tired, worn & haggard: our brother ted

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Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

tired, worn & haggard: our brother ted

before the current 15 minutes of media attention of ted haggard disappears, i might as well jump on the blog bandwagon…

no, actually, while the blogosphere (and media, in general) have been abuzz about ted haggard and last week’s premiere of alexandra’s pelosi’s hbo documentary, the trials of ted haggard (which, unfortunately, i haven’t seen), i’ve wanted to spend a little time in some serious reflection here on the blog. i think haggard’s story is multi-faceted and has brought various points of theological/ecclesial interest to the forefront. as a pastor, particularly, i’m very intrigued about how this whole series of events—beginning in 2006—has played itself out.
on the surface, i’ll be the first to admit, haggard is the kind of pastor/personality that i would unfairly critique. prior to his big scandal in ’06, he was the smiley (think joel osteenesque) president of the national association of evangelicals who was vocal about your standard-issue republi-christian moral american set of theologies and values. it would have been easy for me to dismiss him and probably make fun of him. certainly, when the gay prostitute/drug scandal broke, i probably laughed and said something to the effect of “typical” or “what an idiot.”
callous and harsh, to say the least.
in the last week, as haggard has been making media appearances, though, i’ve had a change of heart.
we’ve had our fair share of fallen pastors throughout the years. jimmy swaggart. jim bakker. we all know the names and they’ve become a part of our cultural vernacular. each time a scandal occurs, the standard line of events goes something like this: commit sin. deny it. deny it. break down in public forum (church, media. etc) and confess. disappear for a while. come back and do some media interviews. and finally, keep your confession, but adamantly deny all the surrounding facts and try to speak in such nuanced ways that you, ultimately, don’t admit to anything major and never really answer the real questions. that’s pretty much how it goes down and that’s pretty much how it went down for ted haggard—until the last step.
what has been so refreshing and surprising about haggard’s media appearances is that he hasn’t spent one second trying to defend himself or gives 20 reasons why everyone’s accounts are incorrect and that he’s the victim. he has been forthright, honest and humble. he has taken some major hits, but he has owned up to them all and hasn’t tried to take anyone else down with him.
when i was watching larry king, for instance, there were some things said about specific details that he could have easily (and justifiably) said, “well, some of that’s true, but what he said about this or that was a lie.” no, haggard didn’t do it. each time, he would humbly take the hit and admit his faults and shortcomings.
further, he was very honest about his sexual trials. given his background and church/political circles he ran in, it would have been convenient and expedient to quickly clarify that he was straight as an arrow and all that “gay stuff” was just some spell of temporary insanity or something. he didn’t do that. he talked about trying to work through sexual identity issues and that he feels (and these are my words) that he’s on this sort of sexual continuum, where he’s sorting through those issues, while being committed to his (amazing) wife gayle and his family. that takes a lot of courage and personal reflection to make those kinds of statements publicly.
at one point during the larry king interview, a caller said he has finally become ok with being gay after struggles for many, many years about being gay and being a christian. he asked haggard what he thought about it. while some have criticized his answer, i thought it was great. instead of saying, ‘no, that’s wrong, you’re gonna burn’ or saying, ‘yeah, that’s great, go gay sex it up,’ haggard responded with (my paraphrase), “go engage in scripture and talk to god.” while that may sound simplistic and like he’s dodging the question, i think it’s a great response. in essence, he’s saying—as i see it—”i’m not god. i can’t judge you and no one person should be the substitute for engaging in scripture and being led by the holy spirit as a guide to truth. talk to god—not ted haggard.” now, that may have been a total dodge, but i interpreted it in the best possible sense.
finally, and on a slightly different note, the other big story coming from the ted haggard saga is some mixed commentary about the status of the church. on one hand, one of the interesting trends i’m seeing is a lot of people in agreement with me. across the blogosphere, the twittersphere and i’m sure there’s some other -spheres we could throw in there, there’s been a lot of people who have seen haggard’s sense of humility and responsibility. i’m encouraged by this. by and large, interestingly, i’ve seen this response from the progressive christian community. quite frankly, it’s a lot of people like myself who you would think would be critical and look for a chance to see the proverbial, “told you so!” but, i simply haven’t seen that (it may be out there, but i just haven’t come across it).
on the other hand, though, i still see—and haggard acknowledges this—that, predominantly, there’s still a black cloud that hangs over haggard’s head, in terms of the perception of and relationship to the church as a whole. in short, it’s not difficult to see that the church, by and large, is less motivated to forgive in reality than what her faith requires. it seems that the prevailing thought is that a sin “so grave and hideous” shouldn’t be forgiven or that he deserves to suffer for awhile. he did, after all, commit the worst crime against god possible: gay sex!! (cue looming and evil music…).
i’m certainly not trying to point the finger, because god knows that while i tend to forgive easily, i harbor plenty of negative feelings about others that i refuse to give up. what i am saying, though, is that one of the foundational things about following jesus is forgiveness. after all, to be saved means to be forgiven. the two go hand-in-hand. if our faith hinges on a god of forgiveness and second chances, then shouldn’t that be one of the primary traits of the church. patton dodd, an editor with beliefnet and a friend of haggards, wrote the following that speaks to the matter of forgiveness. he writes,

Haggard has complained to some of his old friends, including me, that if he had been a CEO instead of the senior pastor of a church, he would have been back at work in one month. New Life Church needed to protect itself and had to shun one of its own in order not to expose itself to financial ruin in the form of fleeing members. Haggard has complained, and now has Alexandra Pelosi complaining for him, that New Life Church refused to do the main thing churches are designed to do: forgive.

so, while our brother ted continues to sort through his demons and put his life back together, let’s—for those of us who belong to this beautiful and messy thing called the church—come together and learn lessons in humility and grace and forgiveness. when we judge and reject even a smiley evangelical republi-pastor, we know from scripture that we cast judgment upon ourselves.