One of the fastest growing churches in the country hosted former evangelical leader Ted Haggard and his wife on Sunday in a "no-holds-barred" interview.
Steven Furtick, lead pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C., knew inviting the disgraced pastor who was involved in a sex and drugs scandal was controversial. But he said he wanted the 5,000-member congregation to hear the whole story of Haggard's "fall from grace" – as many label it – first hand and let the story speak for itself.
"I want you to see what it looks like when a man deceives and lies and then his sin is found out," Furtick told Elevation attendees earlier this month during the church's "Healer" sermon series. "And then I want you to see what it looks like when a family stands by someone and forgives him."
"Because there are many of you who are in a position where you don't receive God's healing in your life. You're headed for some of the same calamity," he explained, noting that Haggard's story can be a "good reminder of what's at stake when you flirt with sin."
Haggard, former leader of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals and founding pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, left the helm and the pulpit in November 2006 amid allegations that he paid a male prostitute for sex and used methamphetamine.
Once an influential evangelical who publicly condemned homosexual behavior, Haggard stunned the evangelical community after admitting to "sexual immorality" and purchasing crystal meth.
"I am so ashamed that I misrepresented the body of Christ and that I hurt people and caused them pain," Haggard said Sunday at Elevation Church. "I am so deeply embarrassed and sorry that that happened, and I don't think that's ever going to happen again."
Furtick invited Haggard through e-mail after watching HBO's documentary, "The Trials of Ted Haggard."
The young pastor had visited New Life Church as a college student and was devastated when news broke over the scandal.
"It tore me apart to see the devastating effects of sin on the man and the family," Furtick told his congregants of mainly young adults.
But he was inspired by Haggard's wife, Gayle, who had shown forgiveness and stuck by her husband. Both were invited to speak at Elevation.
"I asked the Lord, 'What do I do?' And he said, 'You forgive and you love,'" Gayle said.
"The crisis story is a reality," Ted Haggard told NewsChannel 36. "But now we want to take the time to show our family is together, we're strong, we're growing together, we're deeply sorry for what happened with the scandal, but life goes on."
Furtick clarified that the invitation to the Haggard's was neither a gesture of endorsement or of condemnation.
"We're simply allowing him to tell a story," Furtick said.
"Aren't you grateful for a church where we can talk about everything?" he asked Elevation attendees.
Over the last several months, Haggard has had dozens of media appearances on such shows as CNN's Larry King, ABC's Good Morning America and Oprah. When asked to define his sexuality, he says he can't place it into stereotypical boxes but says he is content with his relationship with his wife.