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.