“…but for the Grace of God, go I” A Christian Nightmare, starring Ted Haggard
I will admit it: when I heard about Ted Haggard’s alleged problem, I thought, “Good! Another bad televangelistic type is going down – clean them all out!” We’ve all had that feeling of, “I can feel it in my bones…this is the truth”, and you know it’s the Holy Spirit confirming it. It may not be the best or the correct feeling to have, but I own the responsibility of thinking it; many Christians, however, will not, as evidenced by Dr. James Dobson and Jerry Fallwell.
No one knows the story fully beyond God, Ted Haggard, and the male escort.
The victims in this are his family, who are going to be brutally hounded and harassed, the members of his mega church, and the thirty million plus he claimed to represent when he was president of the National Association of Evangelicals. This is the traditional list of “victims”, but I sadly wonder if it’s correct.
You see, the Christians I have encountered here in the Bible Belt all have the same basic problems, and it’s disheartening. The greatest problem is wanting to have the perfect evangelical appearance, which really is the sin of pride. I routinely ran into people who wanted to do charity work, but only if others could see it. They are hot for the “pat on the back” and the congratulations; those they are helping…were incidental. I felt so dirty and ashamed, I removed myself from these charity groups. I didn’t join them to gain applause, and yet there’s one place where the people we’re supposed to be helping…routinely clap for us in appreciation. It feeds the egos on the team.
“God bless you! Thank you for coming!” It is polite speech and a genuine expression of thankfulness, but it’s also acts like leaven, which is a Levitical no-no. I always thought this was wrong – we should be thanking the people we serve for allowing us to take care of them. They are giving us more of a blessing than we could ever bless them with. It’s through service we come to realize what we actually have, who we love, and just how good God has been to us.
So when I saw Ted Haggard fall, it had all the overtones of what I’ve personally experienced: the perfect façade most Christians want to put out there. It is that “holier than thou” mask that always gets us into trouble every single time in more than the obvious ways. It also pushes the new, timid cross seekers far away with thoughts of, “God can’t forgive me – look at all these super religious people!”
I watched from a distance this very thing happen with a friend of mine , and it wasn’t easy. He forgot the most fundamental rule of evangelism: don’t shove the gospel down the person’s throat and expect them to swallow. Before his girlfriend moved in with him, he put on a good show: Bible toting Christian who had the Bible playing on two computers in his house all hours of the day, helping others (I only heard his accounts, never saw anything), and doing a prison ministry (which didn’t interest him before his girlfriend went to prison). After she was released and moved in with him, he couldn’t understand why she wasn’t interested in the Bible anymore, or why she fell back into the same mess that sent her to prison in the first place.
It’s a case of seeing the forest through the trees. I understood it and tried to explain it to him that he was forcing religion on her, and that his example of sleeping on top of her and stealing movies and music from illegal downloading put his words and deeds at odds – he was a hypocrite. Who likes following a hypocrite? No one.
In the end, his girlfriend went back to prison. It was horrible knowing she was self-destructing. She couldn’t resolve the hypocrisy she was living with the inadequacy of, “I’m not a good person, and I need to be a good person to get to Jesus. I’ll come to Jesus when I clean my life up, and then He’ll forgive me.”
Then there’s Mr. Haggard. I’m sure he was tempted more than he could bare and finally cracked. The façade he had to maintain must have been the weight of a thousand worlds on his shoulders. This brings about a few dismal questions:
- Why aren’t others stepping up, taking on some responsibility and distributing the weight of the work?
- Did Mr. Haggard’s pride get the better of him, convincing him he had to solely shoulder the burdens because he couldn’t trust anyone else to do it “right”?
- What sort of Christians surrounded this man that he didn’t feel he could lean on them, share his temptations, and ask for accountability and a spiritual covering?
It’s hard in one way to feel bad for him: most leaders are quick to chide the sheep for not seeking out spiritual covering and being accountable to that person, but they’re also being hypocritical regarding rallying against these things as being “sins”. Of course they’re sins, but it’s no good if you’re screaming fire and brimstone when right after the mass, you’re going to sneak off and commit them yourself.
Then there’s the lying and denials. Most people understand embarrassment and the fear of losing what you’ve worked for as well as what you love, but it’s the cover up that always gets you in trouble. Politicians are the perfect example of “what not to do when you’re caught in a career threatening scandal”. It’s not one cover up, it’s a repeated series making mincemeat of the person’s credibility. Americans are a pretty forgiving bunch of people. Although there’s a general disconnect with “it’s ok to lie, including white lies”, most people get upset when they discover they’ve been lied to. You can lie, but don’t lie to me.
Christians understand the temptations more than the unsaved; sin becomes exceedingly sinful and we struggle with cooling our flesh like the pigs the prodigal son tended. Coming to Christ means one thing: you’re going to have a bulls eye on your forehead; your butt is “open season” to Satan’s minions simply because you’re a pawn in a huge chess match to him. We know the battle’s been won, but unfortunately, he doesn’t believe it.
I never knew this man by name before the scandal, but I had seen him on Daystar and TBN on occasion while flipping the channels; he always set off my “discernment meter” although I didn’t know why at the time. I don’t like knowing any more now than I didn’t know back then as this just one more pseudo-televangelist who got too big for his britches.
He was the president of a national organization. He had his own mega church. He was on conference calls to the White House weekly. He was always in the white hot spot light. Now he’s being marginalized and reduced by Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson, and President Bush. “Ted, who? I never met the man, sorry, can’t help you there, friend.” I was reminded of an old saying the other day, “nobody knows you, when you’re down and out”.
It is shameful to see how Christian leaders have pulled away from Mr. Haggard. I’m not suggesting they pull a “Republican” and circle the wagons screaming “DENY!” I don’t think he should be given a free pass for his sins (he still has some apologies to make and forgiveness to seek), but they do need to remember on their way up to the top, they most likely have stepped on a few toes and have a few skeletons hiding behind the surfboard and leisure suit in the closet.
Sins are not washed away with time, but with blood. He shouldn’t have been kicked out of his church, but he shouldn’t be leading it, either. What should happen to Mr. Haggard? He should go into a drug treatment program and dive under the protective spiritual cover of elders to be accountable to so he does not slip. No elder should turn him away after his confession – Jesus doesn’t turn us away when we screw up big time.
The fall of Mr. Haggard is indeed dismal for all Christians because he’s another face attributed to the Christian religion. He’s going to be made fun of by every late night TV comedian, and so will Christ in the process. This is unfortunately one more feather in the cap of Satan as the unsaved will have one more face to point at and cackle, “This is why I’m not one of YOU!”
I’m far from perfect, and so extremely glad I’m not. God can’t use perfect vessels, but He does make treasures from shattered pots. All one can do is pray God will use the shattered pot of Mr. Haggard’s life and make it count for something more than the label of “gay crystal meth addict”. We all have to be broken and brought low before God can raise us up, and maybe this is a new chapter that will ultimately bring greater glory to God.