Everyone in Colorado may know he’s back, that he rose from the ministerial death brought on by a personal-life jag into meth-fueled gay sex, but in Los Angeles, former New Life minister Ted Haggard’s story has additional power as an amazing and curious true-life tale from the heartland. In the hands of DeeDee Correll writing at the Los Angeles Times, it’s a damn good yarn.
“Welcome to my barn,” he called out.
“Does anybody need a blanket?” his wife, Gayle, inquired as men and women in down coats shivered in the frigid November air. Some huddled underneath a space heater.
Then the blue-jeans-clad preacher began chanting: “God is good, God is good, God is good.”
This musty barn next to the Haggard home is barely two miles — but a universe away — from the massive stage the former evangelical star once occupied at New Life Church. There, he would appear every Sunday before microphones, giant television screens and a congregation so large that services had to be held in shifts.
But in late 2006 came what Haggard, now 53, refers to as “the crisis,” the revelation that he’d had a sexual relationship with a male escort. Haggard resigned from the church he had started in his basement 25 years ago and left Colorado Springs.
Now he’s back and, some speculate, launching his second act.
Last month, Haggard — who declined to be interviewed — opened his home for a prayer meeting. He expected a dozen people. More than 100 came, and the Haggards moved the furniture out of the living room to make space.
A week later, he swept out his barn and rented 75 chairs. When they were filled, people stood against the back walls.
Many were former or current members of his old church who called him Pastor Ted. They said they had missed him, that he was born to preach — not to sell insurance as he had when he first returned here. They said they had forgiven what they and Haggard regarded as his sins.
“I love a good redemption story,” said Elly Kraai, a former New Life member. “I’m seeing one playing out here.”
Another issue is the nature of the scandal itself. “Even though evangelical theology doesn’t make distinctions between sins,” Hamilton said, “homosexuality is a hard one for evangelicals to cope with.”
But for two weeks in a row, Haggard — who now makes a living giving speeches at churches across the country — proved he could draw an audience.
As guests parked in his snow-crusted field and carried chocolate chip cookies and jugs of apple juice into the barn, he greeted them enthusiastically. “Look, everybody,” Haggard announced when one person arrived with a special treat: “Chocolate cake!”
As the service began, he was jovial, even joking about his indiscretion. “If you’re not getting enough snuggling [from your spouse], don’t do it the way I did it,” he said.
His audience chuckled, but grew hushed as he spoke of his ouster from New Life, describing his self-loathing and doubts. “Am I full of the devil?”…
It’s hard not to just keep blockquoting!