My spiritual gift is crystal meth

crystal methI'm rather speechless about this whole Ted Haggard story. I grew up down the road from his New Life megachurch (pop. 14,000) and have followed his ascendancy for years. I'm rather uncertain what can be said about the media coverage, too. Stories like this are difficult to write about, and we've seen some good examples of how to treat it. I'm not sure if this is simply a personal opinion or a journalistic one, but I absolutely loathe this news cycle. I'm not sure if people need to read about the allegations or why they're reading about them now.

Whether or not the allegations are true, this is a person with a wife and five kids. Whatever else may be said about him, I doubt Haggard claimed he was sinless or without lusts. And public condemnation of sinful behavior does not mean his private life is open season.

Yes, it's salacious and juicy, but I think that reporters should think ethically about how to handle this story. And I think I might be speaking more to myself -- who always experiences a bit ton of schadenfreude at the Elmer Gantry-like downfall of megachurch or televangelist leaders -- than anyone else.

Anyway, here's one thing I've picked up from the story. Mr. Jones, the drug-selling male escort, is the only source for the story. He says Haggard a) paid him for sex, b) bought crystal meth and c) used it in front of him. He's failed a lie-detector test, but the test administrator says it could be because he's not eaten or slept well.

The evidence, as it were, is an envelope allegedly from Haggard as well as two voice messages allegedly from Haggard that discuss what Jones says is a meth purchase. Haggard has admitted to some of the allegations while vehemently denying the prostitution charges.

Those bits of substantiation don't support the gay sex charge. They support the drug usage claim. I think it's interesting that reporters are leading and pushing the gay sex claims rather than the meatier drug claims. I'm not really sure what it means, I just find it interesting.

On this site we look at whether the media do a good job of understanding the religious angles to stories. And that is and will be a concern as this story develops. But reporters on the religion beat or any other beat should make sure to get the facts straight before anything else.

Once those facts are laid out better, Bible Belt Blogger Frank Lockwood asks an interesting question:

But why is it that many of the biggest names in the Pentecostal movement -- over and over again -- end up disgracing themselves and the church as a whole?

He notes that Haggard describes himself as Southern Baptist but applies some Charismatic practices such as speaking in tongues, the laying on of hands for healing, and prophecy. I think back to Eric Gorski's excellent series on Bishop Dennis Leonard up I-25 at Heritage Christian Center. He linked the theology of prosperity to the church's financial dealings.

The bottom line: Newspapers should follow The Denver Post's lead by having religion reporters heavily involved in the coverage. It's bound to pay off.

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