This has certainly been a bad week for Ted Haggard and the members of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Regardless of the extent of his indiscretions, I think it’s important to look at what unfolded this week from a media perspective. I’ve talked to a number of media professionals and public relations experts this week, and one thing that’s echoed throughout all the conversations is how poorly the press and public relations were handled by both the church and the National Association of Evangelicals, of which Ted was president.
New Life is one of the largest and most sophisticated churches in America, and the National Association of Evangelicals is the face of evangelical Christianity in America. So the question becomes, who were advising these people? First there’s the denial, then one indiscretion is admitted, then another a short time later, then we find Ted, his wife and family in the car, leaving their home and actually stopping at the end of the driveway to talk spontaneously to the press. Anyone in the media watching that interview had to be saying to themselves, “What was he thinking?”
Certainly Ted and his family are in our prayers. Who can possibly know how difficult struggling with this issue for years has been, and how humiliating the experience is right now for all involved. He has stressed his personal responsibility, and his immediate stepping down from the Presidency of the NAE and pastor of the church is a sign that he understands how serious this is, and he appears committed to the process of re-building his life. We all struggle with sin in our lives, and it’s important to remind ourselves just how easy it is to fall. This is not meant to be a criticism of Ted personally in any way whatsoever.
But for the church as a whole, we need to get our act together when it comes to living and sharing our witness in a media driven culture. The way the mass media exposes, uncovers, and tells the story is vastly different from anything the church has experienced in 2,000 years of its history, and if we don’t understand how the media works, it will forever damage our witness to the world.
It’s not about covering up, deflecting, or denying. On the contrary, it’s about being truthful, and confronting the media in a way that allows the real story to be told, without allowing denials, information scraps, inaccuracies, and falsehoods color the story. The stakes are remarkably high here. It doesn’t take much to see that anti-religious and extreme left bloggers and writers are descending on the story like sharks to blood. The hypocrisy, denials, and botched releases have amped up Christianity’s critics, and it’s hard to blame them.
That’s why we have to take the media seriously and understand how to effectively communicate in the 21st century. And by the way, “Ted Haggard” was the most searched name on multiple search engines this week, and Technorati.com says it was #1 for bloggers. That means, in spite of the war in Iraq, and on the eve of a national, mid-term election, this was the #1 priority for the American people. Millions of people were asking about it, searching for information, and writing about it. But Sunday morning, I visited a church here in Los Angeles, and the pastor never even mentioned it. Not once. Here is the most asked question on people’s minds in the country, and this pastor choose not to engage in a conversation about sin, denial, forgiveness, restoration, and salvation. Or even offer to pray for Ted and his family. What a missed opportunity!
This is why so many in the culture think the church is irrelevant. The world is asking questions, and we refuse to even deal with them.
In fact, check the poll on the right and let me know if your pastor said anything about it Sunday.
I’m telling you – if we don’t confront the media’s impact on our lives, Christianity will simply slide toward oblivion.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story from a media perspective. Am I off base here? What do you think?