Lessons from The Ted Haggard Story

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.


21 thoughts on “Lessons from The Ted Haggard Story

  1. Haggard, unfortunately, the victim of his own artificial religious public persona…

    He is a prime example of Christian hypocrite. High profile. Made hard line religious statements concerning homosexuality while living his own lie. Railed against the ‘sin’ he himself pursued. What a phony…

    He allied himself with the well known anti-homosexual crusaders. Played the religious+political game of “do as I say, not as I do”. I have no compassion for such a religious ‘asshole’ (crude word intentional). But really, is Ted the real problem or the unhealthy church structure+environment that set him up on that golden pedestal supposedly closer to God?

    I am sick of all the phoniness that is peddled in the name of God nowadays. Makes no difference if it is in the Roman Catholic Church, the most conservative Protestant evangelical camps, or the extreme Pentecostal+charismatic flavors. The news today full of such craziness in the ranks of Christian representatives for the world to marvel at. No wonder there is little respect for the ones that claim they live by a higher standard. Phooey! What a bunch of, well, assholes that take the spotlight & reveal the worst of human hypocrisy.

    Ted has been given enough rope to hang himself with. Has a past that keeps being exposed for all the world to see. Could this be God’s doing? Same with the Bentley/Lakeland debacle? Is God finally turning the spotlight back on the high profile types that relish its illumination?

    The Ted’s & Todd’s of this world need to be exposed for the frauds they are. If they sought out the pinnacle of influence & adulation & reveled in the spotlight, then it may be poetic justice that they finally get what they craved all along. A real exposure of the lies they have been living & their desire for people to accept them without any discernment whatsoever…

    They need to get out of the public eye. Repent. Lay low for a long, long, long time. Get real. Work through the issues. But they are not to be accepted as the new poster child for the Christian church simply because they are now considered ‘restored’. Nope. Keep to a private lifestyle that avoids the spotlight. And do not try to blame the church or other Christians for the negative attitudes they brought down upon their own shoulders. They are not the victims here. They must weather all the negative flack they earned while playing their silly religious games. God have mercy… :(

  2. Great article! I agree that the pedestal we have made is destroying people’s lives. George Barna did a study on pastors, and some of what he found was eye-opening. Did you know these startling statistics about pastors:

    * 94% feel pressured to have an ideal family
    * 81% say they have insufficient time with their spouses
    * 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their family negatively
    * 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend
    * 70% have lower self-esteem than when they entered the ministry
    * 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job
    * 80% are discouraged or deal with depression
    * 40% of pastoral resignations are due to burnout
    * 1,400 ministers in all denominations across the United States are fired or forced to resign each month
    * The average length of a pastorate has declined from seven years to just over four years

    I write about this more on one of my posts called “I have a secular job” — http://prayeramedic.com/2008/10/secular-job/

    This is just crazy. I like how you tied the story in with the unrealistic demands of the pastoral office and the church’s relations with homosexuals.

  3. Its such a mistake to soley blame the one that fell. The whole system is designed to destroy every single person that holds a position of power – and every single one of their subordinates. This is a worldly system – not a Godly one. The surprise are the ones that make it thru the system and don’t fall. How can you scoop burning coals into your lap and not get burned?

    Best just to come out of Babylon

  4. Good post. I had the same questions about this as you (why is no one talking about the abuse of position, and the devestation in people’s lives that such a situation creates? This is indeed a form of spiritual abuse and the ramifications are horrible for those who were preyed upon). The sad thing is that for Ted, it’s still all about Ted. To me, that doesn’t seem like restoration in God’s economy. Not quite yet. Maybe, one day, Ted will display an attitude that is more concerned with the damage and hurt his actions wrought in others’ lives than with his own public image. It doesn’t seem like that day has arrived yet.

    You’re right though – we are responsible for creating these platform-oriented structures that are prone to damage both those on the platform, and those who look up to them. As Barna’s stats reveal, we really need to honestly assess if these structures are doing more harm than good.

  5. I am not sure I can agree with some of what the current pastors has to say about restoration. There are aspects that are true, but I have come to believe that when a community is wounded, even by the acts of one person, the healing for the whole requires active presence and connection- even if carefully governed and limited. Restorative justice, while still address the wrong and implementing correctives, is primarily focused on achieving everyones restoration, a restoration that cannot be fully embraced in complete separation.

    I will acknowledge I do not have all the information, but it concerns me that Haggards former church doesn’t seem to adequately own their part of the responsibility for what happened. As has been said above, the culture of celebrity and the requirement of seeming perfection contributed to (though did not cause) many of these issues.

    Clearly Haggard is not approaching this situation in a healthy way, though, which is sad. I hope & pray everyone involved will own their crap and find healing.


  6. The sad part of hearing about Ted’s interview is that he appears to not have an intimate relationship with the God he served. If he knew the redemption of Christ for himself then we would be hearing from a man of joy who could reflect peace that all has been made right in his own soul by the grace of God. Where is that? This man who preached the Word for years and ministered to people while representing Evangelicalism as a whole, seems to have not known God at all. This is the heart of our problem as a church, we do not make God the head and follow his lead, we seek to get quick answers and as much publicity as possible so that people will respect Christianity. Who cares if Christianity is respected if we don’t have Christ in his fullness ourselves? We are aiming for our rewards on earth instead of in the right places.

  7. A very helpful post and comments. Thanks for the obvious labor you invested in discernment and balance. If we do view Mr. Haggard’s situation in a systems setting, we will see it is more than about guilt and innocence, without minimizing his personal responsibility and responses; there are significant issues about communal restoration, without requiring individual or corporate shaming or snap-zap-the-end-of-the-crap quickee “solutions”; and there are huge issues about power structures, how passive followers and abusive leaders exist in a sick and seductive relationship with one another, without us having to deny biblical roles of leadership in the Kingdom.

    It’s complex indeed, and the situations continue. Thankfully, there is hope in Christ for us as individuals and gatherings, or else I think I would’ve given up decades ago …

  8. Thank you for bringing together in one post all these ramifications of a modern-day fall-from-the-heights-of-glory.

    The structure of insitutional church necessitates a king and his subjects, that’s the paradigm that Constantine co-opted for the church, for Christendom. Kings are special people. They need to have uber amounts of self-confidence, charisma and attractiveness, a competitive spirit and energy. They need to love power.

    When God’s people, in 1 Samuel 8, asked for a king, God (through His prophet Samuel) was very frank with them. He told them they would regret replacing God as their Head. “But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us. Then we will be like the other nations, with the king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

    That’s what the kings of institutional churches do. They are our Heads, our “God-in-the-flesh” leaders who fight our (spiritual) battles for us.

    But it’s too much to put on one person. And the larger the kingdom gets the more “power corrupts.” It was true for Israel’s kings, and it’s true today, too.
    Yes, God was with those kings. He blessed their obedience (when they gave it to Him) and punished their disobedience. Yes, He anointed them for leadership. But we can’t forget that God willingly allowed His people to get what they asked for; His mercy to them was also His judgment.

    As an aside, what I am seeing in the “American Church” is the tide towards adopting homosexuality as a viable sexual orientation that can be blessed and approved by God. There are many, many Christians I have talked with who already are there in that thinking.

    I don’t know what to make of it except that this must come from a desire to have what one wants and a (false) assurance that if we all collectively give our approval to something then God will too. Democracy can foster such thinking, especially the American version of democracy.

  9. A friend of mine told me the other day of his two buddies that he grew up with in a Christian youth group 25 years or so ago.Both of them became Church of Ireland ministers here in Northern Ireland.One died a few months ago after drinking himself to death and the other lasted 5 years before having a serious breakdown and having to stay in a psyciatric hospital for a period of time.He is now isolated from his family and lives like a recluse.This religious drug called full time ministry is a KILLER and yet so many follow what they feel is God’s call over the precipice like lemmings on their way to oblivion.My wife tells me we should all read ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ which deprogrammes one from this warped ministry mindset.

  10. 2 things:
    #1) I have been predicting that Driscoll will have an inevitable downfall. When someone is that hell-bent on being right, there’s trouble brewing …
    #2) I hadn’t seen the Nightline quote before, but it corresponds perfectly with what I blogged about on http://www.livingsexuality.com — that there is a spectrum of sexual behavior and experience. As Kinsey noted sixty years ago: “The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.”

  11. Pingback: Living Sexuality
  12. I have yet to meet a ‘perfect Christian’. I have met some truly remarkable saints, but we are all in the process of being perfected. If there is not even a perfect Christian, then how can we possibly expect to find a perfect church … or a perfect pastor???

    God has clearly instituted authority in the church structure, because we do not live in a perfect world, nor in a pefect church. The question is, to whom (besides God) are the authorities accountable to? And for what are they accountable? If we are laboring under the wrong model, then what is the right model?

    There are a number of excellent personality inventories out there that reveal that we humans have very distinct personality types, usually grouped in one of four basic catagories and then numerous sub-catagories depending on which inventory you use. e.g. the DISC inventory identifies the basic catagories as Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. Those who are strong in the D and I (particularly a sub DI), are usually naturally found in ‘successful’ leadership positions. Did God ‘hardwire’ certain people to be leaders? If you look at the pastors of large and influential churches, you will almost always find one of the D, I, or DI types as the pastor. They have a natural bent to lead and succeed in whatever they do. Can they be faulted for striving to reach their potential?

    I think the better solution to the problem is not to hinder good leadership because of their good leadership tendencies; rather we need to find good solutions to lines of accountability with the ultimate authority being the church’s Constitution – the Bible. When leaders seek to rise above the Word of God, there needs to be some form of immediate discipline. The longer the infraction is allowed, the more people get hurt, and hurt people hurt people.

    I feel Ted’s discipline is correct, and leaders have made good decisions in the process of healing. I am sorry that Ted feels he needs to take his case to the public media. I believe it only prolongs the healing process for himself and his family.

  13. Ken wrote: Did God ‘hardwire’ certain people to be leaders? If you look at the pastors of large and influential churches, you will almost always find one of the D, I, or DI types as the pastor. They have a natural bent to lead and succeed in whatever they do. Can they be faulted for striving to reach their potential?

    Natural born leaders? Is there really such a thing?

    What would we categorize Jesus using modern personality inventories? How would we define Him from the gospel accounts? And His choice of the 12. What personality types were they?

    Or do we cater to an environment that exalts the ‘position’ of pastor so that it attracts such types? Do we make such positions a snare to those that can & do abuse it the most?

    Not sure God has pre-determined His cadre of leaders based on a hard-wired design. In fact, in His economy it would be expected the servant of all to be the one He chooses to be the example to emulate…

    Without belaboring the point it seems the modern pyramidal church structure with the senior/head pastor at the apex a misrepresentation of God’s topsy-turvy kingdom principles. Very little wiggle room up there atop that pyramid point. No room for others or for team ministry+support. Easy to fall from such a lofty summit. And that is exactly what we see happening today. Ted just the most recent one but certainly not the last…

  14. Agree completely Joseph.It seems the ‘wired’ leaders may actually have a mental deficiency and a need for approval and adoration.At least that is my experience of charismatic senior pastor types.

  15. Becky wrote as her #1 point: I have been predicting that Driscoll will have an inevitable downfall. When someone is that hell-bent on being right, there’s trouble brewing …

    Once Driscoll is mentioned it does pique my curiosity. I’m not sure Driscoll is headed for a ‘similar’ downfall as in a sexual scandal becoming public. I don’t see it happening to John MacArthur or James Dobson or Chuck Colson. Driscoll’s weaknesses may not be a precursor to sexual scandal. He is intense & carries a big pastoral/theological stick. Likes to wave it around & bring it crashing down with a loud “Woomph!” on any sissified, limp-wristed Christian types that he says misrepresents his wrestlemania smackdown Jesus & related doctrines. He is going to offend more & more people with such antics. And once the men & women that attend Mars Hill begin to glean differing viewpoints from others that are unlike their bombastic preacher, they may tire of such posturing & move on to more inclusive pastures.

    If Becky comes back to post: how do you see Driscoll failing?

  16. 7 years later. Now Ted has a little successful church again. I attended and served in New Life during its glory days from 1999 – 2002…ah, all was so well then.

    Anyways, what do you people think now? I’m unsure of what I think of him and if he should be allowed any leadership authority due to what he allowed himself to do the first go around. I like the guy and his family. Bit is it real? Is it genuine? That’s my concern.

    I’m sure I don’t like any comments past or present from him against his old church body or the leaders that had to set boundaries for.him. I think he needs help for that, for sure. He has A LOT to be thankful for. He’s financially stable, healthy, his family didn’t up and abandon him. What does he really have to complain about, other than his own personal struggles? And maybe for those, grace should be sufficient for him.

    One thing I don’t know, that would make a difference for me, is the status of his handicapped son Jonathan. Where is he? I haven’t found any information on him. Did the family send him to a special needs home? I don’t know exactly what his handicaps are so I don’t want to make conclusions just yet.

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