Why the Haggard Scandal Could Hurt Evangelical Turnout

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David Kuo, the former number two at the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the first Bush White House, is camped out on the NYT bestsellers list with his book, Tempting Faith, about the dangers of mixing politics and evangelicals. He says he met Ted Haggard only a few times, but says that the episode has saddened him nonetheless, especially the headline-grabbing fallout of Haggard's admissions.

"At the end of the day, this comes down to bringing Jesus into politics," he says. "Right now, it's not Ted Haggard on trial. It's Jesus. This is about the God he represents. When you make yourself a public figure and you fall, you bring the perception of your God with you."

"Jim Dobson's response was particularly telling," Kuo says of leading evangelical James Dobson. "He basically blamed the controversy on gays and Democrats. When evangelical leaders can't see beyond Tuesday on any question, what on earth is happening?"

Kuo says that the New Life Church was the starting place of many evangelical pastors who fanned out across the country, and Haggard was their mentor. Kuo's own church in the D.C. suburbs is led by former Haggard acolytes. This interconnectedness of so many congregations, along with Haggard's recently political bent, both amplify the effect of the scandal.

"The evangelical obsession with homosexuality makes this especially ironic. For many evangelical leaders, anything related to homosexuality is this special, dark sin. But that's not what the Bible says," says Kuo. "Really it's a sin like gossiping to your neighbor. Jesus doesn't even mention it at all."

Kuo also says it's important to remember that this is not just a scandal or a news story, but a moment of deep pain for Haggard's congregants. "Lost in all of this are thousands of people in Colorado Springs who are desperately hurting," he says.

Politically, Kuo sees a potential to reduce the evangelical vote on Tuesday. "I think the significance of the Haggard thing is this building case against evangelical involvement in politics. Christians are smart," he says. "They can see what influence politics is having."