Friday, January 30, 2009

Ted Haggard Is Right (About One Thing)

Ted Haggard is back in the news. He shouldn't be, but he is. He's been on ABC news, Oprah, Larry King, and the HBO documentary "The Trials of Ted Haggard." Why? I can't help but think he's out there on his own making these decisions, and accountable to no one who is credible.

He and his wife are saying their story is a story that needs to be shared and heard. Why? This looks, to me, like an act of self-promotion rather than God-promotion. Of course I can't know this. It just feels like it to me. Something in me doesn't like it, and it's not because I can't forgive Haggard. I can forgive him. I just don't trust him. For me, if he had mentors who I respected and they said "We feel it's a God-thing for Ted to be on TV sharing his story," then that would make me consider it.

This is what happens when trust is violated in a relationship. Forgiveness? Of course. Trust? "Trust" is not a decision. It takes a long time to rebuild trust. So when Haggard says "I'm doing better now" I don't, ipso facto, trust him. Trust is like an emotion - one can't will the thing. I don't have a clue whether or not he is truth-telling since he's just coming off living a two-faced double life while responsible, not only for a church of thousands, but an organization of millions. For this reason, rather than going on "Oprah," Ted should stay small.

But there is one thing Haggard is right about, whether he knows it or not, and whether he is lying or not. It's this: all of us are filled with duplicity. When Haggard confesses "I am a failure" he is "Everyman." C.S. Lewis warned us that every true Christian must keep his nostrils constantly attuned to the "inner cesspool." Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier wrote that, within every human heart, there is the repressed, rotting stuff of humanity. Within us we all have "seeds of destruction" (Thomas Merton). BEWARE OF ANYONE WHO DOESN'T AGREE WITH THIS.

My own belief, after 38 years as a follower of Jesus, is that there's not one person walking the planet who isn't hiding something. Put in Jesus-language, only He was "without sin." Not you. Not me. If we had a machine that could be hooked up to our hearts and minds and project all that's inside of us, good and bad, who would want all of America to see it? Remember 1 John 1:8-9 - "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Fuller Theological Seminary New Testament scholar Marianne Meye Thompson, in her commentary on 1 John, writes: "The recognition of what is impure and false in us ought to lead us to confess our sins... What many of us have left behind is a pervasive sense of sin." (46) If it were true that I was a perfectly transparent, spotless, sinless, together person (i.e., if I was now Jesus incarnate minus his love), then I'd be looking for some stones to throw at Haggard.

This exposes the problem of the church. Haggard's church, like most churches, was one where he was allowed to hide, because, as Thompson says, most American Christianity is a "Pick-and-Choose Christianity," with "sin" being low on the list. Consider instead what a real "church" is supposed to look like, as expressed in James 5:13-16:

"Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

Over the years I've met Christians who can't admit they are sick because of a false teaching that people of faith don't get sick. I've met Christians who can pray for the illnesses of others but don't reveal their own inner and outer brokenness. I've rarely seen a church where people get up and confess their sins before they've been caught at them. Most "Christians" I've known hierarchize things and place the "pastor" at the top of the moral ladder. Some pastors actually want this image. Others feel the pressure. I know. I've read the journals of hundreds of them that have been sent to me. We love praying for the drug addict who comes off the streets while firing and shunning the pastor who's got a drug problem. Pastors know this. Make one moral blunder and there's a church member who shouts "crucify him."

But if a pastor has a drug problem should he remain a pastor? I think the answer is: it depends. If he or she is humble and broken and asking the flock for prayers and help, then the discernment-meter leans towards "Yes."

I've many times talked with people who attend Alcoholics Anonymous who say that organization is a lot more real than any church they've ever been in. There, people are expected to be real and openly confess their sins and love on each other and support one another. Sadly, this won't happen in most churches. If your's is transparent and real and forgiving and loving, then you are truly blessed. Forget how big or that church is - never leave it and invite others to it! SWhen it comes to real Jesus-stuff size doesn't matter.

Here's a thought, using Haggard's former church in Colorado Springs as an example. If the invitation were given to come forward and confess your sins on a Sunday morning, and the people got real about this, everyone would be up front with something to say, not about someone else like Ted Haggard, but about their own selves - their sin, their failure, their struggle.

In no way should Haggard ever be the pastor of that church again. That's my opinion. Because of what he did his ministry is seriously compromised. But to be asked to leave, not only the church but also the city, and not only the city but also the state? Why not the country? Beyond that, send Ted Haggard to the moon. What is that about? If that's the response of Haggard's church "family," it's but the fruit of his own duplicity and hiding. Which is, I'm guessing, the condition of most churches. We shoot our wounded instead of sharing our wounds. We all bleed to death quietly and privately while casting the openly bleeding out of our sight. It's all a facade of purity sans real cleansing.

I've heard it said that the real church is not a "country club for saints" but a "hospital for sinners." If this is true, does it mean for even the worst of sinners? Is it even... for one like me? I hope so. I believe so. That's what it was for me many years ago. And it still is. I'm a human who is a pastor. I'm not Jesus. How open can I be about this?