Monday, November 06, 2006

Ted Haggard's Fall: A Time for Reflection

Ted Haggard, now ex-mega-church pastor and ex-president of the National Associations of Evangelicals, has sinned grievously by committing homosexual acts and possibly through taking illicit drugs as well. He has admitted committing some of the sins—but not which ones—accused of him by a homosexual prostitute who recently went public about his liaisons with Haggard. He has been dismissed by his church for sexual immorality. His letter to his church can be read here.

This is cause for some reflection and prayer. Yes, the media are licking their collective chops at the prospect of a feeding frenzy, "rejoicing in the wrong," but we should do better. Haggard’s accuser states that his revelation was politically motivated: He wanted to expose Haggard’s homosexual behavior since Haggard is a supporter of a Colorado Amendment that defines marriage monogamously. Nevertheless, there is far more than the dirty world of politics to consider here.

It may be that Ted Haggard wielded too much power for one man to bear. This could well have been part of his precipitous downfall—in addition to many other things, most of which only God knows. How can one man be the pastor of a giant church and the head of a giant organization? For fallen mortals, with power comes pride; with pride comes an entry point for the dark and demonic forces let loose in this fallen world. When these powers get their sweetened and poisoned talons into the soul, all manner of evil breaks in and breaks out. One with power must guard his or her heart diligently and have others available to set up sentry as well. Otherwise the fortress will be overrun and the casualties will be many. Bloody carcasses will be strewn everywhere as a result of Ted Haggard's sin.

Let us all take this to heart, since we, too, are subject to manifold temptations, however much power we may possess. As Francis Schaeffer somewhere said, a successful Sunday school teacher can become prideful at having more in his class than another teacher. This is as much a sin or pride as any other. It must be rooted out by repentance. We should remember the log in our own eye and the heart problems we all suffer from. And when we remember, let us repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. This is an upside-down Kingdom where the humble are exalted, the poor blessed, and the prideful sent empty away.


Tim said...

Doug writes:

It may be that Ted Haggard wielded too much power for one man to bear.

I have long been persuaded that this is true of many men, not just religious leaders and not just those who have fallen as Haggard has.

Charles Rathmann said...

I hope that most of these charges prove false as hypocrisy is not something I would wish on any man, even one I may not agree with on much. With regart to any charges that are true, The Lord welcomes back those who have strayed even more joyfully than he celebrates the retention of the perpetually faithful.

Two points ...

Power in the material and political worlds should not be confused with spiritual power. In some cases, the two are at odds with each other. When we let anyone but Jesus come between us and the Lord, I think that is power that is not proper or just.

But also, from David to Moses to MLK, the Lord has always picked flawed mortals to spread His word (perhaps because those are the only ones He can find). The weakness of the man is not a reflection on the message, but is perhaps confirmation of that message.

In the Light of Christ,
~ Charles Rathmann

Becky Vartabedian said...


Thanks for these words. Watching the saga unfold from beginning to end this last week has been troubling in many ways. Despite this, I believe the way New Life Church publicly handled has been a good example of the way grace can work in a body of believers. NY Times actually has a reasonably fair treatment of the outcome online today at Church Tries to Cope after Minister's Dismissal.

Craig Fletcher said...

Sexual Immorality is something that tempts us all, especially men - powerful or not. The moment that a man says to himself "I would never do that" or "that would never happen to me" is the moment that man becomes even more vulnerable.

We must all keep our guard up and be humble in this regard, and watch for the warning signs. I am sure that Ted didn't just launch himself into homosexual prostitution one day. It starts with your thoughts, which lead to actions (such as pornography), which can eventually lead to something as destructive as what Ted Haggard has done.

I recently received word that a fellow Christian whom I have the utmost respect for, a life long missionary and pastor, a true servant of Christ, is struggling with pornography. If it can get to this guy, it can get to anyone.

That being said, I have seen marriages and relationships actually strengthened through hardships such as these. Ted and his wife have a long painful road to recovery, but in the end it could result in an even stronger marriage than before. I pray so.

He no longer can hide and live a double life - praise God for that.

Anonymous said...

I have been amazed in recent days how God actually uses our sin for His glory. He did this with Josheph's brothers, He did this with King David, and He did this with Pilate. He has done this with me in a thousand ways. I am so thankful that God doesn't limit Himself to working through the good and saintly things we do.

My hope is that God will bring much good out of Haggard's sin. Indeed, if Romans 8 is any indication, He will.

Paul D. Adams said...

Wow...What a week it was in the news! Saddam Hussein sentenced to death, Episcopal Church sentenced to a new head bishop who supports same-sex marriage and ordination of gays, and Ted Haggard sentenced to church discipline as well as the shame of a fallen life! Did I miss anything? I'm sure I did.

My daughter, clearly distressed, calls me on Friday morning from Colorado Springs saying, "Dad, did you hear the news and what's going on at New Life Church?" My
response, "Yes, dear, I'm afraid that I have." Since I worked for one who helped Haggard start New Life Church and lived about 1/2 mile from it for years, I've been musing over this for a few days since first hearing and thought I'd jot down some of my thoughts.

First, if we take Mike Jones at his word and believe that he chose to expose Haggard's immorality partly because of his distaste for hypocrisy, I think it is important to listen to him. Clearly, the world is watching us and our lifestyles must be in concert with our beliefs! After all, letting our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and give God glory is about as good a motive as any. Living a life of duplicity is never condoned in Scripture, and even the unbeliever can share this ethic (I suspect they do so because of the imago Dei in all of us).

Since I'm advocating integrity, I suggest that Jones take a longer look at his own lifestyle as a male prostitute. Seems to me that he is opposing marriage of all kinds, same-sex or otherwise. Anyone who would market their sexual services to others has leveled a serious blow to faithfulness in all human relationships, homosexual or heterosexual. Therefore, Mr. Jones, take the plank out of your own eye before supposing to stand for marriage of all stripes. [Incidentally, I do not support gay marriage under any circumstances. My only point here is to show how prostitution destroys human relationships, no matter one's sexual preference.] This does not mean of course that Jones, or any unbeliever, has no right to appeal to Christian ethics in sexual purity because he has not personally subscribed to it (ad hominem). It does clearly show that the world is watching God's people and insisting upon integrity of lifestyle. They're right! Jesus had a great deal to say about hypocrisy. As is well known, a hypocrite was a play actor who held up various masks to portray a character in a Greek play. That role became the paradigmatic expression for living a life of discontinuity between beliefs and behavior. Eventually, some form of psychosis sets in and cognitive dissonance destroys all healthy mental states. Pride may go before a fall, but pretense goes before pride.

The cure for hypocrisy? One word: Holiness. Believers must pursue a life that is motivated by and results in holy habits grounded in Scripture. Our eternity depends upon it and so does our happiness. As Spurgeon once said in his now classic All of Grace, "happiness comes from holiness." Haggard's fall comes straight from Hell and is nothing short of sin, which he has readily admitted, thankfully. But his fall is no doubt the product of pursuing happiness and fulfillment in the wrong directions that are certainly not rooted in holiness. It is eternally true that "the soul is restless until if finds its rest in Thee," says Augustine. Not only will one not see the Lord without holiness (Heb. 12:14), but our apologetics and Gospel message fails apart from setting Christ as Lord in every area of our lives (1 Pt. 3:15-16), including our sexuality.

Having served as a pastor for a short time, I know there is tremendous responsibility to live uprightly. And rightly so! Many in leadership, however, find that their mere humanity creeps in and subtly begins to demolish all that is good, gradually and certainly destroying the "inner man." Consequently, leaders often find themselves at a juncture: Either expose their sin asking for assistance from significantly mature brothers or sisters to hold them accountable to change, or relegate the matter to one's "private life." Sadly, and somewhat ironically, many in leadership take the latter option and end up living lives of isolation that begets duplicity, even while working in such a public arena! It is true we all have private lives where none but God can go. "Each heart knows its own bitterness and no one else can share its joy" (Pr. 14:10). But, where necessary, all believers must be transparent and seek out a faithful community of at least one other to hold them accountable on the road to holy living. Had Haggard sought help years ago, knowing his weaknesses and "dark side," I'm confident things would have turned out differently in the news this past week. Although we have this treasure in "jars of clay," brittle and porous as it were, we are equally God's "holy nation" and responsible to hold one another accountable, not out of harsh judgment, but out of love and grace to restore and renew for God's glory. In doing so, we will walk with integrity and shine a bright light on the glorious Gospel of Jesus.

After all, the world IS watching!

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


Excellent post. Thank you!

Peter M. Head said...

Interesting to read the letter and compare the number of references to himself with the number of references to God. He is sorry for the pain he has caused himself, his church, and his family.

ohtobeholy said...

But how can you make yourself sorry for the way you have treated God?

Colm said...

At note to Paul. D. Adams:

Ted Haggard is many things (supposed anti-Catholic and now an shamed ex-adulterer), but he is not a hypocrite. Why? Hypocrisy requires a contradiction of belief, not of behaviour. If Ted Haggard privately believes that homosexuality and infidelity are not sins, and yet protests publicly against same-sex marriage, then he most definitely is a hypocrite. However, it is clear now that Ted Haggard did not beleive his marital infiedlity and same-sex genital liasons were sinless acts, they were by all means his demons with which he obviously struggled against, ultimately unsuccessfully, and thus he is simply a sinner like you, me, and St. Peter.

Nevertheless, thanks for your thoughts!