Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and Senior Pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO, has been the latest domino to fall. It’s alleged that he’s been having an affair, bought and paid for, with a man for about three years under an assumed name. He’s admitted to having purchased (but not consumed) methamphetamines with this man.
Here are the things I find interesting about this. The first is that until late in the day yesterday, many articles did not give the male escort/prostitute a name. He had a name and I’m sure it was known since he came out in a radio broadcast on Wednesday. But the news articles did not use this name for quite some time.
The second is the startling similarities between Pastor Haggard’s response to the allegations that he used methamphetamines (i.e. he bought them, but never used them) and President Clinton’s response to allegations that he used marijuana (i.e. he smoked it, but never inhaled). President Clinton’s response has been the butt of jokes and fodder for hate and fear for many years. It will be interesting to see how the evangelical community responds to Pastor Haggard’s claims.
I feel very badly for Pastor Haggard. If the allegations are true (and it appears that they may be), his body has been saying one thing, but his mind has been saying something else. He cannot be true to one without being false to the other. He has been living with his feet in two worlds. He has been caught in a bind for many years. On the other hand, if the allegations are false, he and his family have been put in a terrible position. Either way, here is a family in a terrible crisis and pain. I sincerely pray God’s peace, comfort and grace in their midst as they walk through this valley of shadow.
I can see people in both camps lining up, preparing their slings and arrows. Preparing their armaments to defend their virtue and honor. The reality is that we have all failed. Whether or not Pastor Haggard actually did anything is really beside the point anymore. The fact that so many are willing to believe that he did means that we have failed. The fact that so many are willing to believe that he didn’t without any evidence means that we have failed. The fact that the church has done so little to protect and nurture its leaders means that the church has failed and failed catastrophically. This incident points to a catatonic failure in our culture on many levels. The fact that so many on both sides of the issue are counting coups and waiting for the votes to fall their way because of it, frankly sickens me.
For me, of course, it’s the church that is of great concern.Â Not simply the New Life Church that Pastor Haggard led, not just the National Association of Evangelicals, but the church worldwide, the Body of Christ if you will.Â It seems to me, that not only has the church failed in allowing this to happen but it might even be said that we set Pastor Haggard up for this.Â The institutional church in north America is structured in such a way that the leaders must fractured lives of perfection in front of their flocks.Â Smiling, straight teeth, combed hair, suits, wives either in the choir or gazing adoringly from the first row of pews with children lined up in a row.Â The sermon must be neither too short nor too long or his livelihood will be cut short.Â Everyone must be kept happy.Â Suddenly it is not the paradoxes of the Gospel which must be held in tension, but the desires of Mrs. Snooty-nose and Mr. Grabby-fingers.Â The leaders above him in his denomination are preaching a straight-jacket theology of graceless adherence to codes of conduct rather than the Law of Love.Â The wonder is not that this happened to Pastor Haggard, but that it doesn’t happen more often.
We need to be able to come to a place in our society where we are able to love the people we disagree with. Where we do not objectify or feel threatened by those who do things that make us feel uncomfortable. I wonder how things might have been different for Pastor Haggard or someone else in a similar position if we didn’t just condemn and throw stones at wrongdoers. Despite the fact that we’ve done away with physical stoning, we still manage to do terrible damage to people with metaphorical stones and I think back to the story in the Bible of the woman caught in prostitution who was brought before Jesus for proper judgment, condemnation and punishment (stoning). He sank to the ground and began writing in the sand with his finger. Then he said, “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.” When everyone had left the square (except the woman) he turned to her and said, “What? is no one left to condemn you? Then I won’t condemn you either. Go and sin no more.”