COLORADO SPRINGS — I didn’t want to go. To Ted Haggard’s new church, that is.
In 1984, Haggard founded New Life, a nondenominational church in Colorado Springs that grew to 14,000 members under his leadership. He gained national stature and became president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization of 45,000 churches. But in 2006 he admitted he had an affair with a male prostitute, and resigned his positions as New Life pastor and head of the NAE.
In recent years Haggard has made something of a spiritual comeback, founding St. James, a new church that first met on the Haggard’s property in a barn and now assembles in a local middle school.
As a person of faith, and a scholar, and a journalist, I sometimes find my various roles colliding. Although I was not interested in rehashing Haggard’s history, I was interested in the complicated relationship Protestant Christianity sometimes has with its spiritually wounded.
So I went, albeit reluctantly, to Haggard’s new church Sunday.
Walking into the middle school where the church meets on a chilly, shining February morning, my UW Election Eye colleague Jason Gilmore and I slid into the back of the 200-or-so strong congregation, a mix of families and younger single people singing along to lyrics projected on the white-washed cinderblock wall of the school’s gym.
When it came time to introduce ourselves to those around us (a common practice halfway through many Christian services), I was nervous. But there was no need to worry, it turned out.
Three women — Shirley, Joni and Chris — descended on me to say hello. Joni, who has five sons, two of whom are at the nearby Air Force Academy, invited me to her house for a Super Bowl party. She also teasingly asked if I was single, and if I was, if I wanted to meet some of her friend’s daughters.
Before I had much of a chance to respond, the service resumed, with Haggard preaching a sermon titled “Pleading for a sinner’s pardon.” The text was the second Pauline epistle to the Corinthians, in the New Testament. The passage dealt with St. Paul’s urging of forgiveness for a sinful church leader.
Its main themes were broadly on the importance of repentance and acceptance.
“Every church needs to be in the resurrection business,” he said, adding that “it’s hard to be forgiving in this Internet age.”
Haggard’s sermon seemed to so closely parallel his own story, that at one point toward the end, when he engaged in a question-and-answer session while standing on one of the gym’s folding chairs, a member asked if the sermon’s lessons could be illustrated in their pastor’s life.
“I don’t want to make this about my story,” Haggard replied, “though you can.”
UW Election Eye photographer Jason Gilmore contributed to this report.