A year ago an unknown male escort named Mike Jones appeared on a Denver radio talk show and dropped a bomb. He had this client, who, every month for three years, would come to his apartment, snort some meth and then they’d have sex. One day the light bulb snapped on: Jones’ client was also a very influential pastor from Colorado Springs, who regularly preached against homosexuality. His name was Ted Haggard.Jones’ claim was met with the gamut of response. Hoots of laughter from many on the left who, only weeks after Congressman Mark Foley’s downfall, were delighted to smear the next guy with the lipstick of hypocrisy. From the middle, shock.
From many on the right, initially, denial.
“Ted Haggard is the farthest thing from a homosexual as you can get,” claimed New Life Associate Pastor Rob Brendle, in an early morning interview with Colorado Confidential on Nov. 2, 2006, the morning after Jones appeared on the Peter Boyles show and made his claim. Brendle, turns out, had not yet spoken with Haggard that morning.
James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, initially rejected Jones’ claims, and, as he often does, blamed the secular media for spreading lies.
The outing occurred just days from an election that included an amendment in Colorado to restrict the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman only – of which Haggard was a chief supporter.
A year ago today, religious and business leaders in Colorado Springs scheduled a noontime rally of support for Haggard, in the heart of downtown. Three hours after the announcement went out, the rally was abruptly cancelled.
And then, the unthinkable. Haggard, from the driver’s seat of his SUV, his wife Gayle looking on aghast, with his young children in the backseat, calmly and with a fixed smile on his face, told a TV reporter and cameraman that yes, he had received a massage from Jones. He had bought meth but had thrown it away, he said.
Yes, for Haggard, it was an empire gone. He resigned as president of the Association of Evangelicals, a once-floundering organization he’d taken over and built into a 30-million strong force. Within days later, he was fired from his pulpit of New Life Church – a church he had built from a basement full of souls praying on lawn chairs into the largest megachurch in Colorado. A board of Overseers, as they are called, found him guilty of moral failings and committing sexually immoral acts.
Haggard, who had had the weekly ear of the President of the United States, who had personally been summoned by the Commander-in-Chief to witness the signing of the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Act a year before, became the latest casualty in a string of Republican scandals. Yes, by the end of the week, for the White House, when it came to Haggard, it was, “Pastor Who?”
That Sunday, one of New Life’s Overseers read a long letter of contrition from Haggard to the church’s 14,000 congregants:
“I am a deceiver and a liar,” Haggard wrote. “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.”
As it turns out, Haggard was not one who could go quietly away. In February of this year, he announced that a three-week stint in a “restoration” program had cured him. Indeed, he had “discovered” that he was “completely heterosexual.”
“Jesus,” Haggard wrote in a letter to supporters, “is starting to put me back together.”
He and his wife and children were moving away from Colorado Springs, he said, to Missouri or maybe Iowa. “We are,” Haggard wrote, “Easter People.” (Ultimately they ended up in Phoenix.)
Meanwhile, it took barely six months between the time that Mike Jones, the male escort, brought Haggard to his knees for the last time, and his potboiler of an expose to hit the bookshelves.
Jones had promised the book, titled “I Had To Say Something: The Art Of Ted Haggard’s Fall,” would be heavy on the details – and boy did he deliver! About once a month, Jones wrote, Haggard would travel to Denver for a little visit to his Capitol Hill apartment, where he would snort a little meth and get a little $200-a-pop homo-erotic lovin’.
And then this August, Haggard set off another round of controversy when he sent an update out – which found its way into the hands of the media – claiming that he was moving his family into a Phoenix halfway house to minister to ex-cons, recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, and “other broken people.”
“I identify,” he wrote.
In the letter, Haggard asked for money, and offered in exchange a tacit promise that contributors would go to heaven. He didn’t mention he also still owns his home, in Colorado Springs, worth more than a half million. Amid howls of public outrage, he abandoned his scheme, and the director of the halfway house announced that the Haggards weren’t really going to be moving in.
Not to be upstaged, Jones, the male escort, delivered some news of his own. In early October, shortly after Sen. Larry “Wide Stance” Craig’s explanation of his bathroom behavior in the Minneapolis airport could have garnered an award for Legal Defense of the Year, Jones claimed on a Las Vegas radio show that Haggard hadn’t been his only famous client. “Larry Craig visited me,” Jones said.
No proof of that has surfaced.
Yes, it’s been a wild ride. God knows what the next year will bring.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org