Dark Christianity
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May 2008
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Haggard church not affected by scandal?

LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [info]pretentioustfu)


Article behind the cut

By Ed Stoddard Sun Apr 15, 4:28 PM ET

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - Five months after its senior pastor Ted Haggard was felled in a gay sex scandal, the massive New Life church he founded seems to have weathered the storm.

At services on Sunday morning, the 3,500-seat church was filled to near capacity with worshipers drawn by its charismatic preaching and vibrant musical stage show.

"Weekly attendance has dipped a bit since the dismissal of pastor Haggard but the bottom has not fallen out and we have had a comparatively smaller drop in revenue," said associate pastor Rob Brendle, a view echoed by other church leaders.

"We recognized quickly that the church was not about one man or a building," he told Reuters.

Haggard, a vocal critic of gay marriage, was forced from the helm of New Life -- the 14,000-member mega-church he founded in 1985 -- in November after a male escort claimed the two had sexual liaisons.

Haggard admitted to undisclosed sexual immorality and also stepped down as the president of the influential National Association of Evangelicals.

Haggard was not as strident on the issue of homosexuality as some other U.S. preachers but his chiseled looks and fiery style made him a poster boy for conservative causes often embraced by the Republican Party.

The scandal was perhaps the biggest to hit America's huge evangelical community since the 1980s, when sex and underhanded financial dealings toppled mega-preachers Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

But while their empires came crashing down, Haggard's church seems to be on firm ground at its base near the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, which may point to the current resiliency of America's fast-growing evangelical movement.

"We're not focused on the leadership of the church, it's the family and the people who are here which draws us closer to God," said Don Schoenecker, who along with his wife Mary is a New Life member who converted from the Catholic Church.

They are part of a growing trend in America and elsewhere which has seen fervent evangelical churches pick up converts from mainstream churches.

Still, people at New Life admitted that the Haggard scandal had been a shock and a huge test for the church.

Brendle said New Life had handled its crisis differently from the Bakker and Swaggart sagas by being open.

"In the immediate aftermath of the revelations about Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, there was an impulse it seemed to drop the firewalls and shut out the public. But it was clear to us from the time Ted was being investigated to his dismissal that our stance ought to be one of openness," he said.

New Life's flock is certainly not limited in its worship options in Colorado Springs, a hive of evangelical activity that is home to many churches and faith-based organizations.

Members of other churches in the area also appear to hold New Life in high esteem.

"As far as I know it's preaching the truth and that's the main thing," said one evangelical Christian who attends another church in the area.

I don't know why, but reading this just made me feel really, really sad and empty. I can't put my finger on why, either, but maybe someone here can.

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