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Posts for January, 2009

Haggard Faces More Sex Accusations; Church Says There Were Others Still Undisclosed

Jim Burroway

January 24th, 2009

More skeletons have come tumbling out of Ted Haggard’s closet. This time, it’s fresh accusations coming from a male volunteer at Haggard’s New Life Church:

Brady Boyd, who succeeded Haggard as senior pastor of the 10,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, told The Associated Press that the man came forward to church officials in late 2006 shortly after a Denver male prostitute claimed to have had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with Haggard.

Boyd said an “overwhelming pool of evidence” pointed to an “inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship” that “went on for a long period of time … it wasn’t a one-time act.” Boyd said the man was in his early 20s at the time. He said he was certain the man was of legal age when it began.

These accusations have surfaced just as HBO was preparing to air “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” on January 29. The documentary follows Ted Haggard in the aftermath of his fall from grace when Mike Jones, a Denver masseur, disclosed that he and Haggard had engaged in a sexual relationship.

According to the statement posted on the church’s web site suggesting that there are other credible allegations that the church knows about:

After Mr. Haggard’s fall, we received reports of a number of incidents of inappropriate behavior. In each case, we have tried our very best to do the right thing, including disciplinary action when appropriate. Our concern has been and continues to be for every person affected. We renew our invitation today for anyone who believes he or she has been hurt to please come forward.

In early 2007, New Life Church acknowledged that their investigation uncovered new evidence that Haggard engaged in “sordid conversation” and “improper relationships,” but they didn’t provide any details. A church board member earlier had denied that there was any evidence that Haggard was involved with anyone else. It now appears that there were several people involved.

According to the current pastor at New Life Church, a Colorado Springs TV station contacted him to say that the man was planning on going public with a detailed report on his relationship with Haggard. That contact has apparently triggered this latest disclosure by the pastor. He now acknowledges that the church had, in fact, entered into a settlement with the church volunteer at least two years ago.

The terms of that settlement include counseling and college tuition, but following the lead of how the Catholic church handled their clergy abuse scandals, this agreement also contains a clause requiring both parties to remain silent. Incredulously, pastor denies that the settlement amounted to hush money:

“It wasn’t at all a settlement to make him be quiet or not tell his story,” Boyd said. “Our desire was to help him. Here was a young man who wanted to get on with his life. We considered it more compassionate assistance — certainly not hush money. I know what’s what everyone will want to say because that’s the most salacious thing to say, but that’s not at all what it was.”

Boyd says now that that while it is within their legal rights to do so, they will not take any action against the man should he decide to go public.

Earlier this month, Haggard described his sexuality as one that doesn’t fit into “stereotypical boxes,” saying “I have struggled and continue to struggle from time to time with same sex attraction.” He also expressed support for same-sex marriage, although he reportedly retracted that statement within the hour according to an HBO spokesperson.

Review: “The Trials Of Ted Haggard”

Daniel Gonzales

January 22nd, 2009

What’s this, a new author? If you take a look at the left side of this page you’ll see there are three authors listed here at BTB. As a former patient of ex-gay therapist and NARTH founder Joe Nicolosi my specialty is ex-gay issues and video projects documenting ex-gay harm.

I admit I’d grown sick of following Haggard’s most recent media circus when a screener of Alexandra Pelosi’s upcoming documentary fell into my lap so I didn’t have a clue what to expect from it. First let me tell you what the film is not about — it’s not about the initial breaking of scandal in Colorado Springs nor is it about Ted’s ex-gay therapy sessions. Rather it’s about Ted trying to put his his life and the life of his family back together after being banished from Colorado and the effects of his cripplingly harsh severance agreement. This agreement dictated he may never work in any form of ministry or reside in the state of Colorado ever again (the Colorado restriction is dropped after a year). Additionally Ted’s presumably vast Christian social network had largely abandoned him leading Pelosi to ask (while holding the camera at Ted) “Where have all your friends gone?” I found that question so shockingly harsh I let out an audible gasp in sympathy.

That’s very much what this film is about, feeling sympathetic for Ted because of the way his former friends and church have abandoned him. Viewers see the Haggard family move repeatedly between Phoenix area motels and “safe houses,” trying unsuccessfully to put their lives back together. We see Ted try and secure steady employment, and failing at that, take out a loan against their home back in The Springs.

I’m listing all the ways the film makes you sympathize with Ted, but don’t worry about Pelosi presenting it in an overly sentimental way. The film’s very raison d’être is to look at Ted’s unglamorous new life in Arizona and give him a fair chance to tell his side of the story. Of note is Ted’s explanation that he never claimed to be “completely heterosexual” after three weeks of therapy, a claim which he says originated with a member of his “restoration team.” Also of note are a couple of very brief interviews with his wife, which are some of the most profound and telling scenes in the entire film. With those two exceptions the film focuses far more on Ted’s alienation from his old social networks than what’s going on in ex-gay therapy or his marriage.

Pelosi does an excelent job shooting compelling footage to illustrate how far the Haggard family has fallen and how much of a trial their lives have become. She pulls no punches with her questions for Ted, who answers them with the most genuine thought and emotion of any of his public statements since the scandal broke.

I still have a great deal of criticism for Ted and personally would liked to have seen Pelosi focus on other aspects of his life and behavior, but as I’ve made it pretty clear this film is about the trials which Ted Haggard’s family endured after being banished to Arizona. For succeeding in that I absolutely recommend spending 41 minutes of your life watching this film and possibly feeling human emotion for someone you’d previously felt nothing but loathing and disdain for.

“The Trials Of Ted Haggard” premiers on HBO January 29th at 8pm “HBO East” and 11pm “HBO West” with multiple re-broadcasts (all times Eastern). View a full schedule here.

Ted Haggard Is Okay With Same-Sex Marriage…

Jim Burroway

January 12th, 2009

…Except when his people call back an hour later to say he’s not.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Joe Garofoli was talking with Ted Haggard last week about an HBO documentary, about his fall from grace. That documentary, “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” which will premiere on January 29, documents the rise and fall of one of American’s Evangelical leaders in a scandal of gay sex and methamphetamines.

As Garofoli explains it, he and Haggard were talking about his former church and how they could have used his fall from grace as an example on preaching forgiveness. He also said that he thought the church is blowing other opportunities to reach out in other areas:

“I think we’re blowing it right here in California with the No. 1 way evangelical believers are communicating their belief are things like Prop. 8,” Haggard told The Chronicle Friday.

“I think the government should recognize the union between people whether they’re gay or not in whatever the language they choose, whether they call it a marriage or a civil union, it’s up to them. If the government is going to be in the business of recognizing people grouped together as couples, then they need to that across the board. It’s a big change for me.”

“It’s not a change in my view of civil liberties. I’ve always believed this. It’s a change in semantics. I’m saying prior to the crisis, I would defend marriage as the sacred term for the church to use for heterosexual monogamous couples. Now I’ve broadened that and said it’s not worth having a war over the definition of a word. I believe that under civil law people should be respected. And it should be equality under the law. So either the government needs to get out of recognizing that couples are together and make everybody file the same tax returns, etc. Or they need to recognize all of them. I don’t think it’s wise for the government to separate based on what goes on in a person’s bedroom.”

Sounds great, right? Except an hour later an HBO publicity person called. Haggard wanted to clarify that he wasn’t saying he was for gay marriage.

Haggard recently acknowledged that “I have struggled and continue to struggle from time to time with same sex attraction.” How sad. He is struggling all over the place between what he thinks and what he knows.

A man divided against himself cannot stand.

Haggard’s Overseers Find Fundraising Appeal “Unacceptable”

Jim Burroway

August 29th, 2007

We previously reported on “completely heterosexual” Ted Haggard’s recent fundraising appeal, in which he encourages his followers to commit tax fraud while sending checks to a defunct Colorado charity run by a convicted sex offender. That had Haggard’s four-member “restoration team” boarding a flight to Phoenix to confront Haggard personally:

“After their fact-finding was complete, they (overseers) informed Mr. Haggard that his plan and his communications about it were unacceptable. Mr. Haggard’s solicitation for personal support was inappropriate. It was never the intention of the Dream Center that Mr. Haggard would provide any counsel or other ministry. Mr. Haggard will not be moving in or working with the Dream Center. He will not be doing any ministry. He will be seeking secular employment to support himself and his family.”

The Rocky Mountain News puts an especially fine point on it with their headline: “Overseers tell Haggard: Stop asking for money and get a job.”

Dream Center “Surprised” Haggard Will Be Working There

Jim Burroway

August 27th, 2007

Ted HaggardIt’s story that keeps getting more incredible with each passing day. First, Ted Haggard sends out a fundraising letter, asking for financial support while he and his family move into the Phoenix Dream Center’s halfway house to minister to ex-cons, recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, and “other broken people.” Except his fundraising letter suggests that his donors commit tax fraud by writing a check to a Colorado Springs charity called “Families With a Mission.”

Then we learn that said charity doesn’t exist anymore, and the only name associated with it is one Paul Huberty, a convicted sex offender from Hawaii whose name is not on Colorado’s sex offender registry. Huberty was convicted of attempted sexual assault in Hawaii in January 2004 and sentenced to 12 months in jail with six months suspended. In 1996, he was convicted of sodomy, indecent acts, and adultery with 17-year girl who accompanied Huberty to Europe as his “legal ward.” He was also convicted at that time of fondling himself in the presence of two Dutch women at a public swimming pool.

So what’s the latest? Rev. Leo Godzich, associate pastor at Phoenix First Assembly of God and one of the leaders of the Dream Center has said they are “surprised” to hear that Haggard will be working there. Also suprised? Mike Ware, head of Haggard’s “restoration team.” He’ll be flying to Phoenix to get a face-to-face explanation tomorrow.

Oh boy. These closet cases sure are a handful.

Of Tweakers, Tax Cheats and Registered Sex Offenders

Jim Burroway

August 25th, 2007

Ted HaggardLast Thursday, BTB’s Daniel Gonzales told you about Ted Haggard’s fundraising letter, where he asked his supporters to help defray his living expenses as he takes up residence at a halfway house for ex-cons, recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, and “other broken people.”

According to Haggard’s letter, concerned supports can send their donations directly to the Haggard family in Phoenix. But if anyone needs a tax deduction, they can instead send a check to a Colorado Springs-based charity called “Families With A Mission,” who will then forward those funds to the Haggard family — minus ten percent for “administrative costs.”

As BTB’s Timothy Kincaid pointed out, “[I]f a non-profit is receiving funds which Haggard solicits to be used for his personal benefit and then providing a tax deduction, that would be tax fraud.”

It looks like tax fraud is just the beginning. Dan Savage of Seattle’s The Stranger did some digging and found some rather interesting information about Families With A Mission. The first problem is that the only “Families with a Mission” group registered with the Colorado Secretary of State — using the same mailing address as in Haggard’s fundraising letter — was dissolved last February.

A defrocked preacher being complicit in tax fraud with a non-existent organization. Can it possibly get any worse than that?

Well, yes. It turns out that the only name associated with the now-dissolved charity is a guy by the name of Paul Huberty, a registered sex offender with the state of Hawaii.

Paul Huberty, registered sex offender

Savage discovered:

Court records in Hawaii show that Paul G. Huberty was found guilty of attempted sexual assault in January of 2004 (download ‘em here, here, and here), and sentenced a year in jail with all but six months suspended. Huberty was also put on probation for five years, ordered to take polygraphs, not allowed to possess pornography, “not allowed on the property of Kona Christian Academy” and other schools, not allowed to posses firearms, forbidden from foster parenting or being the guardian of a minor, and ordered to pay restitution to a crime victims fund.

It looks like Pastor Ted’s becoming “completely heterosexual” hasn’t done much to improve his sense of judgment.

Ted’s Former Tweaker And Tax Fraud Adventure

Daniel Gonzales

August 23rd, 2007

First I’ll give you a tidbit on Mike Jones who was last spotted in Denver’s independent weekly, Westword, leading absolutely filthy bar trivia.

Ted HaggardAs for Ted, although he seems to have been cured of his homosexuality in three weeks, we haven’t heard much on the crystal meth front — which is why it’s comic that:

…the Haggard family plans to move into the Phoenix Dream Center to minister to ex-cons, recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, and “other broken people,” Haggard writes. “I identify.” [Source: CO Confidential]

It’s no secret ex-gay groups consider gay people to be “broken.”

However most interesting is a snippet of Ted’s fund raising letter which was reprinted in CO Confidential:

But for the next two years, we [my family] will need support. Between now and the end of the year, we have to find the people who want to help us transition into our future. So I am starting today to let friends like you know that we are raising money for support as we move into the Phoenix Dream Center.

[snip]

If any supporters need a tax deduction for their gift, they can mail it to Families With a Mission at P.O. Box 63125, Colorado Springs, CO 80962. The supporters would need to write their check to “Families With A Mission” and put a separate note on it that it is for the Haggard family, then Families With a Mission will mail us 90% of the funds for support and use 10% for administrative costs.

BoxTurtleBulletin author Timothy (who is an accountant by day) provides this insight about tax law:

[I]f a non-profit is receiving funds which Haggard solicits to be used for his personal benefit and then providing a tax deduction, that would be tax fraud.

There’s plenty more to the story on CO Confidential’s site including the fact his severance package includes pay through the end of 2007 and that the family still owns their $715,000 home in The Springs which has not even been put up for sale but frankly his method for providing tax-deductions was what caught our eye.

Ted Haggard Goes To Phoenix

Jim Burroway

April 19th, 2007

The Associated Press is reporting that Ted Haggard is moving to Phoenix. Haggard confessed to “sexual immorality” with a former male prostitute in a three-year relationship last fall, forcing him to give up pastorship of the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

The Haggard family will attend Phoenix First Assembly of God, which is led by Rev. Tommy Barnett, who was part of Haggard’s restoration team. While there, he will pursue a graduate degree in counseling at an undisclosed university.

The Massage Table Is Back

Jim Burroway

March 23rd, 2007

Bidding for a good cause broke the $1,200 mark. Then the auction was interrupted.

Now it’s back. This time, if anyone objects to this massage table being sold publicly, maybe they should scare up the money to buy it and get it out of public view. And in doing so, they can finally do something positive for those who live with HIV/AIDS.

Update: Karen Booth has made a generous apology:

I shouldn’t have labeled Mike as a “gay prostitute” or “male prostitute.” Jim Burroway was correct to nail me on that. I shouldn’t have made disparaging remarks about Mike’s integrity or questioned his motives. That was an ad hominem attack that has no place in public discourse. And before I contacted eBay, I should have first contacted Mike with my concerns and appealed to him to end the auction. That would have been the Biblical – and healthy and loving – thing to do.

She is however clear about what she’s not apologizing for: protesting eBay’s auction itself. And it looks like she will continue to do so, as I continue to strongly support it. But at least one wrong was set right, and I applaud Rev. Booth’s courage in doing so publicly.

But I think a solution to the second problem — the auction itself — can be reached with just a little creativity. Maybe Transforming Ministries, New Life Church, or another evangelical group can buy the table. That way the proceeds will go to a worthy HIV/AIDS charity and presumably nobody will have to see the infamous table ever again. How about it?

The Prostitute and the Pharisees

Jim Burroway

March 20th, 2007

Note: This post began as a comment I left on Warren Throckmorton’s web site.

Rev. Karen Booth, Executive Director of Transforming Congregations, an Exodus-affiliated ex-gay ministry based in Delaware, left this comment more than a week ago describing her ministry:

My “organization” is not politically involved, so we don’t have the goal of squelching equal rights. In fact, we’re also connected to the United Methodist Church, which takes a strong stand on the rights of the LGBT community.

But then, last Friday Rev. Booth left a comment in a free-wheeling thread on Warren Throckmorton’s web site that led me to look around a little. That’s when I found this on Transforming Congregations’ web site:

TED HAGGARD MASSAGE TABLE ON EBAY

I recently discovered that Mike Jones, the gay prostitute that “outed” Rev. Ted Haggard, is selling his massage table on eBay… Even though Jones claims the proceeds will go to an AIDS charity, this act is reprehensible.

It is very difficult to register a complaint with eBay, and almost impossible to do so through their website… I have sent a message (which follows at the end of this report) that can be used as a model for you to fax eBay with your concerns…

So if Rev. Booth’s ministry is not political, why is she encouraging her supporters to engage in a political act? What exactly does interfering with a charity auction have to do with “equipping the local church” to “meet the needs of confused, trapped and hurting people”?

Later in that same thread on Warren’s site, she returned to taunt everyone there:

BTW – Mike Jones eBay auction was cancelled by eBay. I’m really glad, and hope they got a ton of complaints. Interesting that I didn’t see any criticism of Mike’s action (who was also on the Montel show) in this thread. But then, it’s so much easier to just keep bashing Alan [Chambers].

I spent the rest of the weekend wondering why nobody — myself included — rushed to Mike Jones’ defense. And I guess we all know why, really. He’s a former prostitute.

Sure, it’s salacious and in poor taste for Mike Jones to put his massage table up on eBay for charity. The proceeds of the auction were to go to Project Angel Heart, which “promotes the health, dignity and self-sufficiency of people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses by providing nutritious, home-delivered meals with care and compassion.”

Yes, putting the “Ted Haggard massage table” on eBay is in extremely poor taste. Also in poor taste? How about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who organized some of the first safe-sex messages when official health departments were afraid to touch the subject? They also raised money for home AIDS care, food and housing when nobody else would.

And don’t forget all those leather daddies, also in extremely poor taste and a terrible influence, many of them. They also have a reputation for being among the most generous donors of time, money and talent towards AIDS care at the height of the crisis.

And we cannot forget the Dykes on Bikes, who cleaned apartments, cooked meals and walked the dogs. You get my drift…

Now don’t get me wrong. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence deeply offend my Catholic sensibilities. Leather daddies are not my scene — in fact, I find all public displays of sexual fetishes offensive. As for the Dykes on Bikes, I have nothing against them — they just scare the bejeezus out of me.

But Sunday evening, Chris and I had several friends over for dinner, including two gentlemen who had lived in New York City during the early ’80’s, just as the AIDS epidemic was getting started. They reminded us of the abject fear they felt of not knowing what was happening, the feeling that nobody anywhere in the country cared about what was going on, and of course, of attending memorials two or three times a week. Alan said, “it was simply exhausting.”

And I can tell you right now that if you had been in my home Sunday evening, you would have heard nothing but gratitude for everyone — no matter who they were or where they came from — who worked hard and tried to make a difference. You would have heard words of immense gratitude for the Sisters, the Dykes, the daddies, the drag queens — every blessed one of them. They were among the more prominent groups who were key to establishing and funding many of the AIDS service organizations that exist today, organizations which continue to do the hard work that nobody else is interested in. They all did this because nobody else would.

And where was the church during all that? Well, I think we don’t really have re-hash all of that, do we? Everyone knows the answer. Ex-gay author and counselor Joe Dallas gave a powerful, emotional talk at Love Won Out on the church’s shameful failure. He listed the church’s sins of omission as well as its sins of commission. And he concluded that portion of his talk in a thunderous voice, “And they [they gay community] will never forget it!” By the tone of his voice and the look in his eye, he left unspoken the words “… and who can blame them?” He left that part unspoken, but I think everyone there understood it that way anyway.

Rev. Booth, if you really want to know why many in the gay community are not willing to condemn Mike Jones or any of the other “salacious” groups, it’s because when the chips are down, there are still today — twenty-five years later — only two responses: thunderous condemnations or silence on the one hand, or rolling up your sleeves and getting to work on the other.

So today, we have Mike Jones, a prostitute. I’m not going to defend his profession. Not by a long shot. But the folks at New Life Church made the brave decision to embrace him and forgive him. No, not forgive him, thank him for revealing what Ted Haggard was doing.

And if he wants to raise money for a worthwhile AIDS charity, nobody’s going to hear any protest out of me. I’d rather follow Christ’s example and choose the prostitutes over the Pharisees any day.

Update: Rev. Booth responds in the comments. I reply to Rev. Booth at Ex-Gay Watch.

Update: The auction is back up and Rev. Booth has a partial change of heart.

Ted Haggard: “I’m Not Gay”

Jim Burroway

February 6th, 2007

It’s a miracle! After three whole weeks of “intensive psychological therapy” — yes, that’s right! Twenty-one days to examine a life of some fifty years — we can now be assured that Ted Haggard most definitely is not gay:

[Rev. Tim] Ralph said three weeks of counseling at an undisclosed Arizona treatment center helped Haggard immensely and left Haggard sure of one thing.

“He is completely heterosexual,” Ralph said. “That is something he discovered. It was the acting- out situations where things took place. It wasn’t a constant thing.”

Nope. Not homosexual. Nothing to see here. According to Haggard’s advisors, all we gotta do now is figure out why he “chose to act out in that manner”.

How about his: He paid a lot of money to have sex with another man. He went back to that man again and again. Could it be because he liked it?

This news comes on the same day that we learn that Astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak is being charged with first degree murder after having attacked a rival for another astronaut’s attention. Nowak, mission specialist on a Space Shuttle Discovery flight last summer, was found in Orlando wearing a trenchcoat and a wig, and she had worn diapers so she wouldn’t have to stop on the 1,000-mile drive from Houston.

Now, mind you, NASA has some pretty sharp psychologists on staff (Dr. Bellows notwithstanding). Astronouts undergo an enormous battery of psychological and physical tests to make sure they are fit to perform their missions. NASA can’t afford to have a nutcase on the shuttle or the space station. And yet, these sharp psychologists apparently missed the ticking time-bomb that finally went off in Nowak’s mind.

But all Haggard’s “therapists” needed were three weeks to figure out he’s really a heterosexual after all.

Daniel Gonzales at Ex-Gay Watch has a great observation in all this. He notes that Dr. Joseph Nicolosi (Daniel’s therapist back in his ex-gay days) believes there are no such thing as homosexuals:

This he’s heterosexual with a homosexual problem of acting out sounds an awful lot like NARTH president Joe Nicolosi who said:

“There is no such thing as a homosexual. Homosexual is a description of a condition, it’s not a description of the person. We are all heterosexual, some heterosexuals have a homosexual problem.”

Much as I too was able to convince myself I was a heterosexual with a homosexual problem that could be dealt with whenever attractions came up, we shall see how long Haggard is willing to keep up the exhausting charade after the honeymoon ends.

I don’t know which ex-gay ministry Haggard went to. But I think it’s time they drop all pretenses of “therapy”. This looks more like a really bad characature of “name it and claim it” theology in action. He calls himself a heterosexual, therefore he is.

And you want to know the really amazing thing about it? His next step is to get an online degree in psychology.

See also:

The Megachurch, Mike Jones, and the Suspension of Disbelief
“There Is A Part Of My Life So Repulsive and Dark…”
Blessed Are The Opportunists
Haggard Resigns; “I Know What You Did Last Night”
Prayers and Assistance for the Haggard Family
I Did Not Have Sex With That Man!
Jones “Fails” Lie Detector?
Fall of the House of Haggard

The Megachurch, Mike Jones, and the Suspension of Disbelief

A Commentary

Jim Burroway

January 29th, 2007

I am reluctant to write about this because I tend to stay away from criticism of religious practices. My interest is more in debunking junk science that emanates from the anti-gay lobby. While much of it is supported by religious groups, I don’t want to get into any theological discussions because it seems to me that this is a dead end. Faith is a deeply personal thing, and I’m not here to change anyone’s faith. All I want to do is to get some facts on the table and wipe away the falsehoods that many others promote.

A lot of those falsehoods about homosexuality are accepted uncritically by a large number of people, and many of those people accept them in good faith because they come from leaders of faith. So while I hesitate to enter into a theological discussion, I do believe it is appropriate to enter into a cultural one. And a recent visit by Mike Jones to Ted Haggard’s megachurch offers just such an opportunity.

I’m sure you remember Ted Haggard, the founder of New Life Church in Colorado Springs who was caught in a sexual relationship with Denver escort Mike Jones. This scandal played on the worst stereotypes many gays and lesbians have about Christians, stereotypes that are reinforced with great consistency by the behavior of many prominent Christian and religious political leaders themselves.

And whenever the mighty have fallen, there’s always a great celebration that one with so much hubris has finally met with his come-uppance. But in the midst of all of this, it is easy to forget that one of the core tenets of Christianity is the humbleness and meekness (“Blessed are the meek…”) that all Christians are called to exercise. And so it’s good when, from time to time, we can get a glimpse into that most admirable Christian trait, that seemingly rare quality of humility. When Mike Jones visited a service at New Life Church yesterday while on a fact-finding mission for his new book, the Denver Post reports that he got a small glimpse of it:

Just about every person who offered him a handshake said the same thing: Welcome, thank you and God bless. …

A couple of ladies cried when they were touching me,” Jones said. “I was thanked for exposing the church, for helping Ted Haggard. A couple of them said they hoped I get God into my life. And they all said ‘God bless you,’ every one of them.”

Christianity is at its best when it is humble. That has always been the case, and for good reason: Christ called his followers to a life of service and humility.

And yet, our culture is far from humble and Christians are just as much a part of our culture as anyone, despite the Apostle Paul’s warning to “be not of this world.” From slick web sites, television networks, music videos, and all manner of political pronouncements delivered on cable news channels at all hours of the day and night — and the massive and constant fund-raising that supports all of these endeavors — there is very little in the public face of Christianity that suggests that humility is actually a core tenet. That’s why it’s so good to witness it wherever we find it. But the public expression of humility is increasingly rare, and it seems that it takes a scandal to remind everyone of its importance.

It shouldn’t be that way, but we have no one but ourselves to blame. Our popular entertainments have trained us well in the spectacular arts, and we have come to expect spectacle when we go to a theater. And as all students of theater know, we best experience theater only when we are willing to suspend disbelief. In other words, we know it’s a show, we know they are performers, and we know that what we are seeing isn’t entirely true. Our rational minds disbelieve what we are seeing. But we are spectators, and our role is not to question such things and just enjoy the show. To do that, we must suspend our disbelief in the literal falseness of what we are seeing before we can get wrapped up in the spectacle. If we don’t, we won’t have nearly so much fun. That’s the whole point of theater.

Worship at New Life Church

So I wonder what happens when, after an audience enters the auditorium and takes their seat, when the lights come on, the band takes the stage and the music swells, I wonder what the audience’s natural instinct would be? Aren’t we conditioned to automatically suspend disbelief? And now that some practitioners of Christianity have incorporated all of these elements — complete with stage, sound systems, theatrical lighting, and canned music — one has to wonder if the audience doesn’t react with the same habits as when they enter a theater. Why wouldn’t the audience — I’m sorry, did I say audience? I meant congregation — suspend disbelief?

We now shop in shopping centers and worship in worship centers. And when the church builds an auditorium instead of a sanctuary and engages in stagecraft instead of contemplation, when the bright spotlight shines on the “humble servant” on the stage, it seems that stage is set for a lot of things, including the suspension of disbelief. And in the midst of that suspension, an awful lot of falseness can slip through.

There is a fundamental contradiction in play here. We are placed in an environmnet in which we are conditioned to suspend disbelief, and yet in this very same place we are supposed to be a witness to the Truth with a capital “T.” I think Mike Jones detected this very contradiction here:

But Jones … said he wasn’t impressed on the whole. If the Gospel message is enough, he said, why the loud music and MTV-quality production?

I hate to promote stereotypes, but Time Magazine complained in 1966 that “on Broadway, it would be difficult to find a production without homosexuals playing important parts, either onstage or off. And in Hollywood, you have to scrape them off the ceiling.” I guess you could say we know theater. And as with theater, we’ve learned not to believe everything we see.

And I hate to promote stereotypes of Christianity either. But as long as the most visible branch of Christianity is seduced by spectacle as a method, there will always be the temptation for a pastor to say something that propels his voice above the loud noise emanating from the other worship center next door. And all too often, he can do that by employing the time-tested elements of stagecraft. Great theater demands a villain, and gays and lesbians have been a very reliable villain for quite some time.

And just as great theater demands a villain, it also demands a great hero who can look directly into the camera and say, “I Know What You Did Last Night”. That way, he gives the audience, err, congregation something to cheer about, and keeps them coming back for more.

See also:

Ted Haggard: “I’m Not Gay”
The Megachurch, Mike Jones, and the Suspension of Disbelief
“There Is A Part Of My Life So Repulsive and Dark…”
Blessed Are The Opportunists
Haggard Resigns; “I Know What You Did Last Night”
Prayers and Assistance for the Haggard Family
I Did Not Have Sex With That Man!
Jones “Fails” Lie Detector?
Fall of the House of Haggard

Another Evangelical Pastor Comes Out Of The Closet

A Commentary

Jim Burroway

December 11th, 2006

Another evangelical pastor has apparently come out of the closet:

In a tearful videotaped message Sunday to his congregation, the senior pastor of a thriving evangelical megachurch in south metro Denver confessed to sexual relations with other men and announced he had voluntarily resigned his pulpit.

If the Denver Post article is accurate, this case appears to be somewhat different from that of Ted Haggard. Rev. Barnes is described as an “introvert who avoided politics,” staying out of the debate over Colorado’s Amendment 43 which banned same-sex marriage.

The Denver Post’s account of Rev. Barnes’ struggle will be very familiar to anyone who has tried to conceal or bury their sexuality. When he was a teenager, his only talk about sex with his father ended with his father describing what he would do if a “fag” approached him, driving the younger man deeper into the closet. And while he converted to Christianity at 17, his feelings for other men never went away. He married, and is the father of two girls. But at the same time, he’s described as someone who is struggling with the biblical teachings of homosexuality with “hope for a future where one can ‘be who you are’ and be accepted and loved in the Christian community.”

And yet, he says that homosexuality is a sin.

I’m afraid that many gay advocates will see in this a simple morality tale of the mighty laid low, the hypocrite exposed, and, of course, schadenfreude. But in this particular case, I can’t quite see it that way.

This is a very deep struggle that many gay men and women must contend with, especially those who are themselves people of faith. We’ve seen Daniel Gonzales at Ex-Gay Watch describe some of his own struggles, before he was able to come out the other side as a fine young gay man. His story is not unique. There are many stories like these that we can all reflect on — those of us who have spent a large measure of our lives trying to reconcile who we are with what we profess to believe. And to believe that being who you are requires a separation from the very God who created you, well, there’s nothing more devastating for someone of faith. The sense of abandonment can be very powerful.

There is a way out of that hopelessness however, and it is the way of profound faith. Faith in the goodness of creation, including your own. And faith in the love of a benevolent Creator and the mercy of a just judge. Perhaps Rev. Barnes will discover that it really is possible to be gay and Christian. Because in the end, love can never contradict Love, and truth can never contradict Truth.

“There Is a Part of My Life So Repulsive and Dark…”

Jim Burroway

November 5th, 2006

Rev. Ted Haggard apologized in a letter to his congregation (PDF: 124KB/5 pages):

The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem.

I am a deceiver and a liar. There’s a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life. for extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I though was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

Repulsive and dark. Such is life in the closet. It is a life of fear and self-loathing, of obsessive secrets and dangerous behavior, and it manifests those fears in lying, cheating, and seeking physical comfort with a paid prostitute.

Ted Haggard clearly didn’t choose to be gay. This much is obvious. He says he fought against it his entire life. But he did choose what to do with his sexuality, and he chose a very repulsive and dark path. In doing so, he makes the same mistake that many others make who denigrate gays and lesbians. He confuses his own sexuality with the dark choices he made.

He’s suffering right now, but he’s not the only one suffering. His wife, Gayle, has pledged to remain firmly by his side. I wonder if she really knows what she’s up against. And I wonder if he will be honest enough to tell her. And there are his five children who now have to live with the shame of knowing that their father cheated on their mother with a prostitute while he was away in Denver “to write.”

Will he do the right thing and honestly examine his life and the events that have led up to where he is today? He has acknowledged struggling with his sexuality his entire lifetime. Will he pretend that somehow this struggle will go away? Will he lead his wife in that illusion?

Or will he realize that God did not create him to be a repulsive and dark man? Will he come to realize that he is not repulsive and dark, but that his choices were?

I hope he discovers that there are far better choices, and these choices include honoring God by living in honesty and integrity. He may yet discover, as millions of gays and lesbians have, that when there is nothing to hide and to be ashamed of, purely physical sex with a prostitute will lose all of its dark allure. Love does not grow in the dark, and there is nothing as repulsive as a life lived duplicitously.

Freedom from the closet means freedom to accept options which are far, far better than those offered by prostitutes, bathhouses or anonymous sexual encounters. Millions of gays and lesbians know this freedom, and they freely choose the better options which give love, joy and happiness to their lives. When you are not constrained by the closet, the options are suddenly and gloriously numerous.

Ted Haggard can discover all this if he chooses to turn away from the darkness of the closet. The closet’s closed door ensures an all-enveloping darkness. It’s time to open that door and step into the light.

See Also:

Ted Haggard: “I’m Not Gay”
The Megachurch, Mike Jones, and the Suspension of Disbelief
“There Is A Part Of My Life So Repulsive and Dark…”
Blessed Are The Opportunists
Haggard Resigns; “I Know What You Did Last Night”
Prayers and Assistance for the Haggard Family
I Did Not Have Sex With That Man!
Jones “Fails” Lie Detector?
Fall of the House of Haggard

Blessed Are the Opportunists

Jim Burroway

November 5th, 2006

A prominent conservative pastor, seen on television and followed by millions, falls from grace in a sordid sex scandal. The accusations are first met with strong and angry denials, but these denials crumble as more evidence is revealed. His wife is visibly shocked; his children are left to suffer their grief in the glare of the spotlight while wondering how they will face school the next day. Church members are bewildered, although some are convinced that it’s all part of a nefarious plot. Meanwhile, fellow pastors and church leaders promise to pray for him and to stand by his side as he undergoes a long road to rehabilitation.

Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and now Ted Haggard. There is a familiar ring to all of this, and if there is any truth to the notion that history repeats itself, talk of rehabilitation for Ted Haggard is just that: talk. Already we can see that the long knives are out for him.

Steven Bennett was the first to exploit the scandal with a cynically crass act of self-promotion. In his press release of Friday morning, he took the time to get the name of his tiny little church out in the press (and to mention that he’s writing a book and is available for media interviews). He claims that before he found God, he dated two male prostitutes and was a cocaine dealer. And he contradicts himself several times over in his reaction to the scandal:

“If these allegations are true about Rev. Haggard – America’s Top Evangelical Christian – I am completely disgusted and dismayed. After being in major Christian circles for many years, the hypocrisy that I have found and personally seen in main stream Christianity is unfortunate and heartbreaking.

“I understand Rev. Haggard is innocent until proven guilty. However, seeing the reports that I have – along with millions of other Americans – this is a time we need to pray. The Bible says, ‘Judgment begins in the house of God’,” said Bennett. …

“The more and more hypocrisy I see each day, the more I realize next Tuesday we are going to get EXACTLY what we deserve. Yet I must NEVER forget where I came from and always remember ‘But for the grace of God, there go I.’”

What an act of shameless self-promotion. Haggard’s innocent until proven guilty, so I call on everyone to judge and condemn him. I am disgusted and we are getting exactly what we deserve, “but for the grace of God go I.” And don’t forget the name of my church, and I’m writing a book and I am available for media requests. Here’s my contact info…

Others see Haggard’s fall as an explanation for his very few “moderate” stances. Christianity Today points out:

Haggard is a loyal member of the Religious Right who dials in for a White House conference call every Monday. Yet he embraces ecological concerns and says the Supreme Court made a good decision in the Lawrence v. Texas case, ordering the government out of the private lives of homosexuals.

These very modest deviations from the hard-right’s stance are now seen as an infection that must be exercised. Bob Schenck is in charge of the rival Evangelical-dominated National Clergy Council, a rival to Haggard’s National Association of Evangelicalsm, and he isn’t shy about calling his competition out:

The moral failure of recently resigned president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Rev. Ted Haggard, may explain in part the leftward drift of the organization over the last several years. It has been a mystery to many of us who watched this venerable institution shake lose of its once secure foundation and slide onto the shifting sands of political correctness, postmodern jargon and social trends.

I recommend NAE leadership call all of us who label ourselves Evangelicals to a time of humble repentance, contrition and seeking the Lord and His will. Instead of concerning ourselves with what rock superstar Bono thinks we ought to do, let’s instead inquire of the Lord and His Word.

Of course, that’s it. Haggard’s queer. That’s why he is concerned about the environment and doesn’t think Lawrence vs. Texas was such a bad thing — even though he strongly condemned homosexuality from the pulpit many times and was a vocal advocate for constitutional bans on gay marriage.

In Scriptures, we are constantly reminded of the need to forgive our neighbors. This commandment is not conditional; we are called to forgive whether our forgiveness is asked for or not. But Scripture is also clear on something else: when someone asks for forgiveness, the response isn’t just acceptance, but celebration. The prodigal son is rewarded with a banquet of the fatted calf; the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

But that reaction is not very likely here. It doesn’t matter what course of action Haggard follows from this point forward. Rehabilitation is likely to remain elusive. In the heavens created by conservative Christian politics, he will always be last from now on.

See Also:

Ted Haggard: “I’m Not Gay”
The Megachurch, Mike Jones, and the Suspension of Disbelief
“There Is A Part Of My Life So Repulsive and Dark…”
Blessed Are The Opportunists
Haggard Resigns; “I Know What You Did Last Night”
Prayers and Assistance for the Haggard Family
I Did Not Have Sex With That Man!
Jones “Fails” Lie Detector?
Fall of the House of Haggard

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