The Company We Keep 2.0

Spotlight on Ted (no relation to Merle) Haggard. Founder of what is called today a mega-church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, The New Life Church. Head of the 30 million member National Evangelical Association, a position he abruptly resigned amid allegations to be discussed momentarily.

In addition to, or perhaps as a consequence of his leadership of the nation’s evangelically inclined citizenry, Mr. Haggard is one confidant among a presumably few enough number of President George W. Bush’s to warrant a weekly conference call. According to Lauren Sandler, the author of “Righteous: Dispatches From the Evangelical Youth Movement,” Mr. Haggard and Mr. Bush see eye-to-eye on just about everything but what truck to drive.

What are the odds that in the week before national elections, the nation’s (arguably) most influential evangelical Christian, a person who speaks for nearly half of the people who voted for Mr. Bush in 2004, would be identified by a male prostitute as a man who’d been paying him for sex on a monthly basis for three years?

Mr. Haggard has been among the nation’s most outspoken opponents of gay marriage and a leading champion of the President’s call for a constitutional amendment declaring marriage the province of one man and one woman. He denied the allegations, first aired on a Denver talk radio program on Wednesday, telling KUSA-TV, “Never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I’m steady with my wife, I’m faithful to my wife.”

Update: Colorado station KKTV reports today that a senior pastor at Mr. Haggard’s New Life Church, told reporters for the station the former church leader has “admitted to some indiscretions,” though not to all of the charges brought by the male prostitute. A church investigation of the allegations is ongoing.

Update #2: Mr. Haggard, according to a statement released today, has admitted he bought methamphetamines and received a massage from a gay prostitute but never took the drugs and never had sex with the man.

Haggard, who said initially that he’s never taken drugs and doesn’t even drink socially, now admits that he bought meth from the prositute because he was curious. “I bought it for myself but never used it,” the Associated Press quotes Haggard as saying. “I was tempted, but I never used it.”

Mr. Haggard was not quoted as saying “the dog ate my homework,” “the check’s in the mail,” “I promise I won’t come in your mouth,” or “I didn’t inhale.” He also apparently had no comment regarding his relationship with Jimmy Swaggart.


  1. charles rachlis - November 3, 2006 @ 8:30 am

    I would love to hear the tapes of the phone messages; are they on the web yet?

    It would also be nice to get the finger prints from the envelope Jones claims is from Haggard.

    The nice thing about this is that if Haggard walks on the wild side there is still hope for the rest of his 30 million brethren to take a long hard look at their sexuality and consider that their homophobia may just be a cover for their more lavender inclinations…

  2. bubbles - November 3, 2006 @ 9:28 pm

    I read a transcript of a couple of the voicemail messages he left on the male escorts phone line. Astonishingly the content maps exactly to the incremental nature of his current admission. Who could have guessed that? 😉

  3. Tam O’Tellico - November 3, 2006 @ 10:00 pm

    Two Kind of Haggard

    In My Own Kind of Hat, Merle Haggard delineates a number of dichotomies:

    There’s two kind of brothers and two kind of lovers,
    And two kind of babies to hold.
    There’s two kind of cherries and two kind of fairies,
    And two kind of mothers I’m told, so I’m told

    It also appears there are two kind of Haggard – Merle and Ted. In fact, there may even be two kind of Ted Haggard– at least if the allegations prove true.

    One Ted Haggard is the father of five and a Bible-thumping Fundamentalist minister who routinely denounces homosexual behavior from the pulpit – and the other is a backsliding sinner who routinely engages in homosexual behavior with at least one acknowledged male prostitute. One Ted Haggard campaigns against gay marriage and is a welcome guest at the Bush White House – and the other is a meth-head homosexual.

    If any or all of this is true, Haggard is to be pitied, not for his homosexual inclinations, but for his religious choices. For he has chosen a faith which condemns people like him to eternal punishment for behaving in a way which God apparently intended – or at least hard-wired them to behave.

    If we are to believe the preponderance of scientific evidence – a stretch for many Fundamentalists – homosexuality is genetic. Certainly, in the animal world – in which we assume there are no moral compunctions – bisexual and homosexual behavior is common. Among animals, it may in some instances be viewed as a sign of dominance, rather than sexual orientation.

    With humans, of course, it’s even more complicated. For starters, it should be noted that scientifically speaking, someone who has a homosexual experience isn’t necessarily homosexual. Regardless of sexual preferences, same sex sexual behavior is sometimes a matter of context and convenience.

    Caution: If you are an insecure Fundamentalist male, you may want to skip this paragraph. Guys – imagine if you were marooned on a desert island with – oh, say Brad Pitt. You think a little hanky-panky would be totally out of the question even after a couple of years?

    If you find that thought offensive, isn’t it far more offensive that gay-bashers seem to be suggesting that being gay is so attractive that millions will suddenly decide to convert? If Mr. Haggard was involved as alleged, no matter how momentarily gratifying his assignations may have been, I seriously doubt he would describe his behavior as attractive. You and I may be repulsed by the impulses that drive someone to behave this way, but that is precisely the point: We don’t have to resist such impulses if we don’t have them.

    While we may be tempted to take comfort in that thought, we should also be aware that it is not supported by the evidence. Scientists suggest that most of us are not hard-wired male or female, but are somewhere on a sexual continuum. While that may not bring comfort to Fundamentalists, the morally mature can probably live with that fact – just as they live with the fact that they are on a behavioral continuum somewhere between Gandhi and Hitler.

    As for Ted Haggard, he appears to be just one more in a long succession of morally immature Fundamentalists trapped and tortured by the reality of their own humanity. Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Bakker come immediately to mind, but the list is virtually endless.

    But this problem goes far deeper than another back-slider unable to comport with his primitive faith. Haggard’s actions reveal a fetid aspect of Fundamentalist behavior, an impulse that purports to promote the good and the general welfare, but in reality stems from a desire to cloak one’s own human insecurities by decrying the sins of others. It oozes from the same dark source as sarcasm, bullying, and yes, even torture.

    What is most evil in all this is the hypocrisy – the minister who rants against homosexual behavior while engaging in it, and the President who rants against terrorism while engaging in torture.

    It appears that in this world there will be no end to hypocrisy and those who claim to be the guardians of moral values. But wouldn’t it be ironic if Judgment isn’t “one size fits all”? What if God’s morality is so exquisite that He chooses to judge us by the standards we attempt to impose on others?

    ©2006 Tom Cordle
    Tellico Plains, TN

  4. bubbles - November 4, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    I confess. I confess that I laughed and continue to revel in the utter hypocrisy of this unfolding story. I confess that I find pretty much everything I hear or see regarding the public expression of religion to be somewhere between insulting and repugnant. I confess for both deeply personal and political reasons I find organized religion simply fails to speak to me or arouse me intellectually in any way. I confess this wasn’t the way I was brought-up or even the way I felt 20 years ago in my mid-twenties. I confess I still harbor spiritual inklings but I’m confused about whether they are mere remnants of psycho social genetic predispositions or elemental forces of universal truth expressed eloquently as Tam O’Tellico – “What if God’s morality is so exquisite that He chooses to judge us by the standards we attempt to impose on others?”

  5. Mike - November 4, 2006 @ 11:42 am

    I agree with Bubbles, Tam that was a great post!

    For those who feel spiritually challenged let me first share a revelation that helped me tremendously with my navigating through all the moral indignation so prevalent in any religious discussion. Ready? Do not blame God for religion.

    Every religion admits that their scripture is the written word of man. Most claim spiritual enlightenment, but none can prove any of it. When pressed they all fall back on Faith. I say Faith is a very fine thing. I also would suggest that if you are too concerned with mine, you probably should be looking at your own, first. Its so much easier to look out and condemn others’ behavior while ignoring or justifying one’s own. For me Faith is very personal, and I believe that is how God intended it to be. But then thats just my interpretation. You are entitled to your own… so long as you don’t come over here trying to push it on me.

    So, as the Founders knew so well, the trouble begins when the religious faith tries to insinuate itself on the body politic. This is why they felt it so important to build that separation into our Constitution. It has been often said that you can’t legislate morality. I’ll take it further, is it really moral when it is enforced and not internalized?

    Now I agree with Gandhi when he said that he was in politics because he was a religious person, not in spite of it. That said, he had to navigate a political climate that was on the verge of civil war with deep spiritual divides driving most of the conflict.

    These included the divide between the native Indian population, mostly non-Christian and the Christian English occupiers. Going deeper he had to navigate the age old divide between a country that was 3/4 Hindu and 1/4 Muslim. Going even further there were and are deep divides within both the Hindu and Muslim communiities. We need look no further than Iraq for the evidence of that.

    All of that said, he did not try to impose his religious or spirtitual values on anyone. In fact his entire technique of non-violent conflict resolution rests on the ability to get one’s opponent to understand the moral problems of their position.

    When it became clear that India would gain her independence he resolutely declined any position of power, trusting instead on the morality of others, regardless of where they were on the wide panorama of religious belief that existed.

    Not so today’s self-styled evangelicals, they of course, know what is best for you. Predictably they refuse to look in their own back yard. And just as predictably the whole house of cards is beginning to crumble.

    My Faith tells me that what we are about to experience is a balancing of the political pendulum. The great middle is finally ready to stand up and say “enough, we tried it your way, its not working”. Some will go further, some will find it hard to get that far. Enough will, at least I choose to believe that. If I’m wrong, it won’t be the first time. Hey I’m only human.

    So bottom line, Election Day is Tuesday, Get Out and Vote. And if you are an evanglical right-wing conservative that is fed up with all the hanky panky going on amongst your leadership, and yet you cannot find it in your heart to support any liberal Democrat, then its OK to leave that slate blank. You will have done enough, and you will have taken the moral high road.


  6. Tam O’Tellico - November 5, 2006 @ 5:46 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, guys, and I just wish more people were exposed to the debate that rages on these pages – rather than the disgusting pandering that dominates the political ads.

    It is critical for all of us who love America – for all its faults – to understand that America is under assault from terrorists – and not just Islamo-Fascists. The real enemy here is Fundamentalism – regardless of the faith it subverts.

    We need to understand the connection between Osama bin Laden, Pat Robertson and the Unabomber. The connection is the belief in the right – even the divine right – to do anything ANYTHING to promote your ideology.

    We need to understand that roughly 35 years ago the Religious Right made a commitment to take political control in this country. They rightly concluded they could not begin at the top, and so they began by taking over local school boards. Thus Harry Potter is ouit, and Intelligent Design is in.

    Now we are witnessing the all but ultimate success of their plan, a plan that has left them with inordinate influence in the White House and Congress.

    There are many reasons for their success – hard work and planning, bribery and corruption (see Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed) and as the Fundamentals would have it – the machinations of God himself. To that last, I would say “Jesus (and God) wept.”

    In fact, the rise of Fundamentalism is far more complicated than that. Some of it is attributable to the very things Falwell, Osama and the Unabomber like to rant about – the utter disgust of millions at the excesses and irresponsibility of the purveyors of filth in the music and movie business and the endless pursuit of greed.

    But what is also an element of their success is the disinterest – even outright surrender of those whose country and religion are being stolen from them by what (we all hope and pray) is an organized and dedicated – if perverse and ignorant – minority.

    “All it takes for tyranny to succeed is for good men to do nothing.”

  7. bubbles - November 5, 2006 @ 11:49 pm

    All patently ideological arguments share the same logical structure. Basically, we are better than they are because they are bad and we are good. Its always amazed me how few people see that the terms of this argument are almost always interchangeable. Then again we find examples that seem like a “true” tautology. Nazi’s and the Taliban come to mind… but then if you really solve the equation you’ll find that intolerance and murder are actually bad.

    Not my comment but one I endorse.

    Shouting Over the Din

    We know that Al Gore got more votes than George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, and that of the people who went to the polls in Florida, more had intended to vote for Mr. Gore than for Mr. Bush. But Mr. Bush became president.

    In 2004, Mr. Bush outpolled John Kerry by more than three million votes nationally. But widespread problems encountered by voters in Ohio, especially those who had intended to vote for Mr. Kerry, raised doubts about who had really won the crucially important Buckeye State. If Mr. Kerry had taken Ohio, he would have won the White House with a minority of the popular vote, as Mr. Bush had done four years earlier.

    These are not scenes from a flourishing democracy. If you’re looking to put a positive spin on the current state of politics and government in the U.S., you’ve got your work cut out for you.

    Voters will head to the polls tomorrow for the most important off-year election in recent memory. But instead of a concerted effort to make it easier for Americans to vote, the trend in recent years has been to make it harder, through legal means and otherwise.

    Tens of thousands of voters in Georgia will very likely be confused tomorrow. A judge struck down a state law requiring voters to show a photo ID before casting their ballots. But up to 300,000 voters have received letters from the State Board of Elections telling them that a photo ID is required.

    A veteran Democratic congresswoman from Indianapolis, Julia Carson, ran into trouble when she tried to vote on primary day by displaying her Congressional identification card. It had her picture on it, but she was told that was not enough. She needed something issued by the state or federal government that had an expiration date on it.

    Eventually, as The Washington Post tells us, she was allowed to vote after a poll worker called a boss.

    This was a congresswoman!

    With each new election comes a new round of voter horror stories: Hanging chads. Eight- and nine-hour waits in the rain. Votes lost. Votes never counted. Electronic voting machines, vulnerable to all types of mischief, proliferating without the protective shadow of a paper trail. People in poor neighborhoods shunning the voting booth because they’ve been led to believe they’ll be arrested for some minor violation, such as an unpaid traffic ticket, if they dare to show up at the polls.

    Enough. We need to recognize reality. The aging system of American-style democracy is beset in too many places by dry rot, cynicism, chicanery and fraud. It’s due for an overhaul.

    The gerrymandering geniuses have raised their antidemocratic notion of perpetual incumbency to a fine art. As Adam Nagourney and Robin Toner informed us in yesterday’s Times, it’s very difficult to transform even intense voter dissatisfaction into real political change. “For all the deep unhappiness that polls show with Congress, Mr. Bush, his party and the Iraq war,” they wrote, “only about 10 percent of House races could be considered even remotely competitive.”

    I’ve already said that I favor the creation of some sort of nonpartisan national forum — perhaps a series of high-profile, televised town hall meetings — to explore ways of improving our deeply troubled system of politics and government. If we could get beyond the hellacious din of obnoxious television ads and mindless shouting heads, we’d find that there are a lot of people with good ideas out there who need to be heard from.

    One of the biggest problems at the moment is the extent to which ordinary Americans feel estranged from the ruling elite, from those powerful (and invariably wealthy) men and women in both parties who actually influence the course of politics and government.

    The key task of any national effort to revitalize American-style democracy would be to bring the citizenry into closer touch with elected leaders in ways that hold the leaders to greater account and make them more responsive. The absolutely essential first step would be to ensure that all who are eligible to vote are actually allowed to vote, and that their ballots are properly counted.

    I don’t think the politicians, even with all the recent coverage, realize the level of dissatisfaction and outright anger that has gripped much of the population. Iraq may be the flash point, but the dissatisfaction runs much deeper than that. People feel that the U.S. has sailed off in the wrong direction, and that — as voters — they haven’t the clout to set things right.

  8. lonbud - November 6, 2006 @ 12:08 am

    That brings up an interesting question about how fair and representative American democracy has been throughout history. Should we understand the present day to represent a precipitous decline in the degree to which “ordinary Americans feel estranged from the ruling elite?” Has there been a more halcyon period in American politics when the concerns of the commons have been given more due?

  9. lonbud - November 7, 2006 @ 2:58 pm

    Well, midway through Election Day 2006, it would appear that whether ordinary Americans feel estranged from the ruling elite or not, more of them are turning out to vote in a midterm election than has been seen in a long time.

    Unfortunately, far too many of them are being greeted at polling places by voting machines that don’t work and by poll workers who don’t understand their state’s voting laws.

    Our democracy is broken and the legislature’s job # 1 should be to fix it. When the results can’t be trusted by anyone, the invitation to anarchy requires no RSVP.

Leave a Reply