Monday, December 18, 2006

Episcopal bishop: Church torn apart

By Brian C. Rittmeyer
Monday, December 18, 2006

The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh said Sunday he was not surprised by the decision of two prominent Episcopal parishes in Virginia to leave the church and join fellow Anglican conservatives.
"These congregations represent the same kind of faithfulness and Christian orthodoxy we represent here in Pittsburgh," Bishop Robert Duncan said. "All of this is part of what's happening in the Episcopal Church as many seek to stand where the church has always stood."
Parishioners at Truro Church in Fairfax and The Falls Church in Falls Church voted to cut ties with the Episcopal Church. They plan to place themselves under the leadership of Anglican Archbishop Peter Akniola of Nigeria, who has called the growing acceptance of gay relationships a "satanic attack" on the church.
Four other Virginia parishes have left, and eight more are voting or will vote soon whether to follow suit, according to the Virginia diocese.
The Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of the global Anglican Communion, has been under pressure from traditionalists at home and abroad since the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Nationally, Episcopal researchers estimate that at least one-third of the nearly 115,000 people who left the denomination from 2003 to 2005 did so because of parish conflicts over Robinson.
Robinson's appointment and the blessing of same-sex unions have torn the church apart, said Duncan, who has forbidden such services in the diocese's 66 parishes, which serve 20,000 people.
"It's the innovation that's torn the church apart. All of this gets blamed on the conservatives. The conservatives haven't changed. We're standing where we always stood," he said.
Duncan said the number of local congregations wanting to move in the direction of the national church has fallen from 13 to nine, and he expects more to have second thoughts. No local parishes have broken away.
"The Christian faith, being a revealed religion, you cannot change its faith or its ministry," he said. "Any church that turns away from it finds itself in deep trouble."
Seven of the 100 U.S. Episcopal dioceses have threatened to break from the denomination but have so far stayed put. Duncan said there has not been consideration of the Pittsburgh diocese's breaking away.
"Our view is that the national church has left its own constitution and we're standing where we always stood," he said. "We are the Episcopal Church here. We have not changed our beliefs or the way in which we stand."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My answer to a New York Times reporter and how she reported it

My answer to a New York Times reporter and how she reported it

by Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Dec. 16, 2006
(For a pdf version more suitable for printing, proper formatting, and pagination, go here.)

On 11/29/06, Neela Banerjee, religion reporter for The New York Times, emailed me to ask my views on “gay evangelicals” and about whether I thought "such a term can be honestly used." On the same day I emailed my response. She took two quotes from my response for her article in the Times on Tuesday, Dec. 12, entitled “Gay and Evangelical, Seeking Paths of Acceptance” (front page, continued on p. 18; temporarily available on the web here). She was pleasant in her email. However, her handling of my response merits some comment and qualification. Here is the excerpt from the article that quotes me, along with the immediate context of her article and with boldface added to the quotations of my words:
But for most evangelicals, gay men and lesbians cannot truly be considered Christian, let alone evangelical.

“If by gay evangelical is meant someone who claims both to abide by the authority of Scripture and to engage in a self-affirming manner in homosexual unions, then the concept gay evangelical is a contradiction,” Robert A. J. Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, said in an e-mail message.

“Scripture clearly, pervasively, strongly, absolutely and counterculturally opposes all homosexual practice,” Dr. Gagnon said. “I trust that gay evangelicals would argue otherwise, but Christian proponents of homosexual practice have not made their case from Scripture.”

In fact, both sides look to Scripture. The debate is largely over seven passages in the Bible about same-sex couplings. Mr. Gagnon and other traditionalists say those passages unequivocally condemn same-sex couplings.

Those who advocate acceptance of gay people assert that the passages have to do with acts in the context of idolatry, prostitution or violence. The Bible, they argue, says nothing about homosexuality as it is largely understood today as an enduring orientation, or about committed long-term, same-sex relationships.

For some gay evangelicals, their faith in God helped them override the biblical restrictions people preached to them. . . .
Here is the email that I sent Ms. Banerjee, from which she extracted the quotes (I have placed the quotations in boldface):
Dear Neela,

Are there “gay evangelicals”? Yes and no.

YES: Well, there certainly are self-described evangelicals who experience homosexual impulses and, more, affirm these impulses as something good--just as there are evangelicals who both experience various sinful impulses and sometimes even wrongly attempt to justify these impulses from Scripture. For example, there are evangelicals who attempt to justify sexual relations outside the covenant bond of marriage (i.e., evangelicals who are also fornicators). The apostle Paul’s “first” letter to the Corinthians rebukes the Corinthian Christians for affirming an incestuous relationship between a member of their community and his stepmother (chap. 5) and later goes on to warn the Corinthian believers not to be adulterers, men who have sex with other males, or men who have sex with prostitutes lest they risk not inheriting the kingdom of God (chap. 6). Such persons who are “one spirit” with Jesus scandalously involve Christ in a sexually immoral “one flesh” union. So the phenomenon of Christians acting in ways that are contrary to the call of the Christian gospel, and even affirming such behavior, is as old as Christianity itself.

NO: But if by “gay evangelical” is meant someone who claims both to abide by the authority of Scripture and to engage in a self-affirming manner in homosexual unions, then the concept “gay evangelical” is a contradiction in terms--all the more if one understands “gay” to be a self-constructed identity that seeks to justify and gratify preexisting homosexual impulses. It is a contradiction in terms because Scripture clearly, pervasively, strongly, absolutely, and counterculturally opposes all homosexual practice. I trust that “gay evangelicals” would argue otherwise but Christian proponents of homosexual practice have not made their case from Scripture (see my website at for this; start with my critique of your colleague Nicholas Kristof at and work your way to my critique of a recent book by Myers/Scanzoni at So to construct a self-identity around behavior that Scripture deems to be an egregious instance of sexual immorality, all the while claiming to be an evangelical Christian who upholds the authority of Scripture, is to engage in a self-contradiction. At best one might speak of “self-deceived gay evangelicals.”

Since Jesus himself would have found any self-affirming, unrepentant homosexual activity to be appalling, putting the perpetrator at risk of not inheriting the very kingdom of God that he proclaimed (see pp. 56-62 in my article cited in the last link above), he would have rejected any attempt to construct an identity around the affirmation of homosexual impulses as incompatible with the call to Christian discipleship. To be a true disciple (learner) of Jesus one must (according to Jesus himself) take up one’s cross, deny oneself, and lose one’s life. So the expression “gay Christian”--not just “gay evangelical”--is a contradiction of terms, just as “self-affirming polysexual Christian” or “self-affirming adulterous Christian” is a contradiction of terms.

We all sin and are regularly in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. But there is a difference between this and engaging in serial, unrepentant sin of a severe sort. Jesus called the adulterous woman out of sin, “lest something worse should happen” to her. The church should do the same in love for self-professed “gay evangelicals.”

Hope this helps.


I appreciate that Ms. Banerjee quoted parts of three of my sentences, which is more than most scholars espousing a position against homosexual practice could expect to get in a major newspaper heavily invested in promoting homosexual relationships, like The New York Times. Yet there are several corrections and comments worth noting here:
Ms. Banerjee misconstrued my remark “Christian proponents of homosexual practice have not made their case from Scripture” to mean that such proponents in my view had not even tried to make a case from Scripture. To this Ms. Banerjee responds in the article: “In fact, both sides look to Scripture”—as if I were unaware of this obvious fact. She then goes on to explain—again, as if I were unaware—that “those who advocate acceptance of gay people assert that the passages have to do with acts in the context of idolatry, prostitution or violence” and not with acts in the context of “an enduring orientation, or about committed long-term, same-sex relationships.”
Now it should have been obvious to Ms. Banerjee that I knew about the frequent attempts on the part of many to neutralize the Bible’s clear opposition to homosexual practice. My publications on the subject of the Bible and homosexual practice over the last 6 years have dealt with all of these arguments in detail. Had Ms. Banerjee checked out the links that I provided her, or read any of my print publications on the subject, she would have known this. She would then have realized that my point was that Christian proponents of homosexual relationships have failed to make a good and convincing case from Scripture. (See the links above and, added to these, my recent extensive critiques of Jack Rogers’s recent book on the subject of the Bible and homosexuality, on my website; start here and then proceed here, here, here, here, and here.) The idea that Scripture says nothing against loving homosexual behavior entered into by homosexually oriented persons is akin to arguing that the Bible poses no obstacle to committed incestuous unions engaged in by consenting adults or that the New Testament is open to committed polyamorous (multiple-partner) unions entered into by confirmed “polysexuals.”
To her credit, when I pointed out this error, Ms. Banerjee acknowledged in an email that she had misunderstood me and apologized. I appreciate that. I doubt, though, that the Times will issue any public correction.
In answer to Ms. Banerjee’s question about whether the term “gay evangelicals” can be “honestly used,” I said “yes and no” and explained both responses. Ms. Banerjee noted only the “no” part of my answer. My response is considerably more nuanced than the Times article would suggest. Of course, on an empirical level there are people who claim to be both “gay” (involving a self-affirmed identity around the acceptability of homosexual relationships) and “evangelical” (involving a belief in Scripture’s supreme authority for matters of faith and practice). But, since Scripture cannot be made serviceable to the acceptance of homosexual practice, it is a contradiction in terms to claim that one is an “evangelical” while affirmingly constructing an identity based on behavior that would have appalled all the authors of Scripture, to say nothing of Jesus.

Ms. Banerjee was not quite accurate in characterizing my position as claiming that “gay men and lesbians cannot truly be considered Christian, let alone evangelical.” This way of wording things can convey a meaning different from my stated position to her, namely, that the term “gay Christian” is “a contradiction in terms”—“just as,” so I noted in my email to her, “‘self-affirming polysexual Christian’ or ‘self-affirming adulterous Christian’ is a contradiction of terms.” First, I made clear in my email that I understood “gay” as a label for someone who not merely experiences homosexual impulses but who, more, “engages in a self-affirming manner in homosexual unions.” Clearly, someone can be a Christian and experience homoerotic desires, just as Christians experience an array of sinful desires on a daily basis that ought not to rule their lives. Second, a person can even be a Christian while engaging in a self-affirming manner in homosexual practice, just as (again noted in my email) Paul dealt with the case of an incestuous Christian in 1 Corinthians 5-6. However, such a person would be a Christian at risk of exclusion from God’s kingdom (1 Cor 6:9-11 and often). So a “gay man” or “lesbian woman” who calls him- or herself a Christian while engaging in serial, unrepentant, and self-affirmed homosexual activity could be “considered” a Christian who is at risk of not inheriting eternal life.

Ms. Banerjee left out my concluding word on the importance of love and the distinction between succumbing to homosexual temptation out of weakness and actively affirming the homosexual behavior that one engages in. Such a note might have provided some balance to an article that otherwise appeared to be working hard to paint a sympathetic portrait of self-affirming “gay evangelicals.” It is also puzzling that Ms. Banerjee didn’t solicit any quotes from Christians who “take up their cross and deny themselves” as regards homosexual impulses.

On Ms. Banerjee’s behalf I can say that I’ve seen far worse reporting on this issue. At least Ms. Banerjee solicited my comments, was polite, and actually used most of three of my sentences. Moreover, she ended her article on the helpful note that relatives of one “gay Christian” in a homosexual relationship tell him, “We love you, but we’re concerned.” These features of her article and reporting should be applauded even as we continue to seek improved reporting on the subject of Christianity and homosexuality from the Times and other major media publications.

Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. He can be reached at

Saturday, December 16, 2006

TEC Revolt

Episcopal Rift Drawing Near Point of Revolt
NY Times

For about 30 years, the Episcopal Church has been one big unhappy family. Under one roof there were female bishops and male bishops who would not ordain women. There were parishes that celebrated gay weddings and parishes that denounced them; theologians sure that Jesus was the only route to salvation, and theologians who disagreed.
Now, after years of threats, the family is breaking up.
As many as eight conservative Episcopal churches in Virginia are expected to announce today that their parishioners have voted to cut their ties with the Episcopal Church. Two are large, historic congregations that minister to the Washington elite and occupy real estate worth a combined $27 million, which could result in a legal battle over who keeps the property.
In a twist, these wealthy American congregations are essentially putting themselves up for adoption by Anglican archbishops in poorer dioceses in Africa, Asia and Latin America, who share conservative theological views about homosexuality and the interpretation of Scripture with the breakaway Americans.
“The Episcopalian ship is in trouble,” said the Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, one of the two large Virginia congregations, where George Washington served on the vestry. “So we’re climbing over the rails down to various little lifeboats. There’s a lifeboat from Bolivia, one from Rwanda, another from Nigeria. Their desire is to help us build a new ship in North America, and design it and get it sailing.”
Together, these Americans and their overseas allies say they intend to form a new American branch that would rival or even supplant the Episcopal Church in the worldwide Anglican Communion, a confederation of national churches that trace their roots to the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, is now struggling to hold the communion together while facing a revolt on many fronts from emboldened conservatives. Last week, conservative priests in the Church of England warned him that they would depart if he did not allow them to sidestep liberal bishops and report instead to sympathetic conservatives.
In Virginia, the two large churches are voting on whether they want to report to the powerful archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality who supports legislation in his country that would make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to form organizations, read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant. Archbishop Akinola presides over the largest province in the 77-million-member Anglican Communion; it has more than 17 million members, dwarfing the Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million.
If all eight Virginia churches vote to separate, the Diocese of Virginia, the largest Episcopal diocese in the country, will lose about 10 percent of its 90,000 members. In addition, four churches in Virginia have already voted to secede, and two more are expected to vote soon, said Patrick N. Getlein, secretary of the diocese.
Two weeks ago, the entire diocese in San Joaquin, Calif., voted to sever its ties with the Episcopal Church, a decision it would have to confirm in a second vote next year. Six or more American dioceses say they are considering such a move.
In the last three years, since the Episcopal Church consecrated V. Gene Robinson, a gay man who lives with his partner, as bishop of New Hampshire, about three dozen American churches have voted to secede and affiliate with provinces overseas, according to The Episcopal News Service.
However, the secession effort in Virginia is being closely watched by Anglicans around the world because so many churches are poised to depart simultaneously. Virginia has become a central stage, both for those pushing for secession and for those trying to prevent it.
The Diocese of Virginia is led by Bishop Peter James Lee, the longest-serving Episcopal bishop and a centrist who, both sides agree, has been gracious to the disaffected churches and worked to keep them in the fold.
Bishop Lee has made concessions other bishops would not. He has allowed the churches to keep their seats in diocesan councils, even though they stopped contributing to the diocesan budget in protest. When some of the churches refused to have Bishop Lee perform confirmations in their parishes, he flew in the former archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. George Carey, a conservative evangelical, to take his place.
“Our Anglican tradition has always been a very large tent in which people with different theological emphases can live together,” Bishop Lee said in a telephone interview. “I’m very sorry some in these churches feel that this is no longer the case for them. It certainly is their choice and their decision. No one is forcing them to do this.”
The Diocese of Virginia is also home to the Rev. Martyn Minns, a main organizer in the global effort by conservative Anglicans to ostracize the Episcopal Church. Mr. Minns is the priest in charge of Truro Church, the second of the two historic Virginia parishes now voting on secession.
Anglican rules and traditions prohibit bishops from crossing geographical boundaries to take control of churches or priests not in their territory. So Archbishop Akinola and his American allies have tried to bypass that by establishing a branch of the Nigerian church in the United States, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Archbishop Akinola has appointed Mr. Minns as his key “missionary bishop” to spread the gospel to Americans on his behalf.
Mr. Minns and other advocates of secession have suggested to the voters that the convocation arrangement has the blessing of the Anglican hierarchy. But on Friday, the Anglican Communion office in London issued a terse statement saying the convocation had not been granted “any official status within the communion’s structures, nor has the archbishop of Canterbury indicated any support for its establishment.”
The voting in Virginia, however, was already well under way, with ballot boxes open for a week starting last Sunday. Church leaders say they need 70 percent of the voters to approve the secession for it to take effect.
If the vote is to secede, the churches and the diocese will fight to keep ownership of Truro Church, in Fairfax, and The Falls Church, in Falls Church, Va., a city named for the church.
Henry D. W. Burt, a member of the standing committee of the Virginia Diocese, grew up in The Falls Church and recently urged members not to secede. He said in an interview: “We’re not talking about Class A office space in Arlington, Va. We’re talking about sacred ground.”
Neither side says it wants to go to court over control of the church property, but both say the law is on their side.
At one of the four Virginia parishes that has already voted to secede, All Saints Church in Dale City, the tally was 402 to 6. But that church had already negotiated a settlement to rent its property from the diocese for $1 each year until it builds another church.
The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, said in an e-mail response to a request for an interview that such splits reflect a polarized society, as well as the “anxiety” and “discomfort” that many people feel when they are asked to live with diversity.
“The quick fix embraced in drawing lines or in departing is not going to be an ultimate solution for our discomfort,” she said.
Soon, Bishop Schori herself will become the issue. Archbishop Akinola and some other leaders of provinces in developing countries have said they will boycott their primates’ meeting in Tanzania in February unless the archbishop of Canterbury sends a second representative for the American conservatives.
“It’s a huge amount of mess,” said the Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina, who is aligned with the conservatives. “As these two sides fight, a lot of people in the middle of the Episcopal Church are exhausted and trying to hide, and you can’t. When you’re in a family and the two sides are fighting, it affects everybody.”

Ireland High Court Rules Against Gay 'Marriage' Citing Harm to Children

Refuses Recognition of Lesbian "Marriage" Staged in Canada

By Gudrun Schultz
DUBLIN, Ireland,
December 15, 2006 (

- The Ireland High Court yesterday rejected a lesbian couple's demand to have their Canadian "marriage" recognized in Ireland, in a landmark ruling closely watched by both sides of the international marriage debate.Justice Elizabeth Dunne decided against the claim of Dr. Katherine Zappone and Dr. Anne Louise Gilligan, who had argued that the State and the Revenue Commissioners had violated their constitutional rights by refusing to assess them for taxes as a married couple, the Irish Times reported yesterday. "Marriage was understood under the 1937 Constitution to be confined to persons of the opposite sex," Justice Dunne wrote in her lengthy ruling. "Having regard to the clear understanding of the meaning of marriage as set out in the numerous authorities opened to the Court from this jurisdiction and elsewhere, I do not see how marriage can be redefined by the Court to encompass same sex marriage."Dr. Zappone, a public policy research consultant member of the Human Rights Commission, and Dr. Gilligan, who lectures at St. Patrick's College in Dublin, are homosexual activists who have been pursuing a change in Ireland's marriage laws that would permit homosexual couples to legally marry. When Canada passed homosexual marriage legislation in 2003, the pair traveled to Vancouver, B.C. in September 2003 to 'marry', and then used their Canadian 'marriage' to attempt to force recognition by the Irish government.Justice Dunne rejected the couple's argument that international acceptance of homosexual 'marriage' was reason enough for re-evaluation of Irish law."The Plaintiffs referred frequently in the course of this case to the 'changing consensus' but I have to say the there is little evidence of that," she wrote. "The consensus around the world does not support a widespread move towards same sex marriage. There has been some limited support for the concept of same sex marriage as in Canada, Massachusetts and South Africa together with…three European countries…but, in truth, it is difficult to see that as a consensus, changing or otherwise."In her 138-page ruling, Justice Dunne expressed concern about the effect of same-sex marriage on children, saying the lack of conclusive research into the results of homosexual parenting made it necessary to reserve judgment on the issue."[T]here is simply not enough evidence from the research done to date that could allow firm conclusions to be drawn as to the consequences of same sex marriage particularly in the area of the welfare of children."The United States-based Institute for Marriage and Public Policy commented on the Irish court decision, saying:'Of particular interest may be the court's discussion about the evidence purporting to show no difference between children raised by same-sex couples and those raised by married couples. The judge accepted testimony about the methodological shortcomings of available evidence and said: "It also seems to me having regard to the criticism of the methodology used in the majority of the studies conducted to date that until such time as there are more longitudinal studies involving much larger samples that it will be difficult to reach firm conclusions on this topic."' 'The court concluded that the Irish Constitution's explicit reference to a constitutional right of opposite-sex couples to marry justified the legal distinction between same- and opposite-sex couples in the marriage law. The court further noted, however, that the marriage law was further justified by concerns with the 'welfare of children' since in the absence of good research, 'the State is entitled to adopt a cautious approach to changing the capacity to marry.'"Justice Dunne said the decision to grant legal recognition to same-sex couples apart from marriage should be up to the legislature, not the courts. Currently in Ireland, legislation has been proposed that would permit homosexual couples to enter in to civil unions with some of the legal benefits given to married heterosexual couples.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ted Haggard's "Sin"

Ted Haggard's "Sin"-- Jon Pahl
Now that some of the dust has settled from the unfortunate fall of evangelical leader Ted Haggard -- who has confessed to being a "sinner" to his congregation -- we can achieve some longer-range perspective on what it all means.
I agree with Martin Marty that Rev. Haggard, along with his family and all those involved in this scandal, deserves compassion, and one wishes him peace (see "Considering Ted Haggard's Plight," Sightings, November 6). But Haggard's letter to his church reveals a truncated understanding of sin and a failure to recognize how the movement he led as President of the National Association of Evangelicals is in part responsible for his plight.
Like most evangelicals, Haggard is the theological heir of Saint Augustine, finding sin in pride and lust. Unlike Augustine, however, Haggard sees pride and lust as personal attributes. "I alone am responsible," he asserts in his letter. "I created this entire situation," he reiterates. And yet a third time he says, "It was created 100 percent by me."
Augustine has a more sophisticated understanding of the origins of sinful desire. In his Confessions, he reveals how sin arises from within a social nexus. In the famous account in Book 2, he describes stealing a bunch of pears with a gang of his friends. He did this not because he was hungry, but because it was transgressive. He and his friends constructed a foul desire and then he acted on it.
A similar dynamic can be observed among many conservative evangelicals with regard to homosexuality. By targeting gay sex as "sin," the religious right has mobilized "values voters." But by scapegoating homosexuality, they draw attention to it as "temptation." As Haggard puts it: "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." It is as if the religious right's culture war has played out in Ted Haggard's soul. As an individual willing to carry the blame as a "sinner," he acted out the scapegoating that has in part organized power for the movement he led.
In its mild form, this scapegoating of homosexuals has been expressed in "Defense of Marriage" laws, one of which passed in the recent elections in Colorado. Haggard was a vocal supporter of these laws. Such tension between his public person and his private behavior must have been excruciating. A more extreme form of this logic has led to movements like that of the Rev. Fred Phelps's "God Hates Fags" campaign. Passion for "purity" against homosexual desire has been used to rally evangelical righteousness, and to round up voters.
Consequently, those who feel homosexual desire and who are also persuaded by the logic of a Phelps will likely bear a degree of self-hatred that leads to isolation and repression. Haggard would appear to be in such a position. "For extended periods of time," Haggard writes, "I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach."
But what Haggard does not seem to recognize, as Augustine did, is how his desires were in part the result of what he believed and taught. Augustine demonstrates that a dirty desire is desirable precisely because it is dirty. Similarly, Haggard, I believe, was actually possessed by the social constructions of the very movement he led. He suggests as much when he reveals that "when I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me." But a problem can only dominate one in this way when it is constructed as a problem. If, say, gay sex were considered good within a committed, loving, and publicly recognized relationship, it would not pose a moral threat.
According to Augustine, an individual either participates in God, who is gracious and life-fulfilling love, or one falls into lust, which is prideful assertion of one's desires to dominate. The religious right has had plenty of experience with domination lately. It is more than a little disturbing, then, that Haggard, in his letter, imagines that he will be "healed" when his "sins" are "dealt with harshly," and when, with the "oversight" of leading anti-gay pastors Dr. James Dobson, Jack Hayford, and Tommy Barnett, he is "disciplined." (Dobson has since withdrawn from the counseling team.)
It is unlikely that those in this group will actually confess their collective responsibility for Haggard's sins. To do so, they would have to acknowledge the systemic violence they have accepted and promoted by scapegoating homosexuals. Policies produce practices, and when a taboo is constructed, it invariably becomes a temptation.
Prior to his fall, Haggard had been an admirably clear voice for broadening evangelical activism to include support for environmental causes and attention to poverty as a religious issue. One might now hope that evangelicals and others continue to learn through his example -- by recognizing with Augustine how desire is rooted in a social nexus.

Jon Pahl is Professor of the History of Christianity in North America at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, and a Fellow in the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University.

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...