- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2008

Earlier this month, a guest took the pulpit at Open Bible Fellowship in Morrison, Ill., a 350-member church surrounded by cornfields. The speaker was an insurance salesman from Colorado named Ted Haggard.

The former superstar pastor, disgraced two years ago in a sex-and-drugs scandal, had returned, this time as a Christian businessman preaching a message that was equal parts contrition and defiance. Mr. Haggard linked his fall to being molested in second grade and apologized again.

His two sermons were posted, fleetingly, on Mr. Haggard’s Web site under one word: “Alive.”

Mr. Haggard is unmistakably making himself a public figure again, nine months after his former church said he walked away from an oversight process meant to restore him.

The man who confessed to being a “a deceiver and a liar” is asking for another hearing, finding encouragement from a loyal circle of supporters, skepticism from evangelical leaders who think it’s premature, and complex emotions at the Colorado Springs church he betrayed.

Mr. Haggard, 52, resigned as president of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals and was fired from New Life Church amid allegations that he paid a male prostitute for sex and used methamphetamine.

Mr. Haggard said in 2006 that he bought the drugs but never used them, confessed to “sexual immorality” and described struggling with a “dark and repulsive” side. He had risen from preaching in his basement to taking part in White House conference calls and had fallen so far that he became a late-night punch line.

As part of a severance package with his former church, Mr. Haggard agreed to leave Colorado Springs for a period and not speak publicly about the scandal, church officials said at the time. But he never really disappeared, making news when he relocated his family to Arizona and solicited financial support in an e-mail.

Mr. Haggard’s plea for funds was rebuked by a three-pastor team overseeing his “restoration,” a healing process that doesn’t necessarily mean a public return. In February, New Life Church announced that Mr. Haggard prematurely ended that relationship.

One restoration team member, H.B. London, said a return to vocational ministry in less than four or five years would be dangerous for Mr. Haggard, his family, former church and Colorado Springs.

“To sit on the sidelines for a person with that kind of personality and gifting is probably like being paralyzed,” said Mr. London, who counsels pastors through a division of Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based conservative Christian group. “If Mr. Haggard and others like him feel like they have a call from God, they rationalize that their behavior does not change that call.”

Mr. Haggard, who declined to be interviewed, is not the first fallen evangelical figure to agree to oversight and then balk. In the late 1980s, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart confessed to liaisons with a prostitute, begged forgiveness and submitted to the Assemblies of God, his denomination. Mr. Swaggart was ordered not to preach for a year, but resumed broadcasts after a few weeks and was defrocked.

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