Over the past week, America has had a front row seat to see Christianity on display at both its worst and its best. Last week, Ted Haggard, the former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs and former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was confronted with allegations of gross sinful behavior. And though he claims that all of the charges against him are not true, he admits that enough of them are true to warrant him being removed from his various ministry leadership posts. In a letter read to New Life this past Sunday, Haggard described himself as “a deceiver and a liar,” as he confessed his sexual immorality to the congregation he formed. What can I say? It is a bad when leaders fall into gross sin that brings reproach to the name of Jesus Christ. And it is sad that the “celebrity preacher” mindset, which has corrupted Christianity in America, pressures men to pretend to be something they are not. And it sad that we allow a few high-profile preachers to become the “voice” of Christianity, causing the credibility of the church to rise or fall with the statements and conduct of a few “big named” religious personalities. And it is sad that many people have been hurt, disillusioned, and turned off by these events.
Indeed, this scandal has exposed Christianity at its worst. But, at the same time, this situation has demonstrated Christianity at its best. Even though New Life is an independent church, Haggard and his associates apparently organized the congregation with an elaborate system of accountability, in the unfortunate event that something like this would happen. Many congregations that are closely affiliated with associations and denominations do not have this kind of accountability system for its leadership. Haggard’s fate was not in his own hands, or in the hands of his hand-picked staff, but was in the hands four pastors, called “overseers,” who lead churches in different parts of the county. Haggard and New Life gave them full authority to decide when and how the pastor should be disciplined or removed. And that system was followed by all involved. You may not like the system. But at least they had one. And they followed it.
A letter was also read to the New Life congregation Sunday from Haggard’s wife, Gayle. Addressing her comments to the women of the church, she wrote, “I love my husband, Ted Haggard, with all my heart. I am committed to death do us part. … My test has begun. Watch me. I will try to prove myself faithful” Wow! Claiming “irreconcilable differences”, many people quit their marriages for far less than what Mrs. Haggard is experiencing. I know that many people may think that she should leave him. And, eventually, that may be what she does. But the fact that this was her initial response is remarkable to me. It seems so “Job-like” to me. May she experience the sufficient grace and enabling help of God during this trial.
What was New Life’s response to the news of Haggard’s sin and his admission of guilt? They forgave him. No doubt, this congregation is experiencing hurt, grief, and betrayal, as they have been caught in the crossfire of this controversy. Yet, they have chosen to forgive him. And they have affirmed their continued love for Haggard and his family. And in their worship services Sunday , they prayed for his full restoration and return to public ministry, even though it was said that he would never return to the pastorate at New Life. They even prayed for the gentlemen whose allegations kicked-off this sad saga. This, again, is Christianity at its best. We are people of grace. We forgive, not because people deserve it, but because we have been forgiven. May the Lord comfort this congregation, send them a godly shepherd soon, and continue to use them as a witness for Christ in the days to come.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. – Galatians 6:1 (ESV)