This story continues to be amended as new facts come to light…
As many folks by now know, Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and head pastor of the Colordao Springs-based mega-church, New Life, stepped down yesterday from both positions after being accused of homosexual liasons with Mike Jones, a self-admitted gay prostitute. The meetings allegedly took place over a three year period, approximately once a month. These encounters also were said by Jones to involve the use of amphetamines, and at least one phone message was produced by Jones which appears to contain Haggard’s voice asking Jones to purchase $100 to $200 of something unspecified.
Initially, I hoped and suspected these accusations were similar to false accusations made by a man against Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago in the mid 1990s, accusations which Bernadin handled with grace and patience until they were exposed as being lies.
But I was wrong, according to an email sent to members of New Life church by acting pastor Ross Parsley regarding Pastor Haggard being accused:
It is important for you to know that he confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true. He has willingly and humbly submitted to the authority of the board of overseers, and will remain on administrative leave during the course of the investigation.
That admission has only further fueled the controversy, especially as initially Ted Haggard denied having anything to do with Jones or even knowing him.
As of this afternoon, Pastor Haggard says that he met Mike Jones once to buy amphetamines but then “threw them away” without using them, and has never used amphetamines at other times. He additionally said he went to Mike Jones for a massage. Asked by an NBC reporter (see video) if he’d had sex with Jones, he said “no.” Pastor Haggard said he met Jones through a “referral” at the hotel he was staying at at the time.
But back to those tapes. One of two tapes Jones provided offers an individual called “Art” (Haggard’s middle name is Arthur) who sounds very like Pastor Haggard saying: “Hi Mike, this is Art…. Hey, I was just calling to see if we could get any more. Either $100 or $200 supply.” The second tape, which is of a call a few hours after the first, indicates the two men had in fact met before: “Hi Mike, this is Art, I am here in Denver and sorry that I missed you. But as I said, if you want to go ahead and get the stuff, then that would be great. And I’ll get it sometime next week or the week after or whenever.”
The italicized-by-me portion of the above indicates — to me, at least — that this was not the first time Ted Haggard had purchased drugs from Mike Jones. His low-key manner when affirming that he can “get it… whenever” is also an indicator the two have dealt with eachother before. And that would indicates Haggard caught in a problematic pattern of lies. First, he doesn’t even know the name Mike Jones. He denies the story altogether. Then he says he bought but did not use the drugs, and it was only one time. He also says he got a massage but not sex.
My advice to Ted Haggard is to come clean, do it now, and accept whatever consequences befall. There is zero chance the whole story will not emerge. There is zero chance that stonewalling or “spinning” of any kind will work. The absolute worst thing anyone in Pastor Haggard’s position can do is think there is any way to hide sin.
The biblical referent is an obvious one. King David seduced Bathsheba (or perhaps just outright ordered her to his bedroom, using his position and power). She got pregnant. He panicked, and when he couldn’t get her faithful soldier-husband, Uriah, to go to bed with her (to make it appear the baby was Uriah’s), he had Uriah murdered on the battlefield and married Bathsheba himself. God is not mocked, however, and sent Nathan the prophet to confront David. In the end, this great sinner repented. “I have sinned against the Lord.” David was forgiven, yet he also reaped great consequences.
Not the least of which was having his sins published! Throughout the centuries, believers both Jewish and Christian have read about David’s sin as instructive toward confronting our own. And of course, David wrote Psalm 51 as a prayer of repentance, in which he summed things up (verse 17):
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Pastor Haggard cannot afford to practice the unbelief of concealment. Exposing his own faults fully is the only avenue through which healing and restoration can come. He cannot allow himself to think that telling a few trusted friends is all it will take. Flinging the phrase “board of accountability” around as some sort of instant incense of forgetfulness has been tried before, unsuccessfully.
By entering the national and even world stage, Pastor Haggard has also become accountable to those outside the evanglical camp. He owes them honesty. (I would argue all we evangelicals owe such a debt, but that is for another time.)
Rock Throwing Begins at Home
As those who’ve read my blog in the past know, I’m sometimes quite critical of Ted Haggard. (His touting, for instance, of evangelicals’ prayers being behind American troops’ killing of Saddam Hussein’s sons.) But when it comes to sexual sin, I’ve got no stomach at all for assaulting another guy’s weaknesses and failures.
Instead, I have a number of thoughts which will irritate everyone, I hope.
* The evangelical model of ministry, based on the American corporate model of one person (usually a white male) as founder and boss, seems only more flawed the longer I watch it. There’s a lot of noise about accountability… but the proof, I suspect, is in our pudding. Sure it works as far as building giant ministries. But it also sucks as far as horizontal accountability goes. The “type-A” hyperactive, energized go-getter is a prime candidate for immorality, and least likely to cultivate mature relationships with others. Yet we continue to stick these corporate types into our major pulpits and presidencies.
* Male leaders are at tremendous risk to sexual sin these days. It is not a matter of if they will encounter opportunity to transgress, it is a matter of when. The resistance of many evangelicals to women in leadership seems all the more obtuse when considering how vulnerable males apparently are in such roles. (I’m thinking of Swaggart, Bakker, apparently Haggard, as well as a plethora of lesser-known pastors and parachurch leaders).
* All of us are at major risk for sexual sin. I am sitting this instant in front of a machine that can take me to triple X rated film, pictures, or text in the matter of seconds. And no one will know. I could, for all you know, be sanctimoniously telling you about Ted Haggard’s indiscretions and — in another browser window — have open pornographic images so grotesque they’d make Haggard’s alleged sins look tame. I do not have that window open. But… how do any of us find accountability in such a world of instant gratification of our worst desires and instincts?
* The evangelical / charismatic world is a breeding ground for sexual sin. (See, told you I’d make folks mad before we finished here.) Why? Because within this world is cultivated the model of strong, massively male leaders who have submissive wives, 1950s-era families, and pretty much a direct pipeline to God. What a set-up for sexual misconduct! Why not cultivate instead a world where strength and dependence on others are not mutually exclusive? Why not rethink the hierarchical male models of church leadership and marital dominance? Imagine what might happen if we conceptualized leadership as a communal rather than individualist enterprise!
In the end, I find myself saddened greatly. I do pray that Pastor Haggard, his family, and his fellowship at New Life church find the clear path toward restoration and healing.
Getting Real Personal
And finally, I admit this: If I were placed in Pastor Haggard’s position, with all that power and prestige and all those people looking toward me for spiritual answers to their burning questions… if I were looked up to as one of those powerful, dominant, forceful males our evangelical culture seems partial to…
I would sin. I would sin sexually. It might take me a month, a year, a few years. But in the end, the unreality of that strength I allegedly had would take its toll. And I would fail. I am no better, and perhaps worse, than Ted Haggard. My only plus is that I am loved and known and accountable to so many others. Though that is no guarantee against sin, of course — especially due to the power of this lust magnet known as the computer — it is a powerful disincentive.
Self-perception for me more and more has to be about letting go of power, strength, and righteousness of my own. I can say those words, but doing them is an ongoing process I don’t expect to complete in this lifetime.
So please, if you’ve read this far as a non-believer, chuckling at the newest mess we evangelicals have gotten into, take a moment more to ponder the miracle that not all of us fail. Sometimes we really do live what we preach, remain honest and true to our spouses, love our neighbor as ourselves, and even — our starting point, really — love God.
If you are a Christian, especially a somewhat critical one such as I am who views Pastor Ted Haggard as part of the Christian Right, do not allow yourself for a moment to think you’re any different than he is. We don’t yet know the full extent or nature of his transgressions, or if his accuser is totally truthful. What we do know is that he, his family, his fellowship, and his accuser need our most humbled and broken-hearted prayers.