Observation on Ted Haggard’s ProblemsNovember 6, 2006
I took most of the weekend to listen carefully both to what the Mainstream Media and what Ted Haggard and his church were saying about his scandal. If you haven’t heard what happened, you can read about it here, or just accept my summary.
Ted is a pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs and President of the National Association of Evangelicals. Last week, a self-admitted male prostitute claimed that Ted paid him for three years for sex and drugs. Ted denied even knowing the man, but later changed his story twice. First, to admit that he had contacted the man to get Meth (which he said he never used). Second, to admit he spoke to the man about sexual things over the phone and eventually received a massage from him.
The church where Ted pastors, one of the ten largest churches in America, accepted Ted’s resignation and barred him from serving in the church forthwith. The NAE also accepted Ted’s resignation. Both organizations have cited Ted’s “Immoral behavior” as the reason for his dismissal. This is in concert with all evangelical church bylaws that I am aware of, so there is no surprise.
But I do want to make a number of observations that all Evangelicals should be very aware of before this controversy gets forgotten by the press after election day. Before making my comments, I will admit that Ted Haggard has been an acquaintance of mine and I have quoted him regularly in teachings, sermons and articles I have written. I did have lunch with him on two occasions and enjoyed his forthrightness and down-to-earth approach at those occasions. Though I would not refer to him as a friend, I do admit to believing many of the things he believes and valuing much of what he values. That will give you a necessary perspective to what I will say next.
First, what Ted did is not hypocritical. As a staff member commented on this weekend, if Ted had asked the male prostitute to marry him, that would have been hypocritical. Hypocrisy means to claim to be one thing when you know you are something else. Ted is against Gay marriage. He has never claimed to be against gay people. He does not believe in promiscuity, but does believe that anyone is capable of it. At a pastor’s seminar he lead that I attended, he did a complete session on “Purity of the Mind and Body”. In that seminar, he tells about the policy that he and others on his church staff hold to: They fast for the first three days of every month in order to take charge of their bodies. Ted taught (and I teach regularly) that if you can say no to the desire for a pizza, you can say no to the desire for a romantic affair. I see the partial fallacy in this however, and perhaps this was Ted’s downfall. There is no emotional tie to a pizza whereas there can be in intimate encounters. Just saying no to your body is not the same as saying no to the soul’s deeper needs. Also, though there are lie-based ideas connected with eating food, there are many more connected to relationships. Fasting will rarely prevent the lies that plague us in relational follies. But here is my point. At that same seminar, Ted warned us not to think too arrogantly about Christian leaders who sin. He said “each of us is capable of the same sins they have committed. If we are hard on them, where will grace be for each of us?” I trust that those of us who have heard Ted teach this will apply grace to his situation.
The next thing I want to look at is Ted’s approach to the Truth. He began this confrontation by denying he even knew the prostitute. Then he admitted to buying drugs from him. Then we hear of the phone calls, the massage and this morning we are introduced to a vague “immoral behavior” which he has reportedly admitted to Larry Stockstill and his overseer board. Unfortunately, in my many years of counseling pastors and church leaders who have engaged in sexual sin and been confronted, this is a typical pattern. I call it Emotional Damage Control. It is the desire of anyone who has addictive behavior to admit only the sin that others can see in order to maintain some of the dignity and station of life to which they have grown accustomed. In the end, all it really creates is a sense of betrayal in all of those who want to rally behind you with love and forgiveness. My advice has always been the same in these situations: Tell the whole truth at the beginning and don’t bury a single fact. It is much easier for loved ones to take the whole truth in one shot then if it is divvied out in smaller packages. If Ted is forced to admit more details reluctantly to his wife and friends, it may alienate them forever. But his behavior is all too common for most people who are public figures and are caught in sexual sin. Remember President Clinton’s approach? He wanted to quibble about the definition of sex.
But what may have lead up to these events? I admit freely to having a strong dislike for the mega-church movement. When this happened to Ted, I immediately wondered if his position as the leader of such a large church didn’t contribute to the sense of isolation and non-accountability necessary for this type of sexual sin to take place. We in the North American church have falsely equated church growth with church size. Rather, as others in Asia are finding, the church grows best when the congregation size does not exceed 300-400 people. Most significant ministries are done by churches of that size. As a church gets larger than 400, the majority of the people become spectators and cheerleaders of the leadership team. Though the pastors and staff may become quite famous, write best-selling books, speak at all the best conferences and develop all the right curriculum, they rarely touch the communities they are part of. But the worst part is that the men at the top…the Senior Pastors…often find that their lives consist of pressure to perform, constant analysis by friend and foe, time management difficulties, isolation in marriage and children and even health issues related to the stress. The pressure to medicate these stresses with sexual release are almost unbearable. History tells us that very few heads of state have been able to resist sexual temptation. The history of American Presidents certainly bears this out. The same can also be said of those who head up very large churches. They have almost no way out of the constant battle against stress and temptation. It is more a wonder that these men remain pure than it is that they fall. The real key is to take the pressure off yourself by splitting the church into many parts. Dr. Yonggi Cho of Seoul, Korea did this and it saved his life (literally). He broke his church of many thousands into smaller units, which basically functioned as separate churches. He had almost died of a heart attack before that. In North America, men like Doug Murren have also taken large churches and split them into smaller congregations and thereby saved their marriages and multiplied the effectiveness of the church.
Finally, let’s look at the politics of this situation. I have taught for years that Christians take a big risk by getting involved in political issues. Politics has a set of rules all its own, and those who endeavor to enter the field must be willing to face the consequences that politics dishes out. First, in politics, everyone is out to get you. If you can’t handle that, don’t get involved. Second, any mistake you make will be magnified out of proportion. Do not ever doubt that is true. Ted Haggard, by spearheading the drive against Gay Marriage made sure that his life became a fishbowl. Third, when you are a political figure, people will set you up for scandal, even if there is no scandal to be found. Now, in this case, Ted gave them more than enough rope to hang him with. But even if he hadn’t, accusations are made against politicians all the time. However, accusations do not hurt political parties forever. The same cannot be said for the Church. Scandals can absolutely alienate the very people we want to reach. My conclusion is the same as it has always been. Christians should stay out of politics if they are also leaders in God’s church.