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Preaching politics

Ted Haggard says hed love to serve in office but wont run for now

Pastor Ted Haggard and New Life Church employees use - their digital planners following a staff meeting. - MICHAEL DE YOANNA
  • Michael de Yoanna
  • Pastor Ted Haggard and New Life Church employees use their digital planners following a staff meeting.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, under a spinning, 30-foot blue-and-green globe in New Life Church's prayer center, Pastor Ted Haggard joins his employees in meditative prayer and dance to the music of the church's in-house pop band.

This is a weekly staff meeting.

After receiving updates from missionaries and National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) representatives, he engages his workers in a discussion of the interpersonal and leadership skills outlined in John C. Maxwell's best seller, Winning With People: Discover the People Principles that Work for You Every Time.

Just days earlier, Haggard was in Nashville, Tenn., appearing at Justice Sunday II, an event sponsored by Focus on the Family's political action committee. The event zeroed in on a variety of current events issues, and participants gave praise for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.

Haggard encouraged Christians to run for office: "If you have not contemplated it, read, learn to speak and run for office. Serve your community. Be a good citizen. Be a good Christian."

Recently, Haggard made headlines by expressing interest in running for Republican Rep. Joel Hefley's job -- but only if Hefley retires.

Hefley, who has served in the 5th Congressional District for nearly two decades, has made no such announcement. Rumors that Hefley might leave office at the end of his term in 2006, however, have persisted and set off a wave of speculative jockeying by local Republicans, including former El Paso County Sheriff John Wesley Anderson, state Sen. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera, County Commissioner Wayne Williams and local Chamber of Commerce government liaison Jeff Crank.

Following the staff meeting at New Life, Haggard says he's changed his mind about running.

"I'm not going to run for Congress," he says, citing fears that his candidacy would create a media circus. Still, Haggard leaves the door open to reversing course.

"I'd be very surprised if I did."

He admits that holding office is one of his lifelong aspirations, but he concedes he'd bring some baggage along.

"I'd still fly back here and be the pastor of New Life," he says. "Nor would I give up the NAE work."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, is monitoring what it considers a growing influence of evangelicals in national politics. The group says evangelicals have been instrumental in getting President Bush to back the conservative Roberts for the Supreme Court, in a nomination that has worried pro-choice groups.

The Defender: A statue in New Life Church includes the - presidential seal. - MICHAEL DE YOANNA
  • Michael de Yoanna
  • The Defender: A statue in New Life Church includes the presidential seal.

In regards to Haggard running for office, Americans United spokesman Robert Boston says nothing legally prevents members of Congress from working for special interest groups like the NAE, an influential organization that represents 45,000 congregations.

"Yet the voters might not think that's such a great idea," Boston says. "The voters of the district would have to decide if it is a conflict or not."

Haggard doesn't necessarily see a worrisome conflict.

"There's a conflict of interest with everybody," he says. "Who doesn't conflict?"

The issue appears moot because Haggard says he has found too many reasons not to run for office. He fears that if he announced a candidacy, the district would become a national spectacle for secular liberals opposed to seeing evangelicals take office, as well as for neoconservatives excited by the prospect.

"I can guarantee you that within a week of me saying I was a candidate, Bill O'Reilly would have me on worldwide Fox News and probably one of the CNN guys would do the same thing," he says. "Then all of a sudden the National Organization of Women would have an opinion and then I'd be sitting back in my house, saying ... 'this is about Calhan, not New York.'"

Five ministers already are serving in the House of Representatives. Haggard says he'd like to see more.

"The American government is a faith-based idea," Haggard says. "It's a faith-based initiative; our founding fathers and even the whole Manifest Destiny thing of coming west."

A compelling symbol of the melding of Haggard's beliefs and interests sits in a corner of New Life Church: the "Defender," a statue of a winged angel wielding a sword. At the sword's hilt is a familiar emblem, the Seal of the President of the United States.

Haggard, who participates in weekly conference calls that are sponsored by the White House, says the statue is a gift he plans to give to Bush. It was put in the hallway of the church after the church was expanded at the end of last year.

Americans United's Boston says while it's more important to focus on issues, such as why evangelicals support Roberts, the statue is symbolic of American evangelical nationalism.

"It's not surprising," Boston says of the statue. "I think a lot of evangelicals feel an affinity for Bush."

Haggard says he doesn't want to give the statue to the president now, because it will become the property of the United States. Instead, he'll wait until Bush leaves office in 2008.

-- Michael de Yoanna

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