O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Grace, Judgment, and the Haggard Post

Usually I blog about ideas, but occasionally my topic will be a person. In yesterday’s case, I thought a post about a specific person — Ted Haggard — could be a springboard to an interesting discussion about pastors, honesty, and transparency, which is currently something of a hobby horse for me. I was correct about the “interesting discussion” part.

What I didn’t expect was that the subject of that blog post, Ted Haggard, would 1) read the blog post and 2) leave his own comment.

It’s happened to me before, most notably when I was criticizing an odd piece of Christian art. I thought the painting was strange, and I said so. It led to a raucous discussion and eventually the artist stopped by to comment. It’s…awkward.


In person I’m not confrontational at all, so when this happens it makes me nervous. I’m not the kind of guy who is comfortable being critical of someone right to their face. That’s just not me. It’s easier in blog form because, unless you’re a big-time journalist or gossip blogger in an influential place, you just don’t think that person is going to read it. But yesterday it happened (again), and it always leads to some introspection. In the process of trying to determine if Haggard’s comment yesterday afternoon was really from him (it was), I quickly reread the post and asked myself questions:

Was I accurate? (I think so. I didn’t do any of my own reporting, but I based my timeline on reported pieces from established publications.)


Was I fair? (I hope so. Though the post contained some pointed criticism, my goal wasn’t to attack Ted Haggard but to ask some honest questions. Because he is a public figure who has placed himself, deliberately, in the public eye to talk about his failures, I figured a public forum was an OK place to voice these questions and concerns.)

Was I true to my beliefs?

That last one is the question I worried about most, especially because 1) in the post, I identified myself as a big believer in grace; 2) in my book I talk a lot about how the revolutionary idea of grace is one of the things that tethers me to Christianity despite my doubts; and 3) there was a lot of discussion in the comments about grace vs. judgment.


As someone who aspires to the “radical grace” practiced by organizations like People of the Second Chance and displayed in the life of Jesus, I had to think long and hard about this one. I said yesterday and I’ve written in other places that, if I’m going to be wrong, I’d rather err on the side of too much grace than too much judgment.

So…Were my hesitations about the apparent flip-floppiness of the St. James Church announcement justified? Was I being too legalistic in my hope for more honesty and transparency from Haggard? Was my post lacking in the same grace I aspire to and hope to receive from others? Was I casting the first stone despite the messy sinfulness of my own life?


Those are the questions I asked. Here are a few of my conclusions:

1. I stand by every word of the post. And in retrospect, I believe my tone/approach was constructive and fair. I want to make that clear.

2. But when posting about a person, I need to ask the “Am I being fair?” kinds of questions before hitting PUBLISH and not after. Because even famous people tend to find articles and blog posts written about them. Thanks, Google Alerts!

3. Also, when it comes to posts about people, I need to apply a modified version of what Jon Acuff calls the “living room test.” He thinks all bloggers (especially those asking readers to support a cause or send money) should ask “Would I do this in someone’s living room?” before posting. A good point. My version: when posting about a real person, I need to ask “Would I say these things to this person’s face, in his/her living room?” If I’m not willing to do that, then maybe I should reconsider the post.


4. The grace vs. justice debate is always a tricky one. Who are we to judge? is often a question that gives me pause, because all of us are screwed up in lots of different ways. Our mistakes maybe aren’t as public or lurid as Haggard’s, but we’re all immoral and sinful and failures to some degree or another. That said, there’s a difference between offering grace, forgiveness, acceptance, and second chances to an individual — which I’m all for — while also having certain expectations of integrity for Christian pastors and leaders. No, none of us are going to meet those expectations. All of us will fail. But that does not mean that having those expectations is somehow antithetical toward grace. It does not mean that we are being judgmental when we ask honest questions when our expectations are not met. For the “who are you to cast stones” folks, I always want to ask — how do you feel about the Catholic priests who molested children? 


Judgment is me hating Ted Haggard or considering myself better than him because he’s a big fat sinner and I’m not. Grace is me loving Ted Haggard despite his failures (past or present), because that’s the example Jesus showed in the Gospels. Like the Berean Christians in Acts 17, we can test our leaders for the truth and still be operating within the ideals of grace and love.

It is a good idea for Christians to be committed to the truth, and skepticism is not judgment. Nor is it judgment to hold our leaders — whether publicly or privately — to the standards of the faith they are teaching. But when we do so, it’s best to do it with fairness, mercy, and humility.

I’m not sure whether I’ve accomplished that, but know that I’m trying.

Comments read comments(11)
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Danny Bixby

posted June 9, 2010 at 11:16 am

Hooray for introspection! But really, I think it’s great you’re continuing on yesterday’s post in this fashion. There’s a temptation to just brush it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. Good post man.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 11:24 am

It was a great and truthful post yesterday…and a great and truthful post today. I’m glad you wrote both.

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David Rooker

posted June 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

Just as a quick FWIW – to answer the question “Who are _we_ to judge?” – we are instructed to judge the church. Paul went so far as to chide the Corinthians for allowing sexual sin (a man living in sin with his stepmother) to continue without sanction. Paul prescribed a hard response to the issue.
Jesus’ admonition to remove the log from our own eye was a humorous reminder to carefully examine our own failures before we pass judgement on another’s. So judgement in itself is not always the issue but attitude is.
However I whole-heartedly agree with your introspection. It is far too easy to write harsh criticisms that you would not speak to a person’s face. I believe you did a fair job of presenting the issue and I also agree with your conclusions.
Mr Haggard receives our forgiveness and grace, if for no other reason than we have already received the same for ourselves, but as a very high profile leader he bears a greater responsibility of ethical and transparent behavior. My prayer is that he has learned that and will walk carefully in that truth.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 11:53 am

I call it poster’s remorse. It happens to me all the time. Usually, I delete before I actually add my comment. Sometimes I don’t – like yesterday. After I left my comment, I felt guilty. I wouldn’t say that to Mr. Haggard’s face, I scolded myself. But later in the evening I remembered that one of my regrets toward a former pastor of mine is that I didn’t speak up often enough. I didn’t even humbly request an explanation for his inconsistencies. I regret that even more.
This kind of post is how you always win me back, Jason. I don’t mind your sarcasm when I know you are willing to honestly evaluate the damage it may or may not do to the object. (If you remember, I was fairly upset with the way you railed on that guy’s art.) Really, we’re all just doing the best we can. I appreciate that.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 12:12 pm

That’s a tricky one… but I love that you brought up Jon Acuff’s rule of thumb. It’s easy to write something off, to assume we really would share it to someone’s face. But would we… really?
And even more than that… should we share it to someone’s face publicly?
-Marshall Jones Jr.

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Eric Stevens

posted June 9, 2010 at 12:22 pm

I thought you were quick to jump to conclusions about Ted Haggard, especially about what went on with him ending the spiritual restoration thing early. If you read his wife’s new book, if what she says about the church was true, they were very unforgiving and nasty towards the Haggards during this whole “restoration” process, not to mention unbiblical. I had a newfound respect for Haggard after reading the book actually. I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt, because otherwise we have to assume things without having full knowledge of where they are at.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 12:28 pm

You were spot on. If it smells fishy, it’s probably a fish… rotting. And I would say there are (in public) some things that should and do cause us all to pause and scratch our heads a little bit on this whole Haggard thing. You were above reproach as you always are, so thanks Jason… again.

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Scott Smith

posted June 9, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Agreed. I think you were right on. However, the self-examination is always a good practice. Good work, all around.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 1:48 pm

I did not post on peticular subject yesterday, however, I did post on the “one question for G_D” blog that dealt with this subject extensively. Many of the questions for G_D revoved around Judgement and Grace. I will say I am glad you took time for introspection. I don’t feel you were being judgemental, however, it could have been worded differently. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to continue this discussion.
To Ted Haggard: I am greatful that you took the time to enlighten us to your side of the story. You are only human, and have proven that, that means so much to me that you could admit to your flaws, and make the appropriate changes to better your life. Praise G_D, and G_D Bless all!

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posted June 9, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I chuckled at your second point on fairness to famous people and the thanks to Google Alerts.
Aside from accuracy, fairness and even spiritual matters, some of the most hardcore journalists live by this crucial rule of thumb: When you are writing a piece on a public figure, it is important to ask yourself (when you proof your piece), “If I see this person after it’s published, can I still look them in the eyes, smile and say ‘hello’?” If the answer is yes, you’re okay. If it’s no, you may want to get a second pair of eyes to check it out.

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posted June 10, 2010 at 9:08 am

While I follow and respect the Acuff theory, sometimes we need to confront things in writing that we might not feel comfortable confronting face to face. God gives us courage in many different forms. Just because we might not have the courage to confront someone face to face doesn’t mean we should squelch that courage when putting pen to paper.
About 15 years ago my pastor resigned for having sexual relations with SEVERAL women in our congregation who he was personally counseling. It was horrible. Many of us left the church and never came back. I’ve been hit or miss ever since.
What concerned me the most about the “restoration” period was that with his case, the same as with Ted, it was cut short because both parties “agreed”. Much scrutiny was given because it. And low and behold, about a year and a half later, he was starting his own church again. Many thought it was a result of the restoration being stopped before it took it’s full course.
But my point is this, though, God worked through these 2 men for most of their life, leading up to their pastoralship and during the time when they lead their congregations. When you’ve been chosen by God to present his Word and become a vehicle for His discernments, when does that get turned off? Does God use these men up to the point when their “crimes” are made public and then just turn it off? Does God say, “you let the Devil into your life, I’m done with you, go away”?
Its so easy to say “we’re all human” but there has got to be more to it than that. Yes, we will all sin and some sins will be FAR greater than others. But when it comes to those who have been chosen to lead His people, who are we to say that just because they sin they should never speak God’s words or thoughts again?
Thank you Jason for speaking so honestly. Please don’t become gun-shy from this experience. You need to speak (write) openly ad honestly about your feelings and opinions. What you wrote yesterday was beautiful and what so many of us needed to hear. Don’t second guess yourself just because you think you wouldn’t necessarily say those things straight to their faces. God gave you this courage, don’t squelch it.

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