Donny's Ramblings


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Conversations with Ted Haggard (Part II)

THIS SERIES CONSISTS OF:

  1. Conversations with Ted Haggard – A Prelude
  2. Conversations with Ted Haggard – Part 1
  3. Conversations with Ted Haggard – Part 2 (current article)
  4. 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:

  1. Ted Haggard – Born Again Again?
  2. Which Is Worse? [Ted Haggard #2]

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…

Ted Haggard and His Family

Ted Haggard and His Family

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.

DONNY: Yeah…

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.

DONNY: Yeah.

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.


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Conversations with Ted Haggard (Part I)

A NOTE ON MY STRUGGLE IN WRITING THIS STORY

If I do my job correctly, putting into words what I’ve learned from my time with Ted Haggard, I think you’ll see things in a way you’ve never before considered.  This is a task I’ve taken very seriously.  I’ve gone back and forth on how to write this series.  In conversations around the time I spoke to Ted, an opportunity arose to get this story on the Associated Press newswire.  Anytime a writer can be linked to an AP story that would potentially be picked up by news publications across the country and around the world and read by millions of people… well, I probably don’t have to tell you that’s an incredible opportunity!

But the problem is this: the story that would be conducive to such a result is not the story I feel God wants me to write.  It’s been a struggle to answer this simple question:  do I want to write for the secular world, using Ted’s name, fame and life experiences to further my own endeavors, or do I want to write what God’s put on my heart to write for a Christian audience, speak more about spiritual matters, and risk having a much smaller readership? I’ve chosen to listen to that still, small voice speaking inside and give you what I feel I’m supposed to share.  This story might never be seen by as many eyeballs as it could have commanded, but I pray those of you who DO read it get as much out of this experience as I have.

And by all means, please forward the story link to friends!

Let’s begin…

THIS SERIES CONSISTS OF:

  1. Conversations with Ted Haggard – A Prelude
  2. Conversations with Ted Haggard – Part 1 (current article)
  3. Conversations with Ted Haggard – Part 2
  4. 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:

  1. Ted Haggard – Born Again Again?
  2. Which Is Worse?  [Ted Haggard #2]

A PLEA

In the Author’s Note for his book Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes:

I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside Bagdad Theatre in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for 15 minutes, and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

I can identify with Don’s note.  Sometimes when we look at something through the eyes of another person we see things in a different way than we’ve ever seen them before.  When my ex-wife told me how she sees my mother, I stood back and looked at her through Wendy’s eyes and lost a lot of the bitterness I’d held onto for so long.  In discussions with my Pastor, he’s told me of his love of the Bible and of the Church.  I’ve had a chip on my shoulder towards the church for years, and have oftentimes found the Bible to be a book I just didn’t want to read, but when Bill looked me in the eyes and spoke of his love for these things I knew he was telling me the truth.  I went searching for what it was that Bill saw in the Church, in the Bible, that made him feel such love.  That search changed my outlook.

Today I ask you to see Ted Haggard through my eyes.

MEETING TED

We’ve heard about the Ted Haggard who used to speak out publicly against rights for homosexuals, yet was secretly engaging in homosexual activity himself.  We’ve heard about the Ted Haggard who agreed to enter a spiritual restoration program, only to leave it before that process was completed.  We’ve heard about “New Allegations” as recently as this past January.  We’ve heard… lots of things about the man who was at one time the pastor of a church of more than 14,000 congregants and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which is itself comprised of 30 million conservative Christians spread out over 45,000 churches from 52 different denominations.

But what most of us HAVEN’T heard is what the man himself has to say about these topics.

Ted and Gayle Haggard

Ted and Gayle Haggard

You could call me a cynic and not be off base.  I’m honestly quite critical of the motives of others.  Throughout my life, raised the son of a Pentecostal Pastor, I’ve seen church leaders fall.  I’ve witnessed the blatant hypocrisy of Brother or Sister Super-Spiritual, who acted one way on Sundays yet filled the rest of their week with disgrace.  All of my life I was told what the Mormons believe, what Catholics believe, what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, and I trusted the religious leaders who told me these things.  Yet when I asked Mormons, Catholics, or Witnesses to clarify their beliefs for me, it was only then that I discovered much of what I’d been told they believed was not accurate.

So when the opportunity was presented to ask Ted Haggard any questions I wished to ask, I jumped on the chance to hear his side of the story. This past May 4th I spent the first of what would end up being three interviews in the lobby of the Hampton Inn, where Ted and his wife were staying while visiting my hometown: Redding, California.  I looked into his eyes and read his body language.  I had my BS detector set to “high” and, although I didn’t hook him up to a lie detector, I’m convinced the man I spoke with told me the truth.  As we discussed emotionally charged topics I watched his moods swing like a weight on a string from deep sorrow to humble repentance to anger, a little bitterness and even a bit of cynicism.

Oh, how I identify with those mood swings!  I’ve gone through the same range of emotions myself, as I heal from both a childhood of Christian legalism and a rebellious nine year career of porn production.  There are times I’ll feel something very strongly, yet hours later feel entirely different.  During our time together I discussed this with Ted:

DONNY: When I first got out of the porn business and became a Christian I would write a lot of venom.  I sometimes spew venom, still, on my frustrations with Christians.  I was asked to write a book but I put it off when I finally realized that I am not in the right place to write it, because over time my attitudes and opinions have changed. Have you felt that same range of emotions?

TED: Yes, indeed.  You just described exactly where I am.  There are times when I have all these emotions that I just need to get out.  I’ve gotta process it through, which is very difficult on other people.  Because I’m not still there five hours later.  Five hours later there’s a wave of grace.  Here’s how I describe it:  it’s very much like the death of a loved one.  When you have a death of a loved one there are waves of grief.  And in between that grief it’s just as if your emotions are normal.  You’re able to go about your day.  I am in grief because of what I did to myself, my friends, the church… my sin.  And I am in grief that I was so rejected by my friends in the Body.  That’s a death to me.  Being removed from New Life Church is a death.  But I created the scenario that led to that.  It’s not as if that happened without my participation.  And so I am in that process right now, and it is very painful for the people that are around me, because I’ll say something with passion and the appearance that it’s a deeply held conviction but two hours later I don’t feel that way anymore.  It’s not instability, it’s a healthy process of getting where I need to be, but it requires a great deal of understanding and patience from those around me.

Ted went on to elaborate how both sides of the pendulum apply to his everyday life:

TED: Both [sides] are true in me.  I AM angry.  At myself and at people’s response to me.  And at the same time, a few hours later, I feel grief, sorrow, embarrassment and shame.  Then a few hours later I feel like everything is normal, and so I’ve got to work through that.

Witnessing this range of emotions during those three days, in which two were in person and one was via cell phone, left me with a feeling that I’d had a good look at the whole Ted Haggard.  A Ted Haggard we can all relate to.  A Ted Haggard that could be trusted.

In researching public response to Ted Haggard’s recent television appearances I’ve witnessed a wide range of reactions, from those who want to love and embrace him to those who are angry and hurt that a church leader did the things he did.  There have been times I’ve had to bite my cyber tongue, so to speak, keeping myself from participating in online discussions with those who I knew were basing their opinions on things that just aren’t true, according to Ted.  In one such example, a commenter wrote:

My issue is not with my hurt or betrayal…it is with the fact that he did not complete and submit himself to the leadership that was putting out his “restoration process.” He removed himself from it. That is where my issue lies.

I find it interesting how we humans can look at the same situations and see totally different things.  What I mean by that is this:  some of us just assume that when a large church releases a press release, it is reliable and can be trusted.  Others think, “they must be hiding something, ’cause that can’t be all of the story”.  I’ll admit, I assumed that when the new leadership of New Life, Ted Haggard’s former church, said that Ted and his family were being taken care of, were being led through a recovery and rehabilitation program, I believed them without question.  That inner cynic inside of me didn’t think for a second that things might not be as they seemed.  So when this topic was addressed in our conversations, and I received Ted’s side of the story, I was shocked and to this day don’t really know how to feel about it.

TED: For awhile there I was the handicapped partner, but I’m still a member of the family.  I think the idea of shunning, excommunication and exile should be revisited before it’s ever imposed on anybody else because it’s deeply threatening to the principles of the New Testament.

BILL (my Pastor, who was with me during this interview):  Were those formally pronounced upon you?

TED: Yeah, they were given to me in contract form.

BILL: Shunning?  Excommunication?

TED: They didn’t use those words.  But it was, “Could not communicate with people, with our old friends.”  And then, uh, the old friends were told that the Haggards were being taken care of in privacy so don’t communicate with them.

BILL: This from a team of …. ?

TED: From a leadership team that came in from the outside.  And so, then, that was put into contract form.  And the contracts were in perpetuity, although they allowed for every six months for portions of it to be revisited.  They could unilaterally add to or take from the contract.  So then I requested that they be adjusted.  And the first one, the one with the overseers and restorers was dropped after January… it was dropped during January of 2008.  Let’s see, yeah, January of 2008  and then the church’s contract was dropped in December of 2008.  You can check those dates on my website.  So it was a contractual exile.

DONNY: And is that where some of the bitterness has resulted from?

TED: Well, yes.  Well, I wouldn’t say bitterness, although I’m sure that’s an element.  I hope that’s not characteristic of me.  But that’s where my disillusionment has come from.  It has a variety of different emotional responses at different times.  I feel like I fought my sin.  There was never a time when I said, “I want to be this guy.”  I would say there was a part of me that wanted to be that guy, but the dominant me fought it, hated it, and it was a love-hate relationship. Compulsive sinning.  So I was at war with this thing.

(Donny’s note:  that kinda reminds me of The Message version of Paul’s struggle in Romans 7:14-25, part of which reads,  “I want to do good, but sin is there to trip me up!  I don’t want to do bad, but I do it anyway”)

TED: And so then, when it all came out, I lied a few days until I realized what was happening.  And then I would have liked for my spiritual family to have responded the way my biological family did.  My biological family was more violated than my spiritual family, but they responded like a family.  And I would have preferred my spiritual family responding that way as well.

DONNY: So how did your family respond?

TED: My biological family responded with, “We’re gonna talk and we’re gonna process this until we get it worked out.”  Marcus explained that on Larry King.  He said, “Look, we’re members of the same family and so we’re gonna get into a room and talk and work on it and fight and yell, or cry, or hug, or… whatever it took until we got it worked out.”  Which I think is the command of the New Testament.  But my spiritual family said, “Separation, silence, lack of communication… and maybe time will heal it.”  But there’s nothing in scripture that says that. My experience validates why scripture says, “Communication, get with one another, and all that type of thing. We’re a body.  You can’t have divisions amongst yourselves.”  All those exhortations.  And I think it’s because people have issues.  If they’re offended or hurt or wounded, the way I hurt… if you separate and go silent, the only thing that can happen is for it to get worse.    For a misunderstanding to occur… and we’ve resulted in a lot of misunderstandings because of lack of communication and increased mistrust.  The time has actually created increased mistrust with those folks, instead of healing.  When you have an uncle who you’re upset with… if you see him at weddings, see him at funerals, and see him at Christmas time, it eventually warms up again, you know?  Which is God’s plan for us.  God wants us to be one.

In our conversations, Ted revealed how one man on the restoration team spoke to him for an hour and a half in January of 2007, and then not again until January of 2009. That was difficult for me to process, because I remember being under the assumption that everything was being handled and Ted was being led through a healing and restoration process.

TED: Yeah… I became a leper.  If it wouldn’t have been for secular people rescuing me, my family and I would have been in horrible shape.  It was the secular world that rescued us, not the church.

Part of the contract he had to sign required that he and his family leave the state, and that he never acknowledge he’d even been a pastor at New Life Church – a 22 year gap in his resumé.  Ted’s disillusionment was further increased by the lack of contact during the last few years.  He says there were very few phone calls and very few emails.

TED: We didn’t hear from anybody.  And so we were, we were… It’s like a family that has a death.  Or a family that has somebody go through surgery.  There’s a time period where they need care.  They were healthy in the thirty years before.  They’ll be healthy in the thirty years after.  But there’s like a three week time period where they need care.  And if you care for them during that time then they remember that all the rest of their life.  Well I… what happened the last two years… two and a half years… I know who cared for me.  The Mormons gave us furniture, and secularists believed in my resurrection.  But church (leadership) was scared to death and continues, by and large, to be scared to death.

BILL: In my mind Ted Haggard has good pastors that have come around him and is… this is what I heard and what I thought was true.

TED: Yeah.  That’s what they said in the press.

But according to Ted, no such conditions existed.  Ted and his wife were left on their own to seek counseling, of which I look forward to telling you about later because, according to Ted, the counseling they found had tremendous positive results.

DONNY: So that is maybe why others outside weren’t doing anything?

TED: No question.

I won’t be doing justice to the tone of our conversation if I allow you to think it consisted entirely of discussion on how things were handled wrongly.  Ted was quite complimentary of many people, particularly the normal, everyday people of the church.

BILL: Has anybody from the church, from New Life, responded to you in a gracious way ?

TED: All the believers.  All the people of the church. We haven’t had one negative interpersonal experience with anybody there.  All of our negative experiences were with church leaders  (who were brought in from the outside).

My dear Constant Readers, it is very important to me that you remember the conversation piece I used to start this arcticle… that part where I mentioned Ted Haggard’s pendulum of emotions.  So far I’ve shared with you a portion of our hours together that leaned toward the more “upset” or perhaps “bitter/disappointed” part of the arc.  What I haven’t told you yet is that Ted and I talked on the phone not long after this, and he said he felt like he’d been too hard on the leaders of the church mentioned in this portion.  He doesn’t want to hold on to bitterness.  He wants to love them.  And although he doesn’t think it was handled anywhere close to correctly, he understands they had a very difficult job to do.

Can you imagine how hard it would be to remain silent for two years, reading and hearing discussion after discussion that didn’t contain all of the facts?  I am not sure I could bite my tongue for that amount of time.  In fact, I’m positive I could not.

As I conclude part one of this series, I’m relieved to have the most negative part of the article behind me.  It’s been quite difficult writing this part.  In the rest of this series I look forward to sharing with you more on how Ted’s family dealt with this problem.   I asked him how his children looked at him after hearing what he’d done, and the answer is something that I will never forget… an answer that I can honestly say will influence the way I raise my own son and change my entire life and outlook should I enter further levels of ministry.

I asked Ted to address hypocrisy: how could he stand on a platform and speak out against homosexual rights while secretly engaging in homosexual activities?  I asked Ted to share with me the path of healing he and his wife Gayle have been following:  What’s worked?  What hasn’t worked?  Is their marriage really better than ever?  What has he learned?  If he could go back in time, how  would he lead differently? I asked him why there have been new allegations that have emerged since that famous day: Why wasn’t everything addressed right there at the beginning?

You’re going to want to read his responses, as well as some of the other places our conversation led us.  Bookmark this blog and return.  Befriend me on twitter (or Facebook… or Myspace) and watch for updates.  If this interview has the same effect on you that it has had on me, your view of many things, even those in normal everyday life, will change.

THIS SERIES CONSISTS OF:

    1. Conversations with Ted Haggard – A Prelude
    2. Conversations with Ted Haggard – Part 1 (current article)
    3. Conversations with Ted Haggard – Part 2
    4. 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:

      1. Ted Haggard – Born Again Again?
      2. Which Is Worse? [Ted Haggard #2]


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      Conversations with Ted Haggard – A Prelude

      Last week I had the privilege to sit down with Ted Haggard, who was in town to attend a Pastor’s conference at a local church. In the coming days I’d like to share with you several things I discussed with him.

      Ted Haggard Tweet Last Wednesday

      One of Ted Haggard's "Tweets" from Last Wednesday (screencap from my iPhone's 'Tweetie' app)

      Going into our conversations, I had my B.S. detector turned way up. If Ted tried to sugarcoat any of his actions, if he tried to downplay anything, if he was disingenuous at all, I’d be the first to scream it from the rooftops. But I can tell you this, dear Constant Reader, the Ted Haggard I met with was a very warm man, humbled by his own sin nature and holding nothing back. I saw a man who loves Jesus, a man who was at times sad, at other times upset, and above all, didn’t make excuses for his actions. To be honest, I saw a man who I identify with.

      So often we put religious leaders on a pedestal, and if they fall we are hurt on a deeper level than we’d be if most others in our lives were to fall. Some of us are angry and resist extending forgiveness. Some of us scream of hypocrisy. Still others celebrate the comeback of fallen leaders like we would that of our favorite NFL team, down in the 4th quarter, but who miraculously pulls off a last second victory to win a conference championship for a place in the Superbowl.

      And why is it that the comeback of a religious leader is so celebrated by some, you might ask? Perhaps it’s because we see someone who isn’t the closest thing to God in the flesh, as we’d formerly esteemed him or her, and who is, after all, one of us. Perhaps it’s something else entirely. Whatever it is, I’ll admit that I am one of those who has been heartened by watching Ted Haggard’s recovery with the support of his amazing wife and biological family, especially so after speaking with him in person, asking some tough questions and receiving real, honest answers.

      Our first meeting took place last Monday morning.  I turned on my Sony digital audio recorder and we spoke for nearly three hours. Early Tuesday I received a Facebook message from Ted asking if I would call him on his cell and discuss meeting yet again for a follow up interview, as there were some things on his heart that he really wanted to make sure I shared with those who read the article I write about him. This second meeting lasted nearly two hours, and like the first, I took my pastor along to contribute to the conversation. In fact, I’m sure you’ll be able to read some of Dr. G’s thoughts on his blog at some point.

      I’m requesting that you come back and read about these conversations, and invite a friend to do the same. Invite your entire email address book, all of your twitter followers, your Facebook friends, every person still on your MySpace friends list, and your entire church congregation.  I’ll have the first article up no later than this coming Monday afternoon – hopefully sooner – and intend to follow it with others. Regardless of your thoughts on Ted Haggard’s crisis, I know you’ll find something of interest.  I look forward to sharing this experience with you.

      See you then!