Readers of Mere-O almost assuredly know the story by now. It is far too common and predictable, and the details do not need repeating here. Most readers, after all, do not read Mere-O for stories, but for comments. Which generally saves us a lot of typing.

Justin Taylor, one of the best Christian bloggers on the web, has obtained a copy of the letters read to Haggard’s church this morning. They are important reading. Haggard sounds sincere and honest in his confession. I have no doubt he will be further discredited for lying to reporters earlier in the week, but in some ways it is to be expected. A habit of hiding sins for years and years would, I think, cause someone to try desperate measures to prevent them from being revealed. He had much to lose, and attempted to keep it.

I should also point out that I have never heard Ted Haggard preach or read anything he has written. I knew who he was, but that was about it.

To my point: Haggard’s letter reveals, I think, far more about the culture at New Life (Haggard’s church) and within evangelical Christianity than it does about Haggard per se. Andrew Jackson points out that Haggard’s sin reveals a lack of discernment by the staff at New Life. I think that is close to right. But there seems to be a deeper problem in New Life: they have elevated their leader to “uber-Christian” status. More precisely, it seems like the leadership at New Life views Ted Haggard as living on a spiritual plane above anyone within the Church–a plane occupied by the likes of “Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett.” I am obviously no insider at New Life, nor have I ever visited the Church. My reflections are drawn entirely from the fact that this has happened and from the list of people New Life appointed to give soul care to Haggard. Christian celebrities, all.
This “Christian celebrity-ism” is not particular to the (no doubt) earnest and devout people at New Life. It has a long and rich history within evangelicalism, stemming back to the great revivalists at the beginning of American evangelicalism. Unfortunately, we occasionally see the ugly fruits of it: leaders who become disconnected from their parishoners in such a way that they are able to hide their sin. The central question for me in this issue is whether Haggard had any close friends within or without the New Life community, or whether New Life had any policies or practices established to keep Haggard accountable. My guess is no and no. When pastors such as Haggard allow pastoring to become a lonely job, they begin to lose the ability to stand up to the challenges and temptations of sin.

What Haggard’s actions remind us, of course, is that if the Church chooses leaders who are adept at the methods and practices of mass-communication–“smooth” preaching, perfect hygiene, stylish clothing, “nice” personalities–then our leaders will never be our saints. “Polish” is not purity. Again, the point is not specific to Haggard. He may, for all I know, have proclaimed the Gospel faithfully and deeply during his ministry. But it is typical of our evangelical culture to favor those who preach the gospel with a good looking smile and Italian leather shoes. As long as we do, we can expect more Haggard like stories to come out.
I’ve been asked to comment (by once-blogger Naomi)on the political and strategic impact of this story for the Christian right. My thoughts: in the immediate future, this damages the chances of Colorado’s amendment banning homosexual marriage, which says more about the voters than it does about the merits of the case. One man’s hypocrisy on an issue does not an argument make, and would that the voters of Colorado vote on the merits of the arguments rather than the media. I have no proof for this damaging the case, of course, but it seems unlikely that bad publicity around one of the main proponents for the measure is definitely not going to help.
In the long-term, though, this changes very little for those who argue against homosexual marriage. Haggard, though now the darling of the media, will probably be forgotten on a national level shortly after the election. He did not have the national presence Swaggart did, even within evangelicalism. So I think this will change very little.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

7 Comments

  1. […] “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”  – Matthew 12:33-35 Before you read this, you should read Matt’s earlier post for some excellent commentary on this sad story. […]

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  2. […] I think it is encouraging to see that Christian bloggers on posting not simply on Haggard himself, but are beginning to reflect and reevaluate the whole modern mega-church Evangelical movement.  […]

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  3. Matthew Lee of Mere Orthodoxy, while not questioning Haggard’s sincerity or honesty in his letter, points out that “A habit of hiding sins for years and years would, I think, cause someone to try desperate measures and prevent them from being revealed. He had much to lose, and attempted to keep it.” (http://ordinaryeverydaychristian.blogspot.com/2006/11/thoughts-on-ted-haggard.html)

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  4. […] I am a young man.  That has never stopped me from having opinions, but I am often reminded of my youth when my opinions outstretch my years, as they do in the sad case of Ted Haggard.  I would point out that though I speak in the passionate confidence appropriate my youth, I lack the mature wisdom to deal in such matters.  I submit the following in the spirit of blogging:  tentative, and subject to the criticisms and arguments of others. I criticized New Life last night for raising Ted Haggard to a plane of uber-Christians.  This morning, Scot McKnight more ably articulated many of the problems I saw only dimly.  He identifies five problems: 1. Christians, and not just pastors, do not feel free to disclose sins to anyone; 2. Christians, including pastors, sin and sin all the time; 3. Christians, including pastors, in evangelicalism do not have a mechanism of confession; 4. Christians and pastors, because of the environment of condemnation of sin and the absence of a mechanism of confession, bottle up their sins, hide their sins, and create around themselves an apparent purity and a reality of unconfessed/unadmitted sin. 5. When Christians do confess, and it is often only after getting caught, they are eaten alive by fellow evangelicals — thus leading some to deeper levels of secrecy and deceit. […]

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  5. […] I am a young man. That has never stopped me from having opinions, but I am often reminded of my youth when my opinions outstretch my years, as they do in the sad case of Ted Haggard. I would point out that though I speak in the passionate confidence appropriate my youth, I lack the mature wisdom to deal in such matters. I submit the following in the spirit of blogging: tentative, and subject to the criticisms and arguments of others. I criticized New Life last night for raising Ted Haggard to a plane of uber-Christians. This morning, Scot McKnight more ably articulated many of the problems I saw only dimly. He identifies five problems: […]

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  6. Matt, why couldn’t you have called a bunch of these races for the Democrats? Or at least called a few CA propositions? Much like your World Series picks, you pick for what this did to Colorado seems to have switched the voters in the measure’s favor:

    http://www.worldmagblog.com/blog/archives/027492.html

    ;-)

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  7. […] Matt Anderson, whom I work with, has captured most of what bothers me about this story in his posts here and here. I would add to what Matt wrote by drawing attention to two sentences of a letter Pastor Ted wrote to his church in the wake of the scandal (read the full letter here). “Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn’t want to hurt or disappoint them.” […]

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