I was stunned, as I’m sure many of you were, at the recent news about Ted Haggard, the now former pastor of New Life Church. In many ways, I think my own reactions reveal just how fallen and broken I am in my own life. I want to share with you the process that I have been through in really examining myself in this, and I hope that it may be of some value to you.
To begin with, I should share that I have always had some reservations about New Life Church. That is not to say there is anything wrong with the church, I often have reservations about churches that don’t fit my image of what worship should look like, etc. Yet even recognizing my own inadequacy to judge bodies of believers, particularly those most different in appearance from what I am used to and comfortable with, my first thought when I heard about the controversy was something to the effect of “I knew there was something strange about that place.” To my credit, I instantly knew how wrong and completely unfair that thought was. But I had it. As I began to read the initial information available to me, I thought this must be some sort of political stunt. I questioned the timing, to quote the political cliche of our day. It didn’t take long for Rev. Haggard to admit that some portion of the allegations were true, and then I began to desperately hunt for more information. Which part was true? I mean, buying drugs is a whole different type of sin then hiring a homosexual prostitute, right?
That was my first reminder of just how off track my reasoning is. In God’s economy there’s no difference between sins. Each and every sin, from allowing ourselves to shout at a coworker, to taking a deduction we’re not entitled to on our taxes, to hiring a prostitute, is really the same sin. It’s all rebellion against God, and it’s all rooted in idolatry. Whether we’re worshiping sex like the ancient followers of Baal and Ashtoreh, worshiping money, or worshiping our own egos, we’re putting ourselves before God. I have often felt that the more deeply I commit my life to Jesus and the ministry He is calling me to, the more significant a target I am to satan. It’s as though he has a most wanted list, like the FBI, and each step we take closer to the plan God has for our lives, the higher we climb on that list. Putting things into that context, it’s hard to fathom the level of temptation Ted Haggard must have been struggling with, given the potential impact he was capable of having for Jesus Christ. I feel confident it was beyond any temptation I have ever faced.
Despite my desire to judge Ted Haggard, my desire to look at my own sins and tell myself how trivial they are compared to his, I have to accept two important things. 1) My sins are no different than his. And (2) I am not called to judge him or anyone else. In fact, to do so is giving in to temptation – the very thing I would convict him of! Now, as a caveat, I do believe that New Life church is called to discipline him. The church in Acts clearly had authority to discipline it’s members, and a need to do so for reasons of accountability. However, I must remember I am not called to do that, nor is any individual. That is the perogative of Ted’s church — and I should note they already had a competent process in place to do just that.
Getting back to my narrative, as I sought further information I came across something interesting. The Gazette now allows readers to comment on the articles. I dove into the comments and felt as though I had been slapped. I grew angry and indignant at what I read there. But was my anger righteous? We’ll tackle that in a moment. First I want to share with you some of what I read. Be aware, I think some of these comments will stun you.
“This is the BIGGEST evangelical in the country. The leader of 30 million people, and he is a liar, sodomizer and drug user…..Does this show anything to people of faith? Your messiah on Earth was a lying scumbag, like all the rest of the leaders… Happy, Happy Day!!”
“Haggard is a hypocrite and a liar. Let’s see the right wingers spin this one. It’s a happy day. I would only be happier about this if Haggard had been caught having sex with Dobson.”
“What a hoot! The funniest part about it is the christian idiots who spent yesterday shouting that it couldn’t be true and that it was a liberal plot. You people are SO easily taken in. Do you realize that, once again, you are being laughed at across the country? The 5% of you with any brains should see Moliere’s “Tartuffe” for a guide on how the more things change the more they stay the same.”
“HAHA! Delicious Schadenfreude! Despicable religious hypocrites will inevitably consume themselves! Now if only there was a “god” to damn Haggard to hell. Never mind – he’s already living in a very real one of his own creation. This is a wonderful morning. May all the fundamentalist Christian bigots in America meet such a poetic, well-deserved fate: that would be my “heaven”.”
“In the words of the great musical that every card-carrying homo like me knows by heart: “Ding, dong the witch is dead, the witch is dead/Ding, dong the wticked witch is dead …” Woo-hoo!! Gloat? You bet your a** I’m gloating!!”
Though there is much more, I’ll stop here for now. You can read them all, if you like, here. As I said above, I got angry as I read these statements. The more I read the more I was completely incredulous. Here are people cackling with glee that a man’s life has been destroyed, that his wife and children are in agony, and that so many in our community and across the country are struggling with feelings of betrayal and disappointment, possibly even questioning their faith. And what is their justification for their hatred and bigotry? Oh yes, the hatred and bigotry of Ted Haggard and the church. The more I thought about this the more ridiculous and hypocritical it seemed to me. These people were behaving in exactly the way they were accusing Ted Haggard of behaving.
So that brings us back to my question, was my anger righteous? Was God angry with these commenters? I don’t think so. I think God sees there pain and their hurts and He longs to heal them. So what stands in the way? I’ve spent a lot of years chewing on this question. Let me share a few more comments with you:
“I have been judged and put down in this town for a long time. Finally, one of the leaders have fallen and it is a wonderful day. I hope Paster Ted is enjoying being on the other side.”
“I don’t think there is as much ‘hate’ as pent-up frustration. Since this story broke yesterday, some of us have been imploring our fellow residents to take the moral high road and be respectful of this fellow human during this time of difficulty for him and his family. That is a difficult stance for those who continue to be accorded second-class citizen status and feel the retribution of the Christian community against them. It started in 1992 and has continued without pause ever since. So, perhaps, you should understand that 14 years of hate and bile needs an outlet. Attempts to just make up lost ground with things like Referendum I are overshadowed by the haughty contempt of Christian leaders like Dobson et al who are apoplectic that gay people exist in the upper echelons of the Republican party and actually have power. He recently issued a fatwa to his followers to not vote for Perlmutter because (gasp) he employed gay staff. Ma’am, the sour grapes will end when Christians and right wingers stop professing to “love the sinner, hate the sin” AND actually cease demonizing fellow humans.”
Is that true? Are we demonizing our fellow man? Certainly if so, we’re way off track. Jesus came for sinners. He lived among the prostitutes and tax collectors, and won them to a better life through his love. Loving the sinner and hating the sin is a pretty common cliche in the church, but how are we really doing? As many of you know, I spent a number of years of my life pursuing a career as an actor. In that capacity I met a lot of homosexuals, particularly homosexual men. My instinct, born and raised in the church, was not compassion and love for these people. It was disgust and revulsion at their behavior. I could — and still can — hate the sin with exceptional facility. But I felt almost no need what-so-ever to love the sinner. After a number of years of coming to know many different homosexuals, I learned that I liked some of them and disliked others, just like any other group of people I have ever met. I even met a few who were deep and committed believers in Jesus Christ. Does that make their sin okay? No. Does it make their sin any different from mine? Still no. However, let me share with you some of their stories. I met one young man — really a nice, charming, and very young kid — who had been thrown out of his home when his Christian parents discovered he was a homosexual. Another man, one of the committed Christians, shared several stories of churches who had told him he was no longer welcome and sent him away when they discovered he was a homosexual. Are these the actions of Christ?
Homosexuality is a sin which is different from most of the sins we face in our culture because we can’t understand it. Many of us can relate to the panic and desperation that might lead a young girl to go have an abortion, or the raging hormones, casual attitudes toward sex, and peer pressure that led to her pregnancy in the first place, but because we have never experienced the longings of the homosexual, and because they seem so very alien to us, somehow we promote homosexuality to a special class of sin. In my reading of scripture, I can find no where that God declares homosexuality a more significant sin than any other type of premarital sex or adultery. How many men in our church suffer under the burden of pornography? My understanding is 6 out of 10 — pastors included! Is this different? Not to God. Sexual immorality is wrong. Whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual it hurts us, we are broken by it, and we need healing. Somewhere along the way, we got the idea that we should chastise the young boys who have sex with girls and throw out the ones who have sex with boys; that somehow the latter is beyond redemption, while the former is normal adolescent mischief.
Do we need to embrace and accept homosexuality as some churches are now doing? No. However, we do need to embrace and accept homosexuals. We do need to take a serious look at how permissive we are toward destructive heterosexual behaviors in the church and we need to find a balance. Many people deep in heterosexual sin feel perfectly comfortable in the church, while homosexuals feel ostracized and hated. There is a middle ground somewhere between the discipline of the church and the love of Jesus Christ were we can love people as they are, while encouraging them in their journey of sanctification.
Mark D. Roberts has written expertly and with exceptional compassion on this topic, and I highly commend his writing to you, as well as Dr. Tom Schmidt’s excellent book.
I’ll end my sermon here, but my prayer is that the revelations about Ted Haggard can serve as a wakeup call to the church, leading us to a deeper compassion for our fellow sinners, and to new strategies of outreach that will engender less hatred and more demonstration of the love of Jesus. I am under no illusions. This article will be seen as part of the problem by many. It is a quandary, holding the line against sin, while loving people in the midst of it. But I think the key is to be honest with ourselves about our own sin. We are just as guilty. The only difference is that Jesus makes us clean, and He has charged us to share that opportunity for redemption, not with sinners just like us — the ones we relate to and understand — with all sinners.