The Common Good

Amy Sullivan: The Fallout from Ted Haggard

It's somewhat surprising that it took so long for this story to get some attention today. True, the allegation that Ted Haggard, pastor of the New Life megachurch in Colorado Springs and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, had a homosexual affair is just that--an allegation. But the news that he has stepped down from his post as head minister and resigned from his position at the NAE isn't a rumor. Haggard issued a statement announcing these steps late today.

I suspect the lag in press attention had something to do with the fact that most journalists just recently learned the name "James Dobson." Some might be able to identify Haggard as an evangelical leader if pressed, but they probably lump him in with all the other megachurch pastors. His role at the NAE, though, and his leadership in the Colorado ballot initiative campaign to ban gay marriage, makes this much more significant than just your ordinary religion scandal.

The idea of any finger-wagging, "that's what you get for going on about the 'radical homosexual agenda'" schadenfreude really holds no interest for me. There are plenty of "hypocrite!" cries going around as it is. But I am fascinated to see how this plays out in the evangelical community. The Mark Foley scandal was one thing--it confirmed fears among many voters that Republicans didn't share their values; they tolerated homosexual behavior among their colleagues and staff while condemning it in front of their base voters.

This, however, is a scandal involving a shephard of the flock itself. If it turns out there is truth to the allegations, the story will reverberate further and longer than any of the scandals of the 1980s (Swaggart, Bakker, etc.) because it involves not just personal behavior, but an issue that conservative evangelicals have made extremely clear is one of their two top priorities. And I wonder how or if this will affect the condemnation of homosexuality in general within conservative evangelical circles. After all, we know that people's attitudes change once they learn that someone they know is gay. A lot of evangelicals know (or at least know of) Haggard. If indeed he has been involved with a gay man, that could blow a lot of evangelical minds.

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