Ted Haggard's Crystal Cathedral
A Visit to the Gayest Place on Earth
If you've ever been to New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and have even trace amounts of gaydar, then it probably didn't come as any surprise that founding pastor Ted Haggard turned out to be a meth-fueled queer bag.
Despite the homophobia that pervades the church and its teachings, almost everything about Haggard's church is a flaming testament to his repressed homosexuality and meth-ish megalomania.
Don't get me wrong; I was as surprised as anyone that Haggard actually got caught. Just because everyone knows you're a repressed, hypocritical piece of shit doesn't necessarily mean you're stupid enough to get caught. But those of us who live in Colorado Springs knew something was up. And we knew because the church itself told us everything Haggard was hiding.
A few examples:
1. Gayface. By now you've seen Haggard and his chode-a-rific cramped upper lip. When my big, gay stepdad saw him on the news for the first time three years ago, his first comment was: "Well he's as gay as a box of birds."
Haggard isn't New Life's only box of birds.
Senior Pastor and Choir Director Ross Parsley, who took over after Haggard resigned, is something of a flamer. You may have heard the pronounced lilt in his oral prose stylings or observed his expressive gesticulations as he addressed the media this past weekend. He's a caricature of a cliché and it's gonna be doubly painful if the congregation finds out that he, too, likes to buy massages from gay male prostitutes.
Parsley's younger brother, Associate Worship Pastor Brad Parsley, is a dead ringer for Clay Aiken and has the Banana Republic pseudo-urban retrosexual look to match. In addition, almost all of the "New Life Worship Guys" (as their website describes the pastors) just so happen to be fairly strapping young men in their 30s with the fashion sense of Ryan Seacrest. When I pointed this out to the twinkish Associate Pastor Rob Brendle, he claimed it was because Banana Republic was the only place that made clothes that fit him.
Not all of the young pastors Haggard surrounded himself with have gayface, and it's possible that none of the rest of them are gay. But you get the point: Haggard didn't surround himself with dumpy old assbags to help him keep watch over his 14,000-member flock out there on Brokeback Mountain.
2. The big, gay theater in the round. You've probably seen the outside of New Life Church on the news. It's a testament to megalomania of Wal-Martian proportions. Jutting from the plains north of Colorado Springs just a few miles east of the U.S. Air Force Academy, it's the only megachurch in Colorado Springs and cost $17 million to build. (What's $17 million when you're tithing 14,000 people at 10 percent of their income? That's a cool $42 million per year if you figure the average person makes $30,000.) The exterior may be plain, but on the inside it's a big, gay theater in the round!
That's right, the sanctuary, which they call the "living room," was designed to be just like an ancient Greek playhouse! Eight thousand people can sit around the perimeter of the octagonal room with an island stage that juts out into the middle as they watch the campy theater productions that pass for New Life's church services. There's a rock band that plays hackneyed praise-rock karaoke as the lyrics are displayed on JumboTron screens. There's no art on the walls, but they project big pink and purple ovals that look like sissy eyes of Mordor. A friend of mine helped design the lighting, and it's top-notch—same company that does lighting for the Beastie Boys, Rolling Stones, etc.
3. The Thorn! Most Sundays, all that professional theater equipment might seem like overkill, but once a year New Life goes all out. It's their annual Passion play, called The Thorn, and it's amazing. They hire professional acrobats from Cirque du Soleil to twirl on hoops and bars that dangle from the rafters, use real tigers, and have hot guys in Roman centurion costumes marching through the halls and riding real horses in the parking lot.
The costumes are stunning. Satan is hulking and ripped and his makeup looks straight out of a Clive Barker movie. Jesus is a hunky man's man. The makeup used for his flogging on the way to his crucifixion is so authentic and so sadomasochistic that Pastor Brendle claims it influenced Mel Gibson's horny-thorny The Passion of the Christ. It really has to be seen to be believed, but I can assure you that it would be right at home on Broadway or in Vegas.
4. The big, gay art all over the place. First, there's the massive bronze Defender sculpture in the main lobby of the church outside the "living room." This is an angel of manliest variety, hairy and buff enough to burst the button crotch on a bear's best jeans. Defender is the centerpiece of the main church, and his sword is ready to thrust. Across the parking lot from the church you'll find the World Prayer Center, probably the campiest place in all of Christendom. "Prayer closets" line the halls (who knows what goes on in them!) and a giant rotating globe that used to be the sign for a golf shop sits in the front window of the chapel. Prayers are beamed in via the internet on flat screens around the room. Do not drop acid here.
Then there's another mighty bronze sculpture of a manly angel with a sword in the atrium. Surrounding him there on the walls of the room are prints of paintings by Thomas Blackshear II, a Christian artist whose artistic vision is so homoerotic it'd make Robert Mapplethorpe blush. A gorgeous, naked, muscle-bound black man with angel's wings is bent over as if to, uh, take flight. A weary, handsome carpenter (and dead ringer for Haggard) in a dirty T-shirt is held from behind by Jesus, whose grasp on the man's chest is so firm that he's lifted the man's shirt above his waistline to reveal his treasure trail. I know—gay!
5. Haggard's big, gay dirty-bookstore stakeouts. Finally, there's Haggard's own account of his dirty-bookstore stakeouts in Primary Purpose, a sort of spiritual autobiography: "One time while walking through an adult-bookstore parking lot we noticed a car with a Christian bumper sticker. I left a note on the car offering assistance to its driver if he would like to call. We waited discreetly to see how the note would be received."
The list goes on and on.
So what's gonna change at New Life now that Haggard has been run out of town? Nothing. The culture of denial and repression that already exists in the church leadership won't change one bit, and New Life will go right on being a big, gay church full of self-loathing people who think they can change their sexuality through phony piety.
And the more they repress themselves, the gayer the place will get. Gay as an ugly-ass shitbox full of self-hating, closeted faggot birds.
Noel Black lives in Colorado Springs and publishes NEWSPEAK, a monthly print magazine that can also be found at www.newspeakblog.com