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.
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.