Colorado Springs preacher Ted Haggard's new church, St. James, didn't set attendance records on Sunday. But his attempt to rise again after a fall precipitated by his dalliance with male escort Mike Jones has made him a figure of fascination the world over.
Case in point: a piece in London's Guardian newspaper wondering if Haggard is burying his gayness to restore his image with conservative Christians.
In "Ted Haggard: New Man or Same Old Charlatan?," writer Candace Chellew-Hodge notes that Haggard now claims to be a heterosexual with "homosexual attachments" -- and as such, he's thrown out the welcome mat for gays.
This point was underscored on Sunday, when Haggard went to the expense of flying in a gay man from Texas who'd answered a Craigslist ad about counseling.
Still, Chellew-Hodge wasn't sold on Haggard's sincerity. She wrote:
That sounded great, but as a lesbian who has been "welcomed" at plenty of churches, I was suspicious of Haggard's true motives. Those motives were confirmed when he went on to say that he would "encourage" gay members of his congregation to strive to conform to the ideal of biblical heterosexuality and monogamy. Ah, yes, we gay and lesbian folks know all too well about that form of "welcome" in sheep's clothing.
Nonetheless, Chellew-Hodge hopes that Haggard's post-Jones experiences will make him more understanding toward gays and lesbians -- and "perhaps, as he walks through the scripture with them verse by verse, his own heart will be convicted and he'll begin to understand that gay and lesbian people are not defective in any way; and that their loving relationships do square quite well with the biblical ideal of marriage and monogamy."
Not that she's betting the pulpit on this possibility. In her words:
I remain suspicious... that Haggard is once again just playing heterosexual and continuing to suppress his true gay self to get back into the good graces of his evangelical friends. If he is though, it will be a hard road, because the ones who seem the most unforgiving are the ones who rejected him in the first place. That says more about them, though, than it does about Haggard.
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