Ted Haggard is having his say. The former pastor of a Colorado megachurch who admitted to a sexual relationship with a male escort in 2006, is now sharing his story in a documentary called “The Trials of Ted Haggard.” On Jan. 29, the film premieres on HBO and will follow the life of the former pastor and re-examine the scandal that rocked the evangelical world. While the film is bound to bring up old wounds and raise more questions, there are some important lessons that the church can learn from Ted Haggard.
When the story broke in 2006, I, along with thousands of others, was shocked. I had brief contact with Ted Haggard in his role as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals at various meetings. His deception grieved me as did the media’s portrayal of him as the worst kind of hypocrite – a two-faced man who preached the Gospel of Christ by day and engaged in homosexual activity and drug abuse by night. People asked how it was possible for someone to oppose homosexual sin while indulging in it.
As he himself wrote in his confession, “There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life.” If you had asked the thousands that attended his Colorado Springs church, I imagine most would have said they had no idea their pastor struggled with homosexuality. The same could be the said for our own churches. It might be easy for us to judge the outside world, but how often do we recognize the broken and hurting in our own pews? For every gay activist that shouts in the parades, I’m willing to bet that there’s someone in our congregations who painfully struggles with homosexuality, but is afraid to reach out for help. I know because I was that person.
As a teenager, I was in church every Sunday and harbored my own secret – a battle with homosexuality. Like Ted Haggard, I, too, was molested at a young age and found myself dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction. I gave in to my feelings and found gay life fun for a season, but eventually realized it would be lonely for a lifetime. More importantly, I was living in deep conflict with my own Christian beliefs. I felt like a hypocrite, and I went searching for help. At the time, it seemed no church would touch the issue and thus I found Exodus International, a ministry that helps those dealing with this particular struggle. Godly men and women walked beside me as I began to deal with underlying wounds and discovered my true identity in Christ. They demonstrated the bold love of Jesus Christ when I needed it most, and now, 18 years later, I am blessed to do the same for others.
The truth is that most Christians struggle with a particular sin in their lives. It might be an uncontrolled temper. Maybe it’s substance abuse or even a secret grudge harbored toward someone. Or maybe, like Ted Haggard and me, it’s a struggle with lust and sexual brokenness. While there is freedom through the power of Christ, the sad truth remains that there is still something terribly wrong in many of our congregations, something that all of the marriage protection laws and constitutional amendments cannot fix. Many of our churches are not safe places for us to be vulnerable and seek help and so many continue to suffer in silence. The choice of committing sin and disobeying God has always been our personal responsibility, but we in the church desperately need each other. And yet, in many churches, people are still donning masks and ignoring the very hurts and struggles that God instructs us to be open about. If we are to make any progress in reaching a hurting world, our churches need to be a place of healing and accountability. This starts by every one of us, including our leadership, admitting to our struggles and asking fellow Christians for help.
In the end, however, it is the loving and redemptive nature of God to take our messes and even our most tragic circumstances and use them for something beautiful. Often, the villain in our movies and news stories “gets his,” and that’s the last we ever hear from them. But the grace of Jesus Christ isn’t content just to leave things at that. God wants to reach out to all who have fallen, even the villains in the world’s stories. Convicted Watergate criminal Chuck Colson is a perfect example of how God can take a disgraced public figure and bless him with a fantastic and far-reaching ministry. The Apostle Paul was one of the early church’s most feared persecutors before God intervened and made him one of Jesus’ most zealous supporters. No one is beyond the same redemptive power. Christ came to the world to set captives free, and no one is exempt from that promise. So, while Ted Haggard is having his say, it is far better to know that in the end, God will always have his.