Where Grace Abounds

How do evangelicals “cure” homosexuals like Ted Haggard? When the author enrolled in one local treatment program, he discovered the prescription involved a regimen of Twinkies, margaritas, a little Cher, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and sing-alongs to the musical Grease.

May 2007

The year was 1985 and Colorado Springs was a sleepier town. That is, with the exception of one man, a pastor who lived with his wife and young family in the city’s northeast corner. It’s not amiss to say that the devil had his number. Covens had dispatched emissaries to screech like cats in the field behind his home, a known technique for summoning demons. And there were the late-night phone calls, expletive-laden and anonymous. “We control this city, and we will control you. You’ve opened your stupid mouth too many times, so we will destroy you—and your family…. We want you to suffer.” The man shot upright in his bed. “Who is this?” The voice on the other end continued, “We are everywhere and we will get you. If you stay in this town, you will suffer, Ted Haggard.”

More than two decades later, Ted Haggard’s suffering has been thoroughly documented in Colorado and beyond. The president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals, Haggard had championed Colorado’s Amendment 43 campaign, advocating a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He enjoyed close ties to the White House, participating in conference calls with presidential advisers and other leading evangelicals. When President Bush noticed that Pastor Ted was not on the invite list for the ceremonial signing of the 2003 partial-birth abortion bill into law, he directed an aide to invite him to D.C. And then, last November, less than a week before the midterm elections, a Denver prostitute—a male prostitute—came forward to say that he’d had sex with Haggard.

Religious leaders sinning and plummeting from perches is nothing new, but Haggard’s scandal was different. Unlike Jim Bakker, who embezzled funds and had a heterosexual affair, and unlike Jimmy Swaggart, who visited a female professional, Haggard’s transgressions seemed to violate more than commandments. His lapse struck at the heart of the evangelical right’s most determined bogeyman: gay sex. Days after the news broke, an evangelical dream team was assembled to see him through this troubled time. Its original members included two big names and one giant in the world of professional Christianity: pastor Tommy Barnett of the 15,000-member Phoenix First Assembly of God; Jack Hayford, founding pastor of the 20,000-member Church On The Way in Van Nuys, California; and the Christian kingpin himself, Colorado Springs’ very own James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.