THIS SERIES CONSISTS OF:
- Conversations with Ted Haggard – A Prelude
- Conversations with Ted Haggard – Part 1
- Conversations with Ted Haggard – Part 2 (current article)
- I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts to share at some point in the future. Bookmark this blog and return or befriend me on twitter, Facebook or Myspace and watch for updates
Also See the Two Articles My Pastor Wrote About this Interview:
I’m sitting in a very cushy chaise lounge chair at one of the local Starbucks coffee shops, listening to the Man in Black serenade me and the one other customer sharing the lobby with me at the moment. The two baristas behind the counter are gossiping together about something I can’t quite make out. This is a peaceful place to sit.
It’s been way too long since I posted part one of my conversations with Ted Haggard. I could make up many reasons for you to explain the time gap, or I can just tell you the truth: I’m not entirely confident that I can do it justice. I’ve seen some fluff articles on Ted encircling the globe of media, and there’s something missing from most of them. Something I can’t entirely lay my finger on. Something that I don’t want to duplicate because I have this desire inside that when I write, I want to SUPER-write, if that makes any sense. Yes, I know… that’s an unattainble goal. I’m just telling you where I’m at.
But now it’s time to lay down ego and fear and just tell the rest of the story about my three hours with Ted Haggard, with whom I’ve maintained contact since our chats. Ted has become a friend, even checking on me once in awhile to see how I’m doing. Just days ago he told me that he was impacted by our conversations. His exact words were, “I’m convinced that discussion with you and your pastor were very healing for me.” I shared with him that I, too, was positively affected: when he shared the amazingly loving way he had been treated by the host church that brought him to my home town I was able to release some negative feelings I’ve harbored for two years toward them.
But back to the interview…
If we think about Ted’s situation and put ourselves into the middle of it, each of us is going to have a different perspective on what the “hardest” thing to deal with would be. For me, the biggest question on my mind was what it was like to be the Ted Haggard who had to face his children after the story broke. Let’s say I was in that spot: the entire country, and much of the world, is hearing about my involvement with a male prostitute. How am I going to feel when I walk into a room with Caden with that hanging over me? Will I be able to look him in the eyes? As his father, am I going to let him see me look down at my feet?
DONNY: So then after all of this happened, what kind of… did you feel different at first around your, your…
TED: Well I felt a huge shame around everybody. Shame was paralyzing. And so, there was huge shame. But my children overcame that for me by, by coming and being with me. They wouldn’t let me fall into shame in front of them. They rescued me. They were a true family, you know.
His children wouldn’t let him fall into shame… wouldn’t let him fall into shame… THEY WOULDN’T LET HIM FALL INTO SHAME. It gave me goosebumps to hear those words the first time. It gives me goosebumps listening to the recording of our conversation now. What a visual. What – an – amazing – visual: “Dad, we are here for you. Don’t you dare feel ashamed around us. We love you!” Imagine what would happen if those of us who call ourselves the “body of Christ” decided we weren’t going to let our spiritual family members fall into shame when they screwed up.
As amazing as that was, what came afterward is something that I think will stick with me for the rest of my parenting life. Ted went on to tell me that his relationship with his children has actually improved because they feel he is more “real” now. Prior to all of this, dad was Mr. Leader-of-Thirty-Million-Evangelicals, Mr. Spiritual, Mr. Super Christian, Mr. Perfect Example. It was actually a relief to learn he was quite a bit more “human” than he was esteemed to be. Dad had formerly been almost unapproachable when it came to dealing with normal, “human” problems.
TED: [My Children] say they’ve got their dad for the first time. They’re honest. They don’t feel ashamed [sharing their own problems]. They thought I was so spiritual and so good and such a perfect dad that they were ashamed of themselves. As soon as they found out I was a sinner they were all relieved and they started to relate to me more warmly than ever.
DONNY: Do you think you talk more now?
TED: Much more. Much more. Very often we’ll spend the whole evening together. Oh yeah, it’s a whole different world. In fact, whereas before the family was off doing their own things now we’re back together and even want to do business together.
I remember back to my own childhood, growing up with a Pastor as my father. He never proclaimed to be perfect. Not once did he pronounce some sort of “higher level of holiness”. But if I think back I realize that I did revere him in a way and hold him up on a pedestal. There were some things in my life I just didn’t want to bring to good ol’ dad because of the way I assumed he’d respond.
Ted Haggard’s fall brought his children closer to him. His mistakes showed him to be no different than them – just another sinner in need of God’s grace. And that, my friends, is how I hope my son always sees ME. I want him to know that there is nothing he could ever experience that would make him more of a sinner than me. I want him to know that he probably has one of the most messed-up daddies in the world, and that I’m never going to be shocked or “too holy” to listen to his life struggles, and that sharing our mutual struggles can only help both of us. I am confident the “ah-ha” moment I had when Ted told me this part of his story is something that will remain with me for the rest of my life.
ON HOMOSEXUALITY AND HYPOCRISY
This topic is something Ted brought up himself. So much has been said, both in the Christian and secular world, about the hypocrisy of Ted Haggard in this regard. How could he stand up on a stage and denounce homosexuality while secretly engaging in it himself? Before I get to the answer to that question I wanted to first start with part of our conversation leading up to it. I want to first quote something Ted said later in our conversation that makes a very good point… missing is the part leading up to this statement, but bear with me.
TED: …take porn for example: You can have a one hundred percent heterosexual man, but put two guys and a girl on screen and they’re going to watch and not be offended by it.
Being that I produced adult content before God rescued me, I can tell you that those words are very true for a large percentage of men. A staunch heterosexual will indeed watch such a scene without feeling “gay”. So what exactly goes on in the human mind that determines our preferences?
TED: I think over the next 50 years, if there’s peace on earth, the number one field of research is going to be preferences. Why you got THIS [he picks up my audio recorder] instead of another recorder . Why I bought a Blackberry. Why you bought those shoes, those pants. What causes a preference? Why do you like a strawberry instead of an orange? Or why you like…
DONNY: … Italian food instead of sushi [looking accusingly at my Pastor, who fits that particular description].
TED: Exactly! Nobody knows fully, yet, how those preferences develop or what they are. And nobody knows if any other human being… like if you eat a banana and I eat a banana, we don’t know yet whether or not we’re tasting the same thing. Because your mom fed you a banana and said, “This is a banana”. So for the guy who doesn’t like it and the guy who does like it, it could be a totally different series of chemical and electrical responses. Nobody knows the brain function that creates preference and desire. In the area of preferences it’s fascinating. It’ll be the number one market, because people want to know why some people choose Cheerios over Chex, or Chex over Lucky Charms. But think how that’s going to impact human behavior. Because the whole issue of what attracts a person to porn, or what attracts a person to this girl or that girl, or girls and boys, or boys, or why does somebody say, “This is a pretty hairstyle” and another one thinks it’s ugly? I think THAT research is going to go on over the next 25-50 years. And I think that research has the potential of embarrassing the church as much as the earth being round did. I think that brain research is going to make the church look bad unless we update our position on how to deal with sexuality.
Ted has seen numerous therapists since his fall, and all of them have reached the conclusion that he was highly influenced by experiences as a second grader with one of his father’s employees. Ted described himself as “a heterosexual with issues” on Oprah Winfrey’s show, and after going through a process called EMDR, he believes all same-sex compulsions have been removed.
DONNY: Explain the EMDR process.
TED: Okay. If a person has a trauma… now I’m not a psychologist so I’m just going to tell you what I’ve been told. Actually they don’t know for sure how it works, but they know WHAT it does. And what it does is that it takes the emotional power out of a memory. So, like if a man or woman comes home from Iraq and when they go to Walmart someone drops a box and it makes a bang and they dive on the floor in fear, they can go through EMDR and then go back to Walmart, hear an unexpected bang, and it no longer has emotional impact. That’s what this does with me. When I was in the second grade one of my father’s employees had oral sex with me. Okay, I didn’t see that as a trauma because to me it was not violent, it was not hurtful. I was sexualized then, but I didn’t know that. But that’s what happened to me. So when I got saved I was taught, “All of your sins are under the blood of Jesus and buried at the bottom of the sea and there is a ‘no fishin’ sign placed in the sea above where your sins are and that sign says ‘no fishing here!'” So it was gone, in my view. But every once in awhile I would get a memory or a thought or a compulsion and I would think, “It’s the old sin nature, so it needs to be crucified. It’s a demon, so it needs to be cast out. It’s a thought that’s exalting itself against the mind of Christ, so it needs to be pulled down.” I would use all those Biblical sayings. So I would pray and fast, I would do spiritual warfare, I would receive prayer for inner healing. I would do all of that. And I’ve learned now every one of those things further isolated that memory and actually empowerd it.
TED: So that experience was in one section of my brain, while all the rest of my brain was becoming a Bible-believing right-wing Republican, evangelical, spirit-filled… all these different things. But there was this other part that I thought was either a devil or an attack or a demonic arrow or a scheme or… whatever. But it was me! So in essence, all of my years praying and fasting and all that type of thing actually made it worse. Yes, it gave me spiritual strength for the time, so I lived a wondrously victorious life. I was very successful in ministry and all those types of things. But I had this thing growing in emotional intensity. Then it blew up, I was ashamed of it ’cause of what the rest of my mind thought, so I kept it secret. But then when the scandal happened I was able to explain it.
TED: So in EMDR, what one theory is, is that it establishes electro, uh, neuro pathways between that section of your brain where the trauma is, and the rest of you. So it assimilates you into you. It forces the different segments of your brain to communicate. That was an incredibly emotional experience for me. Once that happened, I’ve never… now when I think of that experience in the second grade there’s no emotion attached with it. There’s no compulsion attached with it. There’s no draw attached to it. And I’ve not had one uncontrollable thought or one compulsive behavior since I went through EMDR. And so then, the rest of the counseling was simply adjusting to that. And so… IF a person with a same sex attraction has that attraction because of a trauma as a child, if THAT is the root of it, they can go through EMDR and get it treated. Or if their parents beat them, or if they were raped, or whatever… EMDR might be a solution for the results of the trauma. If, though, they were the types of people who say, “I was born this way”, that’s a whole different discussion. That’s why I describe myself as a heterosexual with issues. Because it would take WAY too much time to explain all of that on Oprah Winfrey.
Ted hopes this generation of Christians will see things change in this way:
TED: Oral Roberts was the one who made it so that Pentecostals could go to a doctor. And I think that we’re probably going to be the ones who make it so that Pentecostals can go to a counselor. That’s what I’d like to contribute.
Ted feels that if he would have confessed his compulsions earlier in life his story would have a far different outcome. Keeping them locked up inside only made them grow.
TED: The predominant therapist that helped me so much said, “Your problem has never been spiritual. Your problem has never been mental. You’re mentally strong, and you’re spiritually strong. Your problem is physiological.” And what he was meaning was it was the way the neuro pathways are in my mind. “You so isolated those memories from the rest of you, because you disciplined your thoughts, that you had a physiological problem and when we fixed the physiology in your brain through EMDR you no longer had a thinking or a behavioral problem.”
DONNY: Would you say that you would recommend pastors to start not only giving their people spiritual counsel, but also maybe having them go to a regular doctor [counselor] as well?
TED: Absolutely! The number one thing we as pastors need to do is know what we don’t know. And it used to be that we Pentecostals would say, “If you’re spirit filled you really shouldn’t go to a doctor because Jesus will be your healer. By his stripes we’re healed. So if you have to go to a doctor you have lack of faith.” Well, 40 years ago American Pentecostalism woke up to the fact that God wants us well whether it comes through hydrogen peroxide, flouride toothpaste, or divine healing. The same is true with mental health now. When a person is struggling with incongruity it MAY be a spiritual problem, it MAY be a physiological problem in their minds, or it MAY be a cognitive problem. The church can deal with spiritual problems and SOME cognitive problems. But there are competent therapists now that can help with some of the other things. And we just need to recognize that. Most pastors don’t do the plumbing in buildings. Most pastors don’t do the electrical work in buildings. Because that’s not our area of expertise. We are experts in areas of what scriptures say. We need to stick to that and let the other areas of study perform their areas of expertise.
Our conversation turned toward hypocrisy. How could Ted denounce homosexuality while engaging in homosexual activity himself?
DONNY: I asked a few people to send in a question to ask you. One guy wanted you to explain why, before your crisis, he’s heard that you were very anti-homosexual and then this crisis happened with same sex attraction. He wants to know what your thoughts are on that.
TED: Number one: I was never EVER an anti-gay preacher. I have never done anything publicly that would even HINT that I was for the limitation of civil liberties for homosexuals. Actually, I worked hard behind the scenes. I must say that work was not out in the open because I had a lot of friends in the religious right, but I worked behind the scenes with those friends to argue the civil liberties issues that many in the homosexual rigths movement argue. I was not arguing that because of my own temptations. I was arguing that because I am a believer in the American Constitution. I am a Constitutionalist and I am an anti-communist and an anti-socialist and I believe civil liberties are a very important protection. In the same way, I believe the Bible is the Word of God and I believe the Bible establishes for us God’s best plan for us. So I believe God’s best plan for human sexuality is that people express their sexuality in monogomous heterosexual relationships. That does not mean everybody is going to live in a monogomous heterosexual marriage, because humanity is messed up. Sin is everywhere. There is an old sin nature and a damning nature that we’re all born with. So we can be born with all kinds of sexual issues. And as we go through our lives we can develop all types of sexual issues. So God has an IDEAL for us. We all need to cooperate with the word of God and the spirit of God to grow in that ideal. But it DOESN’T mean we’re going to reach all of his ideals on this side of heaven. I’ll give you an example: the Bible says that we should pray continually. All pastors teach ideas of praying continually. But nobody does it unless they develop some abstract thought about how it happens when we don’t know it. So prayer is an ideal that God has for us, and how we should pray, but nobody prays as often or as effectively as they would like. Nobody grows in the scriptures as often or as effectively as they want. The Bible has many ideals: live at peace with all men. We know that’s an ideal but we don’t do it. We can’t, all the time. The most “hateful” thing I’ve said about the homosexual community is that they, like all of us, need to read the Bible and pray and determine what God’s will is and pursue it. I believe that for myself and for them. That’s as “hateful” as I get. And I think all people need it. I think all people are in desperate need of a savior. I think all people are desperately in need of the power of the Holy Spirit. And I think all people are desperately in need of the guidance that the Word of God gives us. And everybody is lovesick. Everybody needs more love. Everybody needs more acceptance. And so, everybody needs the grace of God. So I was NOT one of the right wing, anti-gay guys.
DONNY: Where do you think that misconception comes from?
TED: I think it came during the two years where I was required to be silent. I think Mike Jones [the male prostitute Ted is now associated with] and others ASSUMED I was like that. But they don’t have any quotes. They don’t have quotes. And everything I said for all my thirty years of ministry was all recorded, and there are lots of books out there. People have lots to look through. But there are no quotes. I did read one quote in People Magazine two years ago that they SAID was mine, but it was not mine. I never said that. Somebody somewhere made it up. That’s another sad point: there were people who sat there who heard me preach year after year and we all sit and discuss this they say, “No kidding, you NEVER talked like that. You were never like that.” But none of them have spoken up publicly. Maybe they feel like they don’t have the venue to do so. That was not me. It was not my style. It was not my direction. But actually behind the scenes, and there are lots of people that can give evidence to this, I was working for protection of rights for homosexuals. So where I fell on that politically is, I believe that the definition of marriage is a man and a woman. I believe marriage means living as a man and a wife. But I do not believe that should translate into legal priviledges for heterosexual couples that are denied homosexual couples. I think that is a constitutional issue that is going to have to be worked out in the courts. And I think it WILL ultimately be worked out in the courts.
Asked if he ever wants to pastor a church again, Ted told me he wasn’t sure. He said he loved pastoring but just doesn’t know if he will do so again. Of course, since anything is possible I wanted to know how his experiences these last three years would affect his leadership style in the future if he ever WERE to pastor again:
DONNY: How do you think this experience will change the way you pastor?
TED: I’ll be more kind. I used to teach the Bible with a definitive voice. Now I think I’m going to have a more kind tone.
Our conversation turned to the relationship he has with his wife:
DONNY: I’ve seen you and your wife at Elevation Church talking about how your marriage has never been stronger. I can see that as being true, but how ofter would you say that insecurities raise their head? Does she ever voice those things to you?
TED: We talk about those issues. I can say that I am very intentional to give her no reason to mistrust. So if I ever go places alone, which is very seldom, I’ll call her from there. She can, at any time, look in my cell phone, places I go on the Internet. At any time she knows where I am. And also I do things every day… I go to Twitter and I say where I am or what I’m doing. Every day I go to Facebook and I say where I am or what I’m doing. So anybody ANYWHERE that has any question knows. And sometimes on those sites I’ll even put my mood. How I’m feeling or what I’m thinking. Gayle hasn’t asked for those protections. No accountability groups have asked for those protections. But I do them so that people can feel safe.
In speaking with a few friends about Ted Haggard, one of them told me his major problem with Ted was that new allegations have come to light since Ted’s scandal was made public. One of those involved some inappropriate actions with a man who attended Ted’s church. My friend’s thoughts were, “When everything went public, why hold back a story like this new one? Why not come clean with everything?” I wanted to see what Ted had to say about that:
DONNY: Um, one of the… one of the things that, like… you had to be silent instantly. Now, when I got out of the adult business I started telling everybody I was sorry for everything I’d done and more and more things kept coming to light as I remembered more and more. Now, the other things that have come up with you afterward… was that because you had to be silent, or because it was just not something you recalled yet, you know, like…
TED: Well there was nothing else that came up. Don’t confuse what I was doing with what the church leadership did. And don’t confuse church leadership with what the people of the church were feeling. And, no, I have NO idea why they handled him the way they did. And…
DONNY: Why would they make him be quiet, I mean…
TED: I don’t have a clue, they… during my two years of silence they did not communicate with me any of their thoughts. I, to this day, don’t know why they did what they did. That whole thing is a mystery to me. I mean, I met with him back then, with one of the overseers and my wife. Repented to him. Washed his feet. Apologized. He forgave me. And he was angry with the church for treating me the way they treated me at that time, and then the church got involved with him and I have no idea what’s gone on with him emotionally since then. Now I did… he called one time, in the summer time, very angry. And he said he wanted thirty thousand dollars to go to college and I said, “I’ll try to raise that for you. And I’ll try to get that for you.” But nothing has come out new. At all. There may, in a big case like this, there may be some rumblings around type things… but there will be nothing new that my wife and my counselors don’t know.
At the conclusion of our second conversation together, my last question for Ted came from a Pastor friend of mine who had expressed a bit of frustration at the fact that Ted, after a major moral failure, was receiving so much attention while other pastors who had never violated the trust of their position received no recognition whatsoever.
DONNY: I was talking about you last weekend in a place where I was speaking, and one of the criticisms that came up during lunch was, “All of sudden Ted is appearing everywhere. He’s trying to make a comeback this way. Pastors who have never had a large scandal are never recognized. He’s just doing this for money!” How would you respond to that?
TED: I wish I were doing it for money [we both laugh]. Tell him that part of it I wish was true. Larry King doesn’t pay to have a guest on his show. Oprah doesn’t pay to have a guest on her show. She didn’t pay us. We’ve never been paid. None of these appearances are paid. The reason we’re doing it is because we were isolated for two years and some gross misunderstandings developed. People thought we’d been in a restoration program that we’d dropped out of. That was never the case. There was never a restoration program [see part one of my conversation with Ted]. People thought we’d tried to enter ministry without permission from the overseers by going to the Dream Center. That was NOT true. We were asked by First Assembly of God to go to the Dream Center and participate in that project. We just needed to answer questions. And we didn’t invite ourselves to any of [the interviews]. But I do agree with him in that I’ve gotten more attention from the negativity of this scandal than I could have gotten if I would have walked across the Atlantic Ocean multiplying loaves and fishes the whole way. I wouldn’t have gotten as much coverage as the scandal brought. So, since the scandal coverage was a reality, my obligation as a Christian is to make sure people see redemption. I’m not going to just whine and complain and disappear. I am who I am, and my responsibility in life is to communicate the redeeming value of the Gospel, even in this horrible sinner. So now I’m like the Apostle Paul in that I am the least of the apostles, I am the chiefest of sinners, and I had a thorn in the flesh. So now, that is the basis of my life.
So that others won’t point fingers later when they come out, I’ll tell you that Ted and Gayle are working on book, and yes, he’ll profit from such a book deal. BUT you should know that Ted and Gayle weren’t in ministry for the money. They didn’t have a whole lot of it, and their reserves were almost entirely depleted by living on them these last three years. A book deal will POSSIBLY restore their retirement fund to the place it was before. Ted has, amongst other things, worked as a door to door salesman since his scandal broke. He’s held menial jobs to support his family. I won’t begrudge him making a few dollars to restore his retirement fund. It’s easy to pass judgment when one isn’t wearing the same shoes as another, but I’ll tell you this: I sat and had conversations with a broken man. Believe me, I can recognize one when I see him… I’ve been that person. I AM that person. Ted and I both are following a path to restoration.
And it is a beautiful road.