A Powerful Group of Sheep

Three years to the day after Ted Haggard flew to Washington at George W. Bush’s personal request to witness the president sign a bill outlawing partial birth abortion, Haggard’s bosses took the massive stage at New Life Church to explain why they fired of the most powerful evangelical leaders in America.

On Sunday the overseers of New Life Church did not criticize, much less mention, Haggard’s admitted meth buy or potential use of the street drug.

They didn’t condemn his initial lies denying being with a male prostitute.

They only vaguely mentioned Haggard paying for gay sex, opting instead for the careful wording that confirmed Haggard had admitted to a pattern of deception. God’s covenant had been broken, they said. Bible passages were read aloud to underscore their need to remove Haggard from his post leading the largest church in Colorado that he founded in 1984. In those early days, Haggard preached from on top of a bucket to a group of followers seated on lawn chairs in his basement. One weekend he tore a Colorado Springs phone book into sections and handed them around. For 72 hours the group prayed over each name in the book, to “purge” satanic forces from Colorado Springs and nearby Manitou Springs

This Sunday, Nov. 5, Pastor Larry Stockstill, a New Life Church overseer who has his own church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and has been Haggard and his wife Gayle’s pastor for 22 years, promised the overflowing church crowd that they would find them a new pastor as soon as possible.

“You’re a powerful group of people; you’re sheep and you need a shepherd,” Stockstill informed the multitude, estimated at 7,500.

I looked around when Stockstill delivered that line; no one else appeared taken aback at the description. A gentleman on my left was weeping intermittently throughout the 2-hour service. The couple on my right were visiting from Texas; the husband expressed his view of the scandal in which one of the country’s most politically active conservative Christian leaders was outed by a gay prostitute. Anyone who rises to the sphere of power and influence as Haggard did, the man said, was the obvious target of Satan, who always goes after the biggest fish in the pond, as it were. The lesson is, be constantly vigilant for Satan.

Stockstill told a story from the Bible about a woman whose baby had died. But she didn’t gnash her teeth and grow hysterical. Instead, she left everything in the Lord’s hands. The moral of the story? All is well. That phrase – All is well – also became a message of the day. The congregation even sang a song about how “All is well.”

A long letter from Haggard was read: “I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.”

This week’s election was only mentioned in passing – and it didn’t include Pastor Ted’s intimate role in crafting Colorado’s Amendment 43, that would restrict marriage to between a man and woman.

“Pastor Ted’s sin was exposed this week and every one of us were thinking, “oh what an incredibly terrible time for a sin like this to be exposed,” Stockstill said. “But you know what? I figured out, you know, God is a lot smarter than I,”

No one stood up and said, “Hey, what’s so wrong with being gay? Maybe God made Pastor Ted that way, and that’s OK, ’cause we still love him.”

No, what Haggard wrote he really needs, is “to be gone for awhile.” In his letter to the congregation he said he’s turning himself over to James Dobson of Focus on the Family and a couple other pastors for a “thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual, emotional and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage and my family.”

A little more than three weeks ago, sources close to the fallen religious icon say Haggard agonized before signing up for a second term leading the 30-million strong National Association of Evangelicals. His rationale was, he wanted to spend more time with his family. Now it appears that Haggard is instead going into reprogramming.

So-called “reparative therapy” wasn’t mentioned by name, but Focus on the Family is well known for its marginal and controversial stance that being gay is not only wrong, but can be “cured.”

“I don’t know if you understand the pressure that Ted Haggard has been under the past four to five years as his ministry has risen, almost like a meteor in leadership — not by his choosing because he’s a humble man,” Stockstill said. “But at the same time it stretched him so thin that the temptation he had kept at bay for years suddenly began to be amplified in his life.

“It is our opinion that the time of rehabilitation he’s going to go through is going to bring a complete recovery to his life“.

Cara DeGette is a longtime editor, columnist and writer at the Colorado Springs Independent, and other publications.

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