Monday, November 06, 2006


Like some other people, I've been thinking some about the Ted Haggard situation out in Colorado. It's an eerily familiar feeling that we've seen shades of in years past, from Jimmy Swaggart to Jim Bakker and all sorts of non famous people in between.

One thing that has really struck me is some of the pleasure that people have taken in seeing this guy fall in such a spectacular way. It seems that because this guy was a leader of a large church (14,000), an opponent of gay marriage, and an adviser to the President, when he's caught in an indiscretion/sin that he is vilified and the situation is almost celebrated.

So here's my question: Why is that? Is it because he was caught in a drug using, homosexual situation when he'd spoken so strenuously against it? Is it that people love seeing people in high places brought down? Is it that people love seeing hypocrites taken down?

Part of me wonders as well if Haggard's outspoken version of Christianity plays into this as well. Are Christians seen outside of our own circles as some kind of bogeymen that are just ripe such a takedown? Is that why some people have taken such pleasure in it? Because it was a(nother) "big time" Christian that was taken down?

Randy Harris once told a story about seeing a girl in the airport weeping uncontrollably with no one around comforting her. He felt that he should go over and talk to her and see if he could help, but one decision he had to make was whether to go over "Cross in or Cross out." You see, he didn't know whether the girl would associate a Christian with judgmentalism and proselytizing or if she would think of a Christian as someone who would lay down their life for her.

Maybe that's why people are taking pleasure in Haggard's fall. Maybe Christians aren't seen as those who will lay down their lives.

And that's a problem.

Follow up:

What message does Haggard's church removing him from ministry send? Is the message that we don't want struggling people leading our congregations? Or only people who struggle with certain sins? Because if it is, I think that's a problem too.


Sam Davidson said...

great perspective and questions. I completely agree about the ambiguity of the message the church is sending about leadership.

Kat Coble said...

I think the church is sending the message that it was instructed to do Biblically.

There are several places in the New Testament that give instruction for Elders and Deacons and those who sin.

Jeffrey said...

ditto to sam's comment. nice post.

Phil said...


I guess my followup to that would be, does that require elders and deacons/leadership to be without sin? If so, that would leave a dearth of leadership in every church. Or is it engaging in sin, while in leadership?

Justin said...

Duh, Phil. You can be greedy, a gossip, a bigot, or unloving, but as long as you can deliver a sermon and you aren't getting intimate with men, you are a perfect candidate for the leader of American Evangelicals

Clayton said...

Ditto kat. The church isn't saying that it doesn't want struggling people. But it is saying that these are leadership issues in the church. Yes, everyone struggles with sin of various kinds, but biblically there is a moral standard for those in spiritual leadership. Check out 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1:7-9. Sexual issues aren't the only standards, they are just the most spectacular in our culture and the easiest to pound on people for.

greg said...

I believe it has to do with the image many Christians project to the public, the "bogeyman" image you mentioned. So many see "high-profile" Christians (such as Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, etc) as being more concerned about politics, legislation to "ban" this or that, condemning "sinners" who disagree with them, forcing Christian views on others (i.e. school prayer, "under God" in pledge, etc.) and the like, instead of seeing them demonstrate the love of Christ and truly having something of importance to say other than "do this" or "don't do that".

When they see us only as people trying to run (or is that ruin?) their lives and make them behave the way we want them to (even though that isn't an accurate image of Christians in general), they love to see everything come crashing down.

G. Brandon Hoyt said...

I suppose that if the Church leadership chose to remove them from his role,
it's their decision, not ours...(restorationist Podcast references)
I agree with the congregation's, but I see your point Phil. I wouldn't have complained if they had kept him, as long as they (and Haggard) were honest.
The problem is honesty, Haggard wasn't honest with his struggles from the word Go...

G. Brandon Hoyt said...

But to speak directly of your post...

here's what I think about falling Christians being a poor example;
We can say that if Christians were more forgiving then people would get so hard on us, but then, we are called to be different. When someone falls, it is a poor witness because we are supposed to be different in all aspects. People will use (and do use) fallen Christians as an excuse to reject the cross themselves. Remember Peter's words:
1 Peter 3:10-17 For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; (11) let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. (12) For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." (13) Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? (14) But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, (15) but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; (16) yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (17) For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.

How can we be ready with an answer when we ourselves behave as if the answer is a lie?

Kat Coble said...

Clayton answered for me with the reference to 1 Tim. 3
specifically 3-10:

"Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach,
not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money.
He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity;
for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God?
He should not be a recent convert, so that he may not become conceited and thus incur the devil's punishment. 3
He must also have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, the devil's trap.
4 Similarly, deacons must be dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain,
holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
Moreover, they should be tested first; then, if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.


Note that these verses do not say "without sin" but they do emphasise a spiritual maturity and an edifice of temperateness. It is recommended in scripture that church leaders be of a level of spiritual maturity as to be proper guides for their bretheren. And in the circumstance where they fall from that temperateness, there are specific instructions for restoration to the body, which the church in Colorado seems to be following.

Phil said...

I can see that, Kat and Brandon. I guess that what Justin said holds some resonance with me too in that we seem to make a judgment call on certain sorts of sins (homosexuality and drug use) while allowing others (greed and lust) to go unchecked. I think it's the inconsistency there that bothers me.

G. Brandon Hoyt said...

I would also say that we as church people might have the blinders on when it comes to sins that don't get attention,
but the world does indeed take notice.
I think you are saying the same thing...
Weighter matters get neglected all the time...

Tony Arnold said...

Phil, there is a huge difference in removing a struggling person from a position of leadership in the church, a visible position with liability and deep responsbility, and ostricizing that person, refusing to help or love them.

Big difference.

The integrity of the church is affected and the person has already failed the church as a leader therefore showing they are not the best choice for that position. Leadership has to be held to a higher degree of accountability otherwise their leadership has little credibility which then is no leadership at all.

However the church has a responsbility to love, accept, and minister to this brother if his heart is repentent. If the person in question loves the body, they would remove themselves and make the whole question a non-issue.

Forgiveness by God and by others does not mean the we are absolved from the consequences of our actions. It means that we have a loving, supporter group to support us through those consequences.

Forgiveness also does not prevent a return to leadership when wounds have healed, true repentance demonstrated, and damaging behavior patterns corrected.


Phil said...

OK, so here's a perspective question then. What made Haggard unfit for leadership? Was it the homosexuality and drug use or was it covering up drug use?

Or was it the discovery of the homosexuality and drug use? It seems that people thought he was fine while he was engaged in it and they didn't know about it. How true is that for any of our leaders today?

I guess my biggest thing about all of this is that we have made such a huge deal about all of this (and I think properly, to some extent), while there are probably ministers in many churches living lives of secret lust and greed and anger. Sometimes those are even discovered and forgiven, allowing them to continue in their positions (no, I don't have any concrete examples, but I feel certain that must be true).

Is the message we're sending that it's ok to struggle with some sins but not others? Is the message that our leaders have to be without sin? Or open about their sin? What's the lesson/application from all of this?

Tony Arnold said...

For me it was all of the above that bothered me. I think you are right on target Phil. Patternistic sin of any kind is unfit behavior for church leadership.

I think a church minister caught in a pattern of gossip or backstabbing or playing one side against another within the church causes much more damage than personal self-destruction through drug use and prostitution.

All humans struggle with sin and expecting leaders to be perfect is ridiculous. However, leaders take on the role voluntarily and as I stated earlier must be held to a higher standard so that people will have faith in their integrity and credibility without which people will not follow their lead.

When you take on leadership roles you take on this responsibility with full knowledge. If you do not want this responsbility, then don't accept the leadership role. Especially do not work to get the role. Church members do not need to hold their leaders to higher accountability so much as the leaders need to hold themselves to higher accountability.

The most important aspect of leadership, any leadership, is being a servant to those you lead. I highly recommend James Hunter's Servant Leadership


ColoSpgsres said...

Our family has been at New Life Church in Colorado Springs for the past 6 years. I don't know of anyone in the church that disagrees with Ted Haggard's removal. It is true that no one is perfect, and Ted did not claim to be, but Tony Arnold is right in that Scripture holds leaders to a higher standard. Whether it is gossip or drug use or whatever, if there is a seemingly uncontrolled problem in the life of a leader, they should be removed for their own good, that of the church, and especially that of God's holy name. That some may be involved in less spectacular offenses (and wrongly left in leadership) does not negate that the right thing was done at New Life. Forgiveness and compassion are in our hearts, but trust has been broken. Please pray for us--the young people especially--they are bewildered, heartsick, and trying to cope. There is lots of private and corporate counseling going on, though, and great opportunities for learning to forgive, searching one's own life, and realizing that some sins do indeed pretty much devastate one's life here on earth, even with forgiveness. (Ted preached a couple of weeks or so ago about Saul's losing the kingship because of disobedience. He said not to let our destinies be given to another through our disobedience.) I can't help but imagine how different things might have been if he had not stopped asking for private help, or had he even come clean publicly, constructed ironclad safeguards for himself, and demonstrated that a life of purity and power is possible in spite of temptation. I hope that no church would remove a minister for merely struggling with temptation, but unfortunately, that is probably the exact fear that most leaders have. Perhaps when the first church publicly holds onto someone who merely struggles with homosexuality or another "biggie," but lives a clean life in victory over it, we will see confession, healing, and growth in every way.

Phil said...


Thanks so much for your thoughts and please know that the thoughts and prayers of many are being lifted up for your church as well as the entire Haggard family.

I really appreciate what you said and your perspective on it. What I guess I would hope is what you said: that our leaders would not feel the need to be "perfect" and that churches can be a place to confess struggles (even the ugly ones), not just for the lay people but for the leaders as well.

ColoSpgsres said...

Thanks so much for the kind word and prayers!

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