Senator Larry Craig, Representative Mark Foley, and the Reverend Ted Haggard share in their shame. All three are conservative leaders who have legislated and preached against homosexuality as unnatural, wrong, and undeserving of legal protection. All three have been disgraced when accused of practicing homosexuality.
I am neither a lawyer nor a psychologist. The goal of this article is not to comment on Senator Craig’s guilt or innocence, nor to take you inside of the minds of these apparent hypocrites. However, if I could humbly submit a hypothesis, I think these men may have spoken out against homosexuality as part of a reaction against their actions.
Psychologists have described a number of different ways that people tend to deal with guilt. Some rationalize their guilt, stretching their beliefs to meet their actions. Others force their guilt into their subconscious minds. Others undergo what is known as “reaction formation,” where a person seeks to crusade against something against their beliefs precisely because they are indulging in it. Rather than addressing the roots of guilt by changing their actions or reevaluating their beliefs, these people seek to hunt out the guilt in others. To put it more simply, they directly disobey Jesus’ command in Matthew 7: 5 to “…first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Is it possible that the two legislators and the clergyman above made a crusade against homosexuality the most public expression of their faith precisely because they struggled with it personally? These men were raised in times and places where homosexuality was not acceptable. From their earliest days, it is likely that they were taught about how unnatural and wrong homosexuality is. Parents, clergy, and the culture of conservatism demonized homosexuality. When these men began to explore their own sexuality, perhaps they found it less orthodox than the prevailing culture expected and accepted. Rather than fighting to change attitudes about homosexuality, or addressing their own sexuality in order to change it, if that is even possible, these men embarked on a crusade against homosexual activity.
It is very dangerous when people seek to hunt their private guilt out in the public world. There are countless cases throughout history of guilt-ridden people becoming bloodthirsty rulers and tyrants. Guilt is a powerful force. If approached carefully, respectfully, and privately, it can make us all better people. If denied or ignored, it can make us beasts and oppressors.
The crises facing each of the three disgraced men right now is awful, and I am not suggesting that they did not wholeheartedly believe in what they preached. However, society needs to cast a compassionate eye on them and all people struggling with hypocrisy. Hypocrisy stems from the root of guilt that all of us interact with in our own lives. It is only in how we deal with our struggles with guilt that we can claim to be any different. Even at that, we are all hypocrites here. Everyone has some crusade that they carry out into the world, rather than addressing privately.
Rather than assaulting these men like ravenous wolves, we need to respect their privacy and offer a hand of forgiveness. Our first duty whenever we see hypocrisy, after all, is to take the planks out of our own eyes.