After Fall, Evangelical Leader Starts From Scratch

Ted and Gayle Haggard i i

Former megachurch pastor Ted Haggard, who fell from grace amid a sex scandal, talks about the new church that he is starting up during a news conference in Colorado Springs, Colo. With him is his wife, Gayle. Ed Andrieski/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Ed Andrieski/AP
Ted and Gayle Haggard

Former megachurch pastor Ted Haggard, who fell from grace amid a sex scandal, talks about the new church that he is starting up during a news conference in Colorado Springs, Colo. With him is his wife, Gayle.

Ed Andrieski/AP

Three and a half years ago, Ted Haggard was at the top of his game. He was a senior pastor of a megachurch in Colorado Springs, Colo., that he and his wife built from the ground up. He had a post of national prominence in the evangelical movement. Haggard even had the ear of President George W. Bush.

But his life imploded after a male prostitute said Haggard had paid him for sex and drugs. Haggard denied the specific allegations, but he agreed that some of his behavior had been inappropriate. It sparked a national scandal. He was driven out of his church, out of his home, even out of Colorado.

Now Ted Haggard and his wife are back in Colorado Springs. They're remaking their lives. This week Ted Haggard announced that he and his wife are starting a new church, and he spoke with Tell Me More's Michel Martin about it.

Resurrection Day

Haggard called Wednesday, the day he announced his decision to found a new church, his "resurrection day."

"I feel so alive," he told Martin. "Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. Redemption is a wonderful thing. The opportunity to have a second chance is a wonderful thing."

And he is pursuing redemption from both his God and those who had trusted him to be their spiritual leader.

"The difficult part is difficult from people, from society, because of course there's a lot of hurt and betrayal and broken hearts," he said. "And what I did disappointed people 3 1/2 years ago. But I've just been amazed at the kindness and gentleness in people."

A Love Reformation

Haggard says compassion will be central to the mission of his new church. Having gone through such a painful experience, he says he has a new understanding of the importance of it.

"I wanted people to respond to my failure in a helpful way instead of a punitive, hateful, cruel way. So now I want to spend the rest of my life being kind and compassionate and helpful and constructive in my response to people that are going through their darkest area," Haggard said.

His new congregation, says Haggard, will be open to all.

"I want to launch a love reformation because I think there's too much cruelty on the Internet and on television and the radio and I think we need to start practicing more kindness and more love. Because life is tough for people enough already. And we need to help one another more. That's what I want to do."

St. James Church

Haggard says his new congregation will take some new stances.

"I believe the Bible teaches we should have heterosexual, monogamous relationships, and that can be inculcated into law and form families, etc. Now, that's inside the church. How that applies outside the church in civil law is a totally different discussion," he said. "I believe in civil law there should be total equality under the law. So if heterosexuals get certain benefits for heterosexual relationships, then homosexuals should get those same benefits in their homosexual committed relationships. And that's what I'm going to teach our people."

The new church will be called St. James, Haggard says, after the author of the Book of James, who wrote "Faith without work is dead. In other words, do your faith."

His former congregation grew to 14,000 at its peak. But he says he has no numerical goals for the new church.

"I'm too old for that. I'm a little tired and I've been beaten up. I've had adequate rejection for a lifetime," he said. "And so I just I want to meet with those who want to meet and I'm going to be contented and satisfied with that. And if that means 80 people, that's fine. If it means 8,000, that's fine, too. I'll do the same things regardless of the number of people that decide to come and participate. But certainly I would rather have more participate than less."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.