Friday, November 03, 2006

Come clean, Ted: My advice to Pastor Haggard... and to myself

This story continues to be amended as new facts come to light...

As many folks by now know, Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and head pastor of the Colordao Springs-based mega-church, New Life, stepped down yesterday from both positions after being accused of homosexual liasons with Mike Jones, a self-admitted gay prostitute. The meetings allegedly took place over a three year period, approximately once a month. These encounters also were said by Jones to involve the use of amphetamines, and at least one phone message was produced by Jones which appears to contain Haggard's voice asking Jones to purchase $100 to $200 of something unspecified.

Initially, I hoped and suspected these accusations were similar to false accusations made by a man against Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago in the mid 1990s, accusations which Bernadin handled with grace and patience until they were exposed as being lies.

But I was wrong, according to an email sent to members of New Life church by acting pastor Ross Parsley regarding Pastor Haggard being accused:

It is important for you to know that he confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true. He has willingly and humbly submitted to the authority of the board of overseers, and will remain on administrative leave during the course of the investigation.
That admission has only further fueled the controversy, especially as initially Ted Haggard denied having anything to do with Jones or even knowing him.

As of this afternoon, Pastor Haggard says that he met Mike Jones once to buy amphetamines but then "threw them away" without using them, and has never used amphetamines at other times. He additionally said he went to Mike Jones for a massage. Asked by an NBC reporter (see video) if he'd had sex with Jones, he said "no." Pastor Haggard said he met Jones through a "referral" at the hotel he was staying at at the time.

But back to those tapes. One of two tapes Jones provided offers an individual called "Art" (Haggard's middle name is Arthur) who sounds very like Pastor Haggard saying: "Hi Mike, this is Art.... Hey, I was just calling to see if we could get any more. Either $100 or $200 supply." The second tape, which is of a call a few hours after the first, indicates the two men had in fact met before: "Hi Mike, this is Art, I am here in Denver and sorry that I missed you. But as I said, if you want to go ahead and get the stuff, then that would be great. And I’ll get it sometime next week or the week after or whenever."

The italicized-by-me portion of the above indicates -- to me, at least -- that this was not the first time Ted Haggard had purchased drugs from Mike Jones. His low-key manner when affirming that he can "get it... whenever" is also an indicator the two have dealt with eachother before. And that would indicates Haggard caught in a problematic pattern of lies. First, he doesn't even know the name Mike Jones. He denies the story altogether. Then he says he bought but did not use the drugs, and it was only one time. He also says he got a massage but not sex.

My advice to Ted Haggard is to come clean, do it now, and accept whatever consequences befall. There is zero chance the whole story will not emerge. There is zero chance that stonewalling or "spinning" of any kind will work. The absolute worst thing anyone in Pastor Haggard's position can do is think there is any way to hide sin.

The biblical referent is an obvious one. King David seduced Bathsheba (or perhaps just outright ordered her to his bedroom, using his position and power). She got pregnant. He panicked, and when he couldn't get her faithful soldier-husband, Uriah, to go to bed with her (to make it appear the baby was Uriah's), he had Uriah murdered on the battlefield and married Bathsheba himself. God is not mocked, however, and sent Nathan the prophet to confront David. In the end, this great sinner repented. "I have sinned against the Lord." David was forgiven, yet he also reaped great consequences.

Not the least of which was having his sins published! Throughout the centuries, believers both Jewish and Christian have read about David's sin as instructive toward confronting our own. And of course, David wrote Psalm 51 as a prayer of repentance, in which he summed things up (verse 17):

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Pastor Haggard cannot afford to practice the unbelief of concealment. Exposing his own faults fully is the only avenue through which healing and restoration can come. He cannot allow himself to think that telling a few trusted friends is all it will take. Flinging the phrase "board of accountability" around as some sort of instant incense of forgetfulness has been tried before, unsuccessfully.

By entering the national and even world stage, Pastor Haggard has also become accountable to those outside the evanglical camp. He owes them honesty. (I would argue all we evangelicals owe such a debt, but that is for another time.)

Rock Throwing Begins at Home

As those who've read my blog in the past know, I'm sometimes quite critical of Ted Haggard. (His touting, for instance, of evangelicals' prayers being behind American troops' killing of Saddam Hussein's sons.) But when it comes to sexual sin, I've got no stomach at all for assaulting another guy's weaknesses and failures.

Instead, I have a number of thoughts which will irritate everyone, I hope.

* The evangelical model of ministry, based on the American corporate model of one person (usually a white male) as founder and boss, seems only more flawed the longer I watch it. There's a lot of noise about accountability... but the proof, I suspect, is in our pudding. Sure it works as far as building giant ministries. But it also sucks as far as horizontal accountability goes. The "type-A" hyperactive, energized go-getter is a prime candidate for immorality, and least likely to cultivate mature relationships with others. Yet we continue to stick these corporate types into our major pulpits and presidencies.

* Male leaders are at tremendous risk to sexual sin these days. It is not a matter of if they will encounter opportunity to transgress, it is a matter of when. The resistance of many evangelicals to women in leadership seems all the more obtuse when considering how vulnerable males apparently are in such roles. (I'm thinking of Swaggart, Bakker, apparently Haggard, as well as a plethora of lesser-known pastors and parachurch leaders).

* All of us are at major risk for sexual sin. I am sitting this instant in front of a machine that can take me to triple X rated film, pictures, or text in the matter of seconds. And no one will know. I could, for all you know, be sanctimoniously telling you about Ted Haggard's indiscretions and -- in another browser window -- have open pornographic images so grotesque they'd make Haggard's alleged sins look tame. I do not have that window open. But... how do any of us find accountability in such a world of instant gratification of our worst desires and instincts?

* The evangelical / charismatic world is a breeding ground for sexual sin. (See, told you I'd make folks mad before we finished here.) Why? Because within this world is cultivated the model of strong, massively male leaders who have submissive wives, 1950s-era families, and pretty much a direct pipeline to God. What a set-up for sexual misconduct! Why not cultivate instead a world where strength and dependence on others are not mutually exclusive? Why not rethink the hierarchical male models of church leadership and marital dominance? Imagine what might happen if we conceptualized leadership as a communal rather than individualist enterprise!

In the end, I find myself saddened greatly. I do pray that Pastor Haggard, his family, and his fellowship at New Life church find the clear path toward restoration and healing.

Getting Real Personal

And finally, I admit this: If I were placed in Pastor Haggard's position, with all that power and prestige and all those people looking toward me for spiritual answers to their burning questions... if I were looked up to as one of those powerful, dominant, forceful males our evangelical culture seems partial to...

I would sin. I would sin sexually. It might take me a month, a year, a few years. But in the end, the unreality of that strength I allegedly had would take its toll. And I would fail. I am no better, and perhaps worse, than Ted Haggard. My only plus is that I am loved and known and accountable to so many others. Though that is no guarantee against sin, of course -- especially due to the power of this lust magnet known as the computer -- it is a powerful disincentive.

Self-perception for me more and more has to be about letting go of power, strength, and righteousness of my own. I can say those words, but doing them is an ongoing process I don't expect to complete in this lifetime.

So please, if you've read this far as a non-believer, chuckling at the newest mess we evangelicals have gotten into, take a moment more to ponder the miracle that not all of us fail. Sometimes we really do live what we preach, remain honest and true to our spouses, love our neighbor as ourselves, and even -- our starting point, really -- love God.

If you are a Christian, especially a somewhat critical one such as I am who views Pastor Ted Haggard as part of the Christian Right, do not allow yourself for a moment to think you're any different than he is. We don't yet know the full extent or nature of his transgressions, or if his accuser is totally truthful. What we do know is that he, his family, his fellowship, and his accuser need our most humbled and broken-hearted prayers.


John Smulo said...

Actually I hadn't heard about this yet. It really breaks my heart to see someone else (allegedly) fall in this way.

You have some very helpful points to reflect on in regard to the evangelical culture, and the potential problems it creates. Thanks for sharing them.

Wendi said...

Jon, thank you for your honest and insightful blog. We do have models as painful as they are in the Bible for confessing sin. David's affair with Bathsheba is a sad and tragic model for honest confession of personal sexual sins. Sometimes I wonder if the internet is more of a curse or a blessing for men in particular. It is like the modern Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil right in your own personal garden. Every day a decision to obey or disobey God, to honor or betray a spouse, etc. All I can honestly and humbly say is I am glad I am not a man and "THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I."

Colin Lamm said...

I kept bracing myself for getting annoyed with where you were going with this (because you kept warning us). Surprisingly (I guess) you didn't tick me off at all.

Your appraisal of the corporate white male structure of leadership within the evangelical tradition and how it is a model condusive to this type of (alleged) behaviour is intriguing. I believe you are on to something here.

The truth is, as you state, all of us (and, particularly men) have a predisposition towards sexual sin. Unfortunately the either real or perceived hangups the Church has with such issues doesn't allow for open discussion, until of course, somebody falls.

What I appreciate most is the gentle and sensitive (though not shirking the gravity of the situation) manner in which you tackle this issue.

Lainie Petersen said...

Actually, I have a friend who is something of an "insider" to showbiz culture. What she has observed is that women who have "made it" in that industry abuse their power in the same way that men do. The "casting couch" gets employed by "leaders" regardless of gender.

I do believe that there is much in evangelical culture that encourages this sort of behavior. I just don't think that women are as exempt as we'd like to think they'd be.

hewhocutsdown said...

Thank you for your gracious treatment of this painful subject.

God bless

John Smulo said...

I respectfully think we need to get past the "sexual sin is only a men's problem" idea. Perhaps it's more of a men's problem, but also a women's problem.

Jon Trott said...

John S, you and Lainie mentioned that. And both of you are right. I mean only to note that for a curious mix of social and biological reasons, it seems (?) as though men do struggle more with visual lust than do women. Of course, as a pro-feminist male, I should hedge my bets rather closely on this whole issue. It may end up that what seems biological is 100% social conditioning.

Lainie Petersen said...

I'm willing to accept that men may have more of an issue with "visual lust" (aka pornography), but ironically, I think that Evangelical sexism has resulted in a minimalization of women's sexual issues. Much of what I have seen written by evangelicals on the subject tends to suggest that women's sexual issues revolve around self-esteem (i.e. women engage in illicit sex because they want to be "loved" or because of some childhood trauma). It is almost as if these modern writers are afraid to acknowledge that women can and do experience lust. (The ancients weren't afraid of acknowledging this, i.e. the story of St. Mary of Egypt).

In any case, I think that no matter how the current situation shakes out, we've all learned a lesson. The more successful we get, our temptations, and our ability to act on them, increase. Frankly, this whole situation challenges a number of modern evangelical institutions, including that of the "celebrity pastor", the notion of the "senior" pastor, and even the notion of "ministry as career" .

I think we should all be praying really hard about this.

GLanders said...

I love your honesty at the end!!! Great post

Anonymous said...

I am a minister with a large denomination, who has had our share of moral failures. During my very first week of Bible college years ago, a pastor challenged us to dedicate our sex lives to God, just as we would anything else. He warned us that if we didn't, Satan would use it to bring us down, and consequently, lead many people away from the Lord. And he would do it as publicly as possible.

In the years of ministry that have followed, I have been tempted so many times by sexual sin, often as just a means of escape from the harsh reality of daily ministry, but that pastor's voice rings in my heart and I dedicate my sex life to the Lord once again.

Thank you so much for your honest words and loving concern for our brother.

Anonymous said...

You all are living in a complete fantasy world. I stopped going to church because of this kind of stuff.

The guy was getting his freak on the whole time while trying to keep decent people from making a legal commitment to each other. No wonder this country is going down the toilet....

and you all have no idea how bad this looks to the regular people out here living in reality....

Glenn Kaiser said...

I echo & Amen all the other comments posted here, brilliant post Jon. I only add that this sad affair is but one more huge example of how actual lived-out accountability is the one key thing that may have saved the day. The risk of regularly talking straight, admitting our temptations and getting help from a few geniune co-ministers is the final answer as I see it. Also the book of Ecclesiasties with regard to "the threefold cord" shouts out. Thanks.


Wendi said...

I agree with Jon's analysis of the voice messages. Evidently, Ted Haggard had contacted Mike Jones before and the message wording indicates a prior working relationship. Ted, not knowing Mike's home or business address does go along with Ted's claims that they met at a hotel, though.

Another warning flag went off in my head from the Harper magazine article on Mr. Haggard. It mentions that Ted went into gay bars to invite folks to church. Hmm?

Also, why would a straight shooter not use the yellow pages to find a certified physical therapist or massage therapist? That is what I would do. Too many negative connotations come to mind when thinking about massage such as massage parlors, escorts, etc.

What was Ted doing at a hotel without staff, friends and family when so close to home? His explanations raise more questions than giving answers.

I still think men struggle with recreational sex and visual pornography much more than the average woman. Recreational sex seems so sterile and impersonal. What is the attraction? Feel free to edit my comments Jon.

Carol Elaine said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Corey said...


Thank you for this thoughtful post. I learned of this scandal while reading the paper at LAX yesterday. The front page of the Los Angeles Times published a photograph of Haggard and his family in their vehicle. By their facial expressions, I surmised that a reporter ambushed them as the photographer took snap shots.

The expression of Haggard's son stuck with me for the next several hours as I made my way home. This young man (looks to be about 12) looked angry, scared, and sick. I thought about how I would react if I were him. I've always looked up to my own father as a role model and hero. This is not the way one should learn that his father is not the man he claimed to be. How crushing... how confusing...

I imagine that the days are only going to become darker for Mr. Haggard and his family. Haggard has become a focal object of the culture war... and my activist friends to the left are only too happy to exploit the family's pain for their short-term political gain. Meanwhile my activist friends to right are fleeing, trying to avoid getting any hypocrisy on them.

Among those of us with compassion, this is not a time to pile on. I no longer pray, having long ago lost my faith in the suburban God of evangelical Christianity. But I'm feeling compelled to try this evening; to ask God to be with Haggard, his family, and specifically, with that boy.

-B said...


Thanks again for bringing not only critical analysis but common sense to this event.

More and more I just feel like I'm drifting away from evangelical culture sometimes.

I'm not involved in ministry. I wanted to be? But over the years I found I just don't fit in anymore. I mean, I've tried to be honest in my relationships with others and with God and feel like I've missed out on professional ministry because I don't jump through hoops of fire.

I hate the games man. I feel more and more comfortable with the world than the success oriented, inauthentic, "I can't be transparent" Christianity.

Billy Graham is still "Oh so cool" in my book.

Deana Holmes said...

I have to follow up on the second anonymous person who wrote in and threw cold water on all this. I noticed that none of you touched his/her comment with a ten-foot pole.

Ted Haggard isn't going to be healed until (1) he comes to grips with his sexuality and (2) he figures out that it's not sinful and God loves him anyway. He wouldn't have had to run off to a rent boy in Denver had his culture not made him hate himself.

As for the rest of the "Christians" who gave Haggard the good old left foot of fellowship (aka "shooting the wounded"), let me tell you this from the outside world: We're totally unimpressed. There was no love and no mercy involved, just a desire to get a very bad story involving major hypocrisy off the front page as quickly as possible. You look so much like Jesus-NOT.

I left the church in large part because of the hatred of Teh Gay that lurks underneath the entire discussion here. You all need to get real. Even straight people like myself are tired of your rhetoric towards our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. If gays and lesbians were allowed to have normal relationships that could be protected in law, we wouldn't have disasters like Ted Haggard happen.

Get real!

Deana Holmes

Jon Trott said...


I'm hearing you do to Ted Haggard what you accuse him of doing to homosexuals. Namely, creating a narrative that neatly explains what is in reality much more complex.

I am very unsure that Ted Haggard is dealing with sexual identity issues. It is at least as likely that he is what I'd call "a sexual omnivore," someone who (often fed by porn) opens himself to sexual "adventures" of any and all types. I do NOT know this to be true, but I bring it up because we all tend to want to squeeze reality into the molds of our respective preconceptions. Reality is nearly always bigger, nastier, and more complicated.

As far as homosexuality goes, you are correct to remind Christians that the homosexual and lesbian person is our neighbor. And along with loving God, loving our neighbor is the most important agenda we have.

How do we do it? Sigh... not easily. Love is not always perceived as love. There is a biblical reality -- very unambiguous -- regarding homosexuality as outside God's purpose or will for humankind. Yet alongside that reality, there is also the reality that many people struggle with sexual identity. The Church often fails to come alongside and suffer in the struggle with them, instead standing outside and pushing an agenda of a so-called "Christian America" (a myth which corrupts Christian faith).

I affirm the biblical teaching regarding sexuality, namely, that it is meant to take place with a one-man, one-woman marriage. I also affirm that Jesus Christ loves all humankind, and that as his disciple, I am called to do likewise. I do not believe that assaulting homosexuals with political amendments or placards or bullhorns is even remotely loving. Rather, I would hope I could be a friend. Of course that gets pretty dubious from the person with same-sex attraction's point of view. Who wants a friend, after all, who views one of their lives' central realities as being (to use the Catholic phrase) "disordered"?

All I can do is keep trying to faithfully represent biblical truth while also exhibiting Jesus' love, a love which is so ill-reflected by much going on in the so-called "Christian Right."

I hope I've not irritated you further, Deana...

Lainie Petersen said...


I'd really l like to know what Deana and "anonymous" would have us do about this situation (and the reason I didn't respond right away is because I've been out of town/and or attending my father's memorial service and have been away from a computer). Since nobody here actually knows Ted Haggard, we can only go by what we read. Time, more than anything, will tell us about Haggard's state of mind and soul.

Part of me wants to say that Ted Haggard is full of it. (Unlike Jon, I am not convinced that Haggard is omnisexual, but I am open to the possibility.) I want to believe that he is only sorry that he got caught and that his season of power-intoxication has come to an end.

Another part of me desperately wants to believe that Haggard is truly repentant. I want to believe that he has been convicted of his sexual sin and his arrogance. I want to believe that he is truly broken before God. The cynic in me seems to be winning, however. At the same time, I can't help but wonder if this is a move of God in an attempt to set segments of his church back into order.

As to the argument put forward by Deana that this situation was created by Christians who won't give their blessings to gay/lesbian people to be who they are, I can only say this:

I actually agree that there isn't much that someone can do to change their sexual orientation. I think that many evangelicals have been sold a bill of goods with this line about the possibility of "change" for gay and lesbian people. This doesn't, however, negate the fact that historic Christian teaching has been that homosexual behavior is wrong. (I am aware of the arguments for a Christian acceptance of homosexuality, but I have found them to be lacking. ) The burden is, IMHO, on the pro-gay wing of the church to prove their case, which, IMHO, they have not yet accomplished.

In the end, all that we are doing here is trying to make sense of a horrible situation. Demanding that we accept a theological novelty is not a good way of arguing that we are somehow out of touch with reality.