Monday, November 24, 2008

The Return of Ted Haggard - A Lesson in Hubris for the Integral Community

Ted Haggard is making his comeback after losing his church and flock following a drugs and gay sex scandal. He recently delivered two sermons at Open Bible Fellowship in Morrison, Ill., "a 350-member church surrounded by cornfields."
Haggard, 52, resigned as president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals and was fired from New Life Church amid allegations that he paid a male prostitute for sex and used methamphetamine.

Haggard said in 2006 he bought the drugs but never used them, confessed to "sexual immorality" and described struggling with a "dark and repulsive" side. He had risen from preaching in his basement to taking part in White House conference calls — and fallen so far that he became a late-night punch line.

As part of his contrition and rehabilitation, Haggard had entered into a church supervised "restoration." But in February of this year, he walked away from that supervised program. Those involved feel he is not ready to return to the ministry.

One restoration team member, H.B. London, said a return to vocational ministry in less than four or five years would be dangerous for Haggard, his family, former church and Colorado Springs.

"To sit on the sidelines for a person with that kind of personality and gifting is probably like being paralyzed," said London, who counsels pastors through a division of Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based conservative Christian group. "If Mr. Haggard and others like him feel like they have a call from God, they rationalize that their behavior does not change that call."

Haggard, who declined to be interviewed, is not the first fallen evangelical figure to agree to oversight and then balk. In the late 1980s, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart confessed to liaisons with a prostitute, begged forgiveness and submitted to the Assemblies of God, his denomination. Swaggart was ordered not to preach for a year, but resumed broadcasts after a few weeks and was defrocked.

Haggard's support system includes Leo Godzich, who runs a Phoenix-based marriage ministry and said he met with Haggard at least once a week for more than a year. Godzich said Haggard remains committed to restoration, has paid a high price and still has much to offer.

This all sounds too familiar to some of us in the integral community. Two years, one of our own leaders, a Rabbi, was involved in a sex scandal, one that echoed previous incidents and allegations. Several people were involved in that event, and although it largely was unknown outside of the integral and Jewish communities, it was still troublesome for the pattern it seemed to reveal in this man's life.

After an initial admission of guilt and "pathology," this man has since claimed it was all just a misunderstanding among consenting adults. Maybe so, but whenever a teacher uses his role to have sex with students, serious ethical transgressions have occurred.

He has re-emerged as a teacher in integral circles, following two years of supervised "restoration" by two female guides (one a therapist, one a Zen teacher). The fact the women were entrusted to his restoration is troubling. I do not doubt their skills, but I do wonder why women were tasked with rehabbing a sexually compulsive charismatic teacher, one whose teachings have centered around sexuality and spirituality.

I don't want to suggest that people who have transgressed should not be given a second chance, but I also have my doubts about the men themselves choosing to return to their prior roles. Haggard has those who claim he has been restored, as does the Rabbi in the second instance. Maybe, but knowing what I do about psychology and sexuality, I doubt it.

Haggard now attributes his homosexual experiences (he says he isn't gay) to having been sexually abuse by a man when he was a boy. Maybe that happened, but that generally doesn't make a 50-year-old man seek out gay sex with a male prostitute and use methamphetamine (although he denies that as well).

Religious leaders who achieve fame tend to be very charismatic, and while this makes them great teachers, it also makes them vulnerable to their own shadow material and pathologies. These men have a remarkable ability to convince themselves and others that they are morally sound, partly because they are so well-versed in their teachings.

But both of these cases (and many others) strike me as hubris run amok. If the various communities want to support their followers, they need to take more responsibility in keeping transgressive leaders out of leadership roles. But this is all just my opinion.


Recovering Integral said...

I appreciate your opinion on Rabbi Marc. But I would love to see bloggers in the integral community begin to share their opinions on Rabbi's recent work. A shift from opining on Rabbi's character and drama to commenting on his ideas. What do you think?

Unknown said...

There do appear to be parallels between the Haggard and Gafni resurrections. On Gafni, there is a lot of material to review. Here are a few of my impressions after reading it:

1. There is no denial that Gafni was involved in multiple concealed sexual relationships with women in Israel.
2. The are 2 "legal" letters written in favor of Gafni, but they are written by Gafni's own counsel, not by any independent legal evaluator. As such, they have little weight.
3. Gafni, his lawyers, the polygrapher and others admit that they have never reviewed the reports from Gafni's accusers in Israel, or the Israeli police reports about the incident(s). They claim these reports are "unavailable" (which may be true). Gafni is not planning on returning to Israel to face his accusers or the charges and try to exonerate himself there. In essence, the information relied upon by all of the "evaluators" and the Integral folks comes from Gafni and his attorneys.
3. I don't find the polygraph report allegedly exonerating Gafni persuasive for at least two reasons, including: a) polygraph evidence is deemed legally unreliable, and is therefore inadmissible in every court in the United States, both state and federal; b) the inclusion in the polygrapher's report of disparaging remarks regarding some who have criticized Gafni's conduct seems inappropriate, irrelevant and reflective of bias.
4. There is reference to emails and internet messages recovered from Gafni's computer (allegedly erased without authorization from Gafni from his hard drive). But the details of these materials are not disclosed. Instead we only have interpretations of them, such as Gafni's, that they show that the relationships at issue were "affectionate, caring and mutual with open and honest communication about my intentions." But elsewhere Gafni admits concealment and lack of transparency regarding these relationships. Without seeing the communications, and understanding their context, which would include hearing from Gafni's alleged victims, the statements about these communications are not very persuasive.
4. Gafni's attempts to explain away his original public confession of inappropriate conduct and psychopathology are not very convincing to me; legally, such a confession is usually given great weight, unless coerced, and there is no evidence of coercion in this case.

Without reviewing the reports from Israel, it is impossible to really ascertain what happened. But it is clear that Gafni had multiple concealed sexual relationships with female associates; the women felt sufficiently wronged to bring legal action in Israel; Gafni originally confessed to wrong-doing and to his improper conduct being caused by his own psychological problems; and Gafni is unwilling to allow resolution of the accusations through legal process that would permit a full hearing from both sides and examination of all evidence.

william harryman said...


When a teacher who has been involved in serious sexual ethics violations is teaching about sexuality, his character is fundamental to what he is doing. To avoid the subject is to put more women at risk of being hurt by his behaviors.