Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« The Latest Poll. Gulp. | Way Too Much Gay on the Slog T... »

Sunday, November 5, 2006

The End of the Ex-Gay Movement?

posted by on November 5 at 15:28 PM

For a decade or more religious conservatives have marketed a singularly destructive idea: Gays and lesbians can be cured. It’s not a medical cure, it’s a miracle cure. And supposedly it’s easy: Give your heart to Jesus Christ and He will cure you of your homosexuality.

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’re not moved by science, data, or facts. Not even the existence of so many ex-ex-gays can phase them. Anything is possible through Christ, they insist, and if you’re just sincere enough if your devotion to Christ, if you really and truly believe, if you invite Him into your heart, He will cure you.

You just gotta have faith.

The faithful should check this out:

In a letter of apology read to the congregation of New Life Church Sunday morning, Ted Haggard confessed to sexual immorality and described himself as “a deceiver and a liar.”

Describing a lifelong battle against temptations that were contrary to his teachings, Haggard wrote in his letter he 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.

Hm. If Jesus Christ can’t be bothered to work a miracle in this man’s life—if He isn’t going to step in and wave His magic wand and cure a Ted Haggard of “repulsive and dark” homosexual urges—what hope does the average homo have for a cure?

If you believe that Jesus Christ is in the business of altering the sexual orientations of his believers, why would He refuse to “cure” a Ted Haggard? Haggard founded a church that today has 14,000 members! He was, by all accounts a relatively decent, if thoroughly deluded, person. Thousands were moved by his preaching, he won thousands of souls for Jesus. Mixed in there with Haggard’s romps with male escorts, his meth purchases, and his hypocritical gay-bashing were, without a doubt, thousands of good works.

And yet… Haggard has struggled with temptation all his life. He tried to battle off his “dark” desires, but nothing proved effective. There was no heavenly assist for Haggard, no miracle. No matter how hard he struggled, no matter how much faith he had, no matter how righteously he lived… Haggard’s sexual orientation was unchanged. Nothing helped. Nothing. Not prayer, not Jesus H. Christ on the Cross.


If this week’s “Savage Love” mail is typical, I will get two or three emails from concerned Christians that happened to chance upon my column—cough, cough—and wrote to share the wonderful news with me: I don’t have to gay! If I give my heart to Jesus—if I have faith—He will do for me what He didn’t do for Haggard. He will cure me!

I don’t need or want a cure, of course, because I am not ill. I’m gay. I don’t know if Haggard is gay or bisexual—he says he’s neither—but I do know this: If faith couldn’t cure Haggard, I don’t see as how it’s going to cure me.

I also don’t see how, in the wake of Haggard’s (ahem) flameout, any serious person can argue that Christ or faith or miracles or anything at all can cure someone of his homosexuality.

RSS icon Comments


However, homosexuality can cure you of Christianity.

Posted by some velvet morning | November 5, 2006 4:26 PM

I do know many ex-Christians...

Posted by Dan Savage | November 5, 2006 4:30 PM

Clearly, Haggard didn't love Jesus as much as he loved cock and crystal. At least that's what the born agains will say now.

Posted by Gitai | November 5, 2006 5:05 PM

It's a wonderful scam: It doesn't fail, you do. Your failure just proves how wonderfully it works—for the sincere ones, and Haggard wasn't sincere.

Posted by Dan Savage | November 5, 2006 5:11 PM

Good points Dan, but in the end the Evangelicals eat their own. The ex-gay movement, Dobson, and everyone else will just say he truly didn't open his heart to Jesus, and I give good odds they tar and feather him in the press.

I could give a shit about this guy, but the teens stuck in evangelical households once again will probably pay the cost. This guy was an adult, and did what he did because of a grab for power, money or both. He'll write his book and make enough to retire on.

What I want to know is whether the community will welcome who I consider to be asshole with open arms. McGreevey right now is treated like royalty when he was actually a chickenshit. He didn't do as much harm as someone like Haggard, but he certainly didn't help. And now he's treated like he's one of the new saviors of the gay community. Far as I'm concerned McGreevey is a guy that got busted with his pants down (in a position where his lover sued for sexual impropriety) and only came out because his back was against the wall. He's likely done with politics, but the GLBT media will be fawning over him till he's dead like some kind of rock star.

Like McGreevey, I give it a year before this yahoo has some major story in the Advocate, Out, even the Stranger where some editor is cooing and fawning over his bullshit. This guy has had his 15 minutes of fame (and a lot of time with the President). I only hope the media in the community doesn't give him a further forum for his horse shit.

Posted by Dave Coffman | November 5, 2006 5:21 PM

How awful is it to be at war with yourself? To know in your heart of hearts that you are at the core "dark and repulsive"? To regard your sexuality as a battleground, and a battleground on which you are constantly defeated?

I think this is so central to the anguish of the modern evangelical. Not that they're all gay, of course, but that so much of their energy is devoted to fighting this thing inside their church. Because these people are for real; they have a powerful feeling for each other in their church. That's what a church is.

The Ted Haggards feel it just as much as any of them. But he has this thing inside him, this love that is a thousand times wrong, and it's inside their church, and the more you fight it the more it wins. They have no choice but to call it "evil", but of course it's not evil, it's love.

You can see why they are all so tormented. It's like being convinced that your lungs are possessed by Satan. They really have no choice, in the narrow scriptural prison they have erected around themselves, but to hate themselves.

That's not funny, that's tragic. These people are damaged. the Ted Haggards most of all, but every member of his church is damaged by the prison they have erected around themselves.

Watching this play out is like watching the thing burst out of the guy's chest in The Alien. It's like an entire nation passing a kidney stone.

If they can heal themselves, and find in their love the blessings that people should find in love, instead of self-loathing, maybe America can stop being crazy too.

Posted by Fnarf | November 5, 2006 5:42 PM

Since I'm not gay, I certainly wouldn't presume to speak for the gay community, but your post Dave does perhaps point to an opportunity that one would hope might be seriously considered.

IF Haggerd comes around to freely admitting his orientation, whether gay or bi, appologizes to those he's wronged, seeks absolution and ASKS FORGIVENESS from them, then it seems like the best thing gay people could do would be to grant it to him.

Nothing could piss off the Fundies more than having the people they so hate, fear and revile act more "Christian" toward someone who has done so much to hurt them, than they themselves were willing or able to act towards someone who, up until the moment this story broke, was "one of their own".

And nothing could do more to finally, irrevokably expose to the entire world, and to Christians themselves, the flat-out unChristian hypocrisy of these people.

Posted by COMTE | November 5, 2006 5:46 PM

Dave, lots of strong words, were you never ever in the closet, or hestiatant at all about how to play the cards of your life?

I don't see the adulation you see, just interesting stories of real people.

Had the guy not been the gov. of a big state, the news value of his life saga would have been nil. But that is just the breaks, the fall of the powerful is the stuff the Greeks made classics out of.

There is no sorrow in gayville for Haggard, indeed, some anger, but at the least I hope he gets a trust fund arranged for his kids, stays on good terms with his ex., finds a nice guy, moves to urbana and then publicly works for gay marriage.

Remember both Barny Frank and Gerry Studds were forced out of the closet.

The big world is not C. Hill in old pinko Queen City, Seattle ....helas for those suffers out there.

Posted by JACK | November 5, 2006 5:47 PM

Dave -- So true about McGreevey. He's an embarassment, not a hero.

And here I thought today would be dull.

Posted by Mark Mitchell | November 5, 2006 5:50 PM

McGreevey: They won't fawn over him until he's dead. They'll fawn over him until the next famous closet case (Ellen?) or high-profile victim (Cammemeyer?) comes tumbling out or is outed. Then they'll move on to the next one. There's a short half-life to this kind of fame (Ellen had another kind before she came out, and that fame persists.)

I heard McG on NPR the other day, yakking about how he's going to work with poor, long-suffering gay youth.

Posted by Dan Savage | November 5, 2006 6:04 PM

hmm. haggard sounds like one of them guys who will fuck an occasional man, but save love and commitment for women. isn't this called being on the 'down-low'?

Posted by ginger | November 5, 2006 6:11 PM

McGreevey was/is an embarassment to Gays, Straights, and Radioactive Swamp creatures in New Jersey. But Haggard is much worse. His bullshit selective reading of Leviticus, as well as the rest of the Bible for his personal advancement..... damn these assholes are such TRANSPARENT hypocrites!

Posted by Joisey Dude | November 5, 2006 6:13 PM

Jack: Yeah, I was in the closet for a long time, yes I did make mistakes, and yeah, I examine where my life is going all the time- just like everyone else. BTW, I grew up in rural Colorado... luckily with hot marlboro type men...

Although I am a lawyer and many would disagree, I don't try to make my living my preaching hate towards any person or group, or trying to marginalize them. That to me is the difference. Haggard could have done anything with his life and intentionally chose a path in which he intentionally marginalized a group of people. He probably did it in part to cover his "secret life". I don't think one should be rewarded for that. Remember, his now former church is part of the same group of people that believe in actively hurting adults (and kids through Exodus) with their work and activities.

Politicians and "public figures" are in a different category as far as I'm concerned. They are in a position to do good or bad in the world towards other people on a much grander scale. I can deal with indifference towards others (which in my opinion is what McGreevey largely did). Haggard, on the other hand, is Colorado's version of Jim West and probably did much more damage.

I had never heard of Haggard before this incident. If he had been with a straight prostitute I never would have heard about it, and it would have been a 2 minute blip on the TV, if at all. But because he was with a gay prostitute he and his family pay a price for his hypocricy (fair for him, sux for his wife and family) and then he'll do one of 2 things: 1) he'll continue to bash the gay community through his rants and how he was saved (which of course will be covered in full by the media) or 2) he'll announce his arrival to the community, be placed on a pedastal by the community, the media or both, and we'll never be rid of him.

I agree that the world is much bigger than Cap Hill. It will be a better place when being gay or straight has the same value to others as whether you like Coke or Pepsi. We're a long ways from that.

In the end, I do agree with COMTE - our community does need to be accepting and forgive those that engage in such acts. At the same time, I don't think we should reward those who see such forgiveness.

Posted by Dave Coffman | November 5, 2006 6:56 PM

Dan, you ask why, if Jesus couldn't cure Rev. Haggard of his unholy desires, He could ever have a chance of dealing with yours. As I understand it, the argument goes this way: Satan sees Haggard as a much bigger plum than he sees you. So the Evil One therefore exerts extra special effort tempting Haggard. What glory does Satan get if he leads YOU unto temptation? Sheesh, ain't no trick to THAT. No offense. Sure, Jesus loves Haggard more than he loves you. Duh. But Jesus and the Devil sort of cancel each other's efforts out. Dan and Ted thus have an equally good chance of sero-converting.

Folks down round Colorado Springs believe in a robust, activist devil, a player, a strategist. He's not just some abstract concept like "separation from Godliness". He's Old Nick.

Bottom line? I don't think this is going to have much effect on the ex-Gay shysters.

Posted by Eric | November 5, 2006 7:06 PM

for myself and, I assume, other faggots that at some point had to go to some form of straight-conversion religious therapy, this whole saga has been sweet, sweet vidication.

Posted by craig | November 5, 2006 7:12 PM

If you listen to the This American Life program from sometime in 1997 where they did a story on the Prayer Walking program at Haggard's church, you hear one of his warriors explain exactly how Satan is vengeful. She explained that when she was struck with bad moods, the blues, depression etc, despite her glorious life of God, that is was due to Satan taking focused revenge on her for her particularly excellent work of the previous day.

So perhaps his congregants will chalk up his being overwhelmed by *temptation* to Satan aiming to make an example of Haggard. He was too good, had brought too much of goodness to the world, and Satan just had to take him down. Which will a) let them dismiss him without a second thought and b) fuel their fire for more of their good work, both.

I agree with Eric, the chance that any adult member of that church will consider the hypocrisy or dishonesty of their position is nil. But the teenagers may.

Posted by swell | November 5, 2006 7:29 PM

The language Haggard used today - the darkside bullshit - is just more marketing. His entire life, like the rest of the Snake Oil Salesmen of the religious right, is not about integrity and holiness, its about money.

Those people make a shit load of money by conning enormous numbers of people into supporting their ministries. Then they crank out electoral and financial support for politicians that help them attain tax exempt status.

These so-called religious leaders have no more integrity than 95% of the elected officials in the country. They say and do whatever they want as long it keeps them in power.

Haggard found someone to suck his revolting cock. The whore that did it for years suddenly decided he couldn't swallow the hypocracy of Haggards ejaculate. What a bunch of bullshit. The whore wants money (and notoriety) too. Cock sucking isn't half as despicable as the $$$ and fame that our supremely stupid culture covets.

Posted by patrick C | November 5, 2006 7:47 PM

Haggard is just as much a whore as Mary Cheney is.

Posted by patrick C | November 5, 2006 7:54 PM

hits it right on point

Posted by gay xtian/ ex evangelical | November 5, 2006 7:56 PM

By the way, in about 36 hours the polls open here in Colorado, and apropos this thread, we face two statewide ballot issues, Amdendment 43 (marriage = 1 man, 1 woman) and Referendum I (civil unions). All you west coasters, keep us in our prayers. Er, I mean, wish us luck!

Posted by Eric | November 5, 2006 8:44 PM

My concern is that this whole episode links being gay with deception, prostitution, and illicit drug use in the minds of red staters. They won't see it as Haggard's hypocrisy, they'll see it as a pattern of behavior from "them gays." Unless they remember that nice Doogie Houser is gay, too.

Posted by the chimpanzee | November 5, 2006 8:50 PM

I imagine that Haggard had a skein of influences, built and reinforced over the course of a lifetime, and as a result, he is relentlessly pulled in several opposing directions. Dan Savage suggested an important principle that diehard adherents of faith (whether it be a religion, a cult, or a cockamamie alternative healthcare approach) fundamentally believe: "IT doesn't fail --- YOU do."

Recent advances in medical technologies have allowed us to view images of the brain in real-time action (via functional MRI scans and other technologies). It appears that disposition toward faith is truly hardwired in the brain, and that if behaviors/beliefs or other variables are continually reinforced, the hardwiring likewise is reinforced. When confronted with contradicting evidence, these neural circuits virtually shut down the other evidence-supporting competing neural circuits that challenge the faith. This adaptive mechanism also allows people to believe two contradictory things at the same time.

Haggard is certainly gay or bisexual or whatever associated classification makes colloquial sense, and as such is unlikely to be able to sublimate sexual longings indefinitely. At the same time, he almost certainly absolutely believes in some absolute "truths" (regarding sin and temptation and eternal damnation and the like). Both homosexual (irresistable) longing AND absolute belief in moral "truth" are hardwired in his brain (and unlikely to be undone).

I don't think we can readily assume Haggard is evil. He's human and as much a victim of nature, himself and "God" as any of us.

Posted by Wallingford Wails | November 5, 2006 9:55 PM

I have a certain amount of sympathy for what Haggard has and is going through. All of us who are gay in this country spent at least some time anguishing over our orientation. And most of us anguished over how that related to our faith. Most of us get through it okay, and I feel sorry for those who never manage to claw out of the closet.

Nevertheless, I'm going to have a real hard time forgiving this man, even if he fully embraces his sexuality, dumps the church, preaches the homo way, and begs the community for forgiveness. It is hard for me to let go of the damage he's done.

Other closet cases manage to live their lives mostly without harming anyone (besides themselves). Even Foley, despite his hypocrisy, was one of the few Republicans who voted against the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But Haggard took homophobia to a grand scale. In my mind, he is a murderer. Or worse.

He preached extreme homophobia as one of the cornerstones of his church. To 14,000 people directly, and to a lesser degree to hundreds of thousands more as the president of the Evangelical movement. How many gay or lesbian kids listened to his sermons and became so distraught by his words that they eventually killed themselves? How many parents of gay or lesbian kids took his sermons to heart and tossed their kids out on the street when they came out (or made life so bad for their kids that they had to flee)? How many kids ended up with such low self-esteem that they ended up on drugs or on the streets or with HIV because they didn't care enough any more to take care of themselves?

Make no mistake. The damage he did was extreme and wide spread. I believe he indirectly caused more deaths and ruined lives than the Green River Killer.

Yeah, being in the closet sucks. I spent about a decade there. But I managed to survive it without fucking up anyone else's life. There is a part of me that sympathizes with what he has no doubt gone through. But the many lives he has ruined will be very hard to forgive.

Posted by SDA in SEA | November 5, 2006 10:01 PM

Richard Dawkins, a professor from Oxford, did a short film on Ted Haggard as part of a BBC production. It can be seen at . If you watch it throught to the end you will see Haggard engage in classic cult leader abuse of a "non-believer". Very ugly. I was feeling some sympathy for this ruined man, but after seeing the Dawkins material, I saw him as a much more insidious person.

Posted by V from Missoula | November 5, 2006 10:06 PM

If heaven is fully of people like Bush, Haggard, Jerry Falwell and Rush Limbaugh, then send me straight to hell.

Posted by Gomez | November 5, 2006 10:06 PM


A hardwired disposition toward faith in no way dictates the variety of faith or, more specifically, the religious tenets thereby entailed. Haggard can believe two contradictory things at once, yes, but to say his genes compel him to do so is absurd.

Posted by annie | November 5, 2006 10:16 PM

Why is anyone working to excuse/explain the greed and insanity of Haggard?

He would fuck anyone if it made him feel powerful.

I prefer he cling to his noble heterosexual identity and leave the purity of homosexuality alone.

Posted by patrick C | November 5, 2006 10:19 PM

I feel incredibly sorry for his wife. As far as I can tell she just pretty well got struck by lightning.

I'd actually have some respect for these guys if they said "I struggle with these Dark Desires(tm), but I want to make a family and I'd like you to help me resist temptation. Will you marry me?" At least then she'd know what the hell she was getting into. Instead she wakes up one morning with five kids and the media on her lawn.

Posted by layna | November 5, 2006 10:36 PM

Dan, good points – but reasoned argument is fruitless. From the perspective of fundamentalist christians, homosexuals are in the same boat as those who believe in evolutionary theory and geological science. To accept what these things tell us is to contradict what's written in the bible. If one starts making exceptions here and there, the whole belief system is at risk of disintegration.

For example, according to the bible, creation is only 6000 years old. This is why fundamentalists attempt to discredit radiocarbon dating and go through absurd intellectual contortions to explain the existence of dinosaur bones.

Also, according to the bible, homosexuality is a sin, a "rebellion against god". It doesn't matter what you tell them, fundamentalists will never accept it. Even if you could prove scientifically, beyond any doubt, that homosexuality was (like skin color) determined by biological factors beyond the control of the individual, it would make no difference to a fundamentalist. The belief in the absolute truth of simplistic, ancient myths and morality tales is a pathology not subject to reason, facts, evidence, or objectivity.

Posted by Michael | November 6, 2006 1:21 AM

In response to the first post, I know several ex-Christians. Deconversions happen everyday, we just don't read as much about that.

To the extent I still pray I ask God for more gay and lesbian people. I also pray that all anti-gay attitudes vanish from the Earth.

I find the image of J.C. getting it on with John the Baptist very hot.

Posted by Jared | November 6, 2006 8:00 AM
Posted by Napoleon XIV | November 6, 2006 8:22 AM

Has anyone seen Jesus Camp? Haggard is a very interesting presence in the film, which makes his downfall that much more fascinating. The filmmakers couldn't have possibly hoped for a better scandal.

While it is certainly a sad situation for Haggard's family, I just can't feel bad about it. Hubris makes for a devastating fall from grace. One must hope that they all might learn a little humility and tolerance from this.

Posted by dewsterling | November 6, 2006 10:26 AM

Despite what a monumental ass the guy is/was, I can't help but feel sorry for him. He's a victim. Lots of victims manage to be victims without being such complete douchebags, but. . . still.

Posted by Violet_DaGrinder | November 6, 2006 2:22 PM

ha. your point is too logical for the religious. if only some of those women could be cured of religion. (sez me, single het anti-silly & pro-funny guy)

Posted by ptt | November 7, 2006 8:48 AM

addendum: here via rox populi, via google.
also, it *is* funny that this article is posted in the "Home > Sports" section of

Posted by ptt | November 7, 2006 8:51 AM

ha, again. this preecher sez he isn't gay or homo, yet even while (supposedly) fortified with megadosage vitamin jc, he still can't resist being Not Really Gay? maybe od-ing on relesion makes you gay? jesus bunnies better beware of swilling down too much bible.

Posted by ptt | November 7, 2006 9:00 AM

"Those people make a shit load of money by conning enormous numbers of people into supporting their ministries. "
and their mistresses.
"These so-called religious leaders have no more integrity ... as long it keeps them in power.
that's one of the major duties of a "leader.

"links being gay with deception, prostitution, and illicit drug use in the minds of red staters. "

when gay is outlawed, only outlaws will be gay.

when chewing gum in public is outlawed, only outlaws will chew gum in public. etc.

"When confronted with contradicting evidence, these neural circuits virtually shut down the other evidence-supporting competing neural circuits that challenge the faith"

relesion isn't a lifestyle choice? ok, but we can still expect Those People to use the rational cognitive parts of their brain to overcome their disability, yes?

"How many kids ended up with such low self-esteem that they ended up on drugs or on the streets or with HIV because they didn't care enough any more to take care of themselves?"

how might this background be pertinent to the guy who tattled on this preecher? is there a hint of a cycle here?

"Haggard can believe two contradictory things at once, yes, but to say his genes compel him to do so is absurd."

i think the point is that there is any evolutionary "reason" that humans contain elements of irrationality. some people are born with a bigger dose (i suppose), and aren't able to overcome significant amounts of their innate irrationality.

"according to the bible..." yes, a collection of tales by folks who couldn't shake the conflicts out of their collection of fables.

"While it is certainly a sad situation for Haggard's family, I just can't feel bad about it. "

they've grown up and presumably lived with the guy; they already know him.

well, happy voting day, season's greetings, etc. (also due to the highly commercial essence of politics, jerky flawell forces me to wish you a merry xmas)

Posted by ptt | November 7, 2006 9:56 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).