Ted Said: AfterThoughts on Ted Haggard’s Interview with Oprah

Guest Post by Joe Dallas

Rev. Ted Haggard broke his two year silence on Oprah’s show yesterday, his first media appearance since a catastrophic fall from the pulpit of New Life Church in 2006, when his longstanding relationship with a male prostitute was exposed. The details are still fresh: Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was condemning gay sex publicly while paying for it privately, until accusations from male escort Mike Jones cracked the dam of Ted’s denials (“I never had gay sex!”) and trickles of half-concessions leaked out (“Well, yeah, I bought some meth from a gay escort, but threw it away”) followed by voice mail recordings irrefutable as Monica’s blue dress, and the inevitable confession, contrition and exit. It was as tawdry as it was achingly familiar in this era of public falls, and many of us hoped the story was played out.

Enter the sequel. An HBO special titled The Trials of Ted Haggard premieres Thursday January 29, and by way of promotion, Ted granted interviews to Larry King as well as Oprah, revisiting those dark days with his own insights and explanations. If there’s a redemptive twist to all this, it lies in what can be gleaned from the Reverend’s experience and, to an extent, his statements about Christianity, homosexuality, church life and human nature. A typical spectator, I cheered and booed throughout the Oprah interview, shouting criticisms or praise while knowing nothing of what it was like for the man under the bright lights being grilled about his worst failures and private agonies. So I’ll concede, a la Roosevelt’s famous observation about the man in the arena, that it is indeed the guy in the ring whose performance matters far and above the critic who wishes he’d done this or said that.

From that deferential position, then, let me offer some thoughts on what Ted said, what I wish he’d said, and what still needs to be said:

Ted said: “I’m a heterosexual with homosexual attachments.”
What prompted it: Oprah’s predictable but relevant question: Are you gay, straight, or bisexual?
How it played: Clumsy. Most people look for a one word summation of sexual preference (gay, straight or bi) or a description of sexual feelings. (“I’m attracted to men, women or both.”) And while I appreciate Ted’s aversion to gay/straight labels, this phrase only muddied waters that he was hoping to clear.

What I wish Ted said: “I’m a married man who’s at times attracted to other men. I’m attracted to my wife as well and, more important, committed to her and my family. So when I’m attracted to someone other than her, I resist those attractions. And isn’t that what most married men do?”

Ted said: “I cannot deny who I am.” 
What prompted it: Oprah’s claim that when Ted resisted his homosexual attractions he was denying who/what he really was, versus Ted’s belief that who he was, in fact, more than that.
How it played: Earnest. Ted rightfully challenged the inevitability approach Oprah was taking (as in, our feelings inevitably define us, dictating our actions and identity.) But who we are is also defined by what we believe, and when feelings clash with conscience, we are being true to ourselves when we say no to them.

What I wish Ted said: “When you do something you don’t feel right about, you’re not
being true to yourself. To me, sex with a man didn’t feel right, even if it felt good, so I made a choice between my conscience and my attractions. You may not agree with that choice, but I’m sure you’ll agree that we all need to know not only what we desire, but what we believe as well. And if we’re smart, we’ll say no to the desires that clash with our beliefs.”

Ted said: “I believe that Christ accepts everyone.”
What prompted it: Oprah asking, “Do you believe Christ accepts homosexuals?”
How it played: Correct but incomplete. Oprah’s question insinuated that if Christ accepted someone, He approved of them as well. Ted’s answer affirmed that Jesus turns no one away, but omitted the messy question of sin.

What I wish Ted said: “Jesus accepts all of us, but He doesn’t accept all that we do. If what we’re doing isn’t in line with His will, no matter how deeply it’s ingrained in us, He’ll call us to give it up. And if we say no, then we’re not really following Him.”

Haggard was in a tough spot. Any Christian calling homosexuality a sin (much less one who struggles with it himself!) is going to walk into a cross examination when he’s interviewed, and who looks good under cross examination? So given the volatility of the subject and Oprah’s openly pro-gay position, I appreciate Ted’s efforts. In the coming years, who knows how many other believers will find themselves pointedly asked, “Is homosexuality really a sin? Doesn’t God love gays? Shouldn’t we all just accept who we are?” To which I hope we’ll all have the grace to say, in our own words:

Everyone sins, and God alone decides what sin is. That’s why He inspired men to write the Scriptures, so we’d know what’s expected of us. And someday all of us will answer to Him for how well or how poorly we’ve met those expectations. I received Christ because I knew I’d never meet them on my own, and He promised to pay the price when I fell short. So is homosexuality a sin? Sure, look it up. Does God love gays? You bet. But should we all just accept who we are, as we are? Only if that means accepting that we’re loved by God, called to follow Him, and willing to surrender our will to His.


  1. Tracy,

    I agree with you on a few things; the Bible does teach compassion, love, tolerance and acceptance. And I agree with you on another point, because the Bible teaches this as well: what ‘the human touch does to everything – it screws up and prejudices… based on our teeny-tiny understanding… of life”.

    Being “created as we are” according the Bible means we are born with a sin nature, and yes, it limits our understanding of life. Our “human touch” is marred by sin (which means “missing the mark”) and we will never be able to measure up to the standards we humans have for ourselves, let alone the standards that God asks of us. All of us can think of times when we wanted to do right but ended up blowing it—and that was just based on our own standards. How much more do we fall short of God’s standards?

    But here’s the good news: God does not want to treat us as our sins (“missing the mark”) deserve. He has great compassion on us, knows we are “but dust” (read Psalm 103 – I think you will be very impressed with Him, He is so good!). Because of His great compassion, He made a way for us to be forgiven and cleansed through Jesus Christ (John 3:16). When we accept Jesus by faith, His Spirit is in us and He begins in us a process of regeneration and healing. This is not by anything we deserve, it is accomplished by the grace of God (Romans 3:23-24).

    Although there are people who do, none of us is to use the Bible to exclude and denigrate others–especially when we realize we’ve all got sin in common (Romans 3:9-10). And there’s never an excuse to treat others disrespectfully (I Peter 3:15). We are told to extend the mercy that we ourselves have been given to others (Matthew 5:7).

    But here’s the rub: the concept of sin is just plain offensive to some people; so offensive, in fact that they can’t get past it to the accompanying concept of forgiveness. That’s why some people feel judged even when the Christian message is being presented in love and understanding. Personal sin is not an easy thing to face, and try as we might to define sin away, its God’s definition that counts. A square peg won’t go into a round hole.

    The invitation of God is open to everyone. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done. He loves you and has made a way for you. I hope you’ll consider a few of my favorite verses:

    “And the Spirit and the Bride say “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take of the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17)

    [Jesus says,] “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me”. (Revelation 3:20)

    If your heart is thirsty there’s only one way to get the water of life – it’s in a relationship with Jesus. He’s knocking on the door now. -R

  2. Here’s my take…We are all created as we are. I am a lesbian- and I believe the true intent of the bible was to teach compassion, love, tolerance, and acceptance. Anything other than those teachings, to me, signifies what the human touch does to everything- it totally screws up and prejudices the point based on our teeny-tiny understanding (if you can call it that) of life.

    To use a “holy” writing in order to denigrate and exclude is awful. Doing so and using “holy” writings to justify meanness and the high-handed judgment of others is awful. We don’t have the capacity or the right to try to glean so-called “deeper meanings” from anything- we’re like amoebas trying to explain the galaxy. The simple truths are easy- love and treat others as you would like to be treated.

  3. I wanted to add one more thing..

    Joe’s responses… what he wished Ted would have said…

    The response is certainly more encouraging and if humanizes can be a word that would best describe the response… humanizes the issue… Joe’s response really reflects the fact that a person struggling with SSA and GID are human just like everyone else. We might not necessarily have control over particular weaknesses and struggles but when it comes to behavior we can make a choice in what we do and how we respond to these factors in our life.

    Thanks Joe and Renee… Thank you for blogging :)

  4. I would have to agree with Jennifer Thorne…Ted has a very very long way to go. As do I.

    I know from my own experience of walking away from the lesbian identity and lifestyle not all that long ago mind you…

    I went through Living Waters in 2005 and in 2006… perhaps I really wasn’t fully repenting until I went through my first year in 2005. Now, I am heading into my 4th year on this journey of discovering what God intended for me as a woman created in God’s Image. I also have the opportunity this year to be apart of a Living Waters leadership team. I’ve been on the journey for nearly 4 years…. double the amount of time Ted has been not that I’m counting just making a comparison that I’m going on 4 years and sometimes what really freaks me out is the fact that instead of it becoming less and less of an issue it’s almost as if the struggle for me has intensitfied. Yet, I must be doing something right because I wouldn’t be on the Living Waters leadership team otherwise. I guess from my experience as we dig down deep to the core of our frustrations and our pain, the losses and confusion brought by abuse and legitimate needs not being met… and then choosing not to medicate the wounds, it allows for pain to surface. And so I would think that what I am experiencing is actually a normal part of the process. And it’s in these times we have the choice to pursue holiness or to bend into our brokenness… our tendencies towards the sin that we in our humanity lean towards. For some it might be addictions, others acting out in homosexual behavior… and then those self-righteous folk that tend to think their crap don’t stink!… strong words but that’s true.

    I still fumble around not really knowing how to respond to people when they bluntly ask me what my sexual orientation is and half the time I don’t have the energy to go into detail about my faith and the choices that I make and the energy to make my case…

    Which is that YES! There is healing and freedom to be found in Christ from homosexuality.

    2 years just isn’t enough time to process things and with Ted’s case with what we’ve seen. His family, his marriage…. I would think that Ted is just barely scratching the surface. This just doesn’t go away not in two years anyhow.

    btw.. if anyone wants to pray for me.. I would greatly appreciate that. :)

  5. Sue Bohlin says:

    I left a response on Oprah.com about how I thought Gayle nailed it when she said we don’t have to give into our inclinations, and they don’t have to be our identity–which Oprah refused. So what if a new movement rose up attempted to normalize obesity, calling it “a different kind of beautiful”? And what if obese people came on her show and said, “Oprah, girlfriend, you’ve had a lifelong inclination to overeat and not exercise. Face it! You are a fat girl! That is who you are! Stop lying about it and embrace it as who you truly are!” She wouldn’t like it because she knows some inclinations are worthy of struggling against.

    But same-sexuality is immune to logic since it’s protected by political correctness.

  6. I watched the interview and was interested in what Ted’s wife Gayle would say. Oprah asked her if she was angry, and of course, she said she had been. But it seemed to me like she was minimizing her own issues with this. I mean, she lost her home, her community, her friendships and her church too. And it wasn’t her fault. I guess it doesn’t do any good to berate her husband, and maybe they are moving past that to rebuilding.

    The other striking thing was thier grown kid’s response about how they didn’t really know their dad until after all this happened. That was chilling to me – that Ted had been so preoccupied with his work (and his indiscretions) that his own kids felt like they didn’t know him. There’s a lesson to be learned here, and I hope we all can take something away from this ourselves to make sure our families are never taken for granted.

  7. Jennifer Thorne says:

    I happened to catch most of the Ted Haggard interview on Oprah.

    I must say that I was glad to see that there has been some repentance and recovery but I think much to his own nativity he is not nearly through his recovery. It will be interesting to watch his story as he continues on this road of recovery. I have been out of the life style for over 20 years and it took a long time before I reached the place where I was no longer haunted by those homosexual longings. I believe that the road ahead for Haggard is going to get more difficult. He has yet to hit those inner issues that took him in this direction in the first place. Where today he describes himself as having a part of him that is homosexual, my prayer is that he will by God’s grace and his willingness move to the place where he will see that he is as God designed and homosexuality is not a part of who he is intrinsically.

  8. To me, as a former lesbian, this scripture explains ‘choice.’

    1 Corinthians 6:12
    [ Sexual Immorality ] “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

    In addition to that, there is no biblical model for homosexuality. The model is: a man leaves his mother and clings to his wife.

    Thanks for sharing this Renee! I wish I would have seen it. I’m sure I can catch it on YouTube.



  1. […] Ted said: “I’m a heterosexual with homosexual attachments.” What prompted it: Oprah’s predictable but relevant question: Are you gay, straight, or bisexual? (read more) […]

  2. […] Ted Said: Afterthoughts On Ted Haggard’s Interview with Oprah: Rev. Ted Haggard broke his two year silence on Oprah’s show yesterday, his first media […]

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