To most of the media outlets covering the latest revelations surrounding Ted Haggard and the New Life Church of Colorado Springs, the big news story is that Ted Haggard turned out to be noodling around, not just with Mike Jones, but with yet another young man, in what appears to be a rather pushy manner. It’s Gay! It’s Sex! It’s Gay Sex!
As titillating as the sexual aspect of Ted Haggard’s story may be, it’s not all about the sex. In fact, the most important aspect of this story has nothing to do with sex. It has to do with the reaction of the New Life Church to the news. The leadership of the New Life Church paid the young man imposed upon by Ted Haggard $180,000 in exchange for a written promise to keep quiet and say nothing about the multiple episodes of Haggard’s sexual harassment. Then the New Life Church kept mum, too,
The leadership of the New Life Church has been hypocritical, disregarding the Exodus commandment against bearing false witness. Speaking as a bearer of universal truth, it has used its members’ contributions to hide inconvenient truths from its own members and from the public. It has behaved no better than non-religious organizations, and far worse than many. Its leaders have been no more holy than the rest of us.
This isn’t the first time that a religious institution has used the mantle of God to insist in public that good people should give it money, that good people should believe whatever it says, that the non-explanation of faith explains everything, all the while using that trust and authority and money to cover up secret shames. Certainly, religious institutions are not the only ones to do this, but to me that’s the point: that religious institutions should not be treated with higher-plane transcendent reverence. If religious communities wish to avoid exploitive debacles like these, people in the pews should develop a healthy skepticism about their leaders. It’s not a coincidence that religious leaders discourage that sort of thinking.