I don’t know any of them personally, I have heard of several instances of perfectly ordinary gay people (both male and female), thoroughly embracing their homosexuality, who one day find themselves falling in love with and sexually drawn to a person of the opposite sex.  My understanding is that most gay people would acknowledge such examples of random fluidity, although they might dismiss it as bisexuality.  (“REAL gay people could never fall in love with someone of the opposite sex.”)  I’m not opposed to calling it bisexuality, as long as it is acknowledged that it is a stealthy, surprising sort of bisexuality, with which you can have attractions and experiences identical to that of a thoroughly homosexual person for many years, and then suddenly start feeling something else out of the blue.  None of us, no matter how gay, can know for sure that we aren’t that sort of “sleeper” bisexual.     

I don’t think we can always neatly sort the fleeting from the non-fleeting, or the deceptive from the real.  As I’ve shared before, I put off Mr. DM’s talk about marriage for a while, not sure whether I could trust my feelings toward him or not.  And while we ought not be permanently paralyzed by the uncertainty of the future, as I eventually decided in connection with Mr. DM, I do think that we ought to be cautious, circumspect within reasonable limits.   This proclamation of complete heterosexuality, to me, indicates an unfortunate lack of caution. It’s a little hasty, to say the least.  And to talk about “complete” anything, this side of heaven, sounds awfully sketchy to my ears. 

Regardless of what the correct explanation is for the announcement, I suspect it will turn out to have bad results.  The way I see it, either people won’t believe that Haggard is completely hetero, or they will.  If they don’t believe it, and find those claims preposterous, they may be inclined to tar all of us who profess to have experienced some sort of change and/or who are simply seeking to honor God through celibacy with the same brush.  I fear that Haggard’s example will be brought up to mock and discourage those who are pursuing celibate or exgay paths, in a way that might be hurtful to them.  And if people do believe that Haggard is now completely hetero, as I fear some evangelicals might, this will make things even worse for the homo-attracted believers.  For without any qualification, the announcement suggests that change isn’t all that hard, that anyone can do it, in three weeks even!  What’s wrong with you, O homo-attracted Christian?  Why aren’t you straight yet?  Perhaps you don’t have enough faith?  Or perhaps you don’t really want to be healed?  C’mon, we’re getting impatient!

A church of New Life’s size must have dealt with some “strugglers,” must be aware of the complexities surrounding these matters of faith, homosexuality, and change.  I wish for the sake of the homo-attracted in their own congregation, as well as the church at large, they had been more careful to make a nuanced statement which acknowledges the realities of life for the majority of homo-attracted people, if not Haggard himself.


15 Responses to Haggard’s Cure

  1. Jay says:

    This is a very good analysis, DM. However, I think you might be missing out on one possibility that I thought of when I heard Haggard’s claim. Personally, I think he’s playing around with the definition of heterosexual.

    After talking to several ex-gays with opinions differing from my own, I’ve come to realize that their definitions of homosexual and heterosexual don’t seem to line up with Merriam-Webster’s, if you know what I mean. Mike Ensley and I once discussed the hullabaloo surrounding the “gay-identity” issue within ex-gay ministries, and he said something that I found somewhat interesting:

    “I’ve developed a deep (and very freeing) conviction that homosexuality is just an experience some people have–it’s not a thing a person can be. Even people who identify as gay aren’t homosexuals.”

    Of course, you should read the whole conversation if you have the time. I ended it abruptly on account of hearing of my grandfather’s death, so it was left a a little hanging, but I still enjoyed it. http://mikeensley.vox.com/library/post/contemplating-the-ongoing-struggle.html#comments

    I could be wrong, but I’ve gotten a sense that many within ex-gay ministries hold a belief that, because all humans were meant to be perfectly heterosexual, then that is the way one should define oneself, no matter what one’s actual feelings are. It seems to me reminiscent of “Name It and Claim It” ideology. I personally don’t hold too much ill-will towards such a view, but I do think it is impractical and misleading.

    Again, that’s just an assumption on my part. I could be wrong. What do you think?

  2. hey jay,

    Yeah…that thought did occur to me. Which is why I said. “Of course, we have to remember that ‘completely heterosexual’ can mean almost anything in certain exgay or evangelical circles, depending on whom you talk to.” My initial version of this post emphasized this much more, but it thereby turned more into a rant about Exodus-speak than having much to do with, you know, Ted Haggard. 🙂

    But now that you mention it, I think that aspect does need more emphasis. So I think I’ll do a follow-up, maybe discussing the language issue more generally. Thanks for the feedback and the link to your conversion with Mike Ensley. Very interesting stuff. Coincidentally, with Ron’s prompting, I’ve been getting my own thoughts on identity in order, and am just about ready to start posting them. So I look forward to discussing these issues with you.

  3. Jay says:

    Whoops. I must have missed that line (I’m a speed-reader sometimes). I’m glad you like the link, and I look forward to your post about identity.

  4. Rheeb says:

    I so agree with you. When I read that he is now “completely heterosexual” I found myself wondering if that was said just to make things seem miraculous. I think (unless he was miraculously healed) that it is so unfair to ex-gays and potential exgays to say that change happens in an instant. I know that certainly has not happened with me.

    The whole thing sounded quite fishy to me. I think the news of his miraculous change will either breed a false sense of hope for the “instantaneous” ex-gay or an intense sense of hopelessness for the continual struggler. I guess he didn’t think about the opportunity he had to touch lives from the situation. He actually is in a position to say, “Change takes time, but it can be done.”

    In a nutshell, I guess you could say that the whole phrase pissed me off…
    By the way, the phrase in itself can sound completely different to various people. A professing homosexual could see it as change in an instant (as in a spin-off of “name it/claim it” doctrine). An exgay could see it as a slap in the face to their ongoing struggles, and a straight Christian could use it to stay in denial about the thousands upon thousands of Christians struggling with SSA that seem to be so far away from them.

  5. Maybe Haggard is doing what he has to do to survive in the world he has chosen for himself. Filled with shame and afraid to lose what little he has left, he submits to his handlers and their theories desperate to appease those in power over him. Shame and fear are toxic to the brain, and when we experience them in large doses, we do irrational things and we talk crazy talk.

  6. Ron Belgau says:

    In my view, Ted Haggard’s claim has absolutely no credibility.

    First, as you point out, Haggard did not act with integrity when he was originally confronted with the accusation by the male prostitute.

    Second, he is known to use slippery terminology. For example, it may well be that he contacted this prostitute for a “massage.” But as those of us who have read John Paulk’s autobiography know, “massage” means something different in gay escort circles than it means in ordinary usage. Given this, I see no reason to assume that “heterosexual” in his mouth means anything like what it means in ordinary usage.

    And third, as you point out, 3 weeks is not enough time to know that a change is permanent. Haggard has been a pastor for decades. He ought to have enough pastoral experience to know this. And if, after pastoring thousands of Christians over the course of years, he hasn’t tumbled to this fact, then he is a spiritual lunatic, blind to the most obvious facts about the spiritual life. Nothing that he says about spiritual healings can be taken with any seriousness.

    Let Ted Haggard work in a soup kitchen for about 5 years, with close supervision by a wise and trustworthy pastor, and see whether he produces fruit in keeping with repentance. In the meantime, he should be dismissed as either a liar or a lunatic, and we should get on with our lives.

  7. I appreciate your thoughts on this subject. Thank you.

  8. Eve Tushnet says:

    Hey–very much liked “surprise bisexuals”/shifting attractions/incompleteness stuff. Quick point: I’m pretty sure the guy who said Haggard was “completely heterosexual” was actually just some associate or something, not Haggard himself, so I wouldn’t assume that Haggard shares that view of the situation.

    While we’re here, I thought the account of Mike Jones’s visit to Haggard’s church, described here
    was pretty interesting.
    Best, Eve

  9. […] Mutability on Ted Haggard’s cure and change, identity, self-deception, and fluctuations in […]

  10. Ron Belgau says:

    If the guy who said Haggard was “completely heterosexual” was an associate, and not Haggard himself, then I retract the third point of my negative evaluation above. The first two points and the recommendation that he retreat to a soup kitchen under good supervision for 5 years or so still stands, however.

    – Ron

  11. Sure, I think lots of people have been “completely heterosexual” for one set of three weeks (and completely homosexual for a different set of three weeks); all that takes is a strong attraction to a particular person. Or, I suppose, a temporary illness or depression strong enough to wipe out your sexual feelings altogether (and the assumption that having your gay sexual feelings on the wane is the same as being straight).

    Over the long haul of decades of marriage, though, you generally wind up being attracted to someone other than your spouse, whether that someone winds up also being of the opposite sex, or whether that someone winds up being of your own sex.

    Sounds as if that associate was very eager to believe in the thoroughness of Haggard’s change.

    I agree, though, about not being permanently paralyzed by the uncertainty of the future.

  12. Rheeb:

    Welcome, and yeah, exactly, amen! 🙂


    Yeah, I can’t imagine what it would be like to go from being the 11th most influential evangelical in America (according to Time) and then to fall so low. I can’t imagine what must go through his head on a daily basis, what kind of sorrow, shame, and fear of the future he must feel. I have no idea how I would act if I were in his shoes. I am being critical here only because I feel that he (or his church!) is selling out my brothers and sisters to save his (or their!) own skin, and I have a hard time taking that sitting down.

    Perhaps he has been reduced to an irrational, amoral blob of jelly by what he’s gone through, but until I know that for sure I would prefer to treat him as having the dignity of a morally accountable human being, if that makes any sense.


    Yeah, I suspect that some sort of humble service would be far more appropriate at this stage than pursuing a degree in psychology in order to set up shop as a counselor soon thereafter.


    Welcome, and you’re welcome!


    You’re right. I thought it was an obvious assumption, but now that you mention it, it isn’t. I’m gonna stick some sort of caveat at the top of this post and do some editing. Before I was angry enough at his church overseers for making an outrageous public statement of what I assumed was Haggard’s view of his sexuality. But if they made a outrageous public statement that doesn’t even reflect Haggard’s own view of the situation, well that is really heinous! Ugh.


    Yep, exactly, about the fluctuations. I see that Haggard was even aware of this to some degree himself : “For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach. “ If he knows that from experience, it’s perplexing why he would think that this time is any different, if he does.

    “Sounds as if that associate was very eager to believe in the thoroughness of Haggard’s change.”

    Yeah, which is why I think it’s super creepy if the possibility that Eve raises is correct–that this person, who is supposedly helping Haggard and looking out for him and caring for his soul, is publicly insisting things about Haggard’s condition that he doesn’t even believe himself. How cruel to him!

  13. O readers of the comment thread, if you haven’t noticed, I have tacked on a honking big addendum to the beginning of my post, talking about the possiblity that this “complete heterosexuality” business wasn’t Haggard’s idea, a possibility I unwisely ignored when I originally wrote the post.

  14. Mikhail, “a child of the intelligent Universe,” I’ve deleted your comment because it does not interact with this post at all, or anything else on my blog for that matter.

    I don’t mind critical perspectives and disagreement in my comment threads, but I expect commenters to meaningfully interact with what I and the other commenters are actually saying, rather than use my blog as a mere soapbox for their own rants about Christians or whatever.


  15. mikhail says:

    sorry that you felt that way, but what i have to say certainly pertains to the core of the controversy concerning Ted Haggards behaviour. It is amazing that the majority of people are concentrating on the ‘sexuality’aspect and it is doubly amazing that not more outrage is raised concerning the issues of infidelity, and HYPOCRISY both of which are certainlycondemned innumerable times in the holy scriptures.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: