I live in Colorado Springs, home to the right-wing conservative evangelical movement. As the nation recently learned, the founder of New Life Church, Ted Haggard, was fired after a male prostitute revealed that Haggard bought sex and drugs from him. It's hard not to feel a bit sorry for him, even though I have always hated everything Haggard stood for. How do you view all of this? Does Haggard deserve our sympathy? Or do we point our fingers and laugh?
We should make a joyful noise, CC, whenever a powerful hypocrite is exposed. God should bless Mike Jones, the male prostitute who exposed Ted Haggard, and you should balance whatever sympathy you feel for Haggard against the misery he inflicted on the countless numbers of gay young people his church has "counseled." If you want to feel bad for someone, feel bad for Haggard's kids, not Haggard himself.
Now, I realize Haggard is ancient fucking history at this point—there was an election last week, huh?—but there's something I just gotta get off my chest: For more than a decade, the religious right has insisted that homosexuality can be cured. Just give your heart to Jesus, and—poof!—you're straight! If there is any justice in the world—and there seems to be, judging from last week's election returns—Haggard's downfall should be the death of the "ex-gay" movement. No more ex-gay ad campaigns, no more credulous stories about "successful" ex-gays in daily papers or on cable news.
Arguing with religious people about the futility of giving your heart to Jesus—at least where "cures" for homosexual orientation are concerned—can be maddening. As with evolution, they aren't moved by science, data, or irksome facts. Not even the existence of ex-ex-gays gives them pause. Anything is possible through Christ, they blandly insist, and if you're sincere enough in your devotion to Christ, if you invite him into your heart, he will cure you.
Hello, fundies? I know you're reading this, because every week I get e-mails from concerned Christians who just happened to chance upon my column—cough, cough—and write to share the wonderful news: I don't have to be gay! If I give my heart to Jesus—if I have faith—he will cure me!
Well, my fundie friends, did you see that letter of apology Haggard wrote to his congregation? I'd like to wrap it around a brick and shove it up all of your fat asses. But since I can't do that, I'll just quote from it. In his mea gulpa (Haggard gives lousy head, according to Jones), Haggard copped to "sexual immorality" and described himself as "a deceiver and a liar." Those details made it into most of the headlines. These details didn't:
"Describing a lifelong battle against temptations that were contrary to his teachings," says the Denver Post, "[Haggard] had sought assistance 'in a variety of ways,' and while he had stretches of 'freedom,' nothing proved effective. 'There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life,' Haggard wrote." [Emphasis added.]
If you believe that Jesus Christ can change the sexual orientation of a believer, why on earth did he refuse to cure Haggard? Haggard founded a church that has 14,000 members! Thousands were brought to Christ by Haggard's preaching. Mixed in with Ted's meth-fueled gay-sex romps and hypocritical gay-bashings were, without a doubt, thousands of good works.
Did Jesus help Haggard out? No. Haggard struggled with temptation all his life. He tried to battle off his "dark" desires, but nothing proved effective. There was no cure for Haggard, no miracle. No matter how long he struggled, no matter how much faith he had, Haggard's sexual orientation remained unchanged. Nothing helped. Not prayer, not Jesus H. Christ on his cross.
If giving his heart to Jesus couldn't cure Haggard, what hope is there for the likes of me? If Jesus can't be bothered to work a miracle for the most powerful evangelical minister in the country, what "hope" is there for the average dyke?
The ex-gay thing is over. It's dead. It was bullshit from the start, and it's bullshit now. And I will personally track down and bitch-slap the next fundie douche who sends me an e-mail explaining how Jesus can cure me. And I will personally track down and shit in the mouth of the next cable-news anchor who entertains—even for an instant—the notion of a miracle cure for homosexuality.
Consider yourself warned, Paula Zahn.
I wanted to congratulate you on playing a big part in Rick Santorum's humiliating defeat. The Santorum euphemism made the man a joke in the eyes of many, many voters. It feels good, doesn't it? But I can't help feeling that it's wrong for me to feel a sense of schadenfreude watching his stuffy kids cry onstage. He makes outrageous, illogical statements regarding homosexuality; and I can laugh at his weeping progeny. That's okay, right?
Finally Finally Finally
I've been deluged with e-mails—thousands of e-mails—thanking me for Rick Santorum's defeat. I did my part, but I can't claim the credit for his defeat. I mean, come on.
But one person did get it right: Four years ago, Savage Love readers—the new definition of "santorum" was a reader's idea—set a single stone in motion. While Santorum would have been defeated even without a filthy, lowercase definition of his last name floating around out there, having a name that can barely be mentioned in polite company anymore didn't help. So effective was our "frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex" campaign that the editor of the National Review was fuming about it in a column published on Election Day itself. We helped to make Rick Santorum into a national laughingstock—with an invaluable assist from Rick Santorum, of course.
The political power of satire should never be underestimated. There's a reason monarchs and despots once locked up cartoonists and satirists. Being made ridiculous? That's politically disempowering fairy dust.
However, the real credit and mad props, as the kids once said, go to the people of Pennsylvania. You wiped Santorum from the floor of the U.S. Senate, and a grateful nation salutes you! Bravo! Well done! (Electing him in the first place? Not so well done. But all is forgiven.)
As for Santorum's kids, well, once again we're put in the position of having to feel sorry for the offspring—the oddly attired offspring—of a delusional bigot. But just how bad should we feel? I remember listening to the radio when Santorum said something obnoxious about gay couples: An anti-gay-marriage amendment was a homeland-security measure, Santorum said, which makes gay couples terrorists. My son, who happens to be the same age as Santorum's younger daughter (the one weeping and clutching a doll in that widely circulated photo), was in the room at the time, and he got pretty upset. So, yeah, we should all feel bad for Santorum's kids—what kind of parent drags a sobbing child in front of the national media?—but let's also feel bad for all the other kids that Santorum hurt.
So is that all the gloating I intend to do over Rick Santorum? Nope. For a full-throated gloat-a-thon, go to avclub.com/savage/santorum.
A new Savage Love podcast is available for download every Tuesday at thestranger.com/savage.
Got problems? Oh, yes, you do. Write firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Dan Savage