Before Ted Haggard confessed to sexual misconduct, he resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) on November 2. The next day, when Haggard still denied paying a male prostitute for sex, he explained that he had resigned because "right now my trust is questionable."
In the wake of Haggard's breach of trust, it came as little surprise that the NAE board chose Leith Anderson as interim president. Anderson, senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, previously guided the umbrella organization through a financial crisis as interim president from 2001 to 2003.
"Leith Anderson is highly respected and well known," NAE board chairman Roy Taylor told CT. "He is a good choice to communicate our commitment to character and stability. He's also a very creative and strategic thinker."
Other evangelical leaders echoed Taylor's praise for Anderson. Sojourners founder Jim Wallis said Anderson "has the moral authority to take the [NAE] through this crisis and beyond." Yet Haggard's misconduct has raised questions about what the NAE's "beyond" should look like. For some years, the NAE has struggled to maintain steady leadership and vision. Taylor said the NAE will reevaluate whether the Haggard model of a bivocational spokesman remains appropriate. The NAE could return to its earlier model and hire a manager who may not feel as comfortable in front of the camera as Haggard did.
The board's executive committee plans to discuss these concerns while meeting December 13 in Minneapolis. Anderson has told the committee he wants a succession plan in writing by January 2007.
Succession may be the least of the NAE's concerns. Gordon MacDonald, chair of World Relief, which the NAE oversees, said, "[M]y own sense is that the NAE (as we know it) will probably not recover from this awful moment." On a blog for CT sister publication Leadership, MacDonald wrote, "Leaders of various constituencies are likely to believe that their fortunes are better served by new and fresher alliances."
Anderson acknowledged Haggard's misconduct has harmed the NAE's public credibility. But he forcefully rebutted concerns about the NAE's standing among evangelicals.
"If there are some who are concerned about the viability of the NAE, it's based on their ignorance, not on reality," Anderson told CT. "Internally, I don't think there is any really significant issue. The NAE has never had moral failure in leadership to my knowledge in more than 60 years of history. Evangelicals understand the organization. This is like a plane crash. When a plane crashes, you're sad and it's big news, but you don't abandon the airline industry. You recognize that's the safest way to travel."
Once the dust has settled on the public controversy, Anderson must sort out the NAE's many personal connections to Haggard. After the NAE chose Haggard as president in 2003, he fused the organization's facilities, staff meetings, and some administrative roles with those of his Colorado Springs New Life Church.
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CT has full coverage of the Haggard scandal.
"National Association of Evangelicals Sifts Through Ashes of Haggard Scandal" is also available online at CT.
The National Association of Evangelicals website has more on the organization's new leadership and activities, but not on Haggard.
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