After Fall, Evangelical Leader Starts From Scratch Ted Haggard, once the leader of an evangelical megachurch in Colorado Springs, Colo., stepped down from his post in 2006 after being accused of buying sex and drugs from a male prostitute. Now he and his wife are back in Colorado and have announced plans to start a new church.
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After Fall, Evangelical Leader Starts From Scratch

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After Fall, Evangelical Leader Starts From Scratch

After Fall, Evangelical Leader Starts From Scratch

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, the barbershop guys weigh in on the oil spill blame game and they ask whether President Obama can show that he's angry.

But first, our Faith Matters conversation where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality. Today we're talking about starting over. 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 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's with us now from his home in Colorado Springs to tell us more about it. Reverend Haggard, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Reverend TED HAGGARD (Former Senior Pastor, New Life Church): Well, thank you. It's a joy to be with you this morning.

MARTIN: Now, you said that on the day that you announced this news, on Wednesday, that this was your resurrection day. What do you mean by that?

Rev. HAGGARD: Oh, it's true. I feel so alive. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. Redemption is a wonderful thing. The opportunity to have a second chance is a wonderful thing. And that's how I feel as we're starting our church and people are responding and people are so kind and wonderful. And I just appreciate the fact that they're willing to take the risk to trust me again.

MARTIN: And when you say forgiveness and redemption, of whom are you speaking? Are you speaking in the theological sense that you feel that you have been redeemed and reconciled with God? Or are you talking about your community? Of whom are you speaking?

Rev. HAGGARD: Well, both. Being redeemed and forgiven by God is easy because Jesus provided for that, and God anticipated the fact that all of us would be sinners and fail and need forgiveness from him. So that's taken care of.

The difficult part is difficult from people, from society, because of course there's a lot of hurt and betrayal and broken hearts. And what I did disappointed people three and a half years ago. But I've just been amazed at the kindness and gentleness in people, because God knows that people are failures and people know that people are failures. And so after appropriate time has passed now, people are being very kind to us, and we appreciate it very much.

MARTIN: Well, you know, I spoke with your wife, Gayle Haggard, about her book, "Why I Stayed," a couple of months ago. It was in February. And she talked about people and how they can be. And she talked about what it was like to have the leadership of the church you founded demand that you leave not just the church and your home, but the whole state. I just want to play a short clip from our conversation. Here it is.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Ms. GAYLE HAGGARD (Author, "Why I Stayed"): I understand that they felt it was best for everyone. I found it to be a very corporate approach and disrespectful of the relationships that were involved. I felt we would have all healed better if we had pulled together and faced each other and got the problem out in the open and talked about it together.

MARTIN: Now, it's been almost four years since then. What is your understanding now of why your former church, which you built, those - its leaders wanted you so far gone, to the point of really wanting you to leave the area? And how will that experience, do you think, inform the way you lead this new church?

Rev. HAGGARD: Yeah. I still do not know why they did what they did. But as you say, that was four years ago, and in the same way I am asking people to forgive me and be kind to me, I have certainly forgiven those folks for making their decisions the way they did, and I forgive them. But now we're four years down the road and so things are very, very different now. And those people that did those things have released all the contracts that were imposed upon us. And they have been quiet.

And sometimes people can endorse you, other times people can just be quiet, and they've chosen to be quiet, which I appreciate, and that gives us the freedom to do what our current leadership team thinks is best to do.

MARTIN: And what is the mission of your new church? Can you describe it? What do you feel specifically called to do in this new church?

Rev. HAGGARD: The formal slogan is: Doing our faith. The folksy slogan is: Give someone a break. And what we want to do - when I went through that process, of course what was so heartbreaking, 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.

And it could be sexual immorality, it could be drugs, it could be a financial collapse, it could be a marriage breakup. But when they're in their darkest hour, I want to make sure I am constructive, helpful, redemptive, practical. And so I call my current position a love reformation. I want to launch a love reformation because I think there's too much cruelty on the Internet and on television and 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.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly Faith Matters conversation with the Reverend Ted Haggard. You may remember him. He was a former nationally prominent Evangelical leader three and a half years ago. He left the church he founded after accusations of sexual impropriety with a male prostitute. Reverend Haggard denied the specific allegations against him, but there was an impropriety.

And now he's starting a new church and we're talking about that. Can I ask you what your message will be about, and your teachings will be, about sexuality? Because you at the time, after the scandal broke, you entered a therapy program. Your wife was very candid about some of the process that you went through in the course of that. The clear message I got from her book and from your public speaking in the wake of that was that you felt that your behavior was kind of a part of your brokenness.

So what I'm curious about is, what is your teaching about sexual orientation going to be henceforward? Do you believe that same sex attraction is inherently a sign of brokenness, or is there some other message?

Rev. HAGGARD: Oh, no, I don't think my story necessarily applies to anybody else. I think the therapists and the psychologists and psychiatrists and those who are doing brain science research, they're going to inform all of us a lot about what develops an attraction in us - I mean even an attraction between Cheerios and Chex and Fruit Loops - and much less the complexity of sexual attraction and sexual behaviors.

There's - the research on that is going to be wonderful over the next 30 or 40 years and we're going to learn so much. So my teaching is going to be - and see, I have two areas. Number one is inside the church. Inside the church our responsibility is to study the scriptures, access the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives, and encourage one another. And outside the church, though, we have responsibilities as citizens.

And I think there are lots of things that we discuss inside the church that are ideals that the Lord gives us that we struggle toward here on the Earth: love your brother, forgive one another, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Then outside the church we don't have laws that require that people love one another. And so some things we believe that we don't want in law, and the same is true with sexuality. I believe that sexuality should be in a committed relationship.

I believe the Bible teaches we should have heterosexual, monogamous relationships, and that can be inculcated into law and form families, et cetera. Now, that's inside the church. How that applies outside the church in civil law is a totally different discussion. 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.

And I think the biggest step for our people is going to be what we believe inside the church may or may not apply to what we believe outside the church. For example, inside the church we believe do not murder, outside the church we believe do not murder.

But that's not necessarily the case with high school sexual behavior. High school kids we would say abstain until you get married. Inside the church we'd say that, outside the church we would not, though, want a law where high school kids would be arrested if they became sexually active after a football game.

MARTIN: I understand what you're saying. I think I understand what you're saying. You're saying that inside the church you maintain the religiously convicted position that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but you're saying that outside the church, you're not - you believe in marriage equality, that you would not be advocating that as an extension.

Rev. HAGGARD: That's exactly right.

MARTIN: And as a fulfillment of - in civil law. And that's interesting. Have you - how is that message being received in your community?

Rev. HAGGARD: Actually, I had taught that before the scandal and believed it before the scandal. I remember back in 1992 when Amendment 2 was going on here in Colorado Springs, I explained that on a Bill Moyer show, and they edited it so that I was portrayed as a right-wing guy that did not - was not a defender of civil liberties and I was disappointed in that.

But I think just like people want stereotypes, they want people to be in nice boxes - gay, straight, bi, whatever, Republican, Democrat for the political view. They also want people to be in boxes regarding if you're a Christian then you're like this. If you're a secularist you're like that. I think there are more dotted lines than there are heavy black lines. And that's why I think people need to be kind to one another and listen to one another and really communicate and know that people believe what they believe for reasons by and large. And that we need to listen. And if we'll keep listening and keep talking, then we'll all create a better society, I think.

MARTIN: Do you have a name for the new church?

Rev. HAGGARD: St. James Church and that's named after the author of the Book of James where he wrote: Faith without works is dead. In other words, do your faith.

MARTIN: Do your faith. I see. And, finally, do you have a sense of what it is that you hope for? You started preaching to, as you are starting now, small groups, you know, 50, 100, 200, and then grew to a church of...

Rev. HAGGARD: 14,000.

MARTIN: Thousands. Is that what you hope for again?

Rev. HAGGARD: No. I don't have numerical hopes or goals with St. James. 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. 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.

MARTIN: Ted Haggard is the former senior pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He and his wife Gayle Haggard are building a new place of worship. They're calling it St. James Church. It will be located in Colorado Springs. Reverend Haggard, thank you so much for speaking to us.

Rev. HAGGARD: Well, thank you so much. It was good to hear from you.

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