Last week, scandalized preacher Ted Haggard announced he was launching a new church at his ranch in Colorado Springs. Back in November 2006, Haggard was accused of using meth and having sex with a male prostitute. He was fired from his position at New Life Church, a 14,000 member meta-church he founded over twenty years before. Haggard admitted to some of the accusations. He signed a contract of sorts, banning him from ministry and forcing him to relocate. He was supposed to stay accountable to an accountability team and, for all intensive purposes, disappear for three years.
He prematurely broke off the relationship with the accountability team. HBO produced a documentary on the aftermath of the scandal. He then resurfaced as a speaker, traveling to churches to speak. He even solicited funds through an email, even though his former church gave him a $300,000 severance package. In ’08, Haggard and his family moved back to Colorado Springs. The contract he signed with his former church was lifted. That opened the doors for Haggard to start his comeback. Haggard held two highly publicized prayer meetings late in ’09. Earlier this year, he incorporated “St. James Church” as a way to handle the finances he and his wife collected through speaking engagements and writing. Three weeks ago, he stated he didn’t know if he would ever start another church.
A lot changed in two weeks.
On June 2, he held a press conference to announce the launch of St. James Church.
A lot has already been written about whether or not Haggard should ever return to professional ministry and lead a church. If you scan the comments in any of the news articles written about his press conference, most (who seem to be Christians) are outraged. Some are calling for his restoration.
I’m not interested in rehashing those things in this post. I’m just posting some observations about the situation that honestly make me a little leery. Let’s get hypothetical: Let’s say that Haggard has truly repented, his life is turned around, and his motives for starting this new church are pure. Still, something seems off:
- He broke off accountability to his accountability partners. Part of rebuilding integrity is honoring your commitments. This is especially true for those in professional ministry who desire to serve in that capacity again.
- He’s starting his new church right down the road from his old church. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but with someone who’s been in the spotlight like Haggard, it comes off as brazen (even if the motives are pure).
- He’s had a documentary film crew chronicling this since the first prayer meeting. While there isn’t a buyer for the film yet, it seems awfully shady to document something you supposedly weren’t sure you would do. And the company responsible for the publicity–the same company who worked with “The Girls Next Door” and “Kendra.” It isn’t exactly on the up-and-up for someone who was embroiled by a sex scandal to employ the services of a PR company who’s done work with those involved in porn to publicize a church. Share Jesus with those in the porn industry? Sure. Be promoted by those who promote the porn industry? Not a good idea.
- He felt the need to hold a press conference that drew national attention to announce his intentions. Why the need for what really was a national announcement? Why not start with a few families and individuals? Why the need to “go big or go home”?
- He stated he wasn’t fit to pastor a church, but he was qualified to help people. So how is he going to do that? By pastoring a church.
- His prepared press conference statement mentioned Jesus Christ one time. And that one reference was almost an afterthought. Instead, the focus seemed to be on Haggard himself–what he went through, how he is now qualified to help people. Nothing was mentioned at all of the role Jesus should have played in his repentance. His final statement in his press conference started this way: “Sunday [June 6, when the first public gathering of the church took place] will be a resurrection party for me.” In other words, “I’m ba-aaack.”
To sum up, even if Haggard’s intentions are pure, his actions leading up to the launch of this new church make it appear that he’s starving for more attention, that he may be addicted to celebrity, and that he could never be content serving God out of the spotlight. So is the new Ted Haggard really a broken man seeking to help others to Christ, or is he a man with a plan seeking to help himself? Only time with tell.
What are your thoughts? This isn’t the first time someone has left a church in disgrace only to pop up in the future and start a new church in the same city.