Denial and Despair

Back in November when the story about Ted Haggard hit the airwaves I wrote here on the Gay Wisdom Blog that I thought he had a lot of thinking to do (see: and the charlatans continue…).  This week Ted Haggard said, or rather one of the four ministers who have overseen his intensive ex-gay religious therapy said, that Haggard is now 100% straight.  But all to what end?  He’s lost his church, his position as the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, he’s leaving Colorado Springs, the only thing remaining is the relationship with his wife.  Given the huge breach of trust from having an extra-marital affair, with another man, while possibly experimenting with highly addictive drugs, his marriage is probably not the calmest harbor in his storm, but it’s the last external thing to cling to.  If he did lose his marriage as well in this situation he would have been left with absolutely nothing but himself and his feelings of guilt and shame and failure, and that’s a terribly dark road to walk.  Unfortunately for him he’s taken the route of denying his sexual feelings in an attempt to try to cling to a "normal life," and we’ve all seen how well denial plays out in one’s life.

I’m not apologizing for Ted Haggard.  No.  I’m extraordinarily sad for him.  I can’t imagine the scope of what he’s going through as a result of his outing.  On the scale of life traumas this is a huge hit.  But at least he’s still alive.

The same can not be said for Rev. Brent Dugan. Dugan was a Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh who recently committed suicide from the fear of being outed on the KDKA-TV news.  This local news channel began running commercial promos saying that they were going to expose his "illicit behavior."  Dugan saw these promos and fled, and while the news station was back-pedaling he took his own life.  Dugan was 60 years old, single, and having a discreet relationship with another man.  He left copious notes for everyone he was leaving behind expressing his "profound sorrow and sadness, and sense of solemn grief and embarrassment, about what he thought would come to be known about his personal life."

I keep coming back to "Why?"  Why on earth would Dugan take his life?  Why on earth would Ted Haggard try to go through ex-gay "therapy?"  Maybe it’s that they have their lives, they have their secrets and they’ve lived with them for so long that they can’t imagine their lives laid open.  Maybe it’s that they have their preconceived notions of gay life and they can’t deal with the shame of how they believe "us," "the other," "not them" to be, though they themselves feel the same feelings.  Maybe it’s because they have their religious beliefs that tell them how sinful it is to be a homosexual and they can’t defy their God.  I could go on coming up with reasons, trying to understand, but to me it makes no sense.  It’s as if we live in different worlds. 

But our worlds are not different, it’s just our choices.  I went through crises of faith and sexual identity, and I’m sure most all of us have, and maybe continue to do so.  In our own way we’ve made our choices about living in the open, staying the closet, repressing or expressing our sexual nature.  I’ve come a long way from suicide and religious intolerance; others, like these men, are not so lucky.  But I believe the world is changing for the better.  Before our very eyes we see the changes. From welcoming and affirming congregations, to religiously affiliated gay marriage ceremonies, to commercial appeals for religious tolerance; the religious landscape, though battle scarred is very much changing.  There will always be voices of intolerance, but I believe that those voices are diminishing.  People change, and to me it seems we’re changing for the better.  Hopefully, in time, people like these men will not have live in denial and despair, but can come forward, serve their congregations faithfully, openly and in peace.

So may it be.

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