Resurrecting Ted

ted_haggardWho says there are no second acts in American religion? Ted Haggard, the former mega-pastor and evangelical leader who fell from grace in a 2006 gay sex scandal, launched his new church last week with a gathering of 100+ people at his home, located a stone’s throw from his former New Life Church.

Hometown religion reporter Mark Barna was there–at least for a brief press conference Haggard held before the gathering. The resulting article, “Haggard holds home prayer service: a night of redemption,” contained classic quotes of the kind that make Haggard’s followers swoon and his skeptics cringe:

“People here tonight believe in resurrection and me.”

Resurrection is a great hook. But forgiveness was the key doctrine explored in the article and follow-up pieces. Barna went further in “People repent, change — so give Haggard a chance,” a post on his blog, “The Pulpit.”

The Bible is filled with stories of spiritual transformation, few of them more famous than the story of Paul, who went from someone who murdered Christians to arguably the greatest teacher of the faith.

While the tale of Paul is extraordinary, there is no shortage of stories about people who have changed their lifestyle, sometimes dramatically, through Christian teachings or because they’ve suffered such hardships as a serious illness or financial downfall.

Barna quoted Haggard supporters who say he has paid his dues and repented. But one question I’ve heard some local Christians ask is: “Isn’t there a higher standard for leaders? Is forgiveness enough for a fallen pastor who has broken people’s trust and damaged the image of Christ’s church?”

Barna briefly addresses these concerns in his blog:

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but should Haggard lead a church?

Well, why not? Many nondenominational evangelical pastors like Haggard have no academic training as a minister. They become a pastor by proclaiming it. They start a church or join one and work their way up.

And for every Bible passage (First Timothy 3:2) saying a minister of God must be beyond reproach, there is a story like Paul’s in which a repentant sinner is used by God for good.

I think Barna confuses two issues here: the issue of whether God can use a repentant sinner (like Paul) and the issue of what should done with a leader who essentially forsakes his call by wandering away from the truth he himself has proclaimed.

Barna also reports that Haggard, who did not complete the program of recovery dictated to him by spiritual advisors, has now selected his own team of advisors to whom he says he will be accountable. Haggard’s certainly not the first leader in the evangelical/charismatic community to pull this (as Charisma magazine editor Lee Grady frequently points out in his editorials).

Once again, Haggard supporters sing “Hosannas” and others say, “Here we go again.” Should Barna have dealt more with questions of leadership rather than forgiveness? Perhaps. But many readers are saying they want to be done with the whole issue. To them we say: Good luck.

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  • Northcoast

    Concerning Mr. Haggard, fool me once . . . Fool me twice . . .

  • Ed

    Certainly, leadership is the issue here.
    Repentance has two facets, sorrow and a turning around.
    If a guy repents of his alcoholism, doesn’t mean you put him behind the bar of your saloon! Particularly if he declines to participate as a member of a recovery group.
    The references to St. Paul are misplaced. There’s no evidence that he fell away from his Christian faith (alhough it could be logically and appropriately argued that he would not likely be called as a rabbi of the local synagog!) He is quite clear on what to do with those who cause divisions, which Haggard certainly did/does. (Romans 16:17)

  • EastCoast

    Mr. Haggard didn’t follow the spiritual advice, then creates his own new team… That does not sound like repentance, it sounds more like I’m ready for the spotlight again.

    Yes, a pastor should be held to a higher standard. He is responsible for the spiritual leadership of his congregation.

    Titus 1:7 (NASB)
    For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward…

  • Joseph M. Smith

    In addition, there is the ethical issue of starting a new congregation “within a stone’s throw” of his former church. That’s not mission; that’s poaching. And the article could have covered that too.

  • R Knight

    There are profound differences between the apostle Paul and Ted. One should not compare the two—save to present two sides to a coin: the exemplar and the deficient.

    The apostle Paul was indeed mixed into some very evil works before his conversion. But then came his miraculous transformation that began with the resurrected Christ directly calling him to be a minister of His gospel. Paul immediately repented of all his sins, was baptized by Ananias, and set his feet on the straight and narrow path from which he never deviated even in the face of a personal handicap (thorn in the flesh), severe persecution, long and arduous missions, ship wreck, imprisonment, and martyrdom.

    After Ted chose to follow Christ and be a minister to His children, he chose also to then pack his life with such grievous sins as sexual misconduct, deception, lying, illicit drug abuse, hypocrisy, and covenant breaking. He only confessed and began repenting when he was publicly caught in the mire of his sins. Had the gay prostitute not “outed” Ted, he may have continued until his deceptions were revealed through some other means.

    Paul taught that the leader of a congregation, a bishop, must be a person of the highest spiritual caliber (Titus 1:7-9).

    Let me be clear. Christ’s atoning sacrifice is always available for all we sinners to repent and return to Him. This is certainly the case for Ted. I don’t pretend to know the details of his repentance. That is truly only known between Ted and Christ.

    But I do know that a fall from such a height of pastoral responsibility as Ted’s, requires an even greater amount of effort to fully repent, experience true Godly sorrow and contrition, and provide as much restitution to others as possible. Such a fall also brings damage to the good name of Christ and His church and must be repented. It is a long road that I have personally assisted contrite followers of the Redeemer to trod and win.

    I am quite weary of high-profile ministers with high pastoral responsibilities who don’t voluntarily confess, forsake, and repent, but are discovered in their sins, then publicly display their personal sorrow for a short period of time then resume a ministry. It just seems that too often the equation is not sufficiently balanced!

  • JC

    Men are called by the Lord, they don’t put themselves in these positions, nor do a body of people elevate them to these positions of authority. Funny thing is, all of the true believers that I am around attend any type of “church services”, as the Lord has called His true sheep out of this religious mess. Ted Haggard isn’t a called preacher, let alone a believer folks, so how can you restore something that never was?? Read your Bibles and simply scan through the Book of Acts and you will see that about 95% of those standing in leadership positions are “hirelings” not called by the Lord to lead His sheep. Anyone who follows Haggard and other preachers such as himself, don’t know the Lord nor His voice, so in turn they are NOT His sheep in the first place. There’s a Bible lesson for you all…

  • KM

    After such an enormous bout of betrayal, and deception, I find it shocking that Ted Haggard still maintains a group of followers. Furthermore, he did not honorably admit to his mistakes and then try to repent. Instead he denied the accusations of methamphetamine use and soliciting a prostitute until ample evidence left him backed into a corner. The manner in which this man fell from power begs the question of sincerity when it comes to his apologies. I wish that the reporter of this article had gone further into exploring these followers, perhaps to unveil the reasons behind their unwavering faith.