A disclaimer before I start: though I love Ted Haggard as a fellow human and Christian, I’m not a fan. I wasn’t a fan “before” and I’m not a fan of Haggard 2.0: the victim doing the talk-show circuit, fertilizing ground for a book proposal. But as I watched him on Oprah yesterday (just because my wife was, I swear!), I found myself in his corner on one particular issue: sexual orientation. I mean, not in his corner like, you know . . . just agreeing with about a few things.
Sexuality is one of my specialties as a clinical psychologist. I also teach a class at Fuller Seminary’s School of Psychology called “Clinical Issues in Sexual Diversity.” It’s about working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) clients. In my clinical and academic work, something has become clear to me: sexuality is complicated. Very. As I watched Ted Haggard and Oprah spend twenty minutes interrupting each other, something else became clear: Oprah wanted him to admit that he was gay, though Ted refused to do it. Oprah said that a lot of homosexuals would be offended by his description of same-sex attraction as a burden. She wanted him to fling the closet door open and embrace his homosexuality.
Oprah probably wasn’t the only one who was peeved. Haggard wouldn’t admit to being completely heterosexual, either. Two years ago, when he got out of gay rehab after only three weeks, a spokesman for his church said that Haggard was “entirely heterosexual.” Nobody on the right or the left is okay with the guy being confused. They want him to pick a side and lead a parade or shut up.
Almost everyone on both sides of the homosexual “issue” (though this has more to do with people than politics, something I pontificate about here) agrees that homosexual feelings are not a “choice.” Gay affirmative folks take this to the extreme that a person has no choice regarding lifestyle. From this perspective, a person with same-sex attraction cannot choose to pursue a heterosexual relationship. The American Psychological Association (APA) is trying to ban psychotherapy with the goal of changing sexual orientation, even though therapists provide such treatment only at the client’s request and with full informed consent about the long course of therapy and its limited effectiveness. The APA doesn't want anyone “struggling” with sexual orientation.
We need to start warming up to the fact sexuality is complicated. I’m not talking about Kinsey’s ill-supported continuum of sexual orientation; I mean that a lot of things affect our sexuality. Biology, psychology, environment, family, and, yes, spirituality all have an impact. This can have confusing, frustrating results, whether you’re homosexual or not. Sometimes all that’s left is to make a choice that seems pleasing to God and stumble forward. Those confused and frustrated with their sexuality need grace and empathy. Especially from Christians. Even from Oprah. Even for Ted Haggard.