Haggard's new life after New Life

June 4, 2010

It’s official:
Ted Haggard is starting a new church, just a mile from his old one. The
former charismatic megachurch pastor and National Association of
Evangelicals leader left both positions in the wake of a 2006
sex-and-drugs scandal.

Most reactions are focused on the gay
questions—Haggard’s protestations as to his own sexuality, along with
his attempt to welcome gays and lesbians to his new church without
welcoming their gayness and lesbianism. This is understandable—there’s
no blogger catnip quite like public hypocrisy.

But it's also frustrating. An evangelical church that doesn’t perform same-sex marriages is hardly headline material,
and more importantly, Haggard’s fall from grace wasn’t really about
sexual identity—though you wouldn’t have known it from the press
coverage. This excerpt from Lauren Sandler’s 2006 write-up begins with a quote from New Life Church men’s group leader Steve Glaeser:

is evil, and...it can attack us. Each of us could potentially succumb
to the same as Ted if we do not stay on course.” Glaeser's message...is
clear: Homosexuality is something for which there is no tolerance.

not quite so clear. What’s clear from the quote is that Glaeser sees
Haggard’s behavior as evil, which is a fair assessment of a married
pastor’s buying sex and crystal meth from a prostitute. Sure, plenty of
the folks at New Life no doubt felt that the detail of a male prostitute made the whole thing measurably worse, but it was striking how hard the press pushed this as the primary issue.

gay angle remains tantalizing, but what’s far more crucial here are
questions Haggard’s new plans raise about decency and order, about
accountability and qualifications for ministry. The
charismatic/Pentecostal movement can be long on entrepreneurial
personalities and short on ecclesial structure. We all remember Jim
Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart; many of us with connections to that world
know of lower-profile scandals (and dubious pulpit comebacks) as well.
J. Lee Grady, a former Charisma magazine editor, offers an internal critique on this subject in his new book.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Charisma’s news story on Haggard’s plans favors the accountability angle over the sexuality one. David Gibson and Phillip Luke Sinitiere are worth checking out as well, as is the conversation at Leadership magazine’s blog.

Haggard himself anticipated
the “not qualified for ministry” objection in his press conference:
“For the people that believe I'm not qualified, I believe they're
probably right.” Okay, but then why is he doing it? Because people need him to? Because otherwise his and his wife’s lives will end? Rod Dreher’s not impressed by this reasoning. Neither am I.

Before this week’s announcement, Haggard sat for an interview with Bill Forman. Here’s Haggard on whether he might return to ministry:

That's up to people. Remember, it's a free-market religious system. I
have somebody that tells us to start a church every day. If...they say
we want you to do it, then I get to choose.

When I read
this, I was grateful for denominations, for structures in place to set
the bar for ministry a bit higher than “it’s a free country.” Which
isn’t to say that all you need for accountability is a good strong hierarchy. I think Daniel Schultz has said it well:

will cover up for the people they supervise, especially at the highest
levels. So you need to be responsible to the laity in particular, who
will hold you accountable. When those mechanisms are not in place, or
don't function, it's like giving a license to do bad things. That's
particularly true of entrepreneurial leaders like Haggard, but it also
works for apparatchiks like Cardinal Bernard Law.