While most of the current spotlight is on the first rush of policy decisions of the new Obama administration – and justifiably so – there is occurring another example of the battle raging for the soul of American Christianity. Ted Haggard is going public again.
I wish I could feel more benevolent and compassionate toward Haggard and his struggles with his “complex sexuality.” As we look at the long list of fallen clergy, both Protestant and Catholic, we are reminded that no man is above the weaknesses of our flesh, the temptations of the world and the schemes of our spiritual enemy.
However, there is a major difference between Haggard and King David, who when confronted with his sins of adultery and murder responded with:
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. … Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:1-3, 10 NASB)
In spite of claimed regret, Haggard seems to be determined to revel in and profit from his immorality, in spite of the extensive and gracious restoration efforts by the church leadership at the fellowship he once pastored. Rather than continuing in the process of personal restoration, rebuilding his marriage and quietly seeking how God could take the broken pieces of his ministry and use them, he has decided to “make a living” by going the write-a-book, tell-your-story and appear-on-talking-heads route.
His latest friends …? HBO, Oprah, Larry King, the Washington Post, etc., all known to be “allies” and “promoters” of conservative evangelical Christianity – then again, maybe not. What is his purpose and what is theirs for this documentary and related media exposure for this story?
Haggard has apparently had a change of heart on such issues like defending the definition of marriage. “‘Prior to this scandal, I felt as though the definition of marriage was an important issue to be reflected in law,” Haggard said. “I now believe that the Gospel is so wonderful, that the New Testament is so wonderful, the grace of God is so wonderful that that word might not be so significant that it should define publicly evangelicalism.” This seems to be another example of a person’s morals determining his politics because he certainly cannot defend his new position scripturally.
It certainly raises the question as to what other theological, doctrinal, philosophical and political views he has reconsidered. It would seem that the real issue here for the church is not whether we will shoot our wounded, as some would certainly assert, but rather, is Ted Haggard an acceptable representative of “evangelicalism”?
The fact is that his fall is far too recent – particularly in light of the new allegations by another homosexual, confirmed by New Life church leadership, of an additional immoral relationship – and ongoing for him to be doing the circuit if his motives were pure. So, why should this matter to the rest of us?
For some reason even much of the evangelical church culture has come to glorify and place on a pedestal the most salacious testimonies – “My conversion story is more titillating than your conversion story!” – and utterly ignore the better road of the dedicated followers of Jesus Christ who have faithfully served Him, lived a life that reflects the character and virtues of our Lord and do not have an R-rated story to tell.
Yes, Jesus communed with outcasts and sinners, condemned religious legalism and confirmed his love for all through His life, death and resurrection. Yes, even those with blood on their hands like the apostle Paul can be forgiven, cleansed and used by God for His work. Yes, even the vilest sinner with a lifetime of chaos in his or her wake can come to the Cross and receive the wages of life even in their last hour.
However, the very essence of Christianity has been that we have not only been given the power of God for eternal salvation but the power to live a life free from the bondage of sin – and to train up our children in that power, in those truths and with that hope. That is the Christianity that transformed nations and brought personal, cultural, political and economic freedom to Western Civilization.
The glorification of those like Haggard who “dumb down” the moral standard of those claiming the name of Christian, as well as those like the “Cussing Pastor” Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle who revels in using shocking language to build his following, do not reflect the transformational legacy of our faith.
Instead of conforming to the world for either self gain or in the hope that we can trick some into the church, we should return to the faith of our fathers that was grounded firmly in the absolute truth that God is fearfully just and wonderfully merciful, that He set the standard so high that we could not possibly attain it, then paid the price Himself for all who will receive it and trade our filthy rags for a shining robe.
No church marketing plan or major media tour can match the power of a church that is making true disciples of Jesus Christ, who then go out and change every aspect of our community and world. If the majority of churches were doing that instead of focusing on buildings, budgets and bottoms-in-seats, we would not be concerned with Haggard nor suffering the consequences of our choice of Obama.