I wrote this column for our local paper on the recent exposure of one of America’s religious leaders and wanted to include it here as well… Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could ask the larger questions inherent in this crisis rather than grabbing the duct tape and sealing up the illusion once again?
Last week, Rev. Ted Haggard, one of Americaâ€™s leading pastors was suddenly pushed out of the closet by a prostitute whose services he had retained in Denver over a three-year period. Accused of sexual liaisons and drug use, Haggard initially denied even knowing the man but by the weekend he had confessed to immorality and deceit, and was dismissed from his church.
But the implications of his exposure go far beyond one congregation. Until last week he was also an outspoken advocate for traditional values and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents the political interests of 30 million conservative Christians. This was one of theirs, whose influence extended into the Oval Office. Yet no one saw that that his words and his life were grossly out of synch.
For those of us who seek to live to the teachings of Jesus, last weekâ€™s news had to be tragic. Or was it? Certainly these events are incredibly painful for his family, and others he deceived, but I donâ€™t know if it is ever wise to call the truth tragic.
For one, Haggard himself now gets to live in the light. He no longer has to hide in the dark and deceive those closest to him. Now off the pedestal, he has the opportunity to find out what he really believes and how he wants to live. I pray Godâ€™s grace upon him and his family in the process.
The larger question is how our Christian institutions will respond. The illusion that they accurately represent the life of Jesus has been ripped open again. Now what? Will they shove Haggard under the bus as an embarrassing aberration, or will they take a hard look at themselves? Donâ€™t bet on the latter. Damage control will dictate that they remove him quickly, replace him with those who hopefully have no secrets and go on before people ask too many questions.
Well, I think some questions need asking:
- How is that that Christianity perpetuates institutions that cannot distinguish between those who have been transformed by a meaningful relationship with the Living God and those who can amass a following by their charismatic personalities or political acumen?
- Is the system part of the problem? In a national survey Fuller Theological Seminary found that over 50% of pastors claimed some form of â€˜addictionâ€™ to pornography. Are these just hypocrites who found their way into leadership or do the demands, frustration and loneliness of clergy life promote addictive behaviors in some?
- Why is it we can only recognize sin only when it is sexual and are blind to it when expressed in arrogance or greed for money or political power?
- Will we remind ourselves that Jesusâ€™ gospel was not primarily for the wealthy and wise, but those society considers outcasts, and be more humble as a result. Certainly Haggard is not alone in his struggle and we might want to ask whether our congregations are grace-filled places of healing or performance-based social clubs.
- Is there an inherent contradiction between demonstrating the life of Jesus and amassing political power?
Whether or not evangelicalism will risk asking these questions, I know many people who are. Many are burned out on the misplaced focus of many traditional congregations, but remain passionate followers of Jesus.
Letâ€™s not be afraid to ask the tough questions at times like this. We might find better answers and better ways to live out our faith.