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Observation on Ted Haggard’s Problems

November 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.

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9 comments

  1. Mike,
    Thanks for the article that you posted about Pastor Ted. Like you, I have been in a meeting with him before and rather up close. I do not know him, nevertheless, I felt a closeness to him.

    When the story broke, I must admit that I became broken hearted. I have a feeling that his problems are indicative of carry over problems from our generation. (I’m a few months from 50). Sex and drugs were what life was all about for many I grew up with. Some didn’t make to see the age of 50.

    Thanks for your atricle. I feel it is balanced and contains truth that gives all of us middle aged pastors something to think about. – Mike B.


  2. First, what Ted did is not hypocritical

    He lied, he has prayed for others to be revealed as hiding the truth, he boinked a gay man while being PRO FAMILY——

    This is why I will not support religionists any more. Rather than say what he did was hypocritical and hideous you defend him semantically.

    He has gone on record denouncing homosexuality- look for the Jesus Camp clip….

    Wrong is wrong. You are adding to the lies by defending him. This is like looking back and saying that priest molested kids because he was molested by a priest. Ummmmmm….yeah, rather than just saying STOP.

    He has hurt his wife and kids. He is the ultimate example of do what I say and not what I do in regards to him giving advice to others about how to be married.

    Yours was a terrible excuse of an article. You bring up Clinton, and how many religious right crazies went after him for having NOT PAID SEX???????? WITH NO DRUGS INVOLVED.


  3. Mike is not defending Ted Haggard or what he did, Anonymous, he is doing what Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery and her crowd of accusers. He’s merely saying: Beware – look at your own life, before you condemn someone else. What Ted did is wrong, no one is denying that. But before you condemn him by “throwing stones,” see if your life is so pure–up to and including self-righteous anger.


  4. Every Christian is sad at the events surrounding Ted Haggard.
    I think the bottom line with Ted Haggard was Pride. Where were his accountability partners? You can’t tell me that they did not suspect something. I suspect they were not blind but looked the other way. I also think that if you were to look back in his life there were many lines that he crossed but no one would confront him. So he got more comfortable and he kept crossing the line more and more.


  5. Hey guys and gals, you say hypocrite like it’s a bad thing. But seriously, everyone reading these words has said one thing and done the complete opposite now and then. Just because we sin doesn’t mean we don’t believe it’s wrong; welcome to the fallen human race.
    What I have a problem with is the overuse of grace when a church leader falls. By immediately playing the grace card we almost guarantee the repetition of this sad event in other churches. How? When we put too much emphasis on grace there is a danger of going soft and failing to pursue aggressive consequences out of the fear of appearing judgmental. Sadly, the church seems to miss this point every time one of these things happens. Consequences are not judgmental nor do they render grace sterile. Every police officer knows that if he gets caught robbing a bank he can never be a police officer again. The culture of law enforcement doesn’t hold this position so much to punish a police officer who goes bad; they foster a culture of severe consequences for the benefit of the rookies. But often, the same is not true of leaders in the church. Why do I know that in a year or two Mr. Haggard will be serving in ministry leadership somewhere? I would not want Mr. Haggard ruined, but I don’t want him to be a stumbling block for some young pastor down the road.
    Your argument that the pressures of the mega church environment could have led to Haggard seeking sexual release is weak. There are plenty of pastors of small to medium size churches who get caught in inappropriate relationships. And by the way, why is it we focus so much on sexual sins? It seems like church leaders can get away with a host of unethical behavior but we only go ballistic as soon as a pastor gets caught doing something sexual with someone other than his wife.
    It has less to do with the pressures of leading a mega church and more to do with pride and a refusal to be genuinely accountable. You don’t just wake up one day in bed with a male prostitute while snorting meth; you cross a few boundaries to get there and it’s likely someone saw those boundaries being crossed. Where was Haggard’s accountability?
    I see things that appear unethical in my pastor’s life but I’m afraid to point them out. Why? I don’t want to seem judgmental and he has not invited me, or anyone else that I know of, to point these things out. So I long for the day when we have genuine accountability in the church, especially with the men. And if the pastor isn’t willing to be accountable the rest of us are screwed.
    I am sorry you are down on mega churches but allow me to share a tidbit of reality: small churches are just as full of spectators as mega churches. It’s easier in a small church to push people into participation but they won’t remain unless their heart is in it. I’m not even sure we’re supposed to be serving much in the church; it seems like we should be serving in the community.
    Finally, I agree that church leaders should not put too much faith in the political process. Even so, Christians have a duty to be involved like any other citizen. Our job is not only to love people into the kingdom but also to push against immorality and evil. The political arena is fine but our personal lives are a better forum.


  6. I don’t agree either that Christians or the Christian leaders should stay out of politics. Our Denomination has “statements” of standing on items such as abortion, homosexuslity, etc. I never heard from our church leaders before election time what our stand is. That should have been said.

    I know that this particular blog on Ted Haggard isn’t what I’m expressing here, but it appalls me that the issue on parental notification did not pass. How many Christian voted no for that? Many I would say!! and shame on you.

    Do you know how many pro homosexuality leaders were elected this time around?

    We certainly need church leaders to express the churches view on issues not only at election time but thru out the year.


  7. But before you condemn him by “throwing stones,” see if your life is so pure–up to and including self-righteous anger.

    So what you are saying is no one can hold someone accountable because of the sin in their own life. Oh my. Do you realize how wrong you are in this statement. That is why these things keep happening over and over again. Your response comes from our culture of runaway tolerance.


  8. Yes, I said beware before throwing stones.. but I did NOT say don’t hold him accountable. There is a difference. He will be facing the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life. Some of those consequences will be terrible. God asks us to hold the sinner accountable, but to walk alongside that person to help him regain his fellowship with God. It never asks us to restore him to the same position he was in, because that could put him back into a place of facing the same temptations. He may face them anyway. And he has let people down who trusted him. But so have we all. No, I am saying forgive the sinner, not the sin. Bring Ted back to fellowship with God first, help him as he works to restore whatever he can of his life. There is a balance that needs to be struck here. Pray for him.

    Yes, it is outrageous, and heartbreaking, when anyone in leadership or otherwise commits such a sin. It casts at stain on our Lord in the world’s eyes. It casts a pall over the church. It angers us that what we love and work for is cast into disrepute. But we are ALL sinners in some way, all do hypocritical things, all try to hide those things. That is as basic to man as original sin. We need to pray for Ted, not abandon him or shun him, will not that only drive him further into that lifestyle he has been caught in? We need to remember in our anger that Jesus said “Be angry, but sin not.”


  9. This was an “anonymous-fest”…but that’s okay because many are reading this blog now for the first time during these last two months…obviously not too many have deeper ties with us here.

    On to a few of the things you brought up. If you read the blog, you’ll notice I am not in any way (semantically or actually) defending anything Ted Haggard has done. In fact, on this blog I have stated he has most likely done much more than he has publicly admitted to. That is hardly defending him. His conduct is indefensible.

    I have sat where Larry Stockstill and others have sat…on discipline committees for pastors who have broken both ethical and sexual taboos and laws. I know what it is to have people use Grace as a coverup for “letting someone off the hook”. Several years ago, in an article I wrote for Leadership Magazine, I proposed that no church leader who has had ongoing sexual or ethical failures should ever be in pastoral ministry again. Hundreds of people wrote me and told me they thought this was harsh. Curiously enough, not one pastor did! Every one of them agreed. If Ted Haggard ever gets into pastoral ministry again, it will be a huge travesty. So I am hardly playing the “grace card”. But I do admit some are doing that.

    I am not saying that mega-churches cause sexual sin. Of course, pastors in smaller churches have sexual sin. I have been a therapist for 26 years. During that time, I have counseled over 50 pastors who have been removed from churches for some kind of sin. The reason for sexual sins among pastors in smaller churches is vastly different than with those in large churches. In smaller churches, it usually relates to character flaws. In larger churches, it almost always relates to fatigue and lack of close accountability. Someone asked where the accountability partners were. I guarantee you that with a church that large there was virtually no time left to have the sort of relationships that are intimate enough to help prevent Ted’s behavior. I am not blaming large churches, but I can’t ignore that a much larger percentage of mega-church pastors have resigned over sexual sin than smaller church pastors.

    This is not just true of pastors. Every person in positions of both power, prestige and constant stress have followed this trend. That is why I brought up President Clinton. I can’t even vote (being Canadian), so I hardly qualify as being a right-wing Christian.

    Finally, the best time to extend grace is when a person sins. Grace however, does not mean we withhold accountability. Ted needs to come clean completely, he needs to go through treatment for his addictive behavior, to spend several years rebuilding his broken world and to find a new profession. But that doesn’t mean I am going to harbor feelings of unforgiveness and bitterness toward him. That would drag me down as much as it would not accomplish anything



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