Unless you’ve been living in a cave or have been on a nice, long vacation for the past week or so, than you know about the scandal surrounding noted evangelical preacher Ted Haggard. Haggard, who is perhaps best known for his teachings condemning homosexuality, has now confessed to a “lifelong sexual problem” after a former male prostitute accused him of a three-year-long tryst involving gay sex and methamphetamines.
Oh the irony.
To say that this is one giant snafu would be a gross understatement, especially as it arrives on the heels of the recent scandal involving Mark Foley and Congressional pages. But what disturbs me about all of the responses in the heat of the moment, with journalists and politicians licking their chops over the latest scoop or political advantage (the elections are right around the corner, after all), is that very few people seem to be talking about the human cost of this disaster.
In the case of Haggard, I feel nothing but sympathy for his wife and five children, and for the thousands of people who trusted him and looked up to his leadership and example. And now, all of that has been dashed upon the rocks. I even have pity for Haggard, whose life is in absolute shambles, whose witness is non-existant. Mind you, this isn’t an attempt to explain away what he did, or to pass the buck, or to point fingers at anyone other than Haggard. What Haggard did was wrong and immoral, and his attempts to deny the truth, to explain away allegations, to hesitate in confessing the truth, are the very pictures of hypocrisy.
Of course, the story is still developing, and noone knows what’s going to come to light in the coming days and weeks — it might even be worse than we thought. But hopefully, some good will come out of this. If nothing else, I hope this whole debacle will serve as a gigantic wake-up call, not only for Haggard, but also for those who followed him, and for every other Christian out there in America.
In his recent blog entry “Conservative Culture Warriors Looking Haggard,” Timothy Merrill makes this interesting statement: Haggard is toast, and so is the conservative agenda, and so is the Republican control of Congress. And a conservative right wing Christian, not a flaming liberal, not Bill Clinton, not Hillary, not a humorless John Kerry, not the ACLU, not a Democrat — made it happen.
Now, regardless of whether you agree with Merrill’s political predictions or not, there is still great truth in his words. The conservative agenda, which, unfortunately and mistakenly, is all too often lumped in with the Christian “agenda”, has taken some huge knocks within the last month or so. And every time the reason came from within the ranks. It wasn’t some outside force, some godless liberal conspiracy that did the damage; the damage came from “one of us”.
That should be a very sobering thought for everyone.
Later in his article, Merrill lists 11 observations of the whole Haggard affair, several of which caught my eye. First of all, if we believe in the sanctity of marriage we need to shut up and pay more attention to our own marriage and less about the laws of the country concerning marriage. Your marriage can survive a gay couple living next door.
This reminds me of something that one of my church elders said, that basically Christians needed to shut up and start minding their own families before they go around trying to fix everyone else’s. The sad truth is that the divorce rate among self-proclaimed evangelical Christians is higher than that of our “secular” neighbors. If we really, honestly, truly believe that our way of life is better, that our system of morality is more conducive to “family values” and a better society, than why is it so hard to make it obvious enough for others to see?
Second, there’s been too much conservative self-righteousness, holier-than-thou — in this country for too long, and if there’s a ton of schadenfruede right now in the liberal and gay community over ‘how the mighty have fallen,’ they are entitled. Too true.
Whenever I hear other Christians complain that the “godless left”, the “secular media”, the “gay agenda”, and so on are gleefully rubbing their hands together while they plan our downfall, I can’t help but wonder “Well, why shouldn’t they?”
What have Christians done to convince them otherwise? What have we done to show them that the way of Christ really is a higher, nobler calling? When Christians practice the very same behavior that they condemn, when Christians shout themselves hoarse over the most insignificant trifles, when Christians cry out for the “sanctity of life” even as they turn a blind eye to torture, poverty, and genocide (to name but a few), there is a vast disconnect between what we preach and what we live.
Finally, Merrill affirms that we must pray for both Haggard and his family, as well as for Mike Jones, the former prostitute whose allegations started this snowball rolling. Already, evangelical leaders have begun distancing themselves from Haggard, claiming they don’t know him despite the fact that he was president of the National Association of Evangelicals (one of the largest evangelical bodies in the nation), and the same tack has been taken by the White House. And I think it’s safe to say that Jones hasn’t engendered too much good will among some folks right now.
And yet the good news of the Gospel is that restoration is always possible. This does not, in any way, ignore the fact that Haggard has made a terrible, damaging mistake, and that everyone involved, be it Haggard or his accuser, will bear scars from this ordeal. Restoration is possible in spite of those things.
But how amazing would it be if the Church — not just Haggard’s church, but the Church Universal — decided to steer away from politics and appearances and power, and instead fully embraced both Haggard and Jones? If the Church refused to condemn but instead worked from the bottom up, beginning with the realization that the only real difference between Haggard and the rest of us is simply that Haggard got caught. Haggard’s private sins have been revealed for all to see, but we all have a multitude of sins and foibles that we pray noone will discover even as we pray that they will be forgiven.
How amazing would it be if the Church used this as an opportunity, not to circle the wagons once more and work on damage control, but instead used this as an opportunity to redress legitimate concerns — be it the trials and failures of the Church leadership, our treatment of those we consider immoral, or the rampant hypocrisy that our “enemies” are right to accuse us of. If the Church used this to show, demonstratively, why our way is higher and nobler than the alternatives.
I realize that these are lofty hopes and ideals, and I confess that I am somewhat skeptical. But the whole of Christianity is based on the simple premise that salvation comes only through suffering, that great good can arise from terrible evil — even the evil that’s inside Christians.