Like a lot of you, I was blown away by Ted Haggard’s letter to his church family on the subject of his sexual indiscretions. I find myself reacting in so many ways to this news that its hard to know where (or if) to begin. But I feel like the conversation on this whole subject is important to the evangelical community, and to those who are in my own more immediate faith community. So…
Here, in no particular order, are a few of my scattered observations:
1. In a way, I am happy for Ted* tonight. Not because he sinned. Not because he was caught. Not because he was embarrassed in front of the whole world. I wish none of those things on him. But I am happy for him, because tonight he is finally free. I can’t imagine the utter darkness of the places where his spiritual walk has taken him during the last few months, trying to keep this huge secret, trying to come to grips with how he could speak out against the very thing he was hiding, trying to find some way, any way to face God in prayer during all of this. It must have been a huge burden. Now, however, the secret is out. With the light of truth comes the Spirit of God. Healing can (and almost certainly will) finally begin. There is – likely – a great story yet to be told in Ted’s life.
2. I’m going to be praying for a lot of people and things. For Ted, of course. For his wife and family. His church family. The people who have followed him who are now questioning everything that they believe. I’m also praying for his accuser. What must this man, his family, his friends – the gay and lesbian community as a whole – think about the gospel of Jesus after this experience?
3. I find myself returning to Romans 3:19, the subject of our class yesterday. I’m reminded of the dangers of voiciferously speaking out against others’ sins, because one’s own sins are always lurking in the background. I have no idea of the specific things that Ted said about gays and lesbians, so I’m not directing this at anything he said or did. I am, however, reminded of how important it is to speak of sin out of humility, and to always confess reliance on God’s grace and mercy in our own limitations. It is a difficult thing to do.
4. All of us in the layity of the evangelical community need to accept some of the responsiblity for what has happened to Ted. We have unrealistic expectations of our leaders. Like the rest of us, they are flawed – imperfect images of God on a journey of spiritual transformation. They are going to stumble, struggle, and experience moral failures from time to time. When we expect them, explicitly or tacitly, to be morally perfect, we put them in a difficult place. With their job, their reputation, and their church/political clout on the line, the temptation to hide, rather than confess, sin is huge. The result? Stress, pressure, and secrecy eventually take their toll, and they slip into secret sins of the worst kind.
4a. On that point, I wonder if things would be different if Ted had always been open that he had experienced homosexual temptation and that he occasionally strugged with it still. What if he had been free to say these things without fear of reprisal from others in the evangelical community? Would his relapse never have happened? And if it did, how much different would the world be reacting right now? Of course, Ted didn’t have that option. We didn’t give it to him. He was forced to either hide his temptations from us or to resign from his positions of leadership. What a shame.
5. How would you like reports of your absolute worst moral failures to be broadcast in the national media?
6. Though I think its relevant, I’m intentionally avoiding the whole problem of the conservative politics/republichristian marriage at this stage. Discussions on this issue will invariably follow. But now is not the time.
7. Ted Haggard commits sexual sin, and it is treated as a very serious matter – as it should be. Victoria Osteen acts rudely and insensitively toward First-Class flight attendants for failing to clean up liquid on her armrest and the Christian community doesn’t seem to bat an eye. Indeed, if anything, many come to her defense as she denies wrongdoing. Is there something wrong with this picture? What would happen if we took arrogance and haughtiness as seriously as homosexuality? How about if we added greed, political oppression, bitterness, and social injustice to the picture?
*I have no personal relationship with Ted Haggard, of course. But, in the most important sense possible, he is a part of my family. I refuse to call him “Mr. Haggard” when speaking of him in a situation like this. Thus, I’m referring to him by his first name.