Instead of an urge to go to high school students and tell them there's so much more for them out there, I feel the urge to run to Ted Haggard and just kiss him for being so precious. Ted Haggard, who two years ago was telling Oprah that sexuality is so complicated that one can't call him straight, gay, or bisexual, tells GQ that he'd be bisexual if life turned out differently:
For the first time since we've met, Ted isn't looking directly at me. "Here's where I really am on this issue," he half whispers. "I think that probably, if I were 21 in this society, I would identify myself as a bisexual." After a weekend of Ted trying to convince me of his unambiguous devotion to his wife and kids, I'm at first too surprised to say anything.
"So why not now?" I ask finally.
"Because, Kevin, I'm 54, with children, with a belief system, and I can have enforced boundaries in my life. Just like you're a heterosexual but you don't have sex with every woman that you're attracted to, so I can be who I am and exclusively have sex with my wife and be perfectly satisfied."
"But what does it have to do with being 54?"
"Life!" he says. "We live an ordinary life."
He also says that he only bought crystal meth to masturbate, but he didn't say that for years because he was worried about being labeled a "masturbation guy":
When Gayle leaves to pick up lunch from a nearby Italian joint, I mention that I visited Mike Jones in Denver. Ted tenses and preemptively begins debunking Jones's claims again--no sex, no repeat massages, no kinky stuff. He admits that he bought drugs from Jones "five or six times" but maintains that he wasn't an addict.
"Sometimes I'd throw it away," he says. "Other times, I'd go someplace and masturbate and use it. But it was for masturbation. And that's one of the reasons why I haven't been real clear. I don't want to stand up publicly and say, 'Hey, I'm a masturbation guy!'
"You know, that's really the core issue here," he continues, lowering his voice. "I bought the drugs to enhance masturbation. Because what crystal meth does--Mike taught me this--crystal meth makes it so you don't ejaculate soon. So you can watch porn and masturbate for a long time."
"And it would be gay porn?" I ask.
"It would be both. I enjoyed both then."
Who knows if any of this is true, since Ted Haggard has lied a lot. He comes clean later, then lies some more. In the interview, he accuses everyone of lying about him, even while he admits that he did some stuff with people.
But maybe it's easy to misread his statements on sexuality as someone who's got something to hide when instead what's going on is someone is caught between two different understandings of sexuality. He was heavily invested in the evangelical movement, and they see homosexuality as a behavior that one is tempted towards because of humanity's imperfection, and now he's finding himself in a world with an increasingly identity politic-based understanding of sexuality where one is what one is and can't do anything about it.
His flirtations with the sort of misunderstanding of queer postmodernism that evangelicals like (that sexuality can't be defined and isn't directed at one sex but is simply rendered legible with words like "gay" and "straight," so therefore it can/should be controlled and repressed through conscious choice) make him sound more like someone looking to please everyone instead of someone who's deciding for himself what's going on. His coming out as bisexual has a certain... well, we'll see. While I think he's hoping people see it as a reason to visit male prostitutes, there are plenty of bisexuals who stay monogamous and if he's searching for an excuse for what he did to get back into the good graces of evangelicals or square himself away with his past, it's not a great one.
Consider this passage from the GQ interview, where Haggard says he never said he was "completely heterosexual." Those may not have been his words, but I don't remember him correcting the record either:
Soon after Ted signed the separation agreement, the Haggards began their exile in Phoenix, where Ted took a job as a door-to-door insurance salesman. He attended therapy sessions in which a counselor used a technique called eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) to trace Ted's same-sex urges to having been molested by one of his father's employees at age 7. After just three weeks of EMDR, a member of Ted's advisory committee told The Denver Post that Pastor Ted was "completely heterosexual."
It was the sort of easily mocked, over-the-top statement that Ted might make, but he himself never actually put it in those terms. Ted has been vague about his sexuality since moving back to Colorado Springs in 2008. He says that he still believes the Bible is clear that "homosexuality is not God's best plan for people," but his stance on the issue has softened to the point of near incomprehensibility. After the camping trip, when I asked him about the wording he once used to describe his same-sex urges--in 2006 he wrote in a letter to New Life's congregation that he was warring with a "repulsive and dark" part of himself--he backtracked, saying he never meant it that way. "There's nothing repulsive to me about that world, but it's not a temptation anymore."
The interview in GQ is an interesting read, and not just for the sexy parts. It seems like Ted Haggard really did start a church instead of just starting a "church" as a tax-exempt organization to run speaking fees through as he implied last year:
After the final amen, I strike up a conversation with Wing, Guy, and Art, three parishioners who come every week to stock up on Ted's encouragement. Wing was evicted from his house after falling behind on payments, and he's been living out of his car for the past two weeks. Guy's wife left him last week, taking their daughters with her. Art, a burly Hispanic man in a sleeveless shirt, was addicted to meth when his brother told him about a new church with an unconventional pastor.
"At first I thought, Man, I don't wanna go to no faggot's church," Art says. "But the first day I was here, Pastor Ted looked at me and said, 'You've been struggling with drugs, haven't you? Today you walk free.' I haven't touched it since."
Part of what these guys love about St. James is that it helps struggling people in real, tangible ways. During the offering, when most churches pass the plate, Ted instead has his saints give money to one another. Today the gifts included a $500 donation to fix one man's car and money for another man to pay his electricity bill.
"I'd rather have that conversation with a handful of people," Ted says to me after the service, "than have a worldwide TV audience and everyone think I'm a hotshot."
His voice trembles, "That $500? That's Jesus to me now."
It's nice to think of pastors eschewing the limelight in favor of humble acts of direct charity, but after this guy told so many lies and spent so much of his life conning people out of money, large sums of money, I'll remain skeptical.