Haggard and Dobson revisited

ted-haggardMark Barna has his hands full covering religion at the Colorado Springs Gazette. This morning's two news stories on evangelical leaders varied from solid to so-so. Appearing top right on A1 is an update on Ted Haggard, the once high-flying leader of the National Association of Evangelicals who was laid low by a squalid gay sex and drugs scandal. This morning's story says: "Haggard starting new church at his Springs home":

Ted Haggard, who started New Life Church in his Colorado Springs basement and built it into a megachurch with thousands of worshippers, said Wednesday that he is starting a church at his home.

"We wanted to do something in our house to connect with friends," said Haggard, whose ties to New Life ended in scandal three years ago with the revelation that he'd been involved with a male prostitute in Denver.

Barna dukes it out with Haggard's obfuscatory lingo (Haggard concedes that his "prayer meeting" actually qualifies as the start of a new church) and quotes two former ministry associates who express concern about Haggard's return to church leadership so soon after his fall:

Several people who have worked with Haggard said it's premature for him to be leading a church. C. Peter Wagner, who co-founded New Life's World Prayer Center with Haggard, said the former pastor should first seek approval from the overseers before leading people in prayer and worship. Haggard quit the five-year restoration program in February 2008.

"My reservation is that he has not followed through completely on apostolic protocol," Wagner said Wednesday.

Barna's religion blog, "The Pulpit," also features a comment from Mike Jones, the male prostitute who brought Haggard's sin to light (Jones is not impressed).

But Barna's A3 story on Dobson was less solid, beginning with a screwy headline: "Dobson's Power Apparent: Maine's rejection of same-sex marriage shows his influence." Thankfully, the headline was changed for the online version.

James Dobson might be leaving Focus on the Family, but executives with the Colorado Springs-based evangelical organization say Tuesday's vote in Maine on same-sex marriages proves his influence and message remain relevant.

Maine voters split 53 percent to 47 percent to repeal a law, passed by their legislators and signed by their governor, that would have allowed same-sex marriages. Focus donated $115, 266 to a coalition supporting repeal, Maine records show. The defeat means gay marriage has lost in all 31 states where the public has voted on it.

Jenny Tyree, Focus' marriage analyst, said Dobson's decades-long work to uphold traditional marriage continues to resonate with Americans.

Unfortunately, the story does not tell us:

(1) If Dobson did anything else to persuade Maine voters;

(2) How big (or small) Focus's donation was as a percentage of the total repeal war chest;

(3) Whether Focus participated in the pro-repeal organization, National Organization for Marriage, which was investigated by Maine's Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices;

(4) What role the Maine Family Policy Council (one of Focus on the Family Action's affiliated state groups) played in the vote.

Dobson has been one of the most influential evangelicals of the past four decades. But was the Maine vote a demonstration of his power? Perhaps another article will answer that question.

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