Monday, November 06, 2006

Crystal Meth, Hale-Bopp, and the War on Gays and Lesbians

The situation with evangelical pastor Ted Haggard is just plain sad. Having moved beyond the deny, deny, deny strategy, past his split the difference "I just got a massage and bought crystal meth but I didn't inhale -- with either one" defense, he finally arrived at the point of vague confession. He wrote to his congregation,

"There is part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life."
While we do not know exactly what constitutes this "repulsive and dark" part of the pastor's life that deserved to have war declared upon it, the inference certainly seems to be his homosexuality. I'm here to protest this war.

His hypocrisy, while easy fodder for shadenfreude-laden snark, is not the point that ought to be most discussed. I don't know whether the article in this weekend's New York Times which makes the case that Haggard wasn't as tough a warrior as some against gays and lesbians is accurate, but to be honest, it misses the point. Whether he was leading the charge or not, what we see is another gay man's life destroyed by institutionalized hatred that forced him not only to deny who he was, but do so in a way that led to self-loathing.

We really do a number on our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Haggard's story makes me think back a couple years to the Heaven's Gate tragedy. Thirty-eight members of cult led by a man named Marschall Applewhite committed suicide to allow their souls to rise up to a spaceship behind the comet Hale-Bopp. Applewhite had been a seminary student until he decided to pursue a career in music which kept him at church-affiliated institutions. But, he was gay and suffering terribly because of it. After being fired from a position at Saint Thomas University because of an incident involving a male student, Applewhite became mentally unstable and emerged with the seeds of what would become his cult which combined science fiction with Christian and New Age elements. One of the notable aspects of the cult was the director's idea that male members should be chemically castrated to eliminate their sexual desires to keep them from conflicting with theological doctrine. War not only kills, it causes stress induced mental illness. Haggard's "war on gays" was a major factor pushing Applewhite over the edge and the war then claimed 38 more casualties in 1996.

Haggard has plenty to apologize for. Anyone who is married and goes to a prostitute -- gay or straight -- has done wrong. Anyone with a family who is using crystal meth is doing something harmful that he should stop immediately. But the irony of the outing of yet another member of the thugs in charge of enforcing our social pogrom against gays and lesbians should not take away focus from the real problem -- the war on gays itself. Haggard's worst crime is not being a secret double agent in the war; his crime against morality was being a willing footsoldier fighting the war in the first place, a war which has wounded him now in more than one way.