Equality before God

The short-term and long-term fallout from the Haggard scandal.


Lauren Sandler
November 4, 2006 2:43AM (UTC)

Yesterday, the news broke across America that pastor Ted Haggard, advisor and buddy to George W. and denim-clad patron saint of evangelicals everywhere, had been accused of paying for meth-addled gay sex for three years, uh, straight. Haggard's alleged escort, Mike Jones, said that he was spreading the word, just before Colorado votes on two gay marriage amendments, because he could not bear to stay silent as a gay man who craved equality under God. Haggard himself was one of the authors of Amendment 43, his latest effort to ban gay marriage state to state, an initiative he launched immediately after Massachusetts legalized it. This was finally his opportunity to vote in his home state against the homosexual relations he had preached against so vehemently for decades.

"If I wanted money, I would have blackmailed him," Jones said. Evangelicals across America probably wish he had. Focus on the Family's James Dobson may have been defending his friend Ted against the allegations yesterday, but today he seemed to confront the veracity of Jones' word. "The possibility that an illicit relationship has occurred is alarming to us and to millions of others," he said in a statement. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which Dobson founded, said that he was "saddened" to learn of the "reprehensible allegations" and urges "truth and forgiveness" and respect for "the process of discipline that Haggard has submitted to."

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After denying the allegations yesterday, Haggard today admitted to purchasing meth -- though not ingesting it -- and receiving "massages."

Haggard's niece Carolyn runs the media office at his church, and sent out a statement from acting senior pastor Ross Parsley. "It is important for you to know that he confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true," said Parsley, who suddenly leads a flock of 14,000.

Salon spoke to Alan Wolfe, at the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, who says the fallout of the Haggard scandal will be felt for some time to come, whether or not it affects the elections this month, especially by evangelical Americans who have reluctantly politicized their faith. "For many of the people in the pews, many of them who are not political at all, they really did become genuinely persuaded that this city was facing a moral catastrophe because of abortion and gay rights. So they put aside their reluctance to engage and now they have to wonder, What did they get from it all?" He's quick to point out that this doesn't mean they'll vote Democratic. But there's certain to be a big impact in Colorado Springs this week.

Jerry Falwell is clearly anxious that Haggard's scandal will bring down the "moral majority" he has been so instrumental in building. He's not just denigrating and distancing himself from Haggard in response, but indeed the organization Haggard headed (ahem) until Thursday, the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 30 million believers and 45,000 churches nationwide. "He doesn't really lead the movement," Falwell told CNN. "He is the president of an association that is very loosely knit, and I've never been a member of it."

That association happens to be the most powerful religious lobbying group in Washington. Its Web site continues to preach words that should be familiar to any of Haggard's parishioners: "Homosexual activity, like adulterous relationships, is clearly condemned in the Scriptures ... an abomination ... a degrading and unnatural passion ... a sin that, if persisted in, brings grave consequences in this life and excludes one from the Kingdom of God."


Lauren Sandler

Lauren Sandler is Salon's Life editor and the author of "Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement."

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