It is impossible to anticipate exactly what will unfold during New Life Church’s first Sunday services the day after its founding pastor and disgraced president of the 30-million strong National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, was fired for sexually immoral conduct with a gay prostitute.
But the show will go on. New Life Church spokeswoman Carolyn Haggard — Ted Haggard’s niece — today assured members of the Fourth Estate that they will be welcome at tomorrow’s 9 and 11 a.m. services.
It’s equally hard to predict how many of Sunday’s congregation will follow Pastor Ted’s past playbook on media savvy, sent via e-mail to congregants a year-and-a-half ago when Colorado’s largest church was experiencing a tidal wave of national media exposure of a far, far different sort. In May, 2005, Haggard was fresh back from a trip to Israel, meeting separately with Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon to talk about the relationship between evangelicals and Jews, and headed straight into back-to-back line-ups with Barbara Walters, Bill O’Reilly, Tom Brokaw and Dateline.
To prepare for the media onslaught, on May 10, 2005, Haggard sent his followers the following tips on “doing a good job … representing born-again, Bible-believing Christians.”
1. “If a camera is on you during a worship service, worship; don’t dance, jump, etc. Secular people watching TV are touched with authentic worship, but jumping and dancing in church looks too bizarre for most to relate to. Remember, people watching TV news are not experiencing what you are experiencing. They are watching and thinking. Worship indicates sincerity, dancing and jumping looks like excessive emotionalism.”
2. “If reporters want to interview you, talk with them, but use words that make sense to them. Speak their language. Don’t talk about the devil, demons, voices speaking to you, God giving you supernatural revelations, etc. Instead, tell your personal story in common sense language (I was a drunk but God changed me and now I’m sober, I’m grateful, etc.)”.
3. “Don’t be nervous. Be friendly and open. Reporters typically don’t have an agenda, they authentically want to know what we do and why we do it. For example, Barbara Walters is working on a story about heaven and will interview me and get some supporting shots from the church … Since we believe in heaven, we are, in fact, a good source. So, if she talks with you, don’t be spooky or weird. Don’t switch into a glassy-eyed heavenly mode, just answer, ‘Heaven is real. It’s the place where God will be fully present with his people. He will reward people in heaven. Heaven is better than Colorado Springs.’ Say it straight and clear. Don’t worry (Yeah, sure!).”