Grace Works

Michael Cheshire’s encounter with Ted Haggard:

What’s your response to this clip (or the full article at the link)?

A while back I was having a business lunch at a sports bar in the Denver area with a close atheist friend. He’s a great guy and a very deep thinker. During lunch, he pointed at the large TV screen on the wall. It was set to a channel recapping Ted’s fall. He pointed his finger at the HD and said, “That is the reason I will not become a Christian. Many of the things you say make sense, Mike, but that’s what keeps me away.”

It was well after the story had died down, so I had to study the screen to see what my friend was talking about. I assumed he was referring to Ted’s hypocrisy. “Hey man, not all of us do things like that,” I responded. He laughed and said, “Michael, you just proved my point. See, that guy said sorry a long time ago. Even his wife and kids stayed and forgave him, but all you Christians still seem to hate him. You guys can’t forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he will take me as I am. You say he forgives all my failures and will restore my hope, and as long as I stay outside the church, you say God wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him.” Then he uttered words that left me reeling: “You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will.”…

But then the funniest thing started happening to me. Some Christians I hung out with told me they would distance themselves from me if I continued reaching out to Ted. Several people in my church said they would leave. Really? Does he have leprosy? Will he infect me? We are friends. We aren’t dating! But in the end, I was told that my voice as a pastor and author would be tarnished if I continued to spend time with him. I found this sickening. Not just because people can be so small, but because I have a firsthand account from Ted and Gayle of how they lost many friends they had known for years. Much of it is pretty coldblooded. Now the “Christian machine” was trying to take away their new friends.

It would do some Christians good to stay home one weekend and watch the entire DVD collection of HBO’sBand of Brothers. Marinate in it. Take notes. Write down words like loyaltyfriendship, and sacrifice. Understand the phrase: never leave a fallen man behind.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Joe Canner

    Maybe we need to preach II Corinthians 2 at least as often as we preach I Corinthians 5.

  • Mark Edward

    The atheist in the story is absolutely right. Many Christians LOATHE grace. It’s so easy to condemn.

  • NateW

    What a great article. Thanks for sharing it Scot. My favorite quotes:

    “It’s amazing how much more mercy I give to people who struggle with sins I understand. The further their sin is from my own personal struggles, the more judgmental and callous I become.”

    “Grace must pick a side in the light of day, not just whisper its opinion in the shadows and dark places where we sign our name Anonymous…. Grace is a shield to those who cannot get off the battlefield. Grace is God’s idea. Like a spiritual Switzerland, we stay in our neutral world where we can both forgive and judge but never get our hands dirty caring for the fallen. And when we don’t pick a side, the wrong side gets picked for us.”

    “I think of John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Maybe it’s not just talking about our physical life. Perhaps it’s the life we know, the friends we have and lose. Maybe I show love when I lay down the life we have together to confront you on a wrong attitude or action. Maybe we show no greater love than when we are counted with people who others consider tainted.”

    This, of course, begs the question: Besides fallen pastors, what people or groups of people do “we” (Christians/the church at large) consider “tainted”? What could it look like to look to be “counted with” them?

    We need to stop seeing things in an “us” and “them” kind of way. Why is it so hard for us to accept that beneath the dirty rags that shame begs us all wear we (all of humanity) share the same identity–those who are loved.

  • Joe Canner

    Mark #2: Which is particularly ironic given how much we appreciate the grace we have received. Maybe Eph. 2:8 should be revised: “For by grace are you saved, through faith…after that, you’re on your own.”

  • http://davidwarkentin.blogspot.com/ David Warkentin

    I appreciate the engagement and love reflected in this story.

    One phrase, however, has troubled me: “Of course, I understand that if a person doesn’t repent there is not a whole lot you can offer.”

    Really? I understand and value accountability within Christian community, as well has having a certain moral standard for leadership. But I see a resignation in this phrase that dismisses the complex journey of sin and repentance as the Holy Spirit convicts. Can one still meet Ted Haggard for lunch if hadn’t repented? I’d hope so.

    I’m glad Michael Cheshire pushes us evangelicals with this story. I just think he could have pushed us further.

  • Holly

    Is there more to the story, though? Did Ted throw off the help he was offered immediately following his fall from grace? Did he submit himself to the process of restoration, or did he want it all (and a church to lead) without the hard work of rebuilding? There might be other reasons why his leader/peers don’t receive him warmly. It might have less to do with forgiveness, and more to do with how Ted went about his return to the pulpit. Would it have been better for Ted to have cleaned floors at an orphanage for awhile than to seek a return to the pastorate? Ted was a very powerful person – head of the NAE, a president on speed dial -he’s used to being in charge. I guess what I’m saying is that within the pastorate there are rules which govern who may be pastor and who may not, steps are outlined for restoration in the event of a fall. Did he apply himself, or did he set himself above the rules? I don’t know – but that is worth knowing before judging how his peers receive him.

    Should he be forgiven? Absolutely. Should he be an outcast? Absolutely not! Should he be pastoring? That may be debatable for those who are closer to the situation. A wife may forgive and choose to stay with her husband. A church or denomination may forgive, but may not want to re-instate a pastor to his position – particularly if he has not followed all of the prescribed steps.

  • http://www.facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

    I found the article and shared it on my page a few days ago as I resonated with it quite strongly. Not to say that I am an ex-pastor, but I am someone who has understood that we have freely received grace, and freely we should give. I can’t speak and say what happened in the shadows for Mr. Haggard, but what I do know is God never abandoned him, and it is not our place to speak condemnation and death into his life. Grace is not to ignore what someone has done, but it should inspire (and enable) us to love them even when it is not convenient or sensible to us. Who knows how his current pastoral position will go, but I do not believe he lost his talents and gifts merely because he sinned. Should he be more careful? Sure. Our past doesn’t dictate our future, however, and praise God for that.

  • Mark Pike

    The situation with Ted Haggard is complicated by the celebrity aura that surrounds Evangelical pastors like him. He becomes a public figure, has a very public fall – but we are not privy to the details of his restoration. Then someone outside the faith castigates us for not embracing him. It is far more complicated that just showing grace and forgiveness, it is very much about the accountability of leaders with pastoral responsibility. With the very limited knowledge I have, I would have to defer to those who have oversight of his restoration.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    Cheshire calls us to embody that which we easily say we believe — and it’s not so easily embodied. We have no witness if our integrity isn’t holistic.

    Holly #6 asks some good questions, to which I don’t know the answer. I do know that God continues to be faithful, and that both the hoops and our compliant/avoidant jumping through them can still manifest human brokenness, condemnation and judgment. At some point, we have to trust God to manifest his Word in and through persons and the bride of Christ. Paul’s words to the Philippians about fraudulent purveyors of Christ are true – I began to follow Christ after hearing a person mock a Christian for his integrity. The Christian’s integrity was such that even the mocking mocker had an incredulous tone to his voice. The Holy Spirit used that atheist in my life. Why could God not use Ted Haggard? ISTM that all we can do is leave God to do the judging, while we faithfully bear love, grace and truth.

    “Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.” (Phil. 1:15-18)

  • Holly

    Sure, Ann, and I agree with you. :) You are a wise and wonderful woman of God!

    I guess I’m not looking at this (nor reading this) under the lens of “what do I, personally, think of Ted Haggard?” but more along the lines of which the author is writing, which is, “why do other pastors/leaders consider him toxic?

    (Maybe I’m also a little leery of the emotional writing here, which indicts a lot of other Christians. In the urging to “not devour our own,” we are encouraged to still “devour our own,” just on a larger scale, and without getting to the root of why Haggard does not seem to be accepted. I don’t condemn Ted – don’t actually ever think of him at all and were I to do so, I’d wish him good health and full restoration. It hurts to see a brother wounded.)

    Just….is there reason? Should that be considered in the emotional mix of the article? Guess I’ve been around the pastorate all my life from the inside – a pastor’s kid first, then pastor’s wife. I’m rather hesitant to hand full power back to someone quickly – and this article talks about Ted building a growing church. (It also equates growth with God’s blessing – and I don’t think that is always true. Nor does small equate with a lack of God’s blessing.) Very, very rarely is someone shut completely out of acceptance either in their denomination nor in their church IF they have shown repentance and a willingness to do the work of restoration. (Not the same as jumping thru hoops – otherwise, there is zero need for rules or guidelines regarding this type of thing within a church.) There’s just so much we don’t know (and really, I don’t want to know….,) I am simply saying we shouldn’t jump to conclusions either way.

    If this were moved to an religious academic setting, and a professor needed to step down because of adultery (of any type,) and the professor said that he was sorry – would he be re-instated? (Not likely, because he is in charge of young people.) Would he have much respect amongst his peers if he went around the block and started his own school? (Again, not likely.) There is still a way of things (isn’t there?) by which people walk and live in order to dwell again in good fellowship and acceptance by their peers.

    Maybe Ted H. walked that path, and his fellow leaders/pastors are dead wrong. Maybe he didn’t, and maybe his response has been tough to swallow.

    Lastly – can God use Ted Haggard? Oh, yeah! Of course!!!! :)

  • MatthewS

    Some searching comments and questions here. There is a common notion that grace and love are touchy-feely and weak sauce but in reality it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to actually live them out. And I really appreciate the point about loyalty. We don’t hear that nearly enough.

    On the flip side –
    Individual non-believers will have differing things about Christians that are distasteful to them. For some, it will be that abusive people continue to be given positions of trust and availability to hurt yet more people. Holly’s questions at #6 are important in that regard.

  • Allen

    I recently started following this blog. It seems that many, maybe most, of the respondents are from either an academic or a pastoral perspective. I am from neither, and I could be wrong here, but it seems many of you are towing the institutional church line on this topic. The institutional church with its systems, rules, and regulations. God is so much more than that, his mercy rises like the sun every morning, and it shines on every human being, good and evil. Most of us will never take a public fall like Ted Haggard, but only because of God’s mercy, not because we are immune to temptation. The apostle Paul had, as he described it, a thorn that he pleaded with God to remove. God answered Paul with a ‘No’, and told Paul that “my grace is sufficient, for my strength will be perfected in your weakness”. Who knows what God has in store for Ted Haggard? Whether he has repented, or not, is between him and his creator. And those who stand in judgement have their own problems with their creator.

  • http://www.schooleyfiles.com Keith Schooley

    It seems to me that there are two questions here that are getting merged together as one in the comments. The first involves the conditions under which a person who has had a moral failing may be restored to a position of ministry. And yes, that involves a lot of questions about genuine repentance and submission to conditions, etc. That question concerns those who are directly involved. But I don’t think that’s the question the atheist friend was reacting to.

    The second question, the one he was reacting to, is the question of how the larger Christian public should respond to the situation. Michael Cheshire was quick to distance himself from Haggard in front of his atheist friend, and that’s what his friend reacted to. Rather than identifying with Ted, in that I have also sinned (even after conversion), we evaluate and judge based on what we have or haven’t done, in comparison. I’ve committed sins, but not that sin. I’ve repented genuinely (or at least acknowledged that I “struggle” with a less socially unacceptable sin); I’m not sure about his repentance.

    It’s simply not our business to evaluate people we don’t know. It’s our business to give the kind of grace we’ve received. To recognize ourselves as also fallen, also in need of continual grace, every day. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as a bunch of moral people, and start thinking of ourselves as a bunch of forgiven people. Only then will we be able genuinely to forgive others.

  • David Hardin

    I Agree with Keith. The question of Haggard’s restoration to pastoral ministry is a very separate question, I don’t know who is qualified to make that judgement but it certainly isn’t me.

    There should be no question that he should be forgiven welcomed and accepted in the community of faith. If we will distance ourselves from pastors that don’t shun certain people we are very far from the spirit of Christ.

  • Holly

    Kindly, I disagree. The point of the article is that his pastoral peers are rejecting him., and the author was going to stand against the peers and with Haggard. If this were about any average person, the point would be how average Christians treat other people. You can’t separate Haggard from his previous role. He is and was a pastor. It’s not even about restoration to ministry, per se, it’s about asking the question “why” don’t his peers seem to accept him? Why indict an entire sweep of other leaders and assigning them a lack of grace and forgiveness without hearing their side?

  • Patrick

    We’re way too oriented to sin, that’s why so many of us hate grace. It turns out Ted Haggard’s experiences helped him grow as a believer.

    God does that. Ted now has become a grace oriented worshipper of Christ’s.

    He’s gone from a finger pointing, judgmental type to a grace oriented type who realizes in his words that “Jesus loves sinful men”!

    I love Ted Haggard and would welcome him to preach to me anytime he wanted to now.

  • Rick

    It’s a little too easy to just insist, “hey, you all should just forgive good old Ted” with no other context. What is Ted’s history in Colorado? Was he a likable guy? Was he humble? Do the people who supposedly are “eating their young” and keeping Ted at arm’s length have old wounds that need to be healed? I’m not naive enough to assume that pastors are always friendly to each other, and that uber-successful pastors like Haggard don’t step on people on the way up. My impression from news reports and other stories on pre-scandal Haggard is that he was often self-righteous and arrogant. Is the new Ted a humble creature, more genuine, no longer seeking the spotlight? The fact that he has jumped right back into the pulpit tells me that at least a little part of Ted still likes to be on stage. (Why do fallen pastors never decide to get a job selling insurance?) Perhaps interviewing the people who have not embraced Ted would be enlightening. Haggard’s fall was astounding, and his vices and actions were appalling. Don’t expect people to leap to Ted as though there’s no local history there.

  • Steve

    Some Christians judge other Christians for being sinners, not realizing they are sinners too. Other Christians judge the first set of Christians, not realizing they are being judgmental as well.

    In the end, the reason to be a Christian is not the ridiculous clowns known as “Christians”… it is Jesus Christ. It is either about Him or we have missed the pointed entirely.

  • Thomas

    First, the comment that not all of us do those things in response to “this is what keeps me away from Christianity” is a reasonable response. One of the central arguments in the spiritual formation/disciplines movement is we have examples of many who did not live in duplicity but rather found a new way to transcend duplicity through a grace that empowers as well as forgives. Yes, everyone is a sinner and sanctification is lifelong. But can one find a new way in Christ?
    I attended a church where one of the pastors divorced his wife for and left with a young intern. The church had relationships with other churches and pastors in the area. They all agreed the pastor could be forgiven and return as a member of a church community but only if he repented and agreed to an accountable way that would restore him to fellowship. He refused. Other churches later refused him fellowship. Believe it or not choices do carry consequences and we should especially desire to hold leaders accountable because they hold members accountable. IMHO, Ted Haggard has refused both to be held accountable and violated the specific agreement he had with his former church to not start another in the area, etc. New revelations about Pastor Haggard’s past actions have also come to light. Doesn’t grace also enable us to warn others about abuses of power that have taken place, to hold others accountable, etc? Isn’t it really about community and not simply one man? Pastor Haggard should be forgiven, should be reunited with others in a community, but not without the very measures he gave his word to uphold. Do words mean nothing?


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