by Giles Fraser
IN his spiritual classic New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton wrote about what it is to be a saint.
Birds and flowers and mountains are saints in that they reflect back to God his own beauty, simply by being what they are. Human beings can’t do that so straightforwardly, because, having been given free will, we are able to hide the truth about who we are. We can wear masks.
We can fool even ourselves. And, if we do that for long enough, we just won’t be able to find the truth when we need it most.
Consider, then, the spiritual predicament of poor Pastor Ted Haggard. Pastor Ted is an adviser to President Bush, and founder of the New Life mega-church in Colorado Springs. Or, should I say, was. Last week, he admitted a relationship with a male escort, and that he bought drugs that are known for enhancing sexual excitement.
He has now resigned in disgrace, with the cries of “Hypocrite!” ringing in his ears from the gay community. Pastor Haggard’s spiritual adviser told the press that he saw only relief on Haggard’s face when the pastor told him he was standing down.
One blogger on the Christian website titusonenine wrote this: “So, the hatred he was showing to gay people turns out to be an attempt to hide his own self-hatred. It’s very sad. I hope he can recover. My prayers are with his family, but also with the gay couples who may have been harmed by his vilification of their committed love.”
Many of the conservative bloggers, however, argue that he has been in the grip of the devil. As a matter of fact, I agree with them. For Satan, properly understood, is the accuser and the teller of lies. And the problem surely is that Pastor Haggard has been living a lie.
I have a number of friends who have come out of the closet, and it has always seemed to me a deeply moving religious experience. It makes me think of some words from one of Charles Wesley’s hymns:
I woke, the dungeon
flamed with light;
My chains fell off,
my heart was free,
I rose, went forth,
and followed thee.
The next verse begins: “No condemnation now I dread. . .”
Pastor Haggard’s old church was called New Life. That’s what he now needs, a new life. Yes, he needs to be born again. And this time, reborn in the truth. Reborn to be the person that God calls him to be.
God calls nobody to be in the closet. For the closet is simply the gay word for hell.