Virtual Voices

Haggard speaks: But can anyone hear over the roar of scandal?

Religion

Former evangelical leader Ted Haggard has reemerged from the shadows of disgrace. Two years removed from public allegations of drug use and homosexual trysts with a prostitute, the father of five hit the talk-show circuit this week to reiterate apologies and tell his story of repentance. The appearances on shows like Larry King Live coincided with Thursday's premiere of an HBO documentary that follows Haggard as he struggled to rebuild his life and provide for his family in the wake of national scandal.

Accompanying Haggard's return to the public spotlight are more revelations of homosexual activity-these from a former member of New Life Church, the Colorado Springs, Colo., congregation Haggard founded and pastored until his resignation in November 2006. Grant Haas, now 25, informed church leaders two years ago about his experience with Haggard, which allegedly included thousands of sexually explicit text messages and an incident in which the former pastor performed a sex act in front of Haas.

Haggard apologized to Haas in person two years ago, and the church agreed to pay out $179,000 in a settlement that included a confidentiality agreement. But Haas told a Colorado Springs television station that he believes it necessary to go public now to ensure that the community is fully informed before it welcomes Haggard back home. Haggard has released a statement acknowledging an inappropriate relationship with Haas and apologizing for it.

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The new revelations cloud the message of Haggard's reemergence, which otherwise might have emphasized the redemptive value of exposure. In an interview earlier this week on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Haggard's wife and two oldest children expressed their commitment to keep the family together. Haggard's college-age daughter Christy said the scandal took her father off a false pedestal: "I never had a dad I felt I could really relate to. And suddenly to see this vulnerable, honest man in front of me opened an opportunity for me to really know who my father really was for the first time."

Haggard's wife, Gayle, spoke with similar heartfelt sincerity in recounting her path through anger and pain to forgiveness and reconciliation: "It was never a question for me whether I was going to stay with Ted. . . . I had to make a choice to start with and that was my choice. I choose to forgive him, and I choose to love him."

Such beauty and power of a family amid redemption has thus far fallen short of trumping the Haas revelations in headlines around the country. And media fascination with homosexuality has further obscured the story's redemptive quality. In her interview, Winfrey repeatedly pressed Haggard to approve of homosexuality. The former head of the National Association of Evangelicals was less than clear at times in his statements on the matter, answering Winfrey's pointblank question as to whether Christ accepts homosexuals with the ambiguous: "I believe Christ accepts everybody."

Gayle Haggard proved far less ambiguous, arguing that a person's inclinations need not necessarily define who they are. Winfrey immediately objected: "I'm not going there with you, Gayle."

To his credit, Haggard did clearly articulate a gospel of grace at numerous times throughout the interview, even admitting he'd never really understood it before: "When I was at my lowest point, when I couldn't pray, I couldn't read the Scriptures, I couldn't seek Him anymore, He came after me and the Scripture came alive to me, Oprah, for the first time in a dramatic way. Jesus came for the unrighteous, not the righteous. And I qualify."

Tragically, many onlookers may miss that message in the sea of scandal still swirling.

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