Thursday, November 09, 2006

Religion For Sale

Ted Haggard's recent fall from grace says less about his own morality and more about the wholesale way in which organized religion has been co-opted by the Christian Right.

This uncompromising intolerance has seeped into the African American church, traditionally a place of inclusiveness.

Spirited, the book of essays written by African American gays and lesbians mentioned in this week's column, is available from its publisher, RedBone Press.

At least T.D. Jakes and William H. Gray III didn't fall for the Hurricane Katrina's political disapprobation. In other words, the okey-doke.


Blogger jbg said...

As one who has worked with GLBT youth for years, it saddens me to see so many rejected by the religious body that they should be able to trust, and had looked to for strength and comfort. It seems so contrary to what "religious" people preach.
I am hopeful that your article will inspire some of the community leaders to stand up and do the right thing...confront and fight homophobia.
thanks for addressing this topic!

2:00 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

I thank you and congratulate you on your thoughtful column today regarding Ted Haggard and the so-called Christian evangelicals. You have written so eloquently what I have been feeling for quite some time.

I am a 55-year-old gay man who was raised in a Christian household. I have always known God's love, and I have always felt Jesus' presence in my life. Not once have I ever been conflicted about my sexual orientation, especially over my religious beliefs. I have always known that I am exactly who God wants me to be, and there has never been a single doubt that Jesus loves me just as I am.

I have a tremendous amount of both empathy and pity for Ted Haggard and others like him. He has bought into the negative and unloving dogma that is preached by so many. I have never believed this was any part of or had anything to do with the real teachings of Jesus Christ. The result is that Ted directs all that hate and bigotry inward. He has lost his own love for himself. In his own words, he refers to his sexual orientation as "repulsive and dark" and "the dirt" from which he was unable to escape. How very sad. If he had only accepted and loved himself, and lived a truthful life, he could have found happiness and fulfillment in a healthy relationship instead of acting out his self-hatred in drug-fueled furtive liaisons with hustlers.

The book you mention, Spirited, sounds wonderful -- I'll have to read it. I was moved by your description of Ms. Harris' reading. I wish I would have known about it. I would have been there. I think Ted Haggard would benefit from reading this book. Another one I think he could learn from is Jim McGreevey's The Confession. He would discover, like McGreevey did, that even at this stage of his life, the truth could set him free in ways that he's never even dared dream of.

I also applaud your challenge to the African American churches. You see, I am white, and it has bothered me for a long time that some of my African American brothers and sisters are reluctant to stand with me and demand equality and civil rights for all of us, and it has seemed that a lot of that reluctance stems from the churches. I lived in the South as a child, and I remember segregation quite well. I thought it was appalling. I never understood how people who called themselves Christians could act that way toward other people. Where was "love thy neighbor" and "do unto others...?" I was sixteen years old when biracial marriage finally became legal. It amazes me that some folks seem to forget their own struggles and refuse to reach out a hand to those who are struggling now. I have seen how far our society has come, and how long it has taken, and how far we have yet to go. What so many fail to realize is that we're all in this together. We all win, or we all lose. Jesus made it so easy. Just accept each other and love each other for who we are, and the rest will all fall into place. I have always believed this, and I always will. I take some hope from the results of Election Day that we may be stumbling in the right direction after all. Time will tell, right?

2:00 PM  
Anonymous WackyWade said...

Dear Miss Annette; A few observations about your piece, and the Ted Haggard situation:

1) You can't judge a book by its cover; but in hindsight, Ted Haggard looks as queer as the proverbial three dollar bill

2) Your standard holier-than-thou know-it-all believes the morality he or she espouses only applies to other people. Conservative icon Rush Limbaugh is a triple divorcee pill head; morality scold Bill Bennett is a chainsmoking gambling addict. Consider the people who protest in front of Planned Parenthood clinics: have any of them actually adopted one of the unwanted babies they claim to love? Of course not, because that would involve making more of a commitment than standing with an "Abortion is Murder" sign one morning a month (if every pro-life person adopted one of the babies they demand pregnant women not abort, orphanages and foster homes would be empty). See, it's the rest of us who are required to live saintly lives; the self-righteous harranguers who tell us how to live our lives don't feel obligated to practice what literally they preach.

3) In no way to I mean to belittle your faith, but in my opinion you and every other Christian person overlooks the basic flaw of Christianity: the fact that it's based upon bullying and coercion.

Here's why: Christians say God is Love, Jesus Loves You.....but only if you do what God and Jesus tell you to do. Otherwise, you're going to hell.

When a supposedly-Christian entity like a church abandons Ted Haggard, it is behaving in a Christ-like manner: Behave the way we say you should, the church is saying, or else get lost. That's exactly WJWD

I've always felt that if Jesus really loved us, he would have said "Look, do the best you can. Try to be a good person and don't hurt anybody else. It's all about making the effort. And even if you're Adolf Hitler, well, you're still one of God's children (He created you, after all), so He won't abandon you.

So, let's play the "How Will Ted Haggard Resurrect His Career?" game. A stint in rehab for his meth habit will come first. Then he'll appear on The Larry King Show, either with his saintly and loyal wife, or with his new male lover he met at the Betty Ford Center.

Then comes the book, and the appearances on the 700 Club and every other televangelist TV show (have you seen newly-saved Stephen Baldwin doing the circuit? His career must have been circling the drain for him to resort to the Jesus thing to stay in showbiz)

Then Haggard will start all over and form a new church for himself, a church that is tolerant and welcoming the way his original soulless church never was.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Kat said...

Dear wackywade,

Please shut up. You don't even know what you're talking about.

"Here's why: Christians say God is Love, Jesus Loves You.....but only if you do what God and Jesus tell you to do. Otherwise, you're going to hell."

Typical. You have no comprehension of Catholicism and the renewal of faith as a result of Vatican II. First of all we do what Jesus says not because we don't want to go to hell, but because we love him and our fellow human beings. And secondly we do not go to hell if we commit sin but if we separate ourselves from god spiritually and do not want forgiveness which he willingly and lovingly give should we whole-heartedly ask for it.

"I've always felt that if Jesus really loved us, he would have said "Look, do the best you can. Try to be a good person and don't hurt anybody else. It's all about making the effort. And even if you're Adolf Hitler, well, you're still one of God's children (He created you, after all), so He won't abandon you."

You've obviously no knowledge about the Catholic faith with such shallow and ignorant statements. Take a class.

5:21 AM  
Anonymous WackyWade said...

Dear kat;

How typically-Catholic of you to tell me I'm not allowed to have my own opinion. Next you'll tell me I can't eat meat on Friday, or attend a non-Latin Mass--oh wait, they changed that.

As a recovering Catholic, I don't have to do what you or Her Holiness, Pope Benedict- in his fabulous red Prada shoes!- tell me to do.

Please read my comment again: nowhere will you find a single reference to the corrupt, moneygrubbing, pervert-protecting Catholic Church in particular. My condemnation was of Christianity in general.

And speaking of taking a class in Catholicism, perhaps you should do a little homework about Bendict's feelings on Vatican II. He disagrees with nearly all those reforms, so don't be surprised if he convenes a Vatican III to drag all of you back to the good old days of the Dark Ages.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Aileysmom said...

Thank you once again for such a cogent column. I agree, the African American community should be embracing its gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Perhaps if it did, there would be less of the "down-low" phenomenon, which in turn, threatens the health of so many individuals. Perhaps if it did, there would be more of a united front with which to fight the increasing tide of intolerance and loss of civil rights.

As for organized religion, I saw a wonderful bumper sticker the other day. It had various symbols from major religions organized so that it formed the word "COEXIST". What a powerful message.


6:51 PM  
Anonymous Kat said...


"Please read my comment again: nowhere will you find a single reference to the corrupt, moneygrubbing, pervert-protecting Catholic Church in particular. My condemnation was of Christianity in general."

Uh, where did I ever refer to that? Besides you don't know what you're on about. Has there ever been a perfect institution? Show me an organization without a bad history and I'll show you an organization that hasn't been around long enough. The Church is made up of sinners, hell you were a part of it once, we're not perfect. Not even the leaders are exempt from making mistakes.

Condemnation of Christianity in general? Now you just really look like a fool. But I don't have any more time to validate you making yourself look stupid. Coz I'm a such Catholic I think I'll just cover my ears with my hands and go convert non-Christians and save them from eternal damnation.

10:34 PM  
Blogger SKK said...

Hello Ms. John-Hall:
Your column today was terrific. The first few paragraphs reflect my feelings about organized religion almost exactly. The point you made about confusing religion and spirituality is exactly right. Religion has grown more and more into yet another political instrument.

I tend to find my spirituality internally, through thought and prayer. While I believe the key to spirituality is found in the teachings of Jesus and other spiritual men and women of peace, I can no longer believe the Bible is necessarily the complete or actual word of God. I find it easy to imagine scenes taking place in ancient times where the power brokers of the day, leaders in the world's churches, decide on how best to market to and control the people within their reach through religion. It seems that so much of the history of the world was strategically manipulated by men of power and wealth, almost solely for the purpose of increasing their power and wealth.

Religion as a big business is just sad to me. I am amazed at the numbers of people who buy what is being sold out of churches who have political and economic agendas in plain sight. Religious leaders hide behind the church, or the churches they start, enjoy tax considerations (like any big business does), and snuggle up to the politicians for more favors. The big money seems to trade hands in those two circles in an endless loop, and the basis of it all is the quest for more power and more money. The immoral behaviors uncovered in the huge organizations like the Catholic Church have much in common with the immoral behaviors found in the churches begun by today's snake-oil salesmen. To me, they are all businesses, not much different from the Fortune 500s, looking for new customers and new marketing strategies. When the simple Jesus-like message of "love one another" was no longer bringing in the revenues (because, perhaps, people had pretty much figured that out and no longer needed the church to reinforce the message on an ongoing basis), they had to take on another strategy, as you so correctly pointed out - that of marketing to our unfortunate "need" to judge others that are either unlike us, or maybe too much like the people we are afraid we might be. That is much like the political far right and left.... most people are moderates, but the way to more power and more money is to appeal to the customers with fire and brimstone. And the whole idea is to raise money to enhance your power base, which helps bring in more money.....

When the Catholic Church pedophilia tragedies came to light, my simple mind came up with the theory that perhaps men with those urges, who are somehow still considering themselves religious beings but highly conflicted, became priests in the hope of finding God and asking God to put aside those urges and "cure" them. Since the Catholic church needs priests, the screening process for prospective priests is (maybe) either non-existent or easily side-stepped. When these men realized that they cannot be cured through divine intervention regardless of how sincerely they wanted to be, and that victims are easily accessed, and that the church will protect them in order to protect their bottom line, the horrors snowballed. I have other issues with the Catholic church (I was not raised Catholic, but my wife was and my daughter was confirmed in the Catholic church), mostly concerning the unrealistic expectations of chastity, the obvious hypocrisies and influence of money, and the exclusion of women as priests.

Anyway, forgive me for rambling with my own thoughts. It felt good to put them in writing, though!
Thank you for a provocative column. It was a great read!

4:29 AM  
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