I did not respond right away to the allegations against Pastor Ted Haggard. I waited to see if the charges were proved to be partly or wholly true. And then I waited to see how Ted Haggard responded. Regular readers of these ramblings know that I believe strongly in everyone’s personal responsibility and accountability when we publically proclaim the name of Jesus Christ. It is a responsibility that I do not take lightly. And I do not take lightly any rebukes that I offer to others who have fallen short in their journey. I believe that every follower of Jesus should not only love the Lord with all of their hearts but should also seek to follow the credo of primum non nocere, “first, do no harm”.
My heart is broken when a very public Christian falls. My heart is broken because it does do harm. I hear the mocking comments and sneers. I cringe at the glee that some enjoy as they proclaim that incidents like this prove that all Christians are “phony”. My heart is broken for a church who put their faith in this man. My heart is broken for a family that is deeply wounded as I write these words today. My heart is broken for new believers who are shaken by such stories. My heart is broken for Ted Haggard.
Regular readers of this site know that I try to keep my little engine chugging down the parallel tracks of truth and grace. This is a tough one. The sin of Ted Haggard made me angry. His initial denials frustrated me after more of the truth began to be revealed. But as I have reflected and prayed for Ted Haggard (I highly suggest that) I have focused on some positives in this sad story.
I am taking some excerpts of Ted Haggard’s letter to his church.
You can choose to be cynical here. You can decide that he is only trying to save himself. You can throw this out as a desperate attempt to survive after being caught. But I hear the words of a man devastated in his soul by sin. I choose to believe that this is his heart as he attempts to rebuild his life from the shards of a broken man. Here are just a few excerpts from that letter.
I am so sorry. I am sorry for the disappointment, the betrayal, and the hurt. I am sorry for the horrible example I have set for you. I have an overwhelming, all-consuming sadness in my heart for the pain that you and I and my family have experienced over the past few days. I am so sorry for the circumstances that have caused shame and embarrassment to all of you.
…I have further confused the situation with some of the things I’ve said during interviews with reporters who would catch me coming or going from my home. But I alone am responsible for the confusion caused by my inconsistent statements. The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.
I cannot imagine the pain that Ted Haggard is feeling. I appreciate the raw honesty of these comments.
I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.
Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn’t want to hurt or disappoint them.
One of the aspects of God’s Word that I love is the gut level honesty about His people. If this is a book written by men to deceive us to believe their “religion” then they didn’t use very good examples at times. The greatest men of God failed and they often failed miserably. David sinned sexually, lied, covered up the sin, and then directly caused the death of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. No one would have known. But God sent Nathan to confront the King in 2 Samuel…
Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin. Nevertheless, because you have shown utter contempt for the Lord by doing this…
The consequences were horrible. The baby of that union died. David’s life would never be the same. But he was restored. I am not saying that Ted Haggard’s situation exactly parallels the story of David. But God chose to put such honest revelations of our capacity to sin in the Bible for a reason. I am praying for the restoration of Ted Haggard. Here are some reasons that I believe it is possible.
Ted Haggard has taken full responsibility. He has admitted his pride. He has expressed deep sorrow and contrition. He has submitted to full accountability.
The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry. Our church’s overseers have required me to submit to the oversight of Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett. Those men will perform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family.
He has asked for us to forgive the man who told the media. His timing and motives were questionable but that is not the issue here.
Please forgive my accuser. He is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins, and others, need to be dealt with harshly. So, forgive him and, actually, thank God for him. I am trusting that his action will make me, my wife and family, and ultimately all of you, stronger. He didn’t violate you; I did.
Let us not get caught up in the type of sin. Sin is sin. We are the ones who rank them by degree. God sees sin. Period.
If Ted Haggard really means this final statement then his healing and restoration can happen.
Please forgive me. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. I caused this and I have no excuse. I am a sinner. I have fallen. I desperately need to be forgiven and healed.
That is one more thing I love about following Jesus. You can fail and still be restored. Redemption is always patiently waiting there. The Father will always race to meet and hug the prodigal son who wanders away. That is grace. This will not be easy for Ted Haggard. His life will always reflect the consequences of these bad choices. But he can be restored. I am praying for him and rooting for him.
The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins traces the origin of a familiar phrase. “On seeing several criminals being led to the scaffold in the 16th century, English Protestant martyr John Bradford remarked, ‘There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.’ His words, without his name, are still very common ones today for expressing one’s blessings compared to the fate of another. Bradford was later burned at the stake as a heretic.”
Many of that have personalized that to read, ‘There but for the grace of God, go I’. Adrian Room commented that this was a phrase used “by the self-righteous or smug when others are faced with disaster, disgrace or the like as a result of their actions. It implies that they could well have been in the same position but have been fortunate enough to escape”. I have examined my heart today. I don’t feel very self-righteous and I certainly don’t feel smug. I mainly feel sad. For Ted Haggard and for others who harbor secret sins that grieve the Lord and that He longs to cleanse. I pray that the Holy Spirit will search the hidden compartments of my soul for sins that can lead me to ruin.
My feelings are best summarized by the tax collector in the Gospel of Luke. Allow me to personalize this a bit.
“But the blog writer stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ NLT