Coping with complex sex talk

alfred_kinsey_time_magTrust me. There are times when your GetReligionistas get tired of writing posts that criticize the same publications for making the same errors, time after time. Meanwhile, we know that readers may also tire of hearing us praise some of the same skilled, talented professionals who know what they are doing on the religion beat. So, with that later truth in mind, let us turn to yet another story by Eric Gorski, who basically is charged with covering religion on most of the planet earth for the Associated Press. And what a tough story he had to handle, this time around.

But before we did into the latest chapter in the complex life of former and, perhaps, future evangelical superstar Ted Haggard, let's read a very famous passage in a controversial volume on sexuality:

"Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories... The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. While emphasizing the continuity of the gradations between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual histories, it has seemed desirable to develop some sort of classification which could be based on the relative amounts of heterosexual and homosexual experience or response in each history. ... An individual may be assigned a position on this scale, for each period in his life.... A seven-point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist."

-- Alfred Kinsey, et al. (1948)

What does this have to do with Haggard? Here's the opening of Gorski's recent AP report on a very hot, complex topic:

Speaking out two years after being embroiled in a gay sex scandal, former evangelical pastor Ted Haggard said Friday his sexual identity is complex and can't be put into "stereotypical boxes," but that his relationship with his wife is stronger than ever.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Haggard did not rule out a return to public life or the pulpit. He spoke before he appeared before TV critics in Los Angeles to promote "The Trials of Ted Haggard," an HBO documentary on Haggard's exile after his confession to "sexual immorality" and fall as a top evangelical leader.

"I am guilty. I am responsible," Haggard, 52, said Friday in a phone interview. "I got off track, and I am deeply sorry and I repent ... I'm moving along in a positive direction."

You remember, of course, the fall of the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the leader of the giant New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. A male prostitute said he paid for sex and there were drug allegations in there, too.

Now, Haggard is trying to tell his story or, perhaps, the Hollywood term "back story" is more accurate.

But here is the big idea: Haggard believes that his sexuality is messed up, due to experiences in his past, and that he has been struggling in a gray area, an embattled zone, between his heterosexual feelings and his homosexual temptations.

haggardtedIn Kinsey terms, he believes that he was caught in the middle of the scale. Now, he is saying that he is going in the right direction again.

During a guest sermon last November at a friend's church in Illinois, Haggard said a co-worker of his father molested him when he was 7, an experience that "started to produce fruit" later. Clarifying that Friday, Haggard said: "I'm certainly not saying that because of that, I did this. I did what I did by my choice, and I'm responsible for it."

Haggard said he isn't qualified to judge what factors into one's sexuality, but still believes it's "God's perfect plan" for marriage to be between a man and woman.

"I think sexuality is confusing and complex," Haggard said. "I am totally completely satisfied with the relationship with my wife now, but I went through a wandering in the wilderness time, and I just thank God I'm on the other side of that."

Asked whether he could define his sexual identity, Haggard said: "The stereotypical boxes don't work for me. My story's got some gray areas in it. And, of course, I'm sad about that but it's the reality."

Gorski offers up more solid questions and more details, including testimony from both sides of the tensions between the former pastor and his former megachurch. You will also not be surprised to learn that Mike Jones -- the man making the sexual accusations -- isn't buying Haggard's story.

No surprises there. The key, however, is that Gorski allowed Haggard to tell his story in his own words. Now, people on both sides of this issue get to throw stones and hard questions. This is, you see, a complex story and this veteran reporter reserves praise for giving his readers the straight story, so to speak.

One more thing: Please stick to the journalism issues, folks.

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