‘Restoration’ after the fall

Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Ted Haggard this week formally begins his long journey toward recovery from a drugs-and-gay-sex scandal that forced him to step down as one of the most influential evangelical leaders in the nation.

Haggard, 50, has turned himself over to a team of counselors who are “assessing his spiritual, emotional and mental condition,” said the Rev. H.B. London, who is helping to guide Haggard through the process. London and two other pastors will then set out a rigorous “restoration plan” requiring Haggard to spend hours each week in counseling, Bible study, prayer and soul-baring talks -- by phone or in person -- with his mentors.

The team’s first task will be to push Haggard to acknowledge any addictions and come to an honest understanding of his sexuality. “Ted is not in touch with reality,” said the Rev. Mark Cowart, a friend. The mentors can confront Haggard or rebuke him forcefully; they may also ask him to submit to a polygraph test.

“Ted says he’s not a homosexual,” said the Rev. Mike Ware, a good friend. “The restoration team wants experts to evaluate that.”


Haggard’s high-profile ministry collapsed last month after a male prostitute went on talk radio to allege that the pastor regularly paid him for sex over the last three years. Mike Jones -- who advertised in gay publications as a masseur -- also said he had seen Haggard take methamphetamine.

Haggard denied the accusations. But when Jones produced two voice-mail messages from Haggard, the pastor said he had hired the prostitute for a massage and had purchased meth, only to throw it away. In a letter to his congregation, Haggard admitted that he had succumbed to “desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.”

“I am a deceiver and a liar,” Haggard wrote. “There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life.”

Haggard resigned as president of the National Assn. of Evangelicals, a powerful post that brought him in frequent contact with the White House. He was also dismissed as senior pastor of New Life, the church he founded in his basement and grew to a congregation of 14,000.

Since his public confession, Haggard has secluded himself with his wife, Gayle, and their five children. Those close to him say he’s humbled, ashamed and grieving -- yet prayerful that the scandal might strengthen his family and his faith. “It seems to be a time of hope,” said Carolyn Haggard, his niece.

New Life’s trustees are working on a severance package to sustain Haggard (who earned about $140,000 a year) and his wife (who earned about $50,000 a year for her work with women’s ministries). Associate Pastor Rob Brendle said the Haggards had also received a “generous outpouring” of gifts from congregation members, including donations.

Those close to the restoration will not say whether Haggard will undergo therapy to try to eliminate same-sex attractions. But the conservative Christian leader James C. Dobson, a close friend, has said the healing process -- which could last years -- will probably aim to eliminate any homosexuality.

White evangelicals as a group tend to view homosexuality as a lifestyle choice, not an inborn trait, with 56% holding that sexual orientation can be changed, according to a poll taken this summer by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (By comparison, the same poll showed 31% of Catholics and 22% of white mainline Protestants believe change is possible.)

In many evangelical congregations, men and women with same-sex attractions are expected to use prayer and Bible study to help them resist the temptation to sin. Haggard comes from a charismatic tradition that puts particular emphasis on the devil’s corrupting influence. He has described supernatural visions of demons waiting to infect newborns with sinful desires.

This theology of constant spiritual warfare has led some of his followers to blame Haggard’s fall not on any personal weakness but on Satan’s cunning. As congregation member Jan Long, 60, put it: “The enemy wants to destroy us.”

Such constructions worry the Rev. Tony Campolo, a liberal evangelical leader who helped guide President Clinton’s spiritual restoration after the Monica S. Lewinsky affair. “The idea that this is a matter of some evil spirit taking hold of him is setting Ted Haggard up for disaster,” Campolo said. “He may have a tendency to pretend that he’s been delivered from his homosexual feelings ... and all is well.”

Campolo said he hoped the restoration team would impress upon Haggard that “there is no easy fix. These are problems he will struggle with for a lifetime.”

Haggard has been more liberal than many evangelicals on gay-rights issues; for example, he backs domestic partner benefits. But he has preached unequivocally that homosexuality is immoral and that those who persist in same-sex relations will not be welcome in God’s kingdom.

His restoration team largely shares this theology. It includes two veteran pastors of evangelical mega-churches: the Rev. Jack W. Hayford, 72, of Van Nuys and the Rev. Tommy Barnett, 69, of Phoenix. Both pastors -- like Haggard -- draw on the charismatic tradition, including speaking in tongues.

The third member of the team, London, 69, serves as vice president of Dobson’s conservative ministry Focus on the Family, which promotes therapy to help gays and lesbians change their sexual orientation.

As director of pastoral outreach for the Colorado Springs-based ministry, London has counseled hundreds of clergy with admitted moral failings; up to half don’t make it through the rehabilitation. “They grow weary of the regimen and drop out,” he said.

Those who stick with the process often feel almost unbearably isolated. “Many have run for years on the adrenaline that comes from power and recognition -- and suddenly it’s gone,” London said. “The phone’s not ringing. People don’t need you.”

The restoration team will not aim to return Haggard to ministry. Addressing the New Life congregation last month, Haggard’s mentor the Rev. Larry Stockstill laid out a much more modest goal: for Pastor Ted to recover enough to serve God “with joy, with dignity, with hope in his heart.”

The congregation responded with a standing ovation.