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Ted Haggard – From a Media Perspective

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 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?

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  1. People who live in a bubble have trouble relating to the world outside the bubble when someone sticks a pin in it. The answer is not knowing what to do when the bubble breaks, but how to live as real people in a real world without the pseudo-protection offered by our self-constructed bubbles.

    The media part of this was terribly fumbled. But, the root of that gaffe is in the cultural context surrounding much of the Christian ministry world. Ministries often create a bubble around the ministry, and then yet another bubble around the leader. When this happens there is no basis of understanding how to deal with a culture and its media which is other.

    We can never understand the media impact when we live isolated from the culture. Even Spock understood that it took understanding of the culture to comprehend the use of technology by that culture. And, it took more that tri-corders and long-range scanners to understand the culture. They had to "beam down."

    That said in response to your question, I'd like to say how grieved I am over this whole situation. My daughter and son-in-law attend NLC, but beyond them the effect on staff, family, church members, and believers every where is nothing but painful. My daughter tells me that friends know of missionaries in Nepal who have reported this story making headline news over there.

    In the aftermath the question will be, "What have we really learned from this?"

  2. Yep, this was a big media messup. The closeups of Ted as he was talking with the reporter, the clear eye contact with the reporter, the camera, but the quick check of his wife's eyes at a couple points…all these created a strong challenge to the truth of the accusations. To follow that with the admission of the truth of more of the accusation made the interview devasating in illustrating the very human struggles as we watch our image crumble.

    He should have….but that road is long and winding and pointless. We just gotta make it more possible for leaders and all of us to acknowledge real struggles.

    I'm an associate pastor of a church of 500. But even with our smaller size, it is still hard for people to say, 'i was wrong'.

    W e need to pray, we need to plan for sin to happen (as John did in 1 John) and we need to know, as you said, that the media will purse the story. How much better to have them pursue stories of repentance than coverup.

    Thanks for starting this conversation.

  3. I completely agree with your article and thank you for laying it out in black and white. I think this brings up the issue that I’ve been aware of for years – the similarities between the Church and the entertainment industry, which includes the news media. We are all trying so hard to maintain a great “image” that we destroy ourselves and our relationships in the process. We cover up sin, hurts, struggles and humanness in order to appear successful, hip, secure, happy and healthy. The church does it as much as Hollywood and yet we both critize the other for the same weakness. People have trouble being honest, admitting imperfections or worse yet, poor choices. We spend more time trying to hide them than we do trying to fix them. Then, we we are “found out” our first response is to lie, deny and pretend innocence. That, of course, eventually is exposed as well and then we back peddle.

    When a celebrity in the entertainment industry is caught, the church points fingers, stops their children from coming here and it creates more fuel for their burning anger toward Hollywood. When a Christian celebrity is caught, the media points fingers, teaches their children about those hypocritical religious freaks and it creates more fuel for their burning anger toward the church and God.

    So what do we do? It should be the church and the Christians who respond differently. We should be the first ones to drop the “image” and be real sinners with real struggles, yet with a real solution – our crutch – Jesus! We should all write books titled “I Was Wrong” and we should learn how the media works and be willing to face them with the qualities of Jesus – honesty, vulnerability, humility, repentence and forgiveness.

    And let’s turn to our Christian brothers and sisters and help, lovingly, to do that, together. Yes, let’s pray for Ted, his church, his family, his Board of Directors, his staff and all the other Christian leaders who are just as vulnerable, just as suseptible and just as weak. We need eachother as the family of God, and we’ll give a stronger message to the non-Christians who are all watching us, when we love and support one another, in all our brokenness!

    Karen Covell

  4. Phil,

    Your response was right – PR is important in today's world. Jesus' PR was the truth and look what that got him, thank God for that. With that said we have to realize from the past that fallen minister always spouts the same "we are all sinners and able to stumble" – TRUE, but the problem is they only spout that on the way out not on the way up. If the CHURCH would stop putting its ministers on a pedestal so ministers could be real we would have less fallen ministers.

    What frightens me is that Ted was one of the Evangelicals that had a weekly, WEEKLY, conference call with the White House. Is it any wonder the staff of the White House jokes, calls them crazy and nuts, about those we have allowed to represent us in public. Why is this – because our PR is SELF-RIGHTIOUSNESS not tolerence. It's interesting that the President's PR was to distance himself from the guy he speaks to on a WEEKLY basis.

    Wouldn't it be nice if he would distance himself from his S of S -Rummy.


  5. Its time we looked at the church itself instead of just the fallen leaders.

    If church was a community of grace, real grace, then Ted and so many before him would have had an option of simply trying to hide and cover his sin.

    We only seem to have one idea of what to do when a leader is exposed struggling with sin, and that is to cast him in the dumpster.

    But what if Ted would have had a team he he could have shared his struggles with and still be loved and accepted…and helped before it was thrown under a media spotlight.  Leaders don't have that in today's church.

    I am not saying that a leadership team should help hide or condone sin, but in a church of grace, a leader could step aside privately and with the help of those appointed to serve until God worked in his life in this area and restoration could take place.

    Whose fault is it that the church doesn't work like that?

    Its all our fault.

    I don't struggle with the same sin that Ted (seems to) struggle with.  But I have my own, and thank you very much, I will not be listing them here 🙂  But they are no less of a offence to the Lord.  To the general public and the church, yes, but not to the Lord.

    I have been reading a great book called "TrueFaced".  One of the key quotes I love is:  "Grace frees Christians to see others as saints who sin, rather than sinners striving to be saints."

    My point is that the best public relations the church can have of this is to show him grace and show the world that the church is about grace.

  6. Phil,

    Excellent article on the crisis media situation with Ted Haggard.  Our prayers are with him and his family.  Thank you for your balanced statements dealing with both the personal sin issue and the professional media / “branding management” issue.  A Christian leader at this level should be "kindly required" to have a press relations person / firm assigned to him for just such a situation. A trusted PR person should stay with a leader like Ted even after the professional ties to the church and NAE are severed.  

    Millions will be very interested in Ted’s life and how he handles himself for the coming weeks and months.  Though he may no longer carry a business card with a significant title, he will continue to be looked back to as a very visible representative of evangelical Christianity.  How this is handled from here, presents a very good opportunity to demonstrate the message of repentance, grace and reconciliation on a very large stage.

    I believe some sort of Christian leadership body should come together to help equip, protect and prepare Christian leaders for such a time as this.  A leader’s potential mistakes are far to magnified in our media driven culture to go it alone.

    Michael Boerner
    Mission Media / Unity Media Group

  7. I never thought much about it from a media perspective. I just saw a man in need of grace – God's grace and grace from the Church. I pray he is loved, cared for, healed and restored to a right relationship with God and his family. 

  8. CONTRIBUTE, for God's Sake!

    Phil- your comment about the non-mention of this event in Church this Sunday certainly wasn't an isolated incident. Outrage! Not at the fall, which is terrible, but at the lack of response. Church stand up! When these events happen, your above average Christian finds his way to a point of disappointment in the church as a whole for having little or no answers for a fallen bretren, or those seeking commentary on such events.
    Nothing like sitting through service, nation-wide, and not talking about the Purple-Elephant sitting on the second row.
  9. Unlike Swaggart and Bakker before him, Ted Haggard has chosen to take full responsibility for his actions – as stated in his letter to his congregation on Sunday. He didn't stand up, like Jimmy Swaggart, and give a non-apology like, "I have sinned". Or hide behind a ministry vice-president's press conference, like Jim Bakker, and let him "spin the truth". Man's pattern for re-establishing fellowship with God is: Rebellion. Ruin. Repentence. Restoration. Ted Haggard has experienced three out of the four – in just 72 hours! The fact that he didn't have a PR agency helping him with "damage control", and his willingness to submit to Godly counsel [which Bakker & Swaggart refused to do], will help Ted Haggard, and his former congregation, move closer to the last step in the process: Restoration. 

  10. I don't see the connection at all.  I'm thrilled that Ted is doing the right thing for his personal restoration.  But the PR issue is the damage that has been done to others – people who now think all Christian leaders are hypocrites or pastors are frauds.  All because of the very poor way this was handled….

  11. The world is still going to read this as "hypocracy" with or without a PR firm. The difference is that as believers we have a Biblical standard, not a worldly standard, to live up to. The way to handle it is to tell the truth and take responsibility. Ted Haggard has done that. Hollywood stars and professional athletes are never responsible. Their "handlers" get them out of sight and send out press releases to let the media know that their client is in treatment for their problem. Bakker and Swaggart hid for months dodging the truth. Let the world know that this time somebody has taken the blame and the responsiblity. There is a popular song that says, "We fall down. We get up". We aren't perfect, just forgiven. King David morally failed several times, but was still called a "man after God's own heart".  

  12. So without any solid advice, or any consideration about how people in a media driven culture would respond, he first denies it, then did an about face, then a few hours later, admitted to a little more, then a little more, then got creamed by the press because he tried to deal with it by himself (with his wife and kids in the car). 

    We live in a different age than King David did my friend.  

    For all Ted's doing right in realizing what he'll have to do to repair the damage, the words of my old college friend Larry Stockstill (Ted's friend and mentor, who read his letter to the congregation) keep ringing in my ears.  It was something to the effect that in his discussion with Ted, he heard a "repeated pattern of lying."  CNN broadcast that nationwide. 

    With the right counsel and advice, that would have never happened. If the church doesn't learn the power of the media soon, and it's pervasive influence on this culture and how to deal with it, we're simply buying a ticket on the train to irrelevance.  

  13. The body of Christ once again has been wounded.  It is hurting.  Each time a leader falls upon the moral battle field of life, the body feels the pain of the wound.  It recoils from the shock and winces at the sting.

    The question now remains… what will happen to the wound?  Will it continue to be exposed to the elements until infection sets in – or will it be washed, covered and protected so healing can occur.  Will the church respond in a way that brings healing and strength  – or division and pain. 

    The church's history in this area has not been good.  We have ofen shot our wounded, picked at our own scabs, and exposed the wound to dirt and grime until the infection ultimately creates a scar that never goes away… And allowed the press to take it all in and share it with a cynical world.

    Ted Haggard's battle has been going on for a long time.  While he was fighting a personal battle in the darkness, he was also having significant impact on our culture, the evangelical community and on the lives of those who attended his church.  While the internal fight was raging – he was lauded and celebrated for his external accomplishments for the Kingdom of God.

    Now that his dark battle has been axposed, and his error has been confessed, it will be interesting to see how the body of Christ responds. 

    Yes, he failed on the moral battlefield. Of course, he was deceptive in an attempt to hide his failures.Sure – the PR could have been handled much better… but the greater question is what now?

    Ted Haggard is the latest victim of an incredibly intense spiritual battle that rages all around us. No Christian leader is exempt. 

    While Haggard has sacrificed his position of leadership on the altar of sin, he is still a trophy of the grace of God.  He has a long road to travel to experience healing and restoration… but I have now doubt he is calling on the Lord and finding strength and comfort in His presence. 

    He needs our prayer and support during this critical time of healing and hopefully restoration.

    But what of the church?  Will the church retire into the shadows of embarrasment? Will it surrender to the spectre of indifference? Will it allow this wound to fester and grow until the entire body loses its strength? 

    OR will it rise up in the wisdom and grace of God to declare the truth that we are all sinners – saved by grace.  Will the church speak with integrity and authenticity and reaffirm the moral guidelines of scripture? 

    Will the leadership recognize this warning shot across the bough of their own ministry and strengthen their own spiritual defenses, lest they find themsleves tempted and failing in the future.

    This is a critical moment.  This is the season for the body of Christ to bind up its wound – and stand strong, with clear determination.  This is the time for the church to demonstrate to the world the true meaning of love and grace.  This is the time for the church to speak with clarity and press forward – holding forth the Word of God.  This is the time for a new strategy to emerge to help the church understand how important it is to respond correctly during times of crisis.

    May God give those of us in the communication and media world wisdom to help bring heling to the body now – and greater strength in the future. 

  14. Phil,

    Last night (monday the 6th) John Stewart on his Daily Show replayed Ted's role in the movie Jeusus Camp in which he pointed his finger at homosexuals and said they would all get caught and suffer. How do you put a spin on hypocracy, and should you? At that point don't we become hypocrites ourselves?


  15. Maybe having struggled with homosexuality, he is even more aware of how dangerous a trap it is.

    We are all hypocties, let's face it.  Saved by grace and only God can deal with the sin in our lives.

    Time to stop the spin.

  16. I watched a documentary with Ted last night.  It was done a year after being "exposed."   He was still not welcome in the church he founded.

    I’m sorry.  Is the church for the sick or not?

    The man publically confessed and repented.  Are we more holy than the Lord?

    Our standards higher?

    What more can we ask of him?

    More than God?

    Ted Haggard was an opportunity for the church to show the world what love and forgiveness entail.  But, what it actually did was show the world how far the church has fallen from Christ.

    Maybe the church will get the message and invoke a revolution of realism into the faith.  Maybe we should wear big signs around our neck every week in service detailing our latest sins against God.

    Lest we forget why we are there, who we REALLY are, and why the gift is not to be horded and jealously guarded.

    The church must change, it is becoming a millstone around the neck of believers.




  17. Those in control of the media need to be very careful how they use this power of exposure. Yes many men and women of God have fallen and it has caused a lot of shame and embarassment but the those in the media should be very careful as to how they go about this as they are continually treading on very dangerous grounds. They are not God and therefore they are no better than those they are trying so hard to shame because of their belief systems. I wonder what would happen if those in the media where exposing another man/woman of God and all of a sudden on the same channel/web media, we saw the private lives of their media bossess and the reporter making that news going live on screen for the whole world to see at the same time? It is an abuse of power and responsibility and a number of factors are not being considered. Regardless of what age we are in, God still loves His children and it is because we are ignorant of our position in Him that we act like we have lost favour with Him the second we blow it. What a shame and a very poor understanding of Who God and His Son Jesus Christ is. If I were Ted I would get back into what God has called me to do (because it is who you are in God that truly and really matters)regardless of what anyone says – brother, there are 6 billion plus people on the planet – the US is not the only country in the world – go somewhere else and just continue in the Lord, people did not call you, God did, so walk with Him Ted and just be His son. Only difference between you and the rest of us Ted is we are not exposed yet. Thank God for His grace.:-)

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