‘Moral failure’ casts doubts on future as Christian author
Ted Haggard lost more than his pulpit and reputation when he admitted in November to sexual immorality and buying drugs.
He also cast into doubt his status as a Christian author who counseled readers to marital faithfulness and sternly warned that sexual activities like pornography and prostitutes “are poisoning you.”
The bleakest roadblock to Haggard’s career as author of a dozen books happened recently at New Life Church, which he founded 21 years ago in Colorado Springs.
“We’ve taken Ted’s books out of the bookstore – they’re in storage,” said Associate Pastor Rob Brendle about two weeks ago.
“We haven’t thought through plans for future works, but the fact of Ted’s moral failure and dismissal doesn’t necessarily negate the value of all his teachings.
“But we also recognize the congregation is going through the process of grief, and we want to be sensitive to that. We also want to make clear there is a transition, and Ted is no longer part of the New Life staff.”
Whether it’s his Pursuit of the Good Life, published this July, or Foolish No More, published a year ago, even Haggard’s book titles now ring with the tinny clang of hypocrisy. His admission of buying methamphetamine drugs and maintaining a relationship with a male prostitute hardly squared with the author who counseled against keeping secrets from your loved ones and who, in The Jerusalem Diet, counseled those craving even coffee, “Don’t let any substance determine how you live your day.”
‘Devalued his message’
While it appears few retailers have actually removed his current books from their shelves – unlike his church – Haggard’s ability to sell future books is questionable.
“His story – what more can be said? He has devalued his message,” said Don Pape, the former vice president and publisher at WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House. He is currently publisher of the trade book group at Cook Communications, which like WaterBrook is based in Colorado Springs.
In summer 2004, Pape signed Haggard to a multiple book deal that he said “is fair to say was in the six-figure range.”
Pape also signed Haggard’s wife, Gayle, to write about her marriage in A Life Embraced. He thinks the author with a real future is Gayle, who, when the lurid scandal crested in November, issued a courageous statement of painful yet abiding loyalty to her husband.
Pape emphatically said he would consider publishing Gayle Haggard again.
“I think her story is the bigger story, to be honest. She’s a very talented and gifted woman, and her heartache gives her a broader message: ‘How could you live with deceiving me and how could I not have known, and now how can I love you through this?’ ”
Would Pape also consider publishing Ted again?
“I would withhold comment on that,” he said.
Moral turpitude clause
Haggard’s contract had contained a standard moral turpitude clause that canceled the publisher’s obligations to the author in cases of moral failures ranging from infidelity to DUIs. Pape stressed that he couldn’t speak to Haggard’s current contract because he left WaterBrook nearly two years ago.
In late November, a spokesperson for WaterBrook Press indicated that no decisions had been made about Haggard’s publishing future.
WaterBrook liked Haggard’s potential as an author because of his growing evangelical influence and his charismatic ability to sell books, Pape said.
But he has never been a high-seller and never cracked anywhere near, for example, the top 50 list maintained by the international Christian Bookseller’s Association.
Even after his disgrace, there appears to be little change in his steady if unspectacular sales and – unlike New Life Church – few have actually removed books from the shelves.
There have been no sales of Haggard’s books since October, said Becky Sobeck, manager of Lemstone Christian Store in Parker, a large, independently owned franchise with corporate offices in Illinois.
The owner of a large Internet overstock business in Wisconsin said Haggard’s sales have remained unchanged, though many people have asked if his books were going to be dropped, said Jerry Bloom, owner of Treasures Christian Books of Racine, Wis.
However, Joan Hill, owner of Bible Discount in Commerce City, predicted a darker future.
“I think it will depend on his reaction (whether he will repent). In the meantime, his books will die,” said Hill. “The market is probably gone.”
Many have stumbled
In her 30 years of Christian bookselling, Hill said she’s seen many authors stumble, and even though they may have repented, never quite recover their huge followings.
She cited Grammy award winner Sandi Patty and author Joyce Landorf, who both suffered marital breakups. Then there was Jim Bakker, sent to prison for financial wrongs involving his huge television ministry. He admitted his wrongs and wrote a memoir, but has lived a low-key life ever since.
Haggard’s future as an author “depends on what he does with his life next,” said Becky Gorczyca, executive director of the Logos Association of Bookstores, a trade association for independent Christian retailers.
Even publishing veterans wonder how a man could write so convincingly of his moral certitude, while living the opposite way. Pape said he once posed that question to a Christian author who had also fallen into the net of “moral turpitude.”
Said Pape: “He told me, ‘I wrote about the man I want to be, not the man I am.’ “