Last fall, just days before the mid-term elections, Mike Jones, a Denver-based masseuse and escort, shocked the country with a call to the press. He revealed that Ted Haggard—the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, head pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and arguably one of the most powerful leaders of the Christian right—had been a regular client of his (and not just for massages), using the name "Art from Kansas City."
That in itself was big news, but considering Haggard's high-profile role in campaigning against same-sex marriage and equal rights for gays and lesbians, his clandestine visits for man-love shook the foundation of the reigning Republican/evangelical regime. When the election went the way of the Democrats, many pundits pointed to Haggard's exposure as one of the contributing factors.
Jones' new book, I Had to Say Something, about his time with "Art from Kansas City," features some passages that are downright steamy—until you remember that they're about Haggard, possibly the ickiest man on the planet. We talked to Jones from his hotel room in Atlanta on the second day of his national book tour.
MERCURY: How has your life changed since exposing Haggard? Is it hard getting used to the sudden fame?
MIKE JONES: If I'd known the way everything was going to go down, believe me, I would've had a book deal already planned. I would've had a PR and media person. I would've had a lot of things. But I reached a point where I had to say something, and I simply thought that he would confess and cry and then move on—and that would be it.
The Jim Bakker treatment?
Or the Jimmy Swaggart treatment. So, my life has changed, but it's only changed in the way that I exposed myself just as much as I exposed him. A lot of people have given him sympathy and feel sorry for him and where he's at now. Of course I haven't felt the same in return, which I thought was interesting. Even the gay religious group, Soulforce? They mounted a write-in campaign for Haggard, offering him support and peace and blah blah blah, but nobody offered to have a write-in campaign to comfort me at all. Even the Human Rights Campaign hasn't even talked to me. I've had a lot of backs turned on me.
Why do you think that is?
I don't know for sure—but I'm guessing if I was this pretty boy, poster child-type of guy, it might be different. But because I was a sex worker, I portray a negative image on the gay community, which I think is ridiculous. I mean, let's get real, people. I don't judge the straight community on women prostitutes. So...Why did you decide to go to the media, as opposed to other routes?The more I read about what Ted Haggard had been saying against gay marriage—we had two initiatives on the ballot in Colorado—it just needed to come out. This needed to be exposed... this man who is preaching and actively campaigning against gay marriage can't even abide by his own vows, and I was getting really upset.Do you buy into the belief that you helped sway the general elections—not just in Colorado, but also around the country?
The thousands of phone calls and emails I got buy into it. That was the last thing on my mind, but people were saying, "Thanks, Mike, for giving the elections to the Democrats." Even Karl Rove made a mention of it. But I wasn't thinking on a national level at all.One of the main themes of the book is the evil of hypocrisy. Do you solely blame Ted Haggard and his dishonesty, or is a larger culture of suppression more at fault?
It's the larger picture. What I want people to get out of this book is that this is about much more than Ted Haggard. This is about how religion deals with homosexuality. The bottom line is they don't deal with it. They want to keep it quiet and sweep it under the rug. And you know what? This is why we have people like Ted Haggard who have guilt and shame, and have to sneak around. What I really hope is that people start talking about it. Do we really need to keep going through this every few years, where someone gets caught? It's just stupid. Harper's magazine said this man had more political sway in [the evangelical] movement than anybody, and Ted Haggard himself said that the way evangelicals vote is the way elections go. My god, if he has that much power, and the evangelical church has that much power, and yet they can't even deal with an issue of homosexuality? It's frightening. And at New Life Church, they don't pass around collection plates, they pass around buckets. You know what I'm saying? These people are collecting a huge amount of money. There are so many people who fall into this like sheep, and whoever they're told to vote for, that's whom they vote for.
Have you visited New Life Church?
When I decided to write the book, I wanted to see what it was all about—I wanted to see the church Ted built. When I went down there, I didn't notify the press, because that would have been a circus. But I did notify the pastor that I was coming. I went alone, and I have to tell you, the experience was one I'll never forget. When I walked in the door, you'd have thought I was Moses parting the sea. You know what a big church is like—it's like a city within a city. They all got on their walkie-talkies and were like, "He's here, he's here," and everyone was pointing, and I was pretending like I wasn't paying attention, but I was. Lots of them came up to me to shake my hand, and every one of them said, "Thanks for exposing the deception we've experienced all these years." So, they were kind to me. The temporary head pastor there came up and said, "Mike, we believe God used you to expose Ted Haggard."
How did you take that?
Whatever. I just said, "I don't care who pointed me in that direction, I just did what I thought was the moral thing to do."What do you make of Haggard's three-week "cure"?
The word "cure" makes me want to vomit.
I guess you couldn't see my air quotes.
It's not a sickness or a disease, it's who you are, Ted. People ask me if I think Ted Haggard is gay, and I say yes. Did he have sex with his wife, and have five kids? Yes. But this is a man who's been in denial and repression all his life, and he didn't know how to deal with it. That's why he drove down to Denver, thinking he was getting away with it. In a deep way, I think he wanted to get caught.
Mike Jones will be reading from his book at Powell's City of Books (1005 W Burnside) on Tuesday, June 26, 7:30 pm. The reading is free.