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Pastor Ted back on stage 

Wacky right-wing Christiandom is now officially a circus. I expect any day now well, any night to find Ted Haggard having his way with the clown. Or the bearded woman. Unless he finds the sword-swallower first.

The Bible-thumpers, who are like pine beetles except with bigger hair, invaded our village nearly two decades ago, riding the "nonprofit" Focus on the Family tax-break choo-choo from California. That wave was soon followed by a Jed Clampett-like caravan of rusty cars, each stuffed with eight or nine people, from Texas and other backwater Southern states. (For a full list, Google "states that actually voted for John McCain.")

Our village was overrun by the goofy bastards, who began building "churches" on cheap vacant lots: glass and metal mega-shrines to themselves, high-energy palaces with Hollywood sound and lighting and video systems and big-screen projection TVs so the throngs could get a better glimpse of the guy in the $4,000 suit telling them how to think.

They preached forgiveness and did not forgive. They preached tolerance and were savagely intolerant. They opened their arms to welcome anyone who looked, acted, talked and believed exactly as they did. They preached Jesus but foamed like the anti-Christ. Jesus taught love. They taught hate.

Mostly because this issue rakes in the money when you pass the plate they ranted against the devil of homosexuality. And guess what? Some of the men have spent time sneaking around at night and putting their hands in the cookie jar a euphemism for "another guy's pants."

I spent a few hours last weekend watching and re-watching a preview copy of HBO's The Trials of Ted Haggard, which premieres Thursday night. Haggard, and I'm guessing you know this, became famous as the founder of New Life Church, where he often railed against homosexuality. He became more famous as leader of 30 million evangelicals nationwide, barking louder against the sin of gayness. But he became really famous when news broke of his midnight rides to Denver to play "Can I Touch the Bratwurst?" with a gay "massage therapist" named Mike Jones.

Haggard was quickly ousted from his church in a Christian hostile corporate takeover, a sort of Carl Icahn meets Saint Peter. (Perhaps I should have picked a saint other than Peter.) A new lineup of "pastors" took over, and Our Lady of the Manly Men began the process of rebuilding its non-taxable financial fortune. Sorry, I mean "congregation."

And then the Christians banished Haggard. Exiled him from his own church with some sort of creepy, hush-money legal threat. Haggard's presence, they knew, was keeping people and their money away.

Jesus was in the business of forgiving. These people were in the business of business. Jesus told us to love our brother even when he sins. Especially when he sins. Matthew (6:14-15) told us that if we don't forgive people, God will not forgive us. New Life kicked Haggard right in the balls.

In Trials, he emerges as a sad and pathetic figure, shunned and left to wander the desert with his wife, Gayle, who says of her 30-year relationship with her husband: "I knew from time to time there wasn't the level of intimacy that I desired."

That might be due, in some small way, to the fact that TED IS GAY.

As Jerry Seinfeld pointed out, there's nothing wrong with that. It's Haggard's hypocritical lifetime of preaching against it that irks some people.

On camera, Haggard talks openly about his attraction to men. Frankly, he stops just short of announcing that he's working with tigers and will soon unveil a dazzling Las Vegas act.

This week, Grant Haas alleged that while he was a New Life congregant, Haggard masturbated in front of him and sent him illicit text messages. (Without naming Haas, the "church" has said it gave a young man a lot of money not hush money, mind you, but "compassionate assistance" after hearing of his inappropriate relationship with Haggard.)

Current New Life pastor Brady Boyd after lodging a Christ-like sandal in Haggard's testicles praised his flock as "one of the most compassionate, forgiving groups of people I have ever met."

To quote the great thinker Sarah Palin: "You betcha."

rangerrich@csindy.com

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