Evangelist Haggard returns to the pulpit in Illinois
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Ted Haggard may have revealed during recent sermons at an Illinois church that he was sexually abused as a child, but he’s not revealing whether his appearance hints at a desire to return to the pulpit permanently.
Several church leaders with ties to the disgraced founder of New Life Church, however, have a piece of advice: Don’t do it – at least not yet.
“Based on my experience working with recovering pastors, it would seem to be premature,” said H.B. London, vice president of church and clergy at Focus on the Family. London was one of three people on a team formed to rehabilitate Haggard after he had a sexual relationship with a male prostitute two years ago. That revelation, along with reports that Haggard was dabbling in meth, led to his ouster as senior pastor of New Life.
C. Peter Wagner, who came to Colorado Springs at Haggard’s behest and cofounded New Life’s World Prayer Center with him in the late 1990s, said he thinks Haggard’s spiritual restoration is incomplete.
“He said in his letter to his congregation after he was fired that he is a liar and deceiver,” Wagner said, adding that because Haggard didn’t finish the restoration program, he’s not fit to preach. “He must have someone confirm him in the body of Christ” before he can preach again, Wagner said.
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Haggard declined to be interviewed this week following a report saying he preached two sermons Nov. 2 at Open Bible Fellowship Church in Morrison, Ill., at the invitation of the senior pastor, a longtime friend. Audio of the sermons was up on his Web site, www.tedhaggard.com, Wednesday morning, but by afternoon the site was down.
In his sermons, Haggard said he was molested at age 7 by a person who worked for his dad. He linked that incident to his sexual relationship with the Denver prostitute and his use of crystal meth.
“Some of the things that were buried in the depths of the sea from when I was in the second grade started to rage in my heart and mind,” Haggard told the congregation.
Miriam Blum, a psychologist at Life Enhancement Technologies in Colorado Springs, said there’s merit to Haggard’s explanation, because adults who have been sexually abused as children can grow up to have abnormal views of sex.
“There is a higher likelihood of acting out sexually, but not necessarily in a homosexual manner,” Blum said. The abused person might view sexual relations as a “power exchange rather than a loving exchange,” she said.
Jim Oraker, a private psychologist in Colorado Springs who specializes in treating professionals, including Christian ministers, said any sexual trauma early in life can lead to emotional and sexual difficulties as an adult. But Oraker was surprised that Haggard never talked about the alleged abuse publicly prior to his sermons in Illinois. “Generally that would be the first thing someone would talk about,” Oraker said.
Blum, however, said that was not out of the ordinary. “Many people are very private about the abuse, as it may implicate family members,” she said.
Despite the disclosure of such a private, emotional event, Haggard seemed upbeat, said the pastor who invited him to speak.
“He was not particularly apprehensive about preaching – he’s Ted,” said Chris Byrd, who has known Haggard for 35 years.
Haggard also apologized in his sermon to the New Life congregation and said he’s a “stronger Christian than I’ve ever been in my life; I have a stronger marriage than I’ve ever had in my life.”
But Wagner believes Haggard is deceiving himself. “Who besides Ted has ever stated that his restoration has been completed? No one.”
In addition to giving sermons, Haggard also went on appointments during his visit to Illinois to sell life and disability insurance for Mortgage Protection Group, for which he works as a salesman, Byrd said.