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Ted Haggard: Nailed to the Gate

John on November 6, 2006 at 11:16 am

I usually don’t write about stories that have been headlined on Drudge for a week because, really, what’s the point? The facts of the story are out. Ted Haggard, a pastor I’d honestly never heard of before last week, was carrying on with a gay prostitute and had a drug problem. He has been removed from leadership, has confessed his problems to his church and is trying to put his life together again.

Personally, I was most touched by his wife’s response. Unlike her husband, she did nothing to deserve the negative consequences she and her family are experiencing:

For those of you who have been concerned that my marriage was so perfect I could not possibly relate to the women who are facing great difficulties, know that this will never again be the case,” she wrote, evoking a ripple of laughter. “My test has begun; watch me. I will try to prove myself faithful.

While I can’t add much to the story itself, I do have some thoughts on the reactions of Christian bloggers to the story. A number of them immediately jumped on this as a sign of a pervasive rot in evangelical Christianity. Not surprisingly, most of those holding such opinions held them before Haggard’s name hit the news. He is just one more drum to pound in a beat that never changes.

For example, Ingrid at Slice of Laodicea wrote an article about the scandal which not surprisingly condemns pretty much every living evangelical. She wrote:

Evangelicalism is where medieval Roman Catholicism was just before that portentous day when Dr. Luther pounded his Theses to the castle church door at Wittenburg.

Ingrid’s fellow Slice author Ken Silva promoted a post by The Reformed Gadfly which ends:

Stuff like this can only happen because contemporary Christianity is rotten to the core.

Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs was quick to proclaim that Haggard’s sin was only a symptom of long-standing doctrinal failures:

The fashionable brand of NAE/Christianity Today-style “evangelicalism” actually abandoned historic evangelical principles long ago, and hasn’t taken a firm stand for biblical and evangelical doctrine for some time. The current scandal is only a symptom of that much deeper problem.

Which is to say that evangelicalism right now is at least as much in need of Reformation as Medieval Roman Catholicism was before Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church.

And there’s Luther again, nailing his theses to the gate. Lost in most of these posts is any sense that Ted Haggard is a man, not a symbol. He’s an individual with some problems and a history of lying to everyone around him. Most of these Reformed bloggers, rather than offer a kind word for a fallen brother or the church that he led, seem eager to nail him to the gate.

Tim Challies, who is as reformed as anyone and with whom I’ve disagreed on occasion, has an excellent post which doesn’t devolve into the “I told you so!” mold. On the contrary, he takes on some of the other bloggers mentioned above. It’s one of the best things I’ve read on this and, in my opinion, shows a lot of genuine wisdom:

[T]here is really no difference between you and Haggard or between myself and Haggard. We are all totally depraved with our sin extending to every aspect of our being. There but for the grace of God go I. There but for the grace of God go you. While I would not expect a reporter to approach me if I were to fall into similar sin, I can only imagine the pain of having to sit in front of my children, my wife, and answer questions about whether or not I have had sex with a man or admitting that I purchased illegal drugs. It’s horrible. It’s terrifying. That could be my wife, wondering how I could do this to her, wondering if she can ever trust me again, wondering if she can ever love me again. Those could be my kids, hearing the lurid details of dad’s depravity. Those could be my kids, trying bravely not to cry as they walk into school on Monday morning, knowing that everyone knows, knowing that life will never be the same.

The whole post is worth reading. Again, I don’t always agree with him, but he has nailed it this time. Well done, Tim. In fact, I’d just like to amplify what Tim says a bit. In the most famous Sermon ever given, Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

That’s an impossibly high standard. Forget about the idea that we could be where Haggard is. The wise man is one who recognizes we are where Haggard is. Any man who tells you differently is either a saint or a liar. And in my experience there are very few saints.

Jesus was pretty clear about the response we should have to this sort of sin. When the Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery before him, he turned the question around on them. In essence what he said was: Look at yourself. He said much the same thing in a parable about a Pharisee who prayed “God, I thank you that I am not like other men…” The pharisees’ eye is always on someone else, never on himself.

So I’d like to suggest that the Haggard mess provides us with an interesting insight into where some people stand. Bloggers whose response to Ted Haggard is to look for the rot in someone else (all evangelicals, all mega-church pastors, etc.) have missed the point. Look at yourself. And if, after doing so, you’re still eager to condemn someone, well…you’re either a saint or liar. And there are very few saints.

Aside from Challies, the three best responses I’ve read to the Haggard mess are this one by Scot McKnight, this one by Bryan Preston and this one by Marc Driscoll. [HT: SmartChristian for pointing out 2 of the 3]. All deal with the situation with the kind of justice and grace that I think is appropriate. All three treat him like a man, not a symbol or a list of grievances to be nailed to the evangelical gate.

I’m going to be praying for Haggard and his family. I’m also going to be praying for Mike Jones. Looking to myself in light of Jesus’ high standard all I can say is:

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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