By now everyone has heard about the dismissal of Rev. Ted Haggard from his megachurch in Colorado. He has publicly admitted to purchasing drugs (but not using them) and hiring a male prostitute for a massage (but not having sex). I’m sure that the discussion will go on for a bit longer, but it time for some reflections on this sort of event.
- Accusations should not be accepted as fact until they are proven.
- We should not be surprised that Christian leaders sometimes fail morally.
- All Christians, and especially Christian leaders, should be held accountable by their followers.
- We must recognize the political motivation behind this accusation.
- Christian leaders are often subject to spiritual attack, and need our prayers.
Our justice system declares that a person should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that is an excellent principle to follow. So far Ted Haggard has admitted to some wrong-doing, but not to everything of which he is accused. Even though in this type of public case it turn out that in 9 cases out of 10 the charges are true we still owe him the presumption of innocence. And our prayers.
When a well-known Christian leader fails morally there is a quick round of condemnation (or is it glee?) in the press. Everyone expresses their shock. Other Christian leaders join in by casting stones of their own. But Christians, including Christian leaders, are not perfect. If we take the doctrine of the Fall seriously we believe that we are all sinners and are only gradually being set free from the bondage of sin. We don’t claim to be perfect, only sinners saved by grace. The media doesn’t understand that very well.
No Christian leader is so important that he or she should be accountable to no one. When a believer commits major sin there should be loving confrontation, repentance, discipline, healing, and restoration. We can’t just look the other way and pretend that the evil did not happen, but neither can we throw our brother or sister on the trash heap of “failed Christians” and forget them. It sounds like New Life Church in Colorado has already begun this process. I hope that they follow it through to completion.
Whether the accusations turn out to be partially true or fully true, it is clear that the timing of this revelation is designed to have maximum impact on next Tuesday’s election. (If you believe that the timing is a coincidence, then I need to talk to you about a friend of mine who is a rich Nigerian banker.) The accusations, if true, are serious and require a response. But I don’t hear much discussion of the obvious political motives of the accuser.
It’s possible, but difficult to prove, that a person with strong political beliefs might deliberately attempt to lure a Christian leader into sin in order to bring him down. It would be naive in the extreme to believe that this has never happened. It wouldn’t be the first time that sex has been used as a political tool. But in most cases, probably this one as well, the leader’s own sinful heart provides all the motivation that is needed.
Many Christians view their leaders as spiritual giants who are “larger than life.” But it is important to realize that Christian leaders are vulnerable to all the same temptations that you are. Satan realizes that he can do significant harm to Christian ministry if he can bring a leader down, and so gives leaders his special attention. Speaking as someone who is a Christian leader, I hope that these events remind us all that leaders need our prayers.