‘Lifies’ and the Haggard saga

Gayle Haggard, the loyal wife of fallen evangelical mega-pastor Ted Haggard, was all over the mainstream media world (Oprah, “Today,” etc.) last week promoting her new book: “Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour.”

With this book blitz, reporting on the Ted Haggard story has now officially moved from Chapter 1 in the Media Playbook (Hard news: Scandal) to Chapter 3 (Features: “Lifie”) without going through Chapter 2 (Analysis: What the heck is really going on here?). Readers would have benefited from deeper questioning.

Ted Haggard finally admitted his sins in November 2006 and was subsequently fired from the Colorado Springs megachurch he founded. He resurfaced in January 2009 when HBO broadcast Alexandra Pelosi’s gripping documentary, “The Trials of Ted Haggard” and he and Gayle appeared on Oprah’s show.

Late last year he started a new church down the road from his old congregation. At that point, some reporters (including local religion reported Mark Barna at The Gazette) did good analysis pieces that raised questions about Haggard’s suitability to lead.

All those questions have been forgotten in the wake of Gayle’s successful p.r. campaign (which was orchestrated by Tyndale, the Wheaton, Illinois-based evangelical publisher that learned a few things about big-league promotion with the Left Behind novels). Marcia Z. Nelson of Publishers Weekly’s Religion BookLine reports that Tyndale has already gone back to press after selling out a first printing of 75,000 copies.

The Haggard story has now evolved into the type of media events Neal Gabler called “lifies,” which are celebrity-driven, media-friendly stories about failure and redemption that serve up big, gooey life lessons for viewers.

Gayle Haggard presents readers and viewers with a powerful message of marital love, personal loyalty and Christian forgiveness, and I was particularly impressed by her interview with Meredith Vieira on “Today” and the piece by Adelle banks of Religion News Service.

But as the Haggards seek to find a new life and calling for themselves, important questions remain:
- Can we believe Ted when he says, as he did on Oprah last week, that after therapy, he has not had “one compulsive thought or behavior”?
- Even if that is true, is Ted now in a position to once again assume the mantle of pastoral leadership?
- Gayle Haggard has certainly suffered enough already, and her husband’s sins do not necessarily bar her from leadership. But is the “evangelical industrial complex” helping to return the couple to a form of shared leadership by publishing and promoting Gayle’s book?

Gabler’s “Life: The Movie” argues that entertainment has conquered reality. The Haggard saga, at least as it is currently being covered, is the latest in a long list of stories about tarnished evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal leaders that demonstrates the truth of Gabler’s argument in religious circles.

Despite their frequent and often angry protests against pop culture, many Christians reveal that they are all too willing to submit to the marketplace–not any ecclesiastical authority–as the ultimate arbiter of who qualifies as a leader.

This isn’t the last we will hear from the Haggards. Perhaps next time around enterprising reporters will ask some of the tough questions about leadership and authority that have been lost in in the “lifies.”

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  • Jerry

    Steve, your writeup here appears to me to be a cogent overview of the religion-entertainment-media complex.

  • dalea

    Steve asks:

    Can we believe Ted when he says, as he did on Oprah last week, that after therapy, he has not had “one compulsive thought or behavior”?

    This is puzzling as the problem was, AFAIK, never defined as compulisveness but rather bisexuality. So why is he claiming to be cured of something he was never diagnosed with? And why were there no follow up questions that raised this point? Outside the GLBT press there has been no reportage of the sort of programs he was involved with.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com Nancy Reyes

    She made her choice when he was caught? She never noticed his infidelities or drug use before then? The real question is why she stayed so long.

    Don’t tell me it’s the Bible: even Hagar ran away you know…

    And her “I love him and I’ll forgive him and give him another chance” in the articles sound like what we docs hear from abused women all the time…

    Pop psychology and pop religion…

  • http://knapsack.blogspot.com Jeff

    Steve, you’ve reaffirmed what F. Scott Fitzgerald was originally getting at in his oft-misunderstood quote, from back in the days of the three act play, “there are no second acts in American lives.” Not that there aren’t comebacks, but that there’s no sojourn in the wilderness, no redemptive penitential period for those who excel or succeed and then crash and burn . . . they just show up soaring to a new attainment, skipping over the transitional second act.

  • http://tedhaggard.com Ted Haggard

    After reading Steve’s article, I thought a few facts might be helpful:

    1. Steve raises a quality question in his opening paragraph: “What the heck was going on here?” This is exactly why we have appeared on tv and radio, and Gayle has written a book. We agree. People need answers and we’re working to provide them.

    2. I resigned in the first stage of the crisis in November, 2006. No one had to fire me.

    3. Gayle and I hosted two prayer meetings in our home prior to Thanksgiving in order to meet with friends, etc. When 150 people attended, we knew it was larger than our home would allow but didn’t want to organize a formal meeting, so we didn’t have any more prayer meetings. We have not started a church and do not have regularly scheduled meetings of any kind.

    4. I am a strong believer in spiritual authority which is why I submitted to the Overseers and Restorers even though I had biblical and ethical problems with the content of their contracts. When the Overseers and Restorers released us from their oversight in January of 2008, that gave us some freedom to submit to our pastor, Tommy Barnett. Then when the church released us from their contract in January of 2009, we had complete liberty under new authority. At that point, a new team of pastors were organized to provide accountability and counsel, but because the earlier team was so taken by the public pressure, the current group has chosen to remain out of public eye and focus on their jobs: restoration and spiritual guidance. Everything we do (speaking, writing, prayer meetings, etc.) is always done with the approval of proper spiritual authorities.

    Other very important facts related to this story are in Gayle’s book, “Why I Stayed”, or at tedhaggard.com under the “Healing Overview” tab.

    I hope this helps. Thank you for your kindness, love and prayers. God bless you.

    Ted Haggard