Friday, January 30, 2009

The Church's Sin Against Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard never was never one of my favorite preachers . . . and my opinion has nothing to do with his unfortunate sexual choices. I'm not into mega-church pastors who strut around on stage, boast about how many people attend their church, preach from their ego rather than the Bible and create a circus atmosphere in the house where people gather to encounter God's presence.

Haggard, married and father of five, was the former pastor of the 12,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Several years ago Haggard was ousted from his pulpit for having a homosexual affair with a male prostitute. Since he's been in exile HBO filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has unwittingly composed a 45 minute documentary on Haggard, "The Trials of Ted Haggard."

From a Los Angeles Times article, we learn that Haggard met with Pelosi as a concerned friend who videotaped their conversations. He was recently disappointed to hear Pelosi made a film of their talks and sold the finished product to HBO.

Ted . . . let me clue you in on something: If you're going to invite an HBO filmmaker to your house and they bring a video camera to your meeting, assume you'll end up on HBO.

Regardless, Pelosi depicts the disgraced pastor as a repentant man who wants to tell his side. Haggard, in the film, appears to have worked through a lot of personal issues. He says, "I have an incredibly satisfying relationship with my wife, and I no longer have compelling and distressing thoughts attached to same-sex attraction that I used to." He currently sees himself as a heterosexual with issues. I appreciate his candid approach. Haggard sees sexuality as "confusing and complex" and finds that he "must fight hard to be a man of integrity."

But what about New Life Church in Colorado Springs-the church Haggard once pastored? I learned from the article that when he left, Haggard had to sign two legal contracts with the church. One of the separation agreements barred him from living in the state of Colorado or returning to his church. Can you imagine banning a pastor from a state of the Union of the United States of America for sexual sin? I've never heard of such a thing. Is that legal? Can you imagine Jesus banning Peter from Israel after he denied him three times?

Where does this church in this burst of self-righteous arrogance get off exiling a person from a state? I understand that they don't want to see Haggard's face on the church grounds. But you can't force someone to be exiled from the state! That sounds like something Josef Stalin would do in sending political enemies to Siberia? Why didn't New Life Church just execute Haggard in front of the congregation or use church funds to have him whacked?

I'm sure the church has their reasons for turning Haggard into a spiritual refugee bearing the mark of Cain, and those reasons will are meant to try to make the church leaders appear to be "loving" and expressing "concern for the pastor, his family and the church membership." What a crock!

The actions of New Life Church tell me that becoming a pastor is a dangerous profession. If you're a pastor and human enough to commit a sin, then watch out! You'll be treated inhumanely by a group of people who allegedly aim to model the love and compassion of the Son of Man - Jesus Christ. A better choice would be to build a robotic pastor who is computer controlled, made out of titanium and incapable of sin. In fact, he comes completely without genitals. It's a win-win situation for everyone. When it comes to becoming a pastor, real people need not apply. Christians want perfection not reality in the pulpit and the church ends up creating a man who must live a double life lest he be exiled or ostracized for telling the truth about his struggles with sin. I wonder how much New Life Church is responsible for making it nearly impossible for Haggard to come clean with another trusted congregant about his homosexual urges prior to ever committing the sin?

Are other fornicators and adulterers attending this Colorado Springs church also asked to leave Colorado when their sin is exposed? Why not? The pastor is the model for everyone else, and so the church -New Life Church - should follow the model with every congregant. New Life Church should set up a refugee camp in Utah -the next state over - as a holding place for carnal Christians. When they repent of their sin and give evidence of spiritual transformation, they'll be allowed to return to Colorado.

But there's "good" news. Recently, the church is allowing Haggard to return to the state and move back to Colorado Springs. Isn't that special? Does Ted have any self-esteem or respect that he would want anything to do with the people in his former church?

Also, the present pastor of New Life Church, Brady Boyd, who viewed the Pelosi documentary, was distressed that the church was depicted as casting Haggard out. Rather, according to the "puppet" pastor Boyd, Haggard agreed to leave Colorado in the spirit of a "fresh start." Now, does that sound like Christian double talk or what? Christian leaders always find a way to revise reality to make themselves look good and the transgressor look bad even if the leadership acts in an ungodly manner. In fact,
Little do they know that in the act of correcting a person in sin, the church leadership commits their own sin in the name of acting righteous.

Later in the Los Angeles Times article, Haggard apologized saying he was sorry if the film causes any of his former parishioners pain. Let us not forget that it is Haggard and his family who experienced the most pain, and if he finds it necessary to explain how the Lord has been redeeming his marriage and restoring his soul in a documentary, it's too bad if his former parishioners experience pain. Get over it. This is a man's life we're talking about - a man who God has been working with. Shouldn't the parishioners be rejoicing that their former pastor is salvaging his life? We are just too over-sensitive as Christians about causing pain in the lives of others. Does the surgeon apologize to the family for the pain he's causing their loved one by performing an operation?

I close with this passage from Isaiah 43:1-3:

I fear not, for the Lord has redeemed me; He has called me by my name. I am His. When I pass through the waters, He will be with me; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow me. When I walk through the fire, I shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch me. For the Holy One of Israel is my Savior.

What sinners in Christianity must fear the most is no longer the Lord God, but they must fear the wrath, judgment, condemnation and exiling of those who claim they are followers of Jesus.


PB Sumner said...

Louis: it's good to see you back online (here).

A small correction to the piece on Haggard. He resigned in Nov. 2006, not "several years ago."

I share your dismay at how Ted Haggard's church treated him. But only partly.

Evangelical mega-churches are multi-million businesses now. They aren't houses of worship, Scripture study, and humble prayer. They're religious shopping malls and entertainment complexes.

Every day, they must do whatever is necessary to keep the parking lots full, the crowds flowing in, and the shekels filling the donation plates (or credit card readers). When endangered, they must react decisively. Ted Haggard was not merely a moral liability. He was an income killer.

He had to go, in the most demonstrative, distancing way the New Life Church leaders could muster.

On the other side, I don't believe Ted Haggard should be allowed back into a pulpit for many years to come. He has defiled the office of spiritual leader.

It took his liaison to out him. TH didn't go to the elders to confess, repent and seek help with his addictions. He walked the narrow temptation line of continuing in sin, though he says he asked God to take away his wrong desires. (God won't take what you won't let go of.)

TH's fear of losing "everything" was greater than his fear of blaspheming God's word, of bringing the name of Christ into disrepute, and of causing countless young believers to stumble into sin themselves or to reject the church altogether.

This is the paradox and dilemma for leaders entrenched (entrapped?) in mega-churche$. They're like corporate CEOs who face enormous loss if they leave a post.

And since TH didn't resign but was booted, he needs to prove his repentance and victory over his addictions over a long period of time -- not just 2-1/2 years. His priority is to mend his shattered family relationships, not re-enter the ministry.

In Scripture, new believers are never given leadership positions during their initial days of zealous fervor for the Lord. A blatantly sinful pastor like TH, who occupied a high-profile religious position, should not receive less stringent time limits on his prodigal return.

In my view, his preaching/pastoral days are over. That doesn't mean he can't serve the Lord in some way, sometime down the road. But he needs to go into "Arabia" for a long season, and only years later make a public appearance in Jerusalem.

Paul Sumner

GW said...

Excellent piece, Louis. What gets me is, there were members of leadership at New Life Church who knew about Ted's actions for quite a while, but overlooked them. Why? No doubt largely because he was an integral part of the church's income. When he got caught publicly, they had to deal with it.