Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ted Haggard redux

A year and a half ago I put together a post about mega-churches inspired by an article in Harpers by Jeff Sharlett. The subject of the story was the conspicuous success of Pastor Ted's New Life Church in Colorado.

Pastor Ted, who talks to President George W. Bush or his advisers every Monday, is a handsome forty-eight-year-old Indianan, most comfortable in denim. He likes to say that his only disagreement with the President is automotive; Bush drives a Ford pickup, whereas Pastor Ted loves his Chevy. In addition to New Life, Pastor Ted presides over the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), whose 45,000 churches and 30 million believers make up the nation’s most powerful religious lobbying group, and also over a smaller network of his own creation, the Association of Life-Giving Churches, 300 or so congregations modeled on New Life’s “free market” approach to the divine. Pastor Ted will serve as NAE president for as long as the movement is pleased with him, and as long as Pastor Ted is its president the NAE will make its headquarters in Colorado Springs.

In light of this week's developments regarding Pastor Ted, the article reads with a somewhat different resonance. Different how? I'm not sure.

It's possible that the Harper's piece served to kick-start Ted Haggard, his church and affiliated organizations to very high-profile exposure. Too much exposure, it seems. Jeff Sharlett met and interviewed the man long before last week...
...since I wrote about Ted Haggard and his church, New Life, in the May, 2005 issue of Harper's...Ted has been decidedly less than friendly. I always wondered why. Although my article was critical, it led to a surge of more mild-mannered media for Ted, one of the most powerful but least-known evangelical bigs in America. Barbara Walters asking him about heaven, Tom Brokaw doing his "on the other hand" routine.

But too much attention can be a bad thing. Details are still coming in, but it seems a gay man in Denver named Mike Jones was watching TV recently when he saw one of his regular sex partners, whom he knew only as "Art," on the tube: Ted, welcome to celebrity.

I just talked to Jones on the phone. He's not vindictive, nor particularly political; he's voted for Republicans and Democrats. He struggled with his decision, out of compassion for a man in the closet. He was motivated, he said, simply by being a gay man who's been around long enough to know how Ted's politics play out in the ordinary lives of people Jones cares about. That's about as good a motive for outing someone as I've ever heard. This afternoon, Ted announced that he was temporarily stepping down from his positions of authority. A press conference of national evangelical figures that planned to express support for Ted has been called off. Jones has made available recordings he says are of Ted asking him to procure meth, and an envelope in which he says Ted mailed him money.

Thanks to Fred Clark for catching this before me. His comments are worth reading.
All that language -- forgiveness, deliverance, confession, repentance -- really means here only that Haggard needs to go back to living a lie. If he agrees to live that lie, and with clenched teeth to continue proclaiming that others must join in living that lie, then Haggard will be "accepted" back "into fellowship."

Haggard is now seeking "spiritual advice and guidance," and there are tens of thousands of Very Nice Christian people praying for him. But his spiritual guides and advisors are all going to tell him to follow that script. Those people praying for him are all praying for him to follow that script. And that script is evil. That script is a lie.

For Christ's sake, enough with the lies. The last thing Haggard needs is to be "accepted" into a fellowship that cannot accept who he really is. Both he and that fellowship have just been given an opportunity to abandon lies. I'm praying that they will recognize that opportunity and take it.

Bitter medicine, indeed. I doubt the people who need to swallow it are paying attention. Too bad. What he's saying, of course, is that the Church must accept homosexual people as equals, sinners as part of the larger flawed population comprising the Body...then work on shortcomings.

Some churches are in that fold, but not all by a long shot.

No comments: