Most of us probably watched the gospel tragedy unfold this last weekend, and many of us considered whether or not the same could happen to us and to others we know. And we are all grieved, in the very grief God surely has, by the moral collapse and confession of Ted Haggard. What to do? How to respond? What do you think? A few reflections.
I begin with the obvious: Haggard is responsible for what he has done. His letter admits this. But, I see no reason to grind him down. Our prayers should be focused on him instead of our fingers pointed at him.
As Christians we should stand in line with the offer of grace. We believe in forgiveness for sin. It will be easy to be tempted to take shots at Ted Haggard, but we have to be careful. Here is a man who has failed and our hope is for repentance, restoration, and reconciliation. It is easier sometimes for us to trumpet the grace of Jesus for the sinfully-marginalized and excluded, than it is for us in our day to apply the same grace to the fallen. In my assessment, this point is where we must dwell: in praying for the grace of God to heal this man, his family, and the church in which he served.
And I wonder what we can learn from yet another moral collapse of an evangelical leader.
What is perhaps saddest is that this has gone on for a long time in his life. I’m not sure making more or new accountability structures for leaders is the place to start, though I’m quite sure we will all begin to think about this more.
But, what I find here is what I want to call the evangelical environment. In evangelicalism, and the charismatic stream in which Ted Haggard swims, sin is bad and sin by leaders is real bad. This leads to a complex of features that creates a serious problem:
1. Christians, and not just pastors, do not feel free to disclose sins to anyone;
2. Christians, including pastors, sin and sin all the time;
3. Christians, including pastors, in evangelicalism do not have a mechanism of confession;
4. Christians and pastors, because of the environment of condemnation of sin and the absence of a mechanism of confession, bottle up their sins, hide their sins, and create around themselves an apparent purity and a reality of unconfessed/unadmitted sin.
5. When Christians do confess, and it is often only after getting caught, they are eaten alive by fellow evangelicals — thus leading some to deeper levels of secrecy and deceit.
What we saw with Haggard is not just about leaders; it is about all of us.
Thus, a proposal, and I can only suggest it and hope that some evangelical leaders will catch the same vision — some at the national and international leadership level: evangelicals need to work hard at creating an environment of honesty. It is dishonest to the human condition to pretend that Christians don’t sin; but as long as we are afraid to confess to one another we will continue to create an unrealistic and hypocritical environment.
To do this, we need to begin at the local church level of learning to utter honesty with one another, to confess sins, privately as much as possible, to mentors who are spiritually sensitive. I believe if confession becomes a safe environment — and exposure of what is confessed in private must be treated as a serious offense — that an entirely new environment can be created in which time will bring out the sins of Christians in such a way that it is both recognized and simultaneously dealt with responsibly so that ongoing growth and periodic healing and restoration can take place.