November 09, 2006

The Church Should Not Diminish the Fall of Christian Leaders

Another icon of evangelical Christianity has fallen and fallen hard. Ted Haggard, Senior pastor of a 14,000-member church, and president of the National Association of Evangelicals who had weekly access to the Whitehouse, has confessed—after being caught--to scurrilous activities. This prompted one writer of blog I read recently to comment; “No surprise that mainstream Christianity has the moral power of a flatulent gerbil in the wind.”

Even with my own battles, I am utterly bewildered by the nature of evil, wickedness and the blackness of man’s heart. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and is desperately corrupt. Who can understand it?”

That is why we need a Savior; that is why He came. But I have to also sympathize with another blogger who, being dismayed by the hypocrisy of Haggard’s words versus walk wrote, “When you become again, a religion worth believing in, give me a call.” The church of Jesus Christ needs to understand the seriousness of the situation.

I fear that in our recognition that we all need God’s mercy and grace we may be too quick in dispensing what the late, Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoffer called, a “cheap grace.” I assure you I am not casting stones but merely trying to maintain a Biblical frame of reference.

For all that I have read since the story broke, I am troubled that people continue to identify Haggard as a “man of God.” Let us cease from using such confusing language for Haggard was obviously--for a long time--NOT living like a man of God.

Consider the following: Haggard did not suddenly find himself in a place of temptation and in a moment of weakness succumb to some isolated enticement. In other words, Haggard did not “stumble.” He has admitted—only after being caught—and only after first lying about it all, that this, has been a long-standing battle.

I can sympathize with the battle; believe me, I too am fleshly, carnal, in need of forgiveness daily. But Haggard accepted and maintained his roles of leadership and power knowing he was vulnerable; knowing he was a deceiver, knowing he was not qualified to be in Christian ministry. Biblically, that puts him in a different category than the average person who, like us all, is regularly tripped up by his human frailty.

Is it any wonder that our religion, our faith, and our God is not taken seriously and we have lost all credibility? So before all the talk of understanding and friendship, and forgiveness and support, which accompanies any mention of Haggard’s name, let us be clear to the curious masses as to how we view what he has done. Making public statements like “Well, you know we are all sinners; we’re all in need of forgiveness” is confusing and misleading to those who have no frame of reference of such complicated issues.

We cannot afford to diminish the incredible damage Haggard has done to so many people, the damage he has done to the lost who were being drawn to God; and the damage done to the work and mission of the Church.

Yes, we are all sinners and yes, it is true, “but for the grace of God there go I,” but that must not be allowed to confuse the response of the Church in salvaging the life of this fallen leader as well as the work of Christ on Earth. May God have mercy on us all.


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