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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]


      22 Comments

      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!