Are We Willing to Ask the Larger Questions?

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 America’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 week’s news had to be tragic. Or was it? Certainly these events are incredibly painful for his family, and others he deceived, but I don’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 God’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? Don’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 ‘addiction’ 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 Jesus’ 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.

Let’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.

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20 Comments
  1. ben November 13, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    Howdy Wayne! You ask if the institution is part of the problem? NO! It IS the problem! Great thoughts and I, too, pray that we answer these toughies. Maranatha!
    SEMPER FIDELIS!
    ben o/

  2. Theresa November 13, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    Once again brother, Thanks for articulating the very things that echo in my heart.
    Bless ya, Theresa

  3. ben November 13, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Howdy Wayne! You ask if the institution is part of the problem? NO! It IS the problem! Great thoughts and I, too, pray that we answer these toughies. Maranatha!
    SEMPER FIDELIS!
    ben o/

  4. Theresa November 13, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    Once again brother, Thanks for articulating the very things that echo in my heart.
    Bless ya, Theresa

  5. kent November 14, 2006 at 6:02 am

    Wayne, I think as long as the Church approarches this on grounds of morality and in turn attempts to control it by controlling people, with in the Church and society outside, they will not be able to see the difference between the life Jesus spoke of and demonstrated and the need for political power or any type of power for that matter. It becomes about law instead of love. When it is about law it is about power.

    Why do we keep focusing on the very thing that drives people to acting out. People do not like to be controlled and when they feel they are they seem to act out. Since rebelion is so look down on in the church as being of the enemy, many just push it down deeper and hide their struggles. Conformity is praised and I think it is the more dangerous place to live (when it is not confority to Christ). When someone is acting out openly, it is in the open for all to see. It’s in the light where we are suppose to live. When you are in an environment that judges and condemns instead of loves and covers with grace and mercy, we hide and live in the darkness.

  6. kent November 14, 2006 at 9:02 am

    Wayne, I think as long as the Church approarches this on grounds of morality and in turn attempts to control it by controlling people, with in the Church and society outside, they will not be able to see the difference between the life Jesus spoke of and demonstrated and the need for political power or any type of power for that matter. It becomes about law instead of love. When it is about law it is about power.

    Why do we keep focusing on the very thing that drives people to acting out. People do not like to be controlled and when they feel they are they seem to act out. Since rebelion is so look down on in the church as being of the enemy, many just push it down deeper and hide their struggles. Conformity is praised and I think it is the more dangerous place to live (when it is not confority to Christ). When someone is acting out openly, it is in the open for all to see. It’s in the light where we are suppose to live. When you are in an environment that judges and condemns instead of loves and covers with grace and mercy, we hide and live in the darkness.

  7. Fran Means November 14, 2006 at 10:33 am

    I used to teach a women’s self-defense class (not a church activity, believe me). We used to say that you are controlled by your secrets. Talking about stuff out in the open so it’s not a secret anymore is a step on the road to living free from your past. How’s that for truth coming from outside the institutional setting?

  8. Fran Means November 14, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    I used to teach a women’s self-defense class (not a church activity, believe me). We used to say that you are controlled by your secrets. Talking about stuff out in the open so it’s not a secret anymore is a step on the road to living free from your past. How’s that for truth coming from outside the institutional setting?

  9. kent November 14, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    I came home from work and read my comment from earlier today and thought; I didn’t do a very good job explaining some of what I was trying to say.

    What I was trying to say was I think since so much of the atmosphere in the religious system is harsh, unloving, judgemental and without true grace. Rebelion hides most of the time in the form of conformity. I believe this is a much worse state than acting out more openly.

    In an attempt to help people live morally we have created a sad situation. This is not accomplished through the law. People need a safe place to deal with their struggles. I talk to many people everyday and unfortuately don’t find many that feel their local fellowships are safe places to be real. Especially those in any type of leadership.

  10. Mary November 14, 2006 at 6:50 pm

    I was happy to read your comments Wayne. There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed and this can be a blessing to us! Wow. I agree Kent that the “institution” IS the problem. The world is IN the church institutions. Yes Fran, I see the Lord’s message everywhere OUTSIDE the walls. Have you all heard of the book “Repenting of Religion” by Boyd? This book is hitting me in the heart in seeing how far I had gone away from the love of God which is centered on Christ.

  11. Mike Rea November 14, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    Wayne,
    I agree with the point you are making here. I read an article lately that said simply it was mainly the fault of the clergy/laity church system and if Ted would have been part of house church this wouldn’t have happened. Well, I have been in house churches for a few years now and I can say I have seen similar here as well. While I believe that the clergy/laity system played a part in this I really believe the root is much deeper.

    The reality is that western christianity has become almost entirely about having good morals. Our witness to Jesus is a clean attractive billboard that says look at me. Look at how good I am. When you get that type of “religion” with a system that promotes people you get situations like what we saw with Ted. Don’t have anything wrong with you otherwise you are not a “good” christian. So everyone walks around in denial with their “good christian” masks on. Meanwhile they are dying inside at best or living a double life at worst.

    I am obviously not against good morals but my salvation isn’t found in how good my morals are but rather in the righteousness of Christ. Jesus taught of an upside down kingdom where the last would be 1st, where the prostitutes and drunks were entering the kingdom ahead of the people that have it all together. A kingdom where we charge the mountain armed only with love. A kingdom where we align ourselves with truth even when that truth is that I struggle with homosexuality, pornography, or gossip and in that truth we truly become free. It’s in that place of truth that we can truly recognize how desperate we all are for the grace of our father and it’s in that place of truth that we can receive His Grace. Jesus taught a life of radical trust in a Father who desires intimacy with His children.

    I think at some level Ted feels great relief. He doesn’t have to stand alone in his battle any longer. The truth is out and he can finally receive the grace he has been talking about. That is good news.

  12. Dan Knight November 14, 2006 at 6:57 pm

    There’s a saying that those who seek power are those we should least entrust it to. We need more servant-leaders, not big shot pastors playing at politics in both the religious and secular realms.

    As long as we live in a fallen world, there will be broken people in the church. Some will find healing. Some will hide their flaws from the public, build a great public persona, and do their best to never be healed because they refuse to acknowledge their weaknesses and addictions. (I know. I used to live like that until I became so broken that I could receive God’s grace and healing.)

    This side of the grave, God may break, humble, and heal them. Let us pray that Ted Haggard will be among the healed ones.

    Dan Knight
    Redeemed and Remade

  13. kent November 14, 2006 at 8:46 pm

    I came home from work and read my comment from earlier today and thought; I didn’t do a very good job explaining some of what I was trying to say.

    What I was trying to say was I think since so much of the atmosphere in the religious system is harsh, unloving, judgemental and without true grace. Rebelion hides most of the time in the form of conformity. I believe this is a much worse state than acting out more openly.

    In an attempt to help people live morally we have created a sad situation. This is not accomplished through the law. People need a safe place to deal with their struggles. I talk to many people everyday and unfortuately don’t find many that feel their local fellowships are safe places to be real. Especially those in any type of leadership.

  14. Mary November 14, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    I was happy to read your comments Wayne. There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed and this can be a blessing to us! Wow. I agree Kent that the “institution” IS the problem. The world is IN the church institutions. Yes Fran, I see the Lord’s message everywhere OUTSIDE the walls. Have you all heard of the book “Repenting of Religion” by Boyd? This book is hitting me in the heart in seeing how far I had gone away from the love of God which is centered on Christ.

  15. Mike Rea November 14, 2006 at 9:56 pm

    Wayne,
    I agree with the point you are making here. I read an article lately that said simply it was mainly the fault of the clergy/laity church system and if Ted would have been part of house church this wouldn’t have happened. Well, I have been in house churches for a few years now and I can say I have seen similar here as well. While I believe that the clergy/laity system played a part in this I really believe the root is much deeper.

    The reality is that western christianity has become almost entirely about having good morals. Our witness to Jesus is a clean attractive billboard that says look at me. Look at how good I am. When you get that type of “religion” with a system that promotes people you get situations like what we saw with Ted. Don’t have anything wrong with you otherwise you are not a “good” christian. So everyone walks around in denial with their “good christian” masks on. Meanwhile they are dying inside at best or living a double life at worst.

    I am obviously not against good morals but my salvation isn’t found in how good my morals are but rather in the righteousness of Christ. Jesus taught of an upside down kingdom where the last would be 1st, where the prostitutes and drunks were entering the kingdom ahead of the people that have it all together. A kingdom where we charge the mountain armed only with love. A kingdom where we align ourselves with truth even when that truth is that I struggle with homosexuality, pornography, or gossip and in that truth we truly become free. It’s in that place of truth that we can truly recognize how desperate we all are for the grace of our father and it’s in that place of truth that we can receive His Grace. Jesus taught a life of radical trust in a Father who desires intimacy with His children.

    I think at some level Ted feels great relief. He doesn’t have to stand alone in his battle any longer. The truth is out and he can finally receive the grace he has been talking about. That is good news.

  16. Dan Knight November 14, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    There’s a saying that those who seek power are those we should least entrust it to. We need more servant-leaders, not big shot pastors playing at politics in both the religious and secular realms.

    As long as we live in a fallen world, there will be broken people in the church. Some will find healing. Some will hide their flaws from the public, build a great public persona, and do their best to never be healed because they refuse to acknowledge their weaknesses and addictions. (I know. I used to live like that until I became so broken that I could receive God’s grace and healing.)

    This side of the grave, God may break, humble, and heal them. Let us pray that Ted Haggard will be among the healed ones.

    Dan Knight
    Redeemed and Remade

  17. User November 16, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    It is interesting how easy it is to blame an institution instead of a man for his sins. Christ who saw into a man’s heart blamed it on his nature of being a sinner. Though the “Religious Leaders” of his time were horribly corrupt, we never see Christ blaming the system the men were a part of, but laid the blame squarely at their heart. Did you know that 100% of the men who cheat on their wives are married? Do we blame their wife for the unfaithfulness, or the institution of marriage itself? No, no matter the circumstances in the marriage, sin belongs only to the sinner.
    I am a part of the “Bad†institution. My particular “Bad†institution often has hurting people come here because of how they are loved and we even have two staff members here. Many of the members I have talked to since becoming a part of my “Bad†institution directly attribute their attendance to this congregation because of the security, love, and support they receive from their church family.
    Also, the charge leveled again the whole of those attending and in leadership of “non house churches†seems to me somewhat silly after we find in both the book of Titus and 2nd Timothy a list of moral qualifications for those who are to be in leadership. These seem to indicate not only that we should strive for a moral standard, that that there are leaders.

    Thanks for letting me post,

    God bless

  18. User November 16, 2006 at 8:14 pm

    It is interesting how easy it is to blame an institution instead of a man for his sins. Christ who saw into a man’s heart blamed it on his nature of being a sinner. Though the “Religious Leaders” of his time were horribly corrupt, we never see Christ blaming the system the men were a part of, but laid the blame squarely at their heart. Did you know that 100% of the men who cheat on their wives are married? Do we blame their wife for the unfaithfulness, or the institution of marriage itself? No, no matter the circumstances in the marriage, sin belongs only to the sinner.
    I am a part of the “Bad†institution. My particular “Bad†institution often has hurting people come here because of how they are loved and we even have two staff members here. Many of the members I have talked to since becoming a part of my “Bad†institution directly attribute their attendance to this congregation because of the security, love, and support they receive from their church family.
    Also, the charge leveled again the whole of those attending and in leadership of “non house churches†seems to me somewhat silly after we find in both the book of Titus and 2nd Timothy a list of moral qualifications for those who are to be in leadership. These seem to indicate not only that we should strive for a moral standard, that that there are leaders.

    Thanks for letting me post,

    God bless

  19. Hilary November 17, 2006 at 4:34 am

    As in the Old Testament, the people demanded a human king, God gave them human kings, and these human kings sinned and showed weakness and the people were surprised. Well, now people demand a human “church leader”, they get a human “church leader”, and these church leaders sin and show weakness. And we are surprised??? We need God, the true King and leader of His church!

  20. Hilary November 17, 2006 at 7:34 am

    As in the Old Testament, the people demanded a human king, God gave them human kings, and these human kings sinned and showed weakness and the people were surprised. Well, now people demand a human “church leader”, they get a human “church leader”, and these church leaders sin and show weakness. And we are surprised??? We need God, the true King and leader of His church!

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