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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
November 10, 2006

Hustler scandal reveals evangelical leader's self-hate

Colorado Springs--Ted Haggard, former pastor of New Life Church and ex-president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was whisked away this week by some of the most notable heavy hitters in the religious right, amid an outpouring of self-loathing and an odd moment of Christian charity.

Haggard, a prominent evangelical leader, resigned from the association post and stepped aside as New Life�s pastor late last week while the megachurch�s Overseer Board investigated allegations he had a three-year paid sexual relationship with former prostitute Mike Jones, during which he may have bought and consumed crystal methamphetamine.

The scandal ran a fast course. On November 4, two days after Jones revealed the relationship, the board fired Haggard, saying that they had �proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct.�

Haggard wrote a letter that was read in the church the next day, Sunday, in which he said, �I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I�ve been warring against it all of my adult life.�

�Through the years, I�ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving effective in me,� he continued. �Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn�t want to hurt or disappoint them.�

While Haggard�s �repulsive and dark� statement seems to support the need for Gay Pride events, it also seems to undercut the claims of �ex-gay� ministries.

He doesn�t specifically spell out what the �variety of ways� were in which he sought assistance, But his proximity, both geographically and socially, with James Dobson of Focus on the Family and the rest of the inner circle of anti-gay Christian groups would suggest that �reparative therapy� was readily available to him.

Haggard said that he and his wife Gayle would be �gone for a while. We will never return to a leadership role at New Life Church. In our hearts, we will always be members of this body.�

Dobson and two other clergymen will oversee Haggard�s �restoration,� a process that a Focus on the Family spokesman said could take years. However, it is unclear what the process will be, since Haggard�s own words testify to homosexuality not being a choice, as Dobson often claims.

Harper�s magazine in 2005 had a large article examining Haggard, his congregation and the evangelical Christian scene in Colorado Springs.

They noted that he spoke to President Bush or his advisers every Monday, and that the association has 45,000 churches and 30 million members.

Writer Jeff Sharlet indicated that Haggard, while less in the spotlight, was actually far more powerful than Dobson.

In that story, Haggard tells him, �I want my finances in order, my kids trained, and my wife to love life. I want good friends who are a delight and who provide protection for my family and me should life become difficult someday . . . I don�t want surprises, scandals or secrets.�

One of the members of his congregation told Sharlet that he viewed Haggard as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, leading his band to safety.

When Sharlet asked the man who was the Balrog, the demon that almost kills Gandalf, he is told that the Balrog is inside Haggard.

�Pride�s dangerous,� Tom Parker tells Sharlet.

Interviews with Jones, who outed Haggard after discovering his position as an anti-gay leader, bear interesting insights into religious arch-conservatives, ostensibly anti-gay but with something hidden inside them.

�I can�t tell you how many ministers, pastors, priests I�ve had,� Jones told Michelangelo Signorile on his Sirius satellite radio show. �It didn�t bother me, nothing surprised me.�

Jones described the course of the three-year hustler-client relationship, including Haggard�s questions about crystal meth, interest in group sex with four to six college-aged men and the revelation that Haggard may have used the drug to enhance his enjoyment of sex with his wife.

What emerges after all is said and done, however, is a sad, lurid portrait of a man at war with himself. While that battle was hidden, he overcompensated by overtly opposing all things gay while covertly being that which he pilloried.

Once that �dark side� was revealed, he could find peace at some level, illustrated by his admonition to the congregation at New Life Church.

�Please forgive my accuser,� he wrote to them. �He is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins, and others, need to be dealt with harshly.�

�So, forgive him and actually, thank God for him. I am trusting that his action will make me, my wife and family, and ultimately all of you, stronger,� he concludes. �He didn�t violate you; I did.�

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