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Beast of the Month - January 2007
Ted Haggard, Disgraced Evangelist Preacher
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
Ted Haggard, in the documentary Jesus Camp
If, as Ali MacGraw said in Love Story, "Love means never having to say you're sorry," 2006 was a year without much love. As much as 2006 will be remembered as the year of Wikipedia, MySpace, YouTube and You (and let's all give ourselves a hand for winning Time's Person of the Year!) it will be remembered as the year of the mea culpa. From James Frey for his "non-fiction autobiography" to Mad Mel for his drunken anti-Semitic ramble to Michael "Kramer" Richards for his racist rant (as well as Mark Foley, John Kerry, Pope Benedict XVI and Judith Regan) the words "I'm sorry" were a bigger catch phrase than "truthiness" or "Macaca" in 2006. Yet, with all due respect to everyone else, we're sorry, but the apology of the year has to go to Ted Haggard, The Konformist Beast of the Month.
As the 2006 Election approached, it increasingly looked like it was the Democrats to lose, yet well-circulated Internet conspiracy theories predicted otherwise. No surprise there: after three straight elections of GOP Kreepiness, who wouldn't expect more of the same? Along with the likely electronic voter fraud and African-American voter suppression denying the people's will, there were rumors of an "October Surprise" hitting voters and giving the Republicans a last minute push. Some even predicted the October Surprise would be none other than the capture or death of Osama bin Laden.
As it turned out, the conspiracy theories were, for once anyway, wrong. (Not that the Republicans didn't try: the Saddam Hussein guilty verdict was announced on November 5, just two days before the election, but didn't earn any points from a public still pissed over the failed Iraq War.) The only October surprise was the revelation of the Mark Foley homosexual Pagegate scandal. Then came the November Surprise of Haggard's own sexual dalliance, and the GOP was in trouble big time.
Haggard, for those unaware, was the founder (in 1984) and pastor of the New Life Church, a 14,000 member megachurch located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was also head of the 30-million member National Association of Evangelicals. In 2005, Haggard was listed by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. According to Harper's in 2005, "No pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism than does Pastor Ted, and no church more than New Life."
How did Haggard climb so quickly to the top of the heap? By combining charismatic evangelicalism with good old-fashioned right-wing politics. Harper's noted that Haggard would talk to "George W. Bush or his advisers every Monday" and the Wall Street Journal claimed that Haggard joked that "the only disagreement between himself and the leader of the Western world is automotive: Mr. Bush drives a Ford pickup, whereas he prefers a Chevy." Two of the three framed pictures hanging outside Haggard's office are of him with Bush. (The third is of Haggard with Mel Gibson.)
Of particular fixation to Haggard was the issue of homosexuality. During the 2004 election, according to the Wall Street Journal, Haggard was heavily involved in "trying to boost evangelical voter participation. On Sept. 19, he co-hosted a two-hour broadcast encouraging viewers to make it to the polls and to call their congressional representatives in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would ban same-sex marriages. The show was carried on three Christian television networks and as many as 1,500 Christian radio stations." In the documentary Jesus Camp, he is seen stating with a smirk, "We don't have to debate about what we should think about homosexual activity. It's written in the Bible."
Apparently, Haggard was debating in his own head about homosexual activity a bit. So claims Mike Jones, a former male prostitute who alleged on November 1 that Haggard was a monthly customer for three years, and had bought and used crystal meth during their gay escapades. According to Jones, among Haggard's private fantasies were "to have an orgy with about six young college guys ranging from 18 to 22 in age," and he admitted to having snorted meth before having sex with his wife. Haggard used the name "Art" during his homosexual affair, short for his middle name Arthur. Jones only discovered that it was Haggard during the 2006 spring, when, while watching a History Channel show on The DaVinci Code, he appeared in an interview. The following morning, he stumbled upon Haggard again on a religious channel at the gym: "When I got home and looked him up on the computer, I was like, 'Ted Haggard... oh, crap... this guys huge. Jones decided to come forward with his story after discovering Haggard's support for Amendment 43 on the November Colorado ballot, which would ban same-sex marriage in that state. "I had to expose the hypocrisy. He is in the position of influence of millions of followers, and he's preaching against gay marriage, but behind everybody's back doing what he's preached against."
At first, Haggard denied even knowing Jones, but that story quickly changed when Jones provided voicemails from "Art" which left little doubt that the caller was hot for meth-fueled gay sex. Voice analysis expert Richard Sanders concluded that Haggard and "Art" were most likely one in the same. Faced with the compelling evidence, Haggard changed his story: he did meet with Jones, but only paid for a massage and didn't have sex with him. As for the crystal, he admitted buying it, but threw it away and never used it. All of which, of course, makes complete sense. After all, it is quite common for men to receive massages from gay prostitutes without any sex involved, and to buy large quantities of meth without using it.
Despite his logical-sounding explanation, it was oddly met with skepticism. Haggard would soon admit to "sexual immorality" and resigned as head of both the New Life Church and National Association of Evangelicals. Of course, his confession wouldn't state his actual crime, but he would admit: "I am a deceiver and a liar... There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that Ive been warring against it all of my adult life."
In retrospect, none of this should've been too surprising: even before Jones' revelations, Haggard had admitted to staking out gay bars (supposedly under the now unconvincing excuse of ministry efforts to "convert" gays from their supposed sickness.) Greg Montoya, editor of Denver's gay newspaper Out Front Colorado, had heard rumors about Haggard's in the gay community over the past year. The rumors had even reached Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, who knew of Haggard's homosexuality for awhile... but we werent sure just how to deal with it... Ted and I had a discussion.
While the revelations may be unsurprising, the effects were devastating to the GOP. Unlike 2004, the Republican's were unable to energize their base to the polls by exploiting homophobia. Not that they didn't try: seven states (including Colorado) had initiatives banning gay marriage on the ballot. While they passed in all states except Arizona, 2006 clearly was no 2004. Even more than the Mark Foley scandal, the sad tale of Ted Haggard left the religious right demoralized and politically impotent, as one of their own was this time exposed as a blatant fraud. After a dozen years of rising political capital, they have seen the political tide turned against them. Amen to that.
In any case, we salute Ted Haggard as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Teddie!!!
Update: In February 2007, after a mere three weeks of intensive "conversion therapy," it was announced that Haggard is cured of his sickness of homosexuality and is now completely heterosexual." Guess we can close the book on that one!
Berkowitz, Bill. "Ted Haggard's November Surprise." WorkingForChange 9 November 2006 <http://www.workingforchange.com/article.cfm?itemid=21625>.
Cohler-Esses, Larry. "Christian Right Agenda In Shambles After GOP Defeat." The Jewish Week 10 November 2006 <http://thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=13253>.
Noveck, Jocelyn. "2006 Is the Year of Celebrity Apologies." AOL News 1 December 2006 <http://news.aol.com/entertainment/articles/_a/2006-is-the-year-of-celebrity-apologies/20061201141109990001>.
Seesholtz, Mel. "Rev. Ted Haggard: Still Playing the Game." Online Journal 8 November 2006 <http://onlinejournal.com/artman/publish/article_1406.shtml>.
Sharlet, Jeff. "Soldiers of Christ: Inside America's Most Powerful Megachurch with Pastor Ted Haggard." Harper's Magazine May 2005.
"The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America." Time Magazine 7 February 2005.
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