Soulforce To Focus: Free Pastor Ted

What is this euphemism – “restoration” – that many news outlets appear perfectly OK offering unquestioningly to readers, as in, what is happening to Pastor Ted? Under the headline in the Sunday Colorado Springs Gazette, “If Haggard strays, his team will know,” was a photo with this caption: “Haggard’s restoration will include a confession and lie detector test, a counselor and a church official said.”

Or from the Monday Denver Post “Following an extraordinarily public fall, the Rev. Ted Haggard now enters a period of self- reflection guided by three spiritual elders whose mission is defined with a nebulous term: restoration.”

Maybe it has a softer ring than “reparative therapy” or “sexual reorientation” or “conversion” – all buzz phrases for the ex-gay movement, and are as vague as everything else about the Haggard story, other than the very specific claims of meth use and three years worth of gay sex with a prostitute.

OK, so Haggard has gone off to an undisclosed location to be “restored” – some are also now calling it “rehabilitated” – but no matter how many “news stories” deliver the reports about it, many aren’t buying it.

“These are outdated theories that don’t hold up,” says Jeff Lutes, the executive director of Soulforce, an organization based in Austin, Texas. Soulforce battles, through nonviolence, the religious and political oppression of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Last week its organizers launched a letter-writing campaign – an effort, of sorts, to Free Pastor Ted.

Haggard admitted he was guilty of “sexual immorality,” of being a “deceiver and a liar.” In a letter of apology to his New Life Church congregation, he wrote, “There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it all of my adult life.”

Many gays and lesbians were outraged at the hypocrisy of a man who so thoroughly has condemned homosexuality. 

But Soulforce, which was founded by Mel White, a former ghost writer for Pat Robertson, and who spent a fortune and agonizing years trying to “cure” his gayness before embracing his sexuality, decided to reach out to the fallen evangelical by way of letters of support and compassion. Lutes says so far more than 200 letters have been written, to be delivered to New Life Church to forward along to Haggard in his undisclosed location.

“My heart really goes out to him,” Lutes says.

At the same time, the group is calling on Focus on the Family and the National Association of Evangelicals – the 30-million member strong organization that Haggard led until his downfall – to take responsibility for making him a “victim of religious-based bigotry.” Focus on the Family, Lutes says, just keeps perpetuating the myth of the “ex-gay,” which has been discredited by the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association and numerous other mainline health organizations.

Lutes notes with sad irony that someone who has been perceived as an enemy of gays and lesbians now finds himself trapped in Focus on the Family’s box. And what exactly can Haggard expect, during the so-called “restoration?”

The “team” of three elders overseeing the whole thing – — one of whom is Focus on the Family founder James Dobson’s cousin — will likely get him hooked up to a polygraph machine. They’ve talked about administering a drug test. They might hack into Haggard’s computer hard drive. There will be psychological counseling, and a lot of praying.

Other methods that have been employed by various “ex-gay” programs are downright strange: One involves handing over all Calvin Klein clothing (too gay-looking). There’s another exercise where patients have to wear a rubber band around their wrists and snap them whenever they have a homoerotic thought. Men are even taught how to “properly” cross their legs; ankle atop the knee. (Only women should sit with one leg draped completely over the other).

Counseling sessions include efforts to convince men that their gayness is a direct result of their mothers being overbearing and their fathers distant and emotionally unavailable. Or, lesbians are informed that they clearly were sexually assaulted as children. If they don’t remember any such thing, it must be because they have repressed it.

In the extreme, exorcisms are conducted; electroshock is used.

“I’m a licensed professional counselor and one of the reasons I got into Soulforce is there are so many people who have gone through these [“ex-gay”] programs and were still in various stages of recovery from the incredibly damaging effects,” Lutes says.

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