Overseers: Based on our investigation, he’s out

ScarletAs several GetReligion readers have noted on the comment boards, the Rev. Ted Haggard has been fired.

This is not a big surprise. What is surprising is that it has happened so quickly. Here is part of a Denver Post story by reporter Chuck Plunkett:

Ted Haggard, the beleaguered pastor of a Colorado Springs evangelical church who had denied having sex with a male prostitute, has been fired by an oversight board, which found him guilty of “sexually immoral conduct.”

. . . The board that made the decision, called the “Overseer Board of New Life Church,” said in a prepared statement Saturday afternoon: “Our investigation and Pastor Haggard’s public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct.

If you stop and think about it, this is actually a pretty interesting statement. Based on what has been made public, Haggard has not openly confessed to any specific act of sexual morality. Yet the board cites his public statements. It also mentions its own investigation. The board’s statement is available as a PDF.

Apparently the overseers have evidence — or been told information by Haggard — that reporters and, thus, the public do not know about.

It also appears that Haggard will not speak in the Sunday service at New Life Church. Instead, a statement — of explanation and confession — will be read along with a second statement of encouragement by his wife. Even with the family absent, I fear that this will be a major, national-media circus.

As you would expect, the longest story on the firing is in the Colorado Springs Gazette. This is a long story by reporter Paul Asay that I imagine would be at the heart of tomorrow’s page-one package. There are many interesting details and poignant remarks by church members. It also seems that the Denver police are investigating whether crimes were committed. This is sobering news for the accuser, as well as Haggard.

scarletletterThen there is this angle over at Focus on the Family, a serious line of research that I think is worth major coverage in the days or weeks ahead:

The attention may be intense, but scandal in the pulpit is not uncommon. Focus on the Family’s pastoral care center receives 400 to 600 calls a month from pastors, many of whom struggle with addiction or sexual issues.

“When Ted Haggard is accused of something like this, I’m not surprised of the accusation because I deal with it so much,” said the Rev. H.B. London, head of Focus on the Family’s pastoral center. “I am surprised of the man.”

London said it’s possible for wayward pastors to return to the pulpit, but it takes time — sometimes as much as five years: He said Haggard should be remorseful and confess his sins, though the congregation doesn’t necessarily need to hear all details. “But coming back to the same congregation is many times difficult because people have drawn their own conclusions.”

Finally, here is a link that several readers have sent in. It leads to a New Life recording of Haggard’s sermon last week. It is, apparently, rather haunting.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

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  • Jeff

    I find it interesting that throughout this entire thing, Haggard’s misconduct has been referred to in terms of sexual misconduct/immorality, and homosexuality.

    Why has this not been called what it is, namely adultery? Why is the fact that the purported sexual activity was with another man so definitive here? To me, it’s very interesting how this has been framed in that way.

    Just a thought.

  • Eric

    Yes, it is adultery, but it’s an adultery that doesn’t have the same impact on a family as “normal” adultery does. And the political implications cannot be ignored. From what I’ve seen, the press has played this about right.

    The comment about how common this sort of thing was interesting. In the region where I live, we recently had a Mormon stake president (that’s a fairly prominent position) who was caught going to the house of what he thought was a teenage girl in a city a couple hundred miles away (it was the FBI that opened the door when he arrived bringing a gift of intimate apparel); last I heard, he pleaded guilty to something and is in prison. The problem knows no denominational bounds.

    It would be interesting to know what people like Haggard and Bill Clinton have in common psychologically. I can’t imagine risking so much for a few minutes of momentary pleasure.

  • Frank Elliott

    It’s ironic that you would give Ted Haggard a scarlet letter as a symbol of his public vilification. Far from being the aggrieved party, like Hester Prynne, Ted Haggard is the hypocritical persecutor, like Pastor Arthur Dimmesdale.

    Like Dimmesdale, Haggard would have been less damaged by the ostracism that comes from honesty than the fear and self-loathing that come from secrecy. Like Dimmesdale, Haggard’s desire to avoid the dissapproval of others led to his persecuting the powerless.

    Hawthorne had an uncanny perception of life in Christendom’s shadow.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    In reading of Haggard, Baker, Swaggart, Bishop Robinson and the Focus on the Family report regarding Protestant (presumably married) clergy, it struck me how completely absent from the media such stories were as the media used Catholic clergy scandals to viciously assault the Catholic tradition of having a celibate clergy. I must have read 1,000 or so articles blaming celibacy for the presence of some problem priests in the Catholic Church–and not one mention of the psycho-sexual problems among a similar percentage of married Protestant clergy.
    Since we know many leading politicians, people in the media, and Hollywood have had all sorts of marital and psycho-sexual problems maybe the problem has nothing to do with religion but has far more to do with being in prominent or leadership positions of the sort that can breed arrogance, narcissism, and an over-powering ego-inflation.
    However, so far, it seems like the media only wants to flay and autopsy Evangelicalism as it did Catholic clerical celibacy.
    And I know there are those who will vehemently disagree, but I am convinced that the narrow focus on religion by the media regarding a very deep human leadership problem (a problem I am sure they know exists) is caused by a deep-seated antagonism toward religion (especially Evangelical and Catholic Christianity) by many in the media.

  • Eric Weiss

    I watched the Channel 9 News live feed this morning of the New Life Church service, with the reading of the letter from former pastor Ted Haggard. It was a pretty complete act of confession and request for forgiveness. He claimed 100% responsibility for everything, and asked them to forgive his accuser. He admitted to sexual immorality, and about fighting this darkness in his heart most of his adult life, though he didn’t explicitly name it. He said that not all the accusations were true, but enough of them were true. He’s under some pastors for counseling, healing and restoration (I think they said Jack Hayford and Tommy Barnett). They also read a letter from his wife, expressing her 100% commitment to their marriage till death parts them, and saying that if women at the church had viewed her as having a perfect marriage and as being someone who couldn’t identify with them in their struggles, this should forever put that notion to rest.

  • Frank Elliott

    Well, I guess the Evangelicals just read the Cliff’s notes.

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  • Dominic Glisinski

    Quite the letter.
    Dobson, Hayford and Barnett as salvage crew. I am so sick of this never ending nonsense…

    Where, pray tell, in the New Testament do they find precedent for establishing ministries of the sort typified by mega-church America?

  • Eric Weiss

    So, when will we begin seeing the articles saying that Haggard’s problem was a Christianity that demonizes same-sex attraction and causes persons such as him to have a love/hate relationship with themselves that can only result in depression or implosion or explosion?

    Also – I am not yet convinced that Mike Jones did this on his own for the reasons he has stated. We may never see it, but coming forward with an admission of meth distribution and being a prostitute suggests to me that he first sought legal advice and some kind of immunity before going public with this, knowing that this could result in a trial or a police investigation. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that there are some Gay/Lesbian rights groups connections with this, as well as some Democratic Party political connections who assured him of their aid and legal protection.

  • Frank Elliott

    Eric wrote:
    So, when will we begin seeing the articles saying that Haggard’s problem was a Christianity that demonizes same-sex attraction and causes persons such as him to have a love/hate relationship with themselves that can only result in depression or implosion or explosion?

    Perhaps, it’s so obvious that few need to point it out.

  • Murphy

    Congregations are getting too big. In the mega-churches that have taken off over the past few decades, it’s more about power than it is about ministering to the people. The whole emphisis on attacking abortion, stem cells, gay marriage… is more geared to create activism than it is to help the church members with their faith.

    Just as small stores are sucked away by the Wal-Marts, leaving black holes in the towns, the corprate churches way of grow or die is leaving small church communities brused in their wake. Those who do not accept the preaching of hatred are less likely to visit any church. And, with the shortage of pastors who do NOT want to be on TV – and make the dollars that were never a motivation in the past…

    I grew up in a small rural church where politics was not in the mix. We were all famlies who lived near each other, and came together to worship as a community. Today, it seems that a common judgment of those outside one’s church is the focus.

    Christ must be shaking his head at the shepards who put their own hatred out in his name.

    They know no shame until they are exposed.

  • MT

    Where, pray tell, in the New Testament do they find precedent for establishing ministries of the sort typified by mega-church America?

    Does the Catholic Church with it’s rigid hierarchy and billions in assets look more authentic to you?

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  • Murphy

    MT…. I’m Lutheran, we did not have many Catholics in our area of Minnesota. A bit quick to JUDGE?

    Put thy sword back in it’s sheath!

  • Mattk

    Maybe this is nit-picky, but is anyone else annoyed that some stories (like this one:http://apnews.myway.com/article/20061106/D8L7BSHG0.html) call Haggard an evangelist when his church calls him a pastor?

  • MT

    Murphy, read my post again – I’m quoting Dominic; it has nothing to do with your post. Seems like you might be the one who judged a little too quickly!

  • YetAnotherRick

    MattK, I also noticed the excessive use of “evangelist.” The Brits seem to do this a little more than Americans. This is slightly off the current subject – though still about religion journalism, but another thing I’ve noticed for around the last year is the increased use of “Christian Evangelicals.” I suppose that’s to distinguish them from Sikh, Buddist, or Wiccan Evangelicals.

    I also wish there was better coverage of just how the church works. There were good explanations of the overseer group, but there are still people who think Ted “owns” the church.