Beliefnet

Before Pastor Ted Haggard called me on Saturday afternoon, I don't know that I had ever heard true contrition. I know what it sounds like now. I will never forget one moment of that phone call. He was humble, he was broken, he was concerned for me and everyone hurt by his actions. Maybe this was Pastor Ted's final lesson to me—here is how to say you're sorry.

His repentance is part of the story now, especially after yesterday's New Life Church services streamed worldwide. When Pastor Larry Stockstill, chairman of New Life's board of overseers, read Pastor Ted's confession letter, countless thousands of people were able to hear the same contrition I heard Saturday afternoon. The letter was powerful because it was personal, and I'm certain many of us were thinking the same thing: Repentance is important not just for Pastor Ted, but for all of us; this event provides us with an opportunity to humble ourselves, consider our lives carefully, and do whatever repentance requires.

So far for Pastor Ted, repentance has required saying a series of very difficult things: "I am a deceiver and a liar"; "I did things that were contrary to everything I believe." I don't know what he did, nor can I comment with insight about which of Mike Jones' allegations are true. We don't yet know anything beyond Pastor Ted's admission of "sexual immorality." Even the board of overseers at New Life Church has yet to conclude many details, faced as they are with discrepancies in Pastor Ted's account of his life.

I understand that people have questions about sexual orientation and drug use, but I'm not curious about those questions today. I wouldn't have answers even if I were curious, and it's a small grace not to be awash in those details. The last four days offer more than enough to handle. The wound is still fresh. As a friend and former employee of Pastor Ted Haggard's—I served as editor for seven of his books and countless articles—I am not equal to writing about every aspect of what we are facing. I'm not certain I should be writing about my own details of this experience, and I will likely leave out as many as I include. But if I can offer a human face to these events, maybe that, too, is a small grace.

Early last Thursday morning, I opened my wife's laptop in order to bring up the homepage of our local daily paper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, so I could see the day's weather. I read the headline—"Haggard denies gay sex claim"—several times before I fully registered that, yes, this was about my pastor. Nothing about it rang true; it seemed so utterly false. My wife awoke a few minutes later. "You won't believe this," I told her. Neither of us believed it. It was most certainly politically timed libel. Pastor Ted was not running for office, but he had advocated support for Amendment 43, a Colorado ballot initiative defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Surely this accusation had everything to do with politics.

I knew it would be a crazy day in the New Life offices, so I drove there to be present and available if I was needed. I sometimes still work at my old desk at New Life Church, mostly as a way of staying connected to the church's incredible staff members. New Life is an impossibly friendly environment—hugs and smiles all around—and no matter how small or big of a deal this event was going to be, I wanted to experience it in the midst of that friendliness. Throughout the morning, if we talked about it at all, we talked about how to defend Pastor Ted. We had a few "what if" conversations throughout the day, but the allegations seemed too well timed, and too inconsistent with everything we knew of Ted Haggard.

At some point during the day, I texted Pastor Ted: "I'm standing with you. I love you." He replied his heartfelt thanks.

That evening, New Life's elders gathered together for a meeting, where they would later be joined by the church's external board of overseers who had come into town to investigate the claims. I did not attend that meeting, but had friends who went to observe. The prolonged silence of the day had gotten to me by then, and I was frantic for information. Every few moments, I sent text messages to my friends—"What do you know?" "Any updates?" "What's going on?"—until finally one of them responded: "Some of the allegations are true. :( " 

My God. What could be true? I wasn't shocked or sad yet; I was nervous. What were we about to learn?

By this time, it was nearly 10:00 p.m. I rushed to the church to see if anyone was around. I found a few guys sitting in an office; I joined them, and we sat and stared at each other. We did not know anything more than "some allegations"—and again, we don't know anything more than that now—but we sensed that life was about to get very, very hard. I contacted one of New Life's pastors to say I'd be available for anything he needed. "I think I mostly just need a friend," he said. "I'm not sure what the world is going to look like tomorrow."

A friend followed me home, and we sat up all night. We prayed. We talked about Pastor Ted, we talked about ourselves—already, this experience was driving us toward honesty, humility, and repentance in our own lives. We also kept vigil for news reports. Within hours, there were details from Mike Jones, Pastor Ted's accuser—voice mail recordings, an envelope with hundred dollar bills. These were intimations of the experience we were about to have; tangible evidence not just of wrongdoing, but of how difficult life was going to become.

The next two days are a blur of sleeplessness, media inquiries, occasional sobs, and mostly, work. I talked to the New York Times and the Denver Post. Good Morning America called. I began ignoring phone numbers I didn't recognize. I went to New Life Church and walked around hugging people. "How are you doing?" we asked each other, hoping that one of us would say something to tell us how we should be doing. A couple of times I sat to pray, and all I could say was, "Lord, have mercy. Please have mercy." I read the Beatitudes—"Blessed are those who mourn" always seemed like an inspiring idea; now it was a promise, and I held onto it.

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