Stranger in a strange land

mikejonesBack in November when the Ted Haggard scandal broke, Terry said he hoped reporters would keep on the story. A service on Sunday provided a good reason to check back in on New Life megachurch in Colorado Springs. That’s because Mike Jones, the former prostitute whose allegations about having sex and taking drugs with Haggard broke wide on the eve of the 2006 elections, went there on Sunday.

Although Jones didn’t notify the media in advance, he did tell church leadership he might be there. Eric Gorski of The Denver Post had the story:

As soon as the visitor from Denver walked through the church doors Sunday morning, heads turned. Word spread quickly: He was here.

Just about every person who offered him a handshake said the same thing: Welcome, thank you and God bless.

Gorski gets a lot of information into the story. Jones went to the church for research on a book he’s writing but he was accompanied to the church by members of The Civilians, a New York theater troupe. The Civilians’ presence is not explained. Anyway, Jones wasn’t impressed by the church:

If the Gospel message is enough, he said, why the loud music and MTV-quality production?

“There seems to be something missing, some realism, in my opinion, because it’s so vast, like some kind of self-contained city,” said Jones, who said he was raised Methodist but is estranged from organized religion.

The article isn’t one-sided, though, and gives associate pastor Rob Brendle the chance to explain why he thinks the church was so receptive to Jones — who had been invited to attend more than a few times:

Brendle characterized Jones’ presence as a reminder of both grief and God’s faithfulness.

“I told Mike, ‘I don’t want to impose my religious beliefs on you, but I believe God used you to correct us, and I appreciate that,”‘ Brendle said. “The church’s response to him was overwhelmingly warm. One of the wonderful and enduring truths of Christianity is to love people the world sets up to be your enemies.”

For the take of KUSA, the broadcast outlet that broke the original story, go here. This story will go on.

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  • Fr. Greg

    If the Gospel message is enough, he said, why the loud music and MTV-quality production?

    Some of us who are more Traditionally-minded when it comes to worship have been asking this question for quite some time. I saw a sign the other day, advertising a certain non/transdemoninational “worship” venue. It asked, rhetorically, “bored with church”?

    First, it was “infotainment”. Now, it seems we have “liturgotainment”.

  • Fr. Greg

    If the Gospel message is enough, he said, why the loud music and MTV-quality production?

    Some of us who are more Traditionally-minded when it comes to worship have been asking this question for quite some time. I saw a sign the other day, advertising a certain non/transdenominational “worship” venue. It asked, rhetorically, “bored with church”?

    First, it was “infotainment”. Now, it seems we have “liturgotainment”.

  • Stephen

    The story seems to be a remarkable one in that it illustrates a Christian virtue – loving and forgiving enemies – and is a unique “man bites church” kind of news story that is truly different.

    Personally (opinion alert), I’m not surprised to read that Jones is writing a book to cash in on this nasty episode. I am surprised to agree with him on the Megachurch phenomenon. While an interesting alternative to “boring” church, it can also be cold, impersonal and oddly… secular.

    Journalistically, more – MUCH more – needs to be written about the Celebrity Culture being created in these Megachurches in the form of the MegaPastors, and the power and influence they wield.

    More – MUCH more – also needs to be written about the trials and tribulations these men (mostly men) must feel heading up these Megachurches largely on their own. Temptations must be tremendous for these pastors, especially with all the sudden riches that come their way, and without the oversight that many established denominations have they often seem morally adrift or at least in danger of being so.

    Do they get emotional support? From whom, or what? Haggard clearly found his outlets (Mr. Jones among them) and they weren’t at all healthy ones, for himself or his flock.

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  • Eli

    Hmmm…so much to grok here.

    First an astounding resonse by Haggard towards Jones:

    Haggard, in an apology to the church, had urged members to forgive and thank Jones for exposing deceit…

    I think the most interesting and unique piece of the story is actually something associate pastor Rob Brendle was quoted as saying and Stephen echoed above, re. the idea that Jones was perceived to be an “enemy” who was then forgiven based on Jesus’ teaching of forgiving one’s enemies. I actually think it may be a bit more subtle than this and something that, while implicit to the church’s response, could stand to be made more explicit by Gorski: there was actually no “forgiving” of one’s enemies in this case.

    I think Jones was actually welcomed by Brendle and the congregation, in the manner he was, *precisely* because he wasn’t the enemy. Through bringing the truth to light it seems they, in fact, implicitly saw that he was actually being a friend Haggard. In doing so he gave Haggard the valuable opportunity to correct the previous mistakes he’d made. If his statements had been slander or fabrications he would then, of course, have been the “enemy”.

    In Jones’ words:

    “A couple of ladies cried when they were touching me,” Jones said. “I was thanked for exposing the church, for helping Ted Haggard…And they all said ‘God bless you,’ every one of them.”

    Also, it brings to mind the distinction that a good friend will stab you in the chest while an enemy will stab you in the back and also, in a sense, about how one might go about practicing the eighth commandment which deals with not bearing false witness against one’s neighbor (tried to link to GetReligion #1775′s Mutually assured destruction although for some reason my links aren’t linking).

    Should he have been perceived as “bearing false witness” against Haggard then, again, I’m pretty certain he would have been branded the enemy and not been very welcome in the churh.

    And at the end of the day what seems to matter from the church’s perspective is not really so much whether one makes a mistake or not, since we all make mistakes, but whether they sincerely make the effort to correct it – which apparently Haggard is willing to do. After all, if a guy who’s into into smoking methamphetamine and then paying money to go horizontal with a male prostitute can correct his actions maybe there’s actually hope for the rest of us…

  • Elmo

    If the Gospel message is enough, he said, why the loud music and MTV-quality production?

    Why not? Does being a church mean that you can’t use contemporary styles? All of the traditional styles of worship were contemporary additions at one time. If the Gospel is enough why do liturgical priests and pastors wear vestments, and why do many traditional church buildings have huge organs?

    With this line of thinking no church should use anything but a Bible for a service. The Gospel isn’t attached to any style of worship, which means, Fr. Greg, that the loud music and MTV-quality production is no less valid than traditional liturgy.

    And what’s wrong with trying to draw in people who are “bored with church?” They obviously aren’t finding a connection with God as it is, so there should be other places that offer something different. As long as they are sharing the whole Gospel it shouldn’t matter. So…why not?

  • Fr. Greg


    Actually, there are organic connections between the gospel and traditional liturgical worship, vestments and all; it is documented in the New Testament (not necessarily vestments) and is an outgrowth of the Jewish worship in which Jesus himself participated, although on its face, your question is a fair one.

    With regard to boredom, if I’m bored with regard to dealing with spiritual matters, then the problem is with ME, and anyone who would pander to my boredom in this way is, in fact, leading me away from an authentic experience of God. I’m not necessarily suggesting that there is no place for “spiritual entertainment”, just that a worship service is not that place.

  • Jerry

    “spiritual entertainment” is one thing. But if the music is part of the “joyful noise” the Bible enjoins, then it’s something quite different. For me, ritual, however beautiful, is not really worship if joy is absent.

    Maybe others here can say if such music and production values is part of entertaining the parishioners or part of encouraging them to joyous worship.

  • Thadeus

    I belong to an Orthodox Church and we don’t use any musical instruments. And the Orthodox Church rarely uses them. One might find an organ on some Churches but that is the extent we will use.

    Church should not be some sort of ho-down, happy clap, karoke, dance-off.

  • Bob

    I’m a loyal GetReligion reader…

    I’m a member of a 103-year-old United Methodist church…

    I’ve -gasp!- actually attended a conference at Willow Creek Community Church…

    And I don’t understand the bitterness some “traditional” followers of Jesus Christ have toward differences and innovations that have brought millions of people into relationship with God through his Son. If you look at the first church as portrayed in Acts chapter 2, it had very little to do with vestments or liturgy – the disciples worshipped both in the temple and in their homes (and their leaders were neither Cohens nor Levites). The first church meeting – where 3000 were so compelled by the message that they joined the movement – had NO liturgy whatsoever!.

    My point? Is God dishonored by contemporary music? What about worship that’s so reverent that God’s people disconnect? Do the megachurch scandals invalidate the movement of the Holy Spirit? What about the child sex abuse scandals within the Catholic church? The answers to these questions presuppose certain kowledge of God’s will and, it seems to me, judgement that should be reserved to God.

    No human endeavor will fully reflect God’s will. I read this blog because I’m interested in how the press covers Christianity and religion in general. Can’t we give the contemporary versus traditional argument a rest? (That is, unless a news story is covering this aspect of our faith.)

    Flame On! I’m braced for it…

  • Mollie



    We discuss media treatment of religious issues here, not the religious issues themselves.

    Whether worship deviations are good or bad is an excellent debate to have.

    But not here.

    I’ll delete all future comments that don’t stay on topic — and that topic is whether the media got THIS story right.

  • Mark V.

    I agree with Stephen that future stories should be written about the megachurch pastor’s job experience. Also, it would be great to further explore the lack of a support infrastructure found in mainstream churches and any effect on doctrinal matters.

  • Dale

    I think an interesting follow-up story would be to organize a visit to a gay-oriented gym in the Denver area by Pastor Brendle, together with a Christian theater troop from Wheaton (or some such other conservative Christian institution) doing research on the gay subculture.

    I think the reception they would receive would provide quite a contrast.

    Kudos to the New Life congregation for:

    1)Recognizing that Mike Jones unintentionally did both it and Ted Haggard a favor by exposing his sin; and

    2)Leaving little for Jones’ criticism other than a rather pro forma criticism of megachurches.

    As for Jones’ claim in the KUSA story that he was just looking for an “honest experience”, I think that really needed a follow-up question about how bringing a New York theater group with him contributed to making his experience “honest”.

  • Eli

    Dale – no question your proposed story would make for an interesting contrast. I’d have to agree with you that one could almost guarantee that a group of evangelicals visiting a place where gay meth-smoking male hookers hung out would almost certainly elicit a very different effect from that seen at the New Life congregation.

    Even more interesting (to try to keep it on the religious tip) might be some kind of contrast drawn between the ideal ethical framework of a Ted Haggard and, perhaps, a David Muscavige of the Scientology cult where any criticism leads a member to be ostracized from the community, labeled a “Suppressive Person” and then harassed often to the point of a lawsuit until they shut up about it. The difference in worldviews is certainly worth exploring if not within this story then perhaps in some type of a follow-up. Still, maybe nobody’s doing that story b/c they don’t want to risk getting sued or pissing off John Travolta. Dunno.

  • Pastor Jeff


    Your comment at 8:51 pm made a great point re: Jones as the “enemy.” I agree with you that he’s not the enemy. That comment from the associate pastor jumped out at me as I blogged this yesterday.

    Brendle’s choice of words was interesting. “People who the worlds sets up to be your enemies” sounds like he recognizes Jones isn’t the enemy even though (he thinks (?)) the media wants to portray it that way. That statement was begging for a good follow-up question from a sharp reporter.

  • John

    The story should have explained that the Civilians are doing “field research” in preparation for another faith bashing stage extravaganza. I think it would have helped put Jones’ comments about “not being impressed” in perspective. He was only there to not be impressed.



    We discuss media treatment of religious issues here, not the religious issues themselves.

    That seems a bit heavy handed.