The Fall of Ted Haggard

This was posted on the blog I keep on my church’s website at wildwindchurch.com, but I also wanted to put it here, because it’s not just people in my church, and not just Christian people, who don’t know what to make of a preacher who falls as hard as Ted Haggard did.

Many of you have by now heard about the tragic moral fall of the Rev. Ted Haggard, founding pastor of the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado. Haggard was president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a group that exercised tremendous influence in the Bush administration. Haggard himself had been called on to advise Bush on moral/social issues. He regularly preached against homosexuality and gay marriage, and propped up himself and his wife Gayle and their five children as the ideal family.

On November 2 Mike Jones, a male prostitute, publicly claimed that he had been having sex with Haggard, and that Haggard had purchased methamphetamine from him. When the charges came out, Haggard resigned as president of NAE, and was then fired by the board of his church a few days later.

I would highly recommend you read the letter Haggard submitted to his church and was read there the week after this news became public.

I feel a need to address this with you because of the scale of Haggard’s influence and the issues his congregation will now be facing. To be in public ministry (or public anything, for that matter) is to have a higher degree of responsibility for the effects of one’s actions on others. Former NBA star Charles Barkley, famous for his phrase, “I am not a role model” was wrong. The truth is he was just a bad one.

What happens to a church when a leader falls in this way? Let’s address the variety of feelings people can have about this.

Response 1: My pastor was a hypocrite.
If only it were that simple. Haggard admits in his letter that he had a dark place in his life and would sometimes find himself doing things that contradicted everything he taught and believed. I do too. Every pastor does. Mine may be in the form of occasional temper outbursts, not treating my family the way I should, or issues of pride that pop up from time to time, but the principle is the same. The fact that I sometimes see these things in my own life does not mean I am a hypocrite when I teach that we should control our anger, treat our families with respect, and deal with pride. Those are all true teachings that SHOULD be taught. But pastors are human and sin like humans. Yes, the effect is greater and it should be dealt with seriously, but spiritual leaders are also human leaders.

Response 2: If my pastor couldn’t deal with his own darkness, I don’t have any chance of dealing with mine.
This is a terrible conclusion to jump to, but many do it because they don’t fully understand #1 (the pastor’s humanity), and they probably don’t fully understand that every individual human being is responsible to choose holiness in every decision. Ted Haggard’s sin does not give me an excuse for mine, or you an excuse for yours. Ted Haggard’s failure does not have to become mine, and it does not have to become yours. A doctor may struggle with his weight, but that does not mean you don’t have any chance of dealing with yours. A therapist may have experienced divorce, but that doesn’t mean she can’t teach you principles that will help your marriage remain strong.

Response 3: I guess God doesn’t make a real difference in a person’s life.
If you would be inclined to think this, I encourage you to read Haggard’s letter. I don’t want to make a hero out of Ted Haggard, but I think his letter is almost a Master’s course on what true repentance looks like. No blaming. No attempting to escape scrutiny. Just confession and apology, and willingness to accept the consequences for what he has done. The fact is, God loves Ted Haggard. God’s grace is still extended to him and I hope that, even as they grieve over how he has betrayed them, his church family will pray for him, and for Gayle and their children. He has preached God’s grace to hurting, fallen sinners in his church for years. Now they must preach God’s grace to the hurting, fallen sinner Ted Haggard through their prayers for him and his family.

The Bible is clear that we who lead will be judged more harshly by God, and this is fair because the actions of spiritual leaders can have far-reaching impact. Haggard’s sin has removed him from formal leadership at New Life Church, but he is still someone people are watching, and he needs to continue to lead by the way he humbles himself, confesses his sin, and seeks spiritual restoration. So far I believe he is on the right track. I hope you will pray not only for Ted Haggard in the coming weeks, but for your Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering a very difficult blow in their church right now, through no fault of their own. And while you’re at it, if you pray for all of us who are spiritual leaders, I know we could use it. Ministry is a great privilege that brings with it great personal responsibility. From time to time guys like Haggard fall, and the rest of us are reminded that we live by God’s grace every day.