There are so many angles to the Ted Haggard story that I find fascinating. Before I look at the issues, somewhat detached from the persons involved, let me say that I hope the best for the Haggard family living out this story of scandal and for the other people who have also been hurt by this public scandal.
The perpetrator of abuse
The story for Ted broke over his association with the male prostitute. Since then, it was revealed that he was sexually inappropriate with a young male intern in his congregation. This was already known by the overseers in his church who promised to financially settle with the young man. Apparently there are others with claims of abuse who chose not to come forward publicly. Ted refused to comment about this, which I am sure is necessary from a legal standpoint.
The aspect of Ted as a sexual predator is concerning to me and has not been mentioned yet in discussing the therapy he underwent. The young men involved were of legal age, so it is not technically pedophilia. However, using his position of power to sexually prey on others is a much more serious violation than his struggle with homosexual attraction. I hope that this issue is addressed.
The power imbalance in a pastor/parishioner relationship makes sexual advances by a pastor inappropriate, even if there is apparent consent. There are too many stories of pastors developing inappropriate relationships with male or female parishioners. The same standard that applies to other professionals concerning clients should apply to pastor/parishioner relationships.
Whether or not the pastor wants it, the role of pastor carries with it a mantle of respect and authority. There are parishioners whose perception of the pastor causes them to hunger for acceptance, acknowledgment, and approval from this father figure. This kind of adulation makes them vulnerable to abuse. Any pastor who takes advantage of this vulnerability to benefit himself, sexually or otherwise, is guilty of violating that trust.
There are likely other incidents of spiritual abuse involved in this entire scenario. Any time there is lying and a cover-up, people will be manipulated and used in the process. While the entire congregation felt a sense of betrayal, there are likely also specific instances of betrayal that occurred in the political maneuverings involved in managing this situation.
The victim of shunning
Listening to the recent interviews with Ted, it is obvious that he is hurt by the rejection and abandonment of his former congregation. I understand his hurt when he says, “I thought we were family. I just never believed that the family would throw me out.” However, I also believe his anger toward them is misplaced and he is casting a more negative light on them than is warranted.
In the HBO documentary, Ted says that his church basically told him to go to hell. He also said that churches are a business, and he was bad for business so they made him disappear. The documentary portrays Ted as being cast out and exiled.
On the other hand, the current pastor, Brady Boyd, of New Life says this in his blog,
“the overseers, trustees, elders and pastoral team of New Life committed over $300,000 to the Haggard family that included 13 months of salary for Ted and Gayle, a pickup truck, extensive counseling, health insurance for the entire family, moving expenses, and care for Jonathan Haggard, their special needs son.”
Boyd said that he is distressed that the congregation is portrayed as casting Haggard out and that Ted agreed to leave Colorado in the spirit of a “fresh start.”
There was a legal contract with the church that stipulated the Haggards move out of Colorado and barred them from making public comment for a specified period of time. As of June 2008, the time period of those agreements is past, and the Haggards were free to return to their half-million dollar home in Colorado, and they received permission to speak with the media.
There are obvious differences in perspective. I am surprised that Ted doesn’t acknowledge that it was probably necessary for the Haggards to move away for a season to allow the church congregation an opportunity to heal. I am sure that it was lonely, difficult, and hurtful, but perhaps it was in the best interest of those whose trust he had violated.
Indicators of restoration
This brings up all sorts of issues about how the church handles sin. What do we do with mistakes, vulnerability, transparency, and forgiveness? These things are complicated by the fact that Ted was the leader, and not only that, he was a public, nationally-known figure.
As a regular member, there should be no question about unconditional forgiveness, acceptance, and inclusion for Ted, regardless of whether he is successful or failing in his personal battles with sin. The real question is when or if he should be restored to leadership in the church.
A few months after the scandal, I read something about Ted wanting to be a therapist or a counselor. I just shook my head. I understand that he is floundering professionally. Now he would like to “help others” by sharing his story on a speaking/lecture circuit. Again, I understand that he must feed his family. However, for their healing and his own, I see this as incredibly unwise and premature.
Pastor Boyd said this about the telling of their story:
“I told Ted I think it’s premature to tell the story. We still believe in redemption and restoration, and there’s obviously been hurt. His family has been hurt, and our church family has been hurt. There’s no way this has been healed in just two years. It’s too big a wound.”
Concerning restoration, Patton Dodd said it well:
When popular politician John Profumo was caught with a prostitute in 1963, he resigned and withdrew completely from public life. For the rest of his days—he lived until 2006—he did the work of atonement, cleaning toilets, washing dishes, and working with alcoholics in London’s East End. Profumo never published a memoir or even granted so much as an interview…
Before his fall, Haggard always claimed he’d do the same. From time to time over the years, from his pulpit, Haggard would say that if anything ever incapacitated his ability to minister, he hoped he’d just continue to come as a member and volunteer at the church—clean floors, scrub bathrooms. Unfortunately, given allegations of inappropriate behavior between Haggard and a church member, he couldn’t be allowed within his church at all. But there were plenty of other options. Every town has an East End.
Haggard can’t enter a pulpit, and he shouldn’t seek to be a spiritual leader, at least not for eons. He can enter a congregation somewhere, and if he wants to do that, he should, as a fellow traveler with other seekers. And that congregation should embrace him. That’s what his spiritual restoration would look like.
The leadership pedestal as a contributing factor
The pastor of our former church is a narcissist personality. This led to much of the damage and abuse that occurred at our former church. The deep insecurity and fear that tramples others in his way is also the same motivation that drives him to lead and control. Having a position of leadership is the worst thing that could have happened to him. It actually fuels his dysfunction and prevents him from pursuing or finding healing for the woundedness in his life.
Looking at Ted’s situation, I wonder at what point the power available to him boosted the evil that he struggled with. Along with power, there comes a sense of entitlement. It is the sense of entitlement that leads to the kind of risky and abusive behaviors that ultimately result in the downfall of the person in power.
Making an interesting reference to Driscoll’s statement, “They are sinning through questioning,” Patton Dodd, a former member of New Life Church, offered this comparison and warning:
If Driscoll’s leadership model is predicated on the notion that his opinion is sacrosanct, the Mars Hill community is a crisis of one kind or another waiting to happen. Ted Haggard’s New Life Church had the same problem; his leadership was overbearing, and most of us lost the ability to speak truth to power. Haggard lost the ability to hear truth when spoken. As everyone now knows, it was a recipe for disaster.
How many people do we have to watch fall from pedestals before we figure out that we are creating this problem? It is so easy to tsk, tsk when they fall, as if there is some inherent flaw in them, but maybe the problem is really with us, not them. Perhaps the co-dependent need to elevate these people is the real problem we should look at.
At the time of Todd Bentley’s fall, I said:
There is an element of idolatry in the way that people are elevated in ministry. The problem with so many of these fallen leaders is not that the wrong person was put on the pedestal, the problem IS the pedestal.
Why is this an aspect of church life? There are 100′s of men lined up ready to take the place of the latest preacher who fell. Every one of them believe that they can handle the power. And it seems that the American church in particular is more than willing to elevate them to celebrity status. How many more men and families will we destroy in this manner?
Issues of sexual orientation
While this is the most discussed aspect of the story, it is the part that I have the least to say about. Ted’s example personifies the current conflict and confusion about homosexuality in the church.
Ted is right in saying that issues of sexual orientation are complicated. When asked on Nightline whether he still believes it is a sin to be gay, Ted’s response was, “For me.” He also adds:
“Just as the church made a horrible mistake several centuries ago, insisting that the Earth was flat when, in fact, the Earth was round, I think the church may make a major mistake in our generation saying that sexuality should be this and nothing else when, in fact, there’s a lot more diversity.”
That sounds like it is opening a door beyond the standard evangelical position on homosexuality.
On the other hand, the gay community accuses Ted of being in denial regarding his claim of being “heterosexual with issues.” They believe he is not being true to himself about his sexuality. They will not accept that choosing a heterosexual lifestyle is a legitimate and honest choice for a person who has experienced same-sex attraction.
Ted is not the only one with lessons to learn. If we are paying attention, there is plenty that the church can learn from this situation about dealing with failure, spiritual abuse, restoration, the cancer of celebrity leadership in the church, and how we can embrace people who struggle with sexual orientation.