Originally published: April 22, 2009, 8:45 a.m.
Updated: May 2, 2009, 1:18 p.m.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Once revered as the leader of the national evangelical movement, former Colorado Springs, Colo. pastor Ted Haggard and wife Gayle appeared on stage with Elevation Church pastor Steven Furtick on April 26. The appearance on the campus of the Matthews, N.C., Providence High School — videotaped and broadcast at the church’s several other locations and worship times — marks the first time the wildly popular church has publicly dealt with the issue of homosexuality.
Young pastor Steven Furtick said on his blog that Haggard’s appearance would be a chance for “the story of the deception of sin and the forgiveness of God [to] speak for itself” and to “serve as a salient reminder of the devastating results of disobedience, and hopefully, the beginning of a personal healing process for many hurting people.”
After years of publicly chastening LGBT people as pastor of New Life Church, Haggard became the subject of serious allegations from male prostitute Mike Jones in November 2006. Jones claimed Haggard had paid him for sex several times over a three year period. Jones also said he had helped Haggard buy crystal meth.
Haggard, who was also president of the National Association of Evangelicals at the time, later admitted to the allegations, resigned from his position with his church and the association and entered a “restoration” process guided by several evangelical pastors across the country.
Furtick’s invitation for the Haggards to speak at the church captivated the Charlotte community and sparked conversations about the issue of homosexuality and the church.
Before introducing the couple, Furtick addressed his congregation and spoke on the reasons for bringing the couple to Charlotte, warning against condemnation.
“If you came here today looking for a condemnation of a person or a group of people, you are going to be disappointed,” he said. “For far too long the Church of Jesus has been known for what we are against rather than what we are for. We want to be known as a church that’s known for what we’re for, and what we’re for is the redemption of all people and people who are far from God being brought here to Jesus through the Gospel.”
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At the same time, Furtick also said his church would stand up for truth and not take a “soft stance on the issue of sin,” adding that the church believes all sex outside of marriage is sinful. Furtick clumped “homosexual acts” with sins such as adultery and drunkenness.
Furtick told the packed auditorium, “I want you to know we are a church full of truth, which means that if you have come here today wanting me to condone any particular lifestyle that you choose to live, you’ll be disappointed as well.”
On a church website made to answer frequently asked questions about the Haggards’ invitation to speak Elevation said, “We’re not going to condemn Ted Haggard for what he’s done. We’re not going to bash homosexuality. We’re not endorsing homosexuality. We’re not endorsing anything. We’re frankly going to let the story speak for itself.”
The church added that they were committed to being a church that can “talk about everything.”
Furtick’s statements and interview with the Haggards are sure to be a disappointment to Elevation’s many openly gay and lesbian congregants — some of whom have told Q-Notes they started attending the church because of the acceptance and welcome they felt there.
Chad Ellis, one of Elevation’s gay members, has been attending the church for over a year. He attended one of the several worship services where the Haggards’ interview was shown via recorded video.
Ellis told Q-Notes that he was deeply hurt by Furtick’s statements and offended by Ted Haggard’s presence. He said he was disappointed the church decided to bring in such a controversial figure to begin it’s conversation on homosexuality.
Part of what is so painful, he says, is that Elevation was the church he ran to after feeling so rejected by the Catholic Church. He never knew Elevation’s stance on homosexuality until the Sunday of Haggards’ appearance.
“I didn’t know and I didn’t want to ask,” Ellis said passionately. “I didn’t want to be rejected by the church again.”
Ellis said he’d never heard his pastor directly address the subject.
Re-baptized at the church, Ellis said his experiences there were deeply personal and spiritual, rather than social or communal, so he never spoke to many people and never publicly addressed his sexual orientation with other members or church staff. Ellis said it was a relief to find a church where he could feel comfortable and gain personal and spiritual insight and guidance for everyday life.
But now he’s not sure he can ever really enjoy the worship experience at Elevation again.
“I’m hesitant to go now, just thinking that I’d be turned away from that kind of church,” he said.
Ellis said he intended to address his feelings of hurt and anger directly with Furtick.
During the interview with Furtick, Ted Haggard apologized to Evangelical Christians and those who had looked to him for leadership.
“I am deeply sorry,” Haggard said, addressing his sex and drug scandal. “It was a horrible series of events. I was responsible for it and I am so ashamed that I misrepresented the Body of Christ and that I hurt people and caused them pain and that I embarrassed them.”
While on stage, Haggard didn’t apologize to LGBT people.
But, in a January appearance on ABC News’ “Nightline,” Haggard said he understood why some see him as a hypocrite, after his years of anti-gay preaching. He apologized to gays and lesbians.
“I do apologize,” Haggard told the network. “Take all the pain, all the rejection, all the hurt I caused to those men and women, gays and lesbians. I am deeply sorry for that attitude I had, but I think I was partially so vehement because of my own war.”
During the interview, neither the Haggards nor Furtick directly addressed LGBT issues or homosexuality as they concerned the scandal.
Haggard’s appearance was a part of the church’s “Healer” series. Furtick said the “real hero” of the story was Gayle Haggard and praised her for standing by her husband, asking her how she was able to do it.
“I first heard the news of this along with everyone else,” Gayle Haggard said. “It was a very shocking moment in my life. I had to determine, who am I going to be in this?”
She said that while her “heart was broken” she also knew that she had “gotten through every difficulty in my life with the strength of the Scripture and the Holy Spirit.”
She added, “God said to forgive and to love. Those are his instructions always to us when we have been hurt and offended.”
Writing on his blog prior to the Haggards’ appearance at Elevation, Furtick said he had been “deeply affected while following Pastor Ted’s prominent fall from grace over the last two and a half years.”
Furtick wrote, “I have been even more deeply touched by the decision of his wife and family to stand by him through the healing and restoration process.”
In his blog and on stage, Furtick said he was grateful his church would be able to hear the story of grace and healing presented by the Haggards, and especially by Gayle.
Only three years old, Elevation Church has become extremely popular across the city, with its laid-back, modern and open worship styles. The church meets in three locations across Charlotte, including two public high school auditoriums, with several worship times each Sunday. Elevation claims up to 5,000 or more parishioners and was recently named the second-fastest growing church in the nation.
I hope that he is sincere in his apology. Most of us had to deal with some sort of internalized homophobia when we were coming to terms with who we are – we just didn’t make it so public. I guess all we can do is wait and see and give him a chance to prove himself.
If Ted Haggard had not been “outed” by the whore with whom he spent his time and to whom he gave money fresh from the collection plate, he would still be engaged in those very sinful activities that he himself acidly denounced in others. He did not seek forgiveness for his sins until after his sins became common knowledge. Now he’s sorry; I say he’s many years too late to go that route.
First, a clafification: According to his book “I Had to Say Something”, escort Mike Jones says Haggard did NOT buy meth from him, Jones only helped him find a source.
Second a couple questions:
If “many congregants [of Elevation] identify as gay or lesbian”, how does THAT work? Why do g/l people willingly attend a church where they know their orientation is treated as a sin? Aren’t there any glbt-affirming churches in Charlotte?
How can Firtick say that Elevation “will hear the whole story first hand”? Haggard’s story has changed — a LOT — over time (even Haggard is now admitting that much of what he said on Oprah just a couple months ago was not true). Whatever Haggard’s “current” story, it is not the “whole” story.
Some people just don’t get it.
These people are dangerous. You can’t pray away the gay.
“adding that the church believes all sex outside of marriage is a sin.”
Can we count on him to back same-sex marriage initiatives to save all us sinners? Excellent article.
I think all sex outside of marriage is sin and same sex is a sin so Pastor Steven Furtick preaches the truth and the whole truth. I have been to a many churches but I have never saw a pastor so involved with people. He cares and God is going to reward him. He is the best so far. I want to thank Furtick so much . Since I have been going there My thinking has changed in so many ways. Again thank God for such a God loving person.
When are people going to realize that churches are vile? They are filled with phony people and phony teachings. Why would any self-respecting gay person attend? Follow your own spiritual path, people!
I would hope that since they think all sex outside of marriage is sin they will support marriage equality in the future.
Yeah…like that will ever happen.
Its not too shocking to see that this up and coming church would parade a disgraced hypocrite like Haggard while at the same time seperate themselves from the LGBT community. Church’s are businesses looking to make money and to grow. in order to grow in Charlotte you must wrap yourself in the conservative shroud of hypocricy and pride. the young Pastor of Elevation church is not so different from those who have come before him in Charlotte( young, talented, charasmatic). At first a glimmer of hope that there may be someone willing to stand up for real Christian values and be a bridge to the LGBT community, but then pride and the lust for power take over and the hopes for diversity and reconciliation are dashed. its all about money and power, Jesus is an afterthought!
The many openly gay and lesbian members of this church need to run as fast as they can!! They should go to a church where the true love of Christ is taught and to an affirming and welcoming congregation. I believe there is a Revolution Church in the Charlotte area, there are also a number of Baptist Churches in Charlotte which are welcoming and affirming as well as two MCC churches. I personally prefer the Baptist faith. Myers Park Baptist is a very progressive and welcoming church in Charlotte.
Rev. Steve Furtick said the “real hero” of the story was Gayle Haggard and praised her for standing by her husband. Also he wrote in his blog that he was deeply touched that his wife and family stood by him while going through the healing and restoration process. Well, my goodness give them all a big ol HIGH-FIVE. Isn’t that what she is suppose to do, since she is a married woman and took her vows in “sickness and in health”. They are the ones calling gays sinners, etc., so sure she should keep her family together. Did Ted Haggard honestly think he wouldn’t make the headlines one day, that nobody would notice him, that nobody would kiss and tell? Funny thing is apparently a high percentage of these “sinful affairs” don’t make the headlines, so two thumbs up for gay folks not kissing and telling. If Ted Haggard had an affair with a woman it would be a completely different story. Very very different.
My heart goes out to Chad Ellis, left one church for the hope of finding (maybe) acceptance in another. I did the same thing years ago, again and again and again. The pain of being rejected at church is almost as bad as a breakup with your lover. It hurts like hell. Find acceptance in yourself and in your heart and forget about everything else. God loves you, the church folks don’t matter. Be sweet!
YEAH HE IS A SORRY SOMEBODY. I BET HE WOULD STILL BE HOEING AROUND IF HE WASNT EXPOSED. BOY WHAT A HYPOCRIT!!!!!!!!!!!
I went to college with Mr. Furtick at a conservative private college in South Carolina, while he was a nice guy it is not surprising his opinion given the doctrine that was taught at NGU and who knows what at whatever seminary he went to. I too feel sorry for Chad Ellis for feeling betrayed by the church. I have yet to find a church here in SC that is accepting and that I feel comfortable with attending, but despite the negative experiences I have been through I remain a spiritual person, but refuse to use the “C” word because of the negative connotations it has in the LGBT community as a whole.
This is all I have to say. Maybe all of the homophobic’s will think twice before spewing their filth about homosexuality being a sin…probably not though. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SULrYUjde4&feature=related
I am sorry, but until now I have good things about Elevation, but this actually proves otherwise.
@Ajax, yes, thankfully their are plenty of welcoming and affirming churches in this area (and surround areas)-alot will be at Pride here in a week or so.
AMEN , and PRAISE GOD, that we can’t pray the GAy Away,
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