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Mixed Feelings about Ted’s Letter

August 29, 2007

When Ted Haggard left his ministry in Colorado Springs after admitting to sexual misconduct, I did feel a lot of empathy for his predicament, though no sympathy for his consequences. But now I have another ambivalent set of feelings toward him.

He has sent out a letter this month to thousands of members of his former church in Colorado Springs asking for money. This is the way it sounded in the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Ted Haggard, former megachurch pastor and former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, is in the news again—this time asking gifts to provide two years of financial support while he and his wife Gayle study psychology and counseling at the University of Phoenix.

He sent an e-mail to reporter Tak Landrock of ABC affiliate KRDO—and from the way it appeals to “friends like you,” it sounds like it was sent to a lot of people…

So the first issue is simply that Haggard seems to be operating independently and ahead of those who were appointed to be his spiritual guardians. In so doing, he is not really showing that he is willing to submit to their discipline over him. Unfortunately, this has often been the story with Christian leaders who are caught in sexual sin. They begin remorseful and end resentful because people are perpetually peering over their shoulder.

The second problem with his letter is the actual mailing address Haggard’s letter gives where “friends like you” should mail their donations. According to watchdogs in the blogosphere (see this for a start, which has been linked on multiple other blogs), it is a defunct charity whose mailing addresses belong to a sex offender from Hawaii. Curioser and curioser.

But the biggest issue for me is Haggard’s financial situation:

According to the Gazette:

Haggard received a salary of $115,000 for the 10 months he worked in 2006 and an $85,000 anniversary bonus before the scandal broke, according to church officials. The church’s board of trustees gave him a severance package that included a year’s salary ($138,000). He also collects royalties on his many book titles.

Haggard owns a home in Colorado Springs that has been for sale. It has a market value of $715,051, according to records from the El Paso County assessor.

My real struggle here is whether someone who has been making almost a quarter million dollars a year for over 10 years and hasn’t saved enough to support himself through a few more years of training, ought to have a dime given to him. There are single moms whose husbands have left them in our Christian circle who would love the chance to go to school and have someone pay for them. In fact, I would give to that fund! And they haven’t broken everyone else’s trust.

But I am ambivalent. This may seem like a small point, but where does a career pastor go for a job when he finds himself out of work? It is not like there is a real market for ex-preachers. On those days when I wished there was a softer wall to beat my head against, I have looked through the want-ads (or Craig’s List these days) and realized that if it wasn’t for my counselor training, I couldn’t get a job that would feed my family.

So I understand Ted’s dilemma. He is preacher non grata. Some would say (I am one of them) that is the consequence of committing sexual sin when you are in a position of authority in God’s church. But the other side, the compassion side, does feel for him.

Ted, perhaps trusting God to bring in the money instead of sending out letters may be a wiser move.

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16 comments

  1. I thought most “defrocked” pastors went to selling life insurance or real estate. Of course, this isn’t a good time to get into real estate.


  2. the sad thing is that many “defrocked” pastors think there is no problem going back into ministry. They rely on the “if you are really a Christian, then you should forgive me, so what’s your problem!” They tend to forget that they still face a consequence, though forgiven.


  3. As we are learning in the case of the Senator from Idaho, consequences relate to those who are caught in an offense. What I mean is, facing a consequence that others deal out is only for those who are found out. There are many senators who have done what the man in the restroom did and were never caught. They didn’t have to face consequences. In sexual crimes, there are many more who “get away with it” than there are those who have to be disciplined.

    I say that actually to agree with anonymous that though we are forgiven it does not eliminate consequences. The churches I am a partner with always discipline those caught in moral failure. Most times, those people do not go back into pastoral ministry. For the most part, it is pastors and missionaries of independent organizations that go back into ministry. But they never have the effectiveness they once had. There was a pastor, for instance, in Palm Desert, who was caught in a hot tub naked with two other couples. He also stole from the ministry and was caught. He left that church and started another one. No one could stop him because he wasn’t connected with a recognized organization. However, he was never successful at ministry again, even though he did start a church and get it going. Ted Haggard will never be what he once was even though he may get another job.

    Some people criticize the organized church for their hierarchical problems (legitimately at times). But the value of these organizations is that they can hold their failing members to a consequence for their actions. However, all moral and ethical failure brings consequences, even if we can’t see them. Let us all remember that. The ones who get caught publicly get public consequences. Those who never get caught suffer consequences also. Many people don’t even realize it is happening, but it does.


  4. What do former pastors do who get caught in a major moral failure? That question really riles me up. If a police officer robs a bank he will never be a police officer again. If a doctor molests one of his patients he will never be a doctor again. They end up selling Amway or taking a job, any job, that pays much less. They suffer tremendous financial hardship. I suspect this is necessary for effective deterrence and part of the restoration process. King David had some pretty severe consequences after his fall.

    Do I believe a fallen pastor can remain in ministry after a big moral screw-up? Yes, but it’s rare.

    And contrary to popular belief, a person CAN start over and rebuild their life, but that would take more time and effort then they are willing to expend. No, they want things to go back to the familiar way they were. But when a 55 year old man gets laid off at his SECULAR job his prospects are grim.

    I’m discouraged by those who utterly fail in their responsibility to respond properly when they get caught in major immoral behavior. Instead of a healthy response we get immediate denials and spin. What ever happened to taking the position that…hey…I may have screwed-up here and I will be going through a long season of soul searching and self examination. I don’t think the consequences would be as severe if they showed some genuine long-term committment to the restoration process.

    Now this might shock some folks: sometimes those who commit some of these immoral atrocities do so because they are in the enemy’s camp…they were and are conmen. And they have no intention of seeking restoration through humility and accountability. Their intent is to keep fooling us as long as they can so they can do as much self-serving damage as they can. This type of individual is rare, but he does exist.

    And don’t get me started on the high-profile ethics spectacle surrounding one of our own right now. I am utterly shocked and saddened at the response of believers who should know better. This is not the time to declare innocence or guilt, it’s a time to wait for the facts to come out, a time to support this person with our eyes wide open.

    It’s no wonder our credibility with the world is diminished; our values have been dumbed down to pretty much the same as everyone else.


  5. Anonymous: Two comments to your response to this. First, though there are pastors who are part of the enemy’s camp (we are warned about these wolves in Scripture), their actions will indeed show themselves over time. I don’t think we’re referring to one of them at all.

    What do we say about Moses killing a man? David committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband set up for murder? Peter denying Jesus and all the other Apostles except John abandoning Him when He needed them the most? All of the people above were restored by the Lord, albeit with some serious consequences.

    I am not advocating that we restore most pastors to positions of authority again. But my point with Ted Haggard is that I understand why he would be panicking at this point. I just can’t sympathize with someone who has wasted so much money over the last few years.

    But I am going to take issue with your off-handed comments about someone in our community of faith. I have never defended or attacked this person publicly, and will not do so. His actions must be defended where they must be: in a court of law. However, the people who have phoned me and emailed me about the situation have received almost all their “news” from our local newspaper and not from more credible sources.

    This is not wise. Have you personally talked to the individual and found out there are indeed several sides to the story? Have you talked to me, who saw some of the situation unfolding, and who is intimately acquainted with some of the details? I doubt it!

    For instance: The newspaper talks about the reason for dismissal. I have been witness to the exact reason for dismissal and it is not what the newspaper claims it was. Not even close.

    What kind of response do you think believers should take to this? Should the person in question just roll over and allow the newspaper to try this case without correcting errors? Should we as fellow believers just throw the person under the bus before the court has decided anything?

    I would not want to be treated that way, and neither would you.


  6. Mike, don’t you think you are being a little harsh with Anonymous? All they said is that they were “shocked and saddened” by the response of other believers…not by the actions of tha newspaper. I think you read them wrong.


  7. Other Mike: I am so sorry. You are correct. I assumed they were ‘piling on’ this person. In reality, they were doing the opposite.

    I need to be more careful before I respond to a response. Thanks for bringing this to my attention


  8. I am aware of the newspaper’s propensity to get the facts wrong…usually because they have an agenda…i.e. crank out stories that get a visceral response in the hopes of selling more papers. When you’re writing for a dying medium you are more apt to play loose and free with the facts. Desperate people do desperate things, and so on. Gone are the noble days of the balanced local journalist, leaving us with the unbalanced journalist…in more ways than one.

    You can take issue all you want with my “off-handed” comment. You were indeed overheard in church defending this individual and claiming that you didn’t believe the newspaper article. I’ve’ heard others in the church make excuses for the behavior (if indeed any unethical or illegal behavior occurred) as well.

    It freightens me when I hear my brethren making excuses right off the bat when something like this happens. Have we become so defensive as Christians because we are constantly under attack that we are willing to turn a blind eye to even the possibility of improper behavior?

    As for the whole story, you make it sound like you have the inside scoop. Indeed? Have you seen the complete official school district report on the events leading up to, and the decision for, the disciplinary action taken? Was it a layoff or a dismissal for cause? There’s a huge difference between the two. Have you examined a copy of the resume and the signed application? Have you read copies of the police reports and all felony counts (plus one misdemeanor count) filed by the district attorney’s office? Do you have official copies of the statements of witnesses? I don’t, and most likely only the attorneys, and possibly a jury, will ever see those things. If you do not have access to these things then you do not have the complete story, either.

    As for talking to the accussed…I have had men and women look me in the eye and lie through their teeth, without a flinch. I wouldn’t place absolute confidence in the statements of the accused, just yet. That’s what I mean by keeping our eyes wide open.

    What scare me most is the affect these things have on our young people. I recently spoke to a young person (a twenty-something) who is growing increasingly disillusioed with the church (in general) and the work world because of an almost complete disregard for values.

    I may be wrong but I think we have a great opportunity for growth and and the attainment of wisdom in the midst of these kinds of things, but we won’t grow or gain much wisdom if we ignore it, defend it, or condem it too quickly.


  9. at least that scandal is about greed and not sex.


  10. Anonymous: Of course, I can’t defend a comment I was overheard saying. If the person who heard it didn’t like it, they should have talked to me about it. I don’t mind being confronted. However, what I said above is that I will not publicly defend or condemn someone until they have had their day in court.

    The newspaper is wrong about many of the items in the story. I have had the dismissal letter read to me verbatim. I also was interviewed by the newspaper concerning one aspect of the story and my comments were not used. I can only assume they were not because they would have brought doubt upon one aspect of the story.

    On the other hand, I also have visited people in our church who have gone to jail, as have others. If the member of our Body in trouble does go to jail, I will do what the Scripture says: Visit those in prison as if we ourselves were there. If our standard is that Christians should never break the law, I am in complete agreement. My advice to the individuals in this case is the same I give to everyone: Admit to what you’ve done and throw yourselves on the mercy of God and of the legal system. As to what they have not done, they should not admit guilt where it does not exist.

    Is there anything wrong with my approach? I am ready to stand corrected if there is.


  11. It seems like we are only in disagreement as to the definition of “public.” If I share my opinion with someone and we happen to be in a crowded room with dozens of people standing around chatting each other up, I don’t consider my comments to be so…well…private. Maybe I’m splitting hairs.

    Bottom line: I don’t want a rush to judgment nor do I want a rush to acquit. But I’ll admit I’m a skeptic because we’ve had so many people in leadership look us in the eye and lie or spin the truth about their actions. I am struggling with my moral obligation to keep an open mind here. This discussion has forced me to confront my tendency to assume the worst when these things come up.

    We do find common ground in the position that anyone accused of corruption should admit to what they have done (throwing themselves on the mercy of God and the court), but they should not admit to anything they haven’t done. This is right-on counsel.

    Oh well, I’m just one of the regular folks expressing an opinion, nothing more. You are the leader and the PR on this issue is your call.


  12. Anonymous: Thanks for your comments. I certainly don’t mind people disagreeing, and it is good to work through an issue until we find some points of agreement.

    The reason we have this forum, and the reason I allow comments (even anonymous ones) is so that the average person can have their say without feeling intimidated.

    So thank you for exercising that and keeping the discussion in the realm of the respectful.

    AS to public comments: I will not be saying any more on this issue here or anywhere else where more than one person is gathered. That is wisdom I believe.


  13. If I could redirect this conversation back to the original post, I recently found myself out with a few co-workers and conversation turned to Sen. Craig’s recent demise which lead to Ted Haggard. One of my co-workers commented, “I love it when people who are against homosexuality turn out to be homosexual. Hypocrites.”

    Unsure what to say to that, I took the path of discretion being the better part of valor and let the conversation move on to other things.

    What would be a suggested response to these types of comments?


  14. I always thought open honest discussion was the best way to go. It reduces the potential for claims of favoritism and cover-ups. Although that’s probably not a major concern in this case since it’s unlikely to affect the church in any significant way.

    As for Aaron’s comments, perhaps an appropriate response might be a question: so what you’re saying is you take pleasure in the pain of other people’s bad decisions? Why is that?


  15. The approach anonymous takes is one way. Ask a question to see where the person really stands. Whenever someone talks about hypocrisy, I just very innocently ask them “What is hypocrisy to you?” They usually answer “Claiming to believe one thing and then doing another”. That is actually not what the word means…it means to claim to be something that you’re not. To be insincere. But I let that pass.

    Then I ask, “Have you ever found yourself wanting to act one way, believing you should be one way, and telling people that is how to live, and then not being able to live up to it?”.

    They always say they have. Then I suggest we pray for the ‘hyprocrites’ we are criticizing as much as we would pray for ourselves.

    I don’t think Ted Haggard is as guilty of hypocrisy as he is of misplaced guilt. Some people rant and rave about things they personally struggle with.

    I know a pastor who was revealed to be a serial adulterer who from the pulpit said that any pastor who commits any sexual crime should have his license removed and never preach again.

    So who is he preaching to, really?


  16. I appreciate both suggestions. Mike, I share your frustration with the definition of “hypocrisy”. One of my co-workers privy to the conversation and I had a post-discussion where I shared that same thought on the definition and use of the word. It is tough to see people get some kind of perverse pleasure from someone else’s mistake(s).

    I figure this will probably be one of those instances where now that I have an idea how to respond I won’t find myself in another conversation like this for years down the road. Oh well, I appreciate the thoughts.



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