The Trouble with Ted Haggard

I don’t know Ted Haggard. I know about him, at least what I’ve read and heard about him, which is not good. Haggard, a nationally recognized pastor, lost his pastorate after it was revealed that he was using illegal drugs while also participating in a homosexual affair.

This was heartbreaking and destructive enough. What troubles me even more, however, is the unnoticed root that nourished these more obvious destructive behaviors: hiddenness.

I’m not sure anyone really knew or knows Ted Haggard–not his colleagues, not his ex-congregation, not his wife, maybe even not Ted himself. This distance from others, this invisibility from himself created an alternate universe in which he could live disconnected from what he told himself and others he believed and lived for.

Unfortunately Haggard is not the first nor the last who will struggle with a self imposed and self deceiving hiddenness.

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

2 Chronicles 6:12-8:10

Romans 7:14-8:8

Psalm 18:1-15

Proverbs 19:24-25

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

We all wear masks. We all play roles and have secrets. This is part of the human condition. The danger comes when our masks grow permanently attached to our faces and we no longer recognize ourselves in the mirror, or when we award ourselves the Oscar for a role deceptively played.

I believe this was (is) at the heart of the Haggard ordeal. He compartmentalized himself and no one, except God, knew the real Ted. I don’t mean that only in the negative sense. It’s like being trapped too long in one of those halls of mirrors at an amusement park. Soon you can’t discern the real you. Am I the angry one? The sad one? The kind one? The evil one? You turn circles frantically. You lose yourself. You fall to the floor exhausted. You need help.

In that moment you need someone who knows you intimately, someone with a foundation in reality, someone who can take you by the hand and lead you out to truth.

Facing the possibility of losing himself Paul cries out, “I do not do the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep doing. . . . Who will rescue me?”

Notice how public Paul is about his continual failure. He knows how dangerous it is believe your own good and bad press. He knows it is not enough to admit our faults secretly to ourselves or ostensibly to God alone. Paul is honest with himself, his trusted friends in his faith community, and with his God. All three points of contact bring focused truth and freedom into our lives. This authenticity is the antidote to our destructive tendency toward hiddenness.

I know I lean toward that dark and deadly hiddenness I believe Ted Haggard fell into. And I believe with all my heart that when you and I and Ted Haggard let God and those he calls to walk our night roads with us into those dark places, the light of truth comes on and we can discover that, though we are good and evil all wrapped together, there is rescue and redemption in Christ.

  1. How does the Ted Haggard story make you feel?
  2. Which reading spoke most clearly to you?

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Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

17 Comments

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17 responses to “The Trouble with Ted Haggard

  1. elna

    The problem with Proverbs is that it is subject to the translator’s opinions and objectivity. In my Bible Proverbs 18:1 is presented in the following way: “the man who keeps to himself, only lives for himself. He has an abhorrence in sound judgement” (I had to translate that from my mother-tongue, Afrikaans) I believe there is a lot of truth in that. I have been involved with friends that have left their church, and they have no-one to correct them. How can anyone be sure that they are on the right track if they can’t ‘test’ their beliefs against other believers? A pastor friend complained the other day that he can’t find a mentor to advice and help him as a believer. How can the Church as a body grow when the believers stay undisciplined, un-parented baby-believers?

    • Elna:

      Great to hear from you. Your insight and interaction always challenges me to deeper thinking and faith. You are right about the subjectivity of the Proverbs. The other issue with them is that they are often general truths. “raise up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it” is usually true but there are those cases where even good parenting is not enough.

      So too here. Not every hidden person becomes an “abhorrence in sound judgement” but the odds are against him or her.

      It sounds as if traces (?) of the extreme and unbiblical individualism that has over-taken the American church is present there too.

      I believe this is one of the maladies in the modern church. We have taken the well-founded Reformed Protestant push back against the Roman Catholic’s belief in the absolute authority of the Church too far.

      The Jewish faith and the ancient Catholics held to a strong and often healthy sense of letting their faith community have relational and biblical authority in their lives. As Hebrews states we are to gather together to spur one another on to love and good deeds. I believe that happens not just through listening to sermons but also knowing, mentoring, and loving one another.

      Good to “talk” with you again.

  2. carri

    Eugene, have you read his wife’s book, ‘Why I stayed’. If you haven’t I would encourage you to. It basically tells the rest of the story instead of what we just heard about in the media & New Life’s side of it. After reading this book I can honestly say I wouldn’t step foot inside New Life church-that is unless someone from New Life steps up to the plate and makes a very public apology & repentance as to how they treated the Haggards during their so called ‘restoration process’. Yes I agree that Ted was a liar and a deceiver (as we all are) but as far as I’m concerned he was biblical in his repentance unlike New Life who handled the situation worse than a secular business would have. If what the Haggards reported in the book were not true about New Life I would expect New Life to make a public accusation about it- which to my knowledge has not happend. Sorry I got off on a tangent but I’m tired of christians making Ted Haggard an example of being a ‘sinner’ and the way New Life reacted has gone pretty much unnoticed by the christian world and that makes me sad and more upset than anything Ted did at this point. Thanks for letting me rant but after reading their story it was the final nail in my coffin as far as choosing to no longer be a part of what we call traditional church until we get more serious about being a church and not a business for ourselves and we have to ‘exile’ those who make us look bad.

    • Carrie:

      Thanks for your comment. You highlight the other side of the issue very well. No apologies needed.

      I have not read her book entirely. I have read portions and have also heard and read several interviews with her and also Ted. As a pastor who has been through painful and ugly things (not for the same reasons) in the church, my heart breaks for all involved, including Ted, though my essay did not reflect that.

      Though I don’t know the details of New Life’s institutional response (or even the individual leaders and congregants) to Ted’s trouble, I know it (they) must shoulder some of the responsibility.

      I believe very much that the modern “business” systems that many churches (especially large ones) operate by create an atmosphere that contributes to these kinds of problems and then when they occur makes them worse. The institutional approach creates a place where “hiddenness” in pastors, leaders, elders, and people in the pew flourishes. But that is another blog entirely and one I should write.

      And that was real issue: hiddenness. Ted was (is?) a “liar and deceiver” as am I and, please forgive my forwardness, as are you. But as painful and sinful as deceitfulness and sexual perversion and institutional self-righteousness are, they grow from this deeper issue of us being hidden and disconnected from one another.

      “Deep calls to deep” and “iron sharpens iron” Scripture tells us. In other words, the body of Christ is not a metaphor for a church building into which people go for an hour a week–or so–to sing songs, hear good or bad sermons, give money, etc. But rather like parts of a body we belong to one another. We are connected.

      The question Ted’s Trouble forces me to ask myself is not where do I go to church but rather who am I connected to in Christ who will care enough to go into those deep and hidden places with me and bring forgiveness and encouragement and honesty? If I allow no one to go there, and if I never go there, the hiddenness and darkness will probably consume me.

      I too have wanted to leave the institutional church. God has not allowed me to do that. Because I don’t know you, these next questions may be presumptuous. Please forgive.

      How are you fulfilling God’s command to not forsake gathering? Where are you adding your gifts and talents and wisdom to a community of faith? Where are you letting your heart of love for God and your voice join with others in gathered worship? Where are you putting your shoulder to the wheel to move the church from its sometimes sinful place to a place of fulfilling God’s will for her? Do you have a faith community that can call you out of hiddenness? Tough questions, I know. But important ones for a modern world where we are too often disconnected from one another.

      I understand your pain (and fear?). But may God heal and strengthen you so that you may once again (if you aren’t already) connect with the body of Christ and find friendship, joy, and challenge in your place there.

      • amazing grace

        Eugene,

        First of all I think it’s important that you know that I did not grow up in a christian home. I became a believer as a young teenager and I was pretty messed up at the time. I don’t think there was anyone more excited about the church than I was. I’m not coming from the perspective of someone who was forced to go to church or grew up in some super legalistic enviroment.

        I’m actually quite connected with a small group that comes pretty close to calling one another out of ‘hiddeness’ and I do have a tight group of friends that I confess my sins to and vice versa. Actually what has rang true for me over the years is very little accountability or concern about how I lived my life when I was actively involved in ‘Sunday church’. No one asked or even bothered to go that deep with me so I could basically live like the devil all week and it wouldn’t matter based upon my church attendance. And all the questions you ask of me Eugene, they are great questions, but the reality is most christians, even the ones who attend church, truthfully don’t live by those, if we were to be really honest here. And I guess that is what it comes down to for me. I’m no longer going to live in the illusion of authentic community when it mostly doesn’t exist even though we talk alot about it and think we are doing it. This is a fairly new decision for me so I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know what it will look like in the end for me. All I know is that I’m trusting God for the next steps and I’m actually excited about what’s in store. It’s pretty doubtful it will ever include going to the traditional church unless God does a complete 180 degrees with me. I’ve seen too much dysfunction, deceitfulness, and denial among God’s people and I believe it’s largely because we continue to create an atmosphere that encourages us to live very disconnectedly and dishonestly with one another by the way we are choosing ‘to do church’.

  3. Linda

    First, I have to again say “thanks” for tackling a rather unpalatable subject with grace and Biblical insight. I haven’t read Gayle Haggard’s book, nor do I intend to. I don’t wish to judge either of the Haggards, but it’s hard not to, at least for me. My former husband is now an “out” gay man and I can tell you that I couldn’t stay in the marriage. I tried, believe me, I tried. (In fact, I tried for 26 years!) I finally came to the realization that I was literally risking my physical, spiritual and emotional life by staying.

    I can also tell you that our then church “fired” us without knowing really what was going on, so when I really needed the Body, I was adrift. (He was in leadership and his erratic behavior alarmed and angered the elders who kicked him loose. The result was that not only he, but the entire family was pretty much shunned.)

    The wonderful thing is this: Jesus took care of me. I don’t care if a church is big like New Life, or tiny like my old congregation. If there is dysfunction and it’s a “closed system” it’s gonna do groupthink and not treat people with what God says in Micah 6:8 He requires: “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”

    Just like those sinners we tend to condemn, the church as a larger body — and a reflection of us sinners — compartmentalizes and keeps secrets. And judges. It strikes me that the opposite of compartmentalizing is wholeness. And isn’t wholeness the definition of healing and health?

    • amazing grace

      very well said Linda- your story very much backs up my point. In fact, my first pastor when I was in highschool, I became very close to their family and even lived with them my senior year. Turns out, I found this out almost 20 years later, this same pastor had been in & out of homosexuality for the entire time they were married and his wife could tell no one because they pastored a small church in a small town in KS. When I was in college, the wife almost told me about what was going on because she had absolutely no one she could tell this ‘secret’ to at her church. Thankfully she didn’t tell me at the time as I would’ve been devastated but several years later she finally told me because she chose to divorce him. Once again this lady had to live a very comparmentalized life for almost 30 years but is now happily remarried. How sad that she had to bear that secret for as long as she did being a pastor’s wife with 5 children.

  4. amazing grace

    Eugene- I just realized that my reply came back to you under another identity, ‘amazing grace’ but actually this is Carri from the first post.

  5. Linda

    I think part of the compartmentalization that so many of us suffer from is rooted in shame. The Bible says to confess our sins one to another, but when we have, we’ve been judged or worse yet, gossipped about via the prayer chain (what I’ve referred to as the “Sanctified Gossip Circle”). That’s not to say that all prayer chains are like that, but human nature is what it is. I know this because I’ve done it. And yet without confession there is no healing. What a conundrum.

    I also must confess that my church-going has become very sporadic. Is that good? I know it’s not. And I know I’m to forgive seventy times seven. That doesn’t mitigate the fear of being burned yet again.

    There: how much easier it is to confess when one is able to be somewhat anonymous…

    • Carrie and Linda:

      I am humbled by your honesty and insight. There is so much in your posts I feel inadequet to address lest I minimize them. And honestly, though I love the written word and the connections we can make on-line, I also find it easier to hear each other in these kinds of conversations face to face. Never-the-less . . .

      I do relate to much of your experience (unfortunately). I am also terribly dissatisfied with the way we “do church.” And I understand why so many have drifted or are walking away. As insiders we have too long said, “what is wrong with those people who aren’t in a church? (both Christian and not)” When all along a better question is, “what is it about church that is chasing people away?”

      More people are asking the latter question and are trying with grace and honesty to answer it. I know Mike and I wrestle with it each and every day. And the slow, hard progress (at least I hope we are) is sometimes frustrating. But there are those days when God is among us and we experience his comfort and challenge as we worship together. It seems to me that anytime God’s divine perfection touches our human imperfection there will be sparks, often beautiful and awe inspiring ones but often too sparks that burn and wound.

      But I also know that part of God’s redemptive plan for our families and friends and communities is what Jesus and Paul and Peter called the church. The church is called his bride and his body, intimate and loving pictures. I believe this includes–oh I hate this word–the institutional form, though it needs desperate work.

      I did not grow up in the church either. So, I sometimes wonder why I love the church so. I think it is because Christ does. And just as with people he loves (all of us), I cannot walk away from them even when they are dark and hurtful.

      Also, I think I have always been surprised that Christ (if not always the people) included me–the mess I was and am–into his family.

      Well, enough. Thank you both and God bless you. I hope and pray the faith community that he has called to surround you is centered on him and gives you a home.

      P.S. If you have not read “Life Together” by Bonhoeffer, give it a shot. I believe it is a biblical and encouraging picture of Christian community and how church can look. Eugene

  6. Todd Lowther

    I don’t know many of you but I do know Mike and Eugene, and I appreciate their pastoral attempts to stimulate discussion and keep people reading through scriptures. Both know enough about writing to acknowledge that ‘name-dropping’ brings some notice. Ted Haggard is a lightning rod by his own chosen profession, mega-church pastor with conservative rhetoric, only to be found living a secret, dark gay sexual life style. Then when he is exposed, he agrees to a plan for reconciliation to those in authority but later bags it citing a higher calling to God. Most people’s “credibility warning” systems began screaming. Having been a man in leadership who allowed dark moments to influence my thinking and lose credibility and resulting leadership, I sympathize with Ted and his wife. But his actions have affected thousands, many whom they will never know. We just moved to York County, SC, home of the ministry of Jim and Tammy Bakker. After years of scandal, legal battles and divorce, the county still struggles with what to do with a 20-story monstrosity that had been the organization’s headquarters. People estimate about of third of the Bakker crew probably regrouped and stayed on a relatively sane course, but another third left, many discouraged, but not enough to leave the faith altogether. But the group in the middle, the skeptics, those who had been lied to, cheated, victimized, broken–all the things the church is supposed to help fix not create–those are the ones who’ve disappeared, disillusioned, distrusting, withholding their love and service, stunting their growth. These was the ones who get swallowed up by other charlatans or become spiritual hermits. So regardless of the individual leaders who fail, there are so many others blackened by the fallout or swallowed by the aftershocks. It’s to those the churches should be reaching out.

    • Thanks, Todd.

      We miss you here back in CO but hope all is well in the south.

      • carri

        Hi Todd,

        Just curious if you’ve know what New Life’s restoration plan was for the Haggards? I would encourage you to read the book and then let us know if you would’ve submitted to the same ‘restoration plan’ and how ‘biblical’ you think it is? I guess I missed the part about Paul hiring a lawyer and arranging for a permannent exile for the gentleman who sexually sinned in the Corinthian church.

  7. What a great discussion, all of you. Thanks for your input and insight.
    Although Ted’s name has been bantered around a bit, the issue comes back to us: How do we respond to pain and disappointment in the body of Christ?
    I’m now at my sixth church after 22 years of ministry. Apart from my current church, each church has kicked the $&*# out of me. And I’m sure my time will come at The Neighborhood Church. At the same time, I’m sure people in each of those congregations could point to me as a good reason NOT to return to church.
    Yet, like Eugene, I can’t convince myself to give up on the institutional church. Why? Because Jesus hasn’t given up on her. If he did, all of us would be without hope because all of us would be destined for eternity in hell. Someday, Jesus will be reunited with his bride, the church. If he refuses to give up on her, if he refuses to give up on me, who am I to give up?
    I’m also learning that pain and disappointment aren’t the worst thing that can happen to me. In fact, they’re usually the way God gets my attention. And they’re usually the way God changes me.
    I don’t understand the intricacies of your journeys, and in no way do I desire to minimize your pain, but I’m not sure how God can continue the “iron sharpening iron” process in our lives outside of the Christian community. It’s a little like listening to music in mono when you could listen to music in stereo.
    May God bless you in your efforts to live his story.
    Michael

    • carri

      Hey Mike, thanks for your comment. I agree with pretty much all that you are saying and Eugene as well. I think what it comes down for me is that I have given up on the ‘institutional church’ but not ‘the church’. Everyone has to come to their own conclusin about this. After many,many years of trying to be part of the solution instead of the problem (and I can honestly tell you I’ve tried over and over….) I’ve concluded that most people like it this way. The way we do it now doesn’t require much of a commitment from the masses. Yes there are those who work their butts off and as we all know, many of them simply burn out- including those on the paid staff side of it. Just can’t do it anymore. It can best be summed up in the ole say, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over & over and expecting the same result’. As I said earlier, I don’t know what the answer is at this point but what I do know is that I can no longer keep doing what I’ve been doing- otherwise I’m quite certain I may lose my faith in the process. Sorry for being so honest and I don’t mean to hurt anyone feelings or step on toes.

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