Friday, November 03, 2006

The Church of Ted Haggard

The Harper's magazine 2005 article on Ted Haggard's church by Jeff Sharlet is quite an eye-opener. A megachurch of 14,000 worshippers, run as a bizarre combination of Disneyland, War Academy and Abrahamic fundamentalism with rock music and thought control thrown in. Lots of feel-good talk at the surface, truly frightening war-trumpets behind it.

Haggard boasts about his concept of the church as a response to the market forces. No need to engage in worthwhile projects (such as helping those smelly and listless poor people). Just a lot of fun in small cells run tightly by an incredibly militaristic organization working from the top-down. It isn't only capitalism that Haggard has harnessed for religious purposes but also Maoism or some other hierarchical type of communism. Is this the face of Christianistic religion?

Who knows? One article by one author is unlikely to offer total clarity or balance on such a wide topic, but it gives us some very frightening glimpses of Haggard's church, such as this description of his son's wedding:

The morning service on the second Sunday of 2005 was devoted to the marriage of Pastor Ted's eldest son, Pastor Marcus. It began with worship, just like an ordinary service, but the light show was a royal purple-and-gold, the hymns more formal, the dancing more ecstatic. I sat with Linda Burton in the front row; she curtsied and bowed, over and over, her right hand sweeping the carpeted floor.

Pastor Ted wore a black suit and a red tie. Earlier in the week, at a staff meeting, he had announced that he would use the wedding as an illustration, and to that end he delivered a lengthy prenuptial presentation with slides, in which he laid out a fractal-like repeating pattern of relations, shrinking and expanding: that of God to man, reflected in that of man to wife, which is in turn a model for a godly society. Just as we conform ourselves to God's will, so, said Ted, must "the Woman." The Woman must take on her man's calling, her man's desire.

"Mmm-hmmm," murmured Linda, eyes closed.

In return, Pastor Ted continued, the Woman gets the Man's love; authority just wants to serve. "Total surrender!" he called. "True or false?"

"TRUE!" answered the 8,000 assembled.

The Man is the Christ; the Woman is the Body. He is coming; she is the church; she must open her doors. United, they are the Kingdom, ready for battle. "The Christian home," preached Pastor Ted, "is to be in a constant state of war." This made many so happy they put their hands in the air, antennae for spirit transmissions. "Massive warfare!" Ted cried out.

Sex (consensual?) and war and submission, all covered by the white veil of virginity. I feel a little sick right now.

There is a tremendous hunger for community in this country, a hunger that is not satisfied by what connections our fragmented and mobile lifestyles offer. The Christianist megachurches have stepped in and offered to feed all those who starve for connection, all those who drift. But the price for the meal is very steep. As Ted Haggard himself is finding out.