A story with legs

HaggardDisgraced pastor Ted Haggard is in the news again. A few days ago his email to members of New Life Church was released to the media. Eric Gorski wrote up the story for The Denver Post:

Three months after being ousted in a drugs and gay-sex scandal, the Rev. Ted Haggard is telling friends that counseling has given him hope, and he and his wife plan to leave Colorado Springs and pursue psychology degrees.

Haggard shared the couple's still-evolving plans for their next chapter in an e-mail response to members of his former congregation who had contacted him, said Rob Brendle, an associate pastor at New Life Church.

"Jesus is starting to put me back together," Haggard wrote. "I have spent so much time in repentance, brokenness, hurt and sorrow for the things I've done and the negative impact my actions have had on others. That sadness continues as my family and I, along with so many others, go through the painful consequences of my actions."

I wanted to write about the story, which I thought was nicely written. But a new story has overtaken that humble update. Let's just get it out here:

"[Haggard] is completely heterosexual," [the Rev. Tim] Ralph said. "That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place. It wasn't a constant thing."

And as you would expect, people are going crazy over this comment. I'm the first to abhor the ridiculous double standard that permits women to experiment with other women while retaining their heterosexual status while men aren't allowed to touch another man without being accused of being irrevocably homosexual. But Ralph's comment? I think it's fair to say that "completely heterosexual" might not be the best choice of words to describe a man who, you know, solicited a gay prostitute. It reminds me of a line from The Queen when the Tony Blair character says of the royal family: "Will someone please save these people from themselves?"

The Associated Press picked up the story and media outlets far and wide ran with it -- all based on Ralph's comment. I might point out that the comment gives secondhand information and that headlines keep saying "Haggard says he's completely heterosexual," when in fact Ralph is the one making the comment. But the comment is ripe for analysis in any case and indicates something interesting about evangelical theology and how it views sin and its treatment. It will be interesting to see if a reporter can parse that out in greater detail.

Gorski's story led with the Ralph quote, and mentioned that Ralph and the rest of a four-man oversight board strongly urged Haggard to go into secular work instead of Christian ministry. The piece provided a nice bit of context as well:

In investigating Haggard's assertion that his extramarital sexual contact was limited to former male escort Mike Jones, the board talked to people close to Haggard and found no evidence contradicting him, Ralph said.

"If we're going to be proved wrong, somebody else is going to come forward, and that usually happens really quickly," he said. "We're into this thing over 90 days, and it hasn't happened."

Steering Haggard away from a return to ministry was based, in part, on Haggard's high profile, Ralph said. He cited biblical passages about holding influential figures to a higher standard.

"Nobody is saying he can't go back into ministry," Ralph said. "Somewhere down the road, that could very well happen, and that would be wonderful."

I've really enjoyed following Colorado media on this story and look forward to stories in the distant future, after some time and distance have passed. What responsible religious angles would you like to see the media cover?

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