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The fog from the smoke machine is especially thick this Easter morning in Colorado Springs. Green lasers dance across the stage and over the thousands gathered, making no discernible pattern as they slice into the fog. The service this morning is at a fever pitch. A sprawling praise band populates the stage: guitarists and singers, a cellist, a horn section, a dj and turntable, percussionists of various sorts, a keyboardist, a pianist, and a full choir. It's a lot of sound, a lot of light—a lot of a lot.
A lot is the way Easter is announced at New Life Church. You take your standard megachurch service, and you turn it up all the way.
The year is 2006, and New Life has never basked in a brighter spotlight. Ted Haggard, who founded the nondenominational church in his basement in 1984, has been president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) for two years, and he's leveraged the position into a formidable platform. Hardly a Sunday goes by without media—tv and newspaper reporters, documentary filmmakers—roaming the building, or without Haggard delivering a tale of expanding influence. He recounts a conversation with a heady politician, or an interview with a cable news talking head, that lets him redefine the evangelical stance-qua-Haggard on whatever issues are making headlines that week: abortion (con), the environment (pro), immigration (pro), same-sex marriage (con), the war efforts in Afghanistan (pro), and Iraq (super-pro).
Those far outside New Life have taken notice. A year earlier in Harper's, journalist Jeff Sharlet christened it the "nation's most powerful megachurch," observing that "no pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism than does Pastor Ted." The report revealed that the "most powerful megachurch" label was not just a warning to Harper's readers; it reflected the church's own wishful thinking, too. "There was a significant ...