Karen Booth is the leader of an Exodus member ministry called Transforming Congregations. She was offended recently when Mike Jones, the man who outed Ted Haggard, placed his massage table for auction on eBay. The proceeds of the auction where promised to Project Angel Heart, an established, reputable charity which provides care for AIDS and cancer patients. In response, Karen Booth placed a request on her ministry website for others to join her in contacting eBay to demand that they remove the auction, calling it “reprehensible”:
This item is not only offensive to any person in the eBay community who might be personally connected to Mr. Haggard, but is also highly offensive to Christians, particularly conservative evangelicals. I think it is a violation of eBay’s stated Community Values and I ask you to remove the listing from the eBay website.
I have put an alert on my ministry’s national website and have also informed other national Christian ministries, including the American Family Association. (The auction is also being discussed on several Internet blogs.) If the offensive listing is not removed, I will encourage my supporters to boycott eBay, which I also intend to do.
On March 17, one day before the auction was to end, eBay pulled it. Ex-Gay Watch author David Roberts spoke with Mike Jones on Sunday. Mike said he was given a vague reason having to do with rules regarding charities. He was bewildered by this, since he had received help from eBay staff in listing the item to begin with. Mostly he felt sad because Project Angel Heart was expecting the much needed donation, and as any eBayer can tell you, the last day — the last minutes even — are when the bids really fly.
I think most of us can understand that this item and it’s placement on eBay might upset many. It is a reminder of some sad events for those who knew and admired Ted Haggard. It represents areas of a man’s secret life that many just don’t want to know about. And yes, one could even say it is tacky. Highly offensive, even.
But if we are completely honest here, the biggest issue for so many is that Mike Jones is a prostitute. Rev. Booth appeared to allude to this when she left this comment on Warren Throckmorton’s site:
Didn’t know if anyone on the blog realized this, but Mike Jones – whose integrity is clearly above reproach – has put his so-called “Ted Haggard Massage Table” up for auction on eBay. [emphasis mine]
The actions I took with eBay (and encouraged my ministry supporters to follow) weren’t because poor Mike Jones is a prostitute. It was because his auction crossed the line of common human decency and principled business ethics. What’s next? Used condoms from someone who had sex with Anna Nicole?
Not that facts ever deter you, but eBay has stated that the auction was cancelled because of charity violations and had nothing to do with my – or anyone else’s – personal concerns
A used piece of furniture is hardly in the same league as “used condoms.” I think a better analogy would be Bonnie and Clyde’s bullet-ridden car. Yes it is in terrible taste. I think I conceded that point. Some may even say it’s disgusting and salacious. Okay, they have a point. That statement applies to the whole sordid affair. But to say it crossed the lines of simple human decency? I’m not so sure. Perhaps that line was already crossed when Rev. Haggard paid for sex outside of his marriage. Anyway, Mike Jones is out of the massage business and doesn’t need the table anymore. Would it have been more decent if he had sold it and kept the cash for himself?
Rev. Booth is correct to point out that eBay says they cancelled the auction because charity auctions are handled differently. Mike doesn’t fully believe the explanation himself based on his own personal communications with eBay personnel. I cannot know which explanation is correct. But it doesn’t really matter because that’s all beside the point. The point isn’t whether she succeeded in getting the auction pulled or not. And the point isn’t even that the auction was pulled.
The point is this: I’m only speaking for myself here, but I think it takes a lot of chutzpah for the Reverend to lecture anyone about decency when it comes to raising money for AIDS. When I attended the Love Won Out ex-gay conference in Phoenix on February 10th, ex-gay counselor and author Joe Dallas spoke movingly of the church’s shameful failure during the first twenty-five years of AIDS in America:
And I got to tell you, as somebody who was a part of the gay community in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, we in the gay community did not hear from the spokesmen for the church a message of concern or compassion. We heard glee! While person after person got behind a TV camera and said, “Ah-hah! The judgment of God is falling down on those sodomites. They’re finally getting what they deserve.”
That is the message the gay community is never going to forget!
I saw that you could raise millions of dollars from the Christian community to defeat gay political causes. … But you could barely raise nickels for organizations that tried to minister to homosexual people. Millions to defeat them, nickels to serve them — what did that say about our heart and priorities?
I have no idea whether Joe Dallas thinks the eBay auction is decent or not. I have a sneaking suspicion that he wouldn’t approve. But I think he had it right when he said that the church needs to repent of its horrible response to the AIDS crisis. And until it does, I don’t see where Rev. Booth or anyone else has room to criticize Mike Jones for trying to turn a shameful chapter into a few nickels for the service of others.
And as I said before, I’d prefer to follow Christ’s example and go with the prostitute over the Pharisees any day of the week.
David Roberts contributed to this article.