Ted Haggard, who founded a church recently for the tax break, actually has a following and it seems like he's falling back into his old ways:
"I over-repented," he said.
In February 2008, Mr. Haggard asked to be released from supervision by other clergy. His former church, New Life, consented, though officials there put out a pointed statement calling Mr. Haggard's recovery incomplete.
The four pastors who supervised Mr. Haggard wouldn't comment on his new church. New Life pointed to an earlier statement, released in November 2008, that said, "we cannot endorse his return to vocational ministry."
Mr. Haggard said that is ridiculous. He portrays his encounter with the prostitute as a massage that went awry and said he doesn't have same-sex attractions. He dismisses as a "witch hunt" the findings of his former church that he engaged in a pattern of misconduct, including sordid talk and inappropriate relationships. (He said his only fault was cracking a few crude jokes.) But his assurances have raised some eyebrows.
Not what he was saying a year ago. Here's how I paraphrased his appearance on Oprah last year:
Oprah: You're gay or what?
Ted: Sexual identity is too complex to be put in a box.
Gayle: It's a choice.
Oprah: You're wrong. I don't understand what it's like to be gay, but it's who they are and denying it is wrong and God doesn't want you to deny it.
Ted: I have wiggle-room for personal responsibility.
Oprah (having an "Ah-hah!" moment): Your personal responsibility was to stop lying, not to stop denying yourself! (Ted and Oprah high-five)
Ted: Jesus changed me. Homosexuality isn't a sickness.
I remember he was fairly troubled at that point, talking nonsense and saying that sexuality was fluid but that he could choose to do what he wanted. Now it's back to "completely heterosexual" and those trips to the gay prostitute were just a mistake. Mm-hmm.
I know boys, and one thing I know about boys is that they can't keep their rocket in their pocket for long if the desire is there. It's unlikely that he actually "over-repented" for his actions and he was saying before that he had a real desire for men, no matter whether that makes him bi or gay. One of his colleagues is saying just as much:
Others fear the pressures of leading a congregation will grind down any defenses Mr. Haggard may have built up against temptation.
"We become enamored with our own successes," said Larry Magnuson, who counsels pastors in crisis at SonScape Retreats, outside Colorado Springs. "We fall back into the same traps. We are masters of self-deception."
Or some people are just attracted to men and nothing's going to change that and it's more powerful than people's self-control so it's going to be acted upon eventually. Either way, if we're lucky a local prostitute with a taste for the limelight will be talking about Pastor Ted soon.
But he is getting what he always wanted out of this: respect. This isn't a man who works necessarily for the money, although he'll accept that and blow through it pretty quickly. This isn't someone who needs to live his life honestly, either. This is a man who needs people to respect him, and it doesn't particularly concern him how or why that happens. Consider:
Many in his new congregation echo those words, saying they can relax and be their imperfect selves with Pastor Ted; there is no pressure to put on the facade of a model Christian.
"People are not afraid to come forward with their pain," said Linda Coates, 65, a retired teacher.
Mr. Haggard plays up his new regular-guy image. At the picnic, he asked a friend whether anyone noticed he had said "hell" in the sermon--and not in a Biblical context.
"I cuss now," he said proudly.
Mr. Haggard said he believes people trust him more as a pastor since his spectacularly public fall. Strangers, he said, keep pulling him aside, asking advice about their personal struggles.
"It's amazing. People tell me everything," Mr. Haggard said. "That never happened when we were respectable."
He'll cuss, he'll eat pussy, he'll do whatever; just please love him!