I took the night to think about the news that broke yesterday about Ted Haggard. He's a megachurch pastor in Colorado and President of the National Association of Evangelicals. Haggard has been accused of carrying on a three year relationship with a male escort. I thought about throwing out some thoughts here last night, but wanted to be patient to see if today brought forth any additional information. You had to figure something happened since he stepped down from both these positions; even if you're innocent, immediately resigning never looks good. Apparently there is more.
Whereas last night Haggard denied ever being unfaithful, this morning we read that he's admitted to "some indiscretion." I'm sure that, by the weekend, there will be a much clearer picture of all went on. This will allow for this story to blow up by next week, right before the election. This becomes an issue as Haggard was involved in Colorado's fight to ban gay marriage, so expect to see much more about it.
Much will be written about this incident on the web in days to come, but allow me to make a few observations:
1) I wasn't surprised. It's not like I go around betting which guys will cheat on their spouse, however, it's become a fact of life: ministers are human and still sin. If allegations prove to be true, this could be the highest profile fall in American evangelicalism in twenty years. I guess we should be surprised it lasted this long without an incident.
2) Mega-problems. Even though the majority of evangelicals seem to prefer the megachurch, it becomes a beast. They're usually born out of the personality of one individual who is followed as an ultimate spiritual guide. But when all eyes are focused on one man, the pressure can become suffocating. I'm not excusing what Haggard did, but does the same thing happen if he's pastoring a church of 150 instead of 15,000? Perhaps, but I think the odds become much less if his face isn't constantly in Time Magazine. I'll be curious to see what happens at New Life, the church Haggard pastors. How will they move on after all this?
There's nothing wrong with us having megachurches but I don't think we take seriously enough the awesome responsibility surrounding pastors of such large flocks. It puts a lot on one guy. Again, it makes you really appreciate the life of Billy Graham, how he was able to reach so many people and avoid all the controversy. That in of itself might be the most amazing thing about his ministry.
3) Check myself. I'm madly in love with my wife, but I can't ever get too cocky to think it could never happen to me. As a minister, you deal with some of the most private, intimate moments in people's lives. You're supposed to empathize and reach out to vulnerable people. That creates awkward situations that can quickly morph into improper relationships.
I do my best to guard myself of even having such situations present themselves. At all cost, I will avoid being in the same room/automobile alone with someone of the opposite sex. I love my wife and my ministry and would like to keep both.
4) Disappointed in Dobson. Despite all the pieces of this scandal, I find it most embarrassing that James Dobson felt the need to immediately come out and defend Haggard. It's not that he supported him, but went as far to say it was all made up. Dobson said,
"It is unconscionable that the legitimate news media would report a rumor like this based on nothing but one man's accusation . . . it appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday's election."
How does Dobson know this is a conspiracy? What if the accusations are entirely true? He's willing to bet Focus on The Family on it? And is it truly all about the election? I think Dobson will regret his quick response to this one. And I believe this will be a catalyst towards . . .
5) The Transformation of American Evangelicalism. I could be wrong on this one, but I've really sense it coming. The past twenty years of Evangelicalism have been dominated by the Christian Right. Believers were sure that if we could control the American political landscape that God would bless our nation. Within the past ten years, that wish was granted as all three branches of our government became conservative. And yet we discover that we're really not better off than we were before the movement began.
The emerging generations of Christians aren't as interested in transforming US politics as they are changing their world. They're more interested in AIDS in Africa than they are Red State vs. Blue State. I'm not saying it will be perfect, but new leaders will rise to set the course as voices like Dobson and Falwell are totally ignored. For the shift to begin to take place, the foundation of present American Evangelicalism needs to be rocked. This could be that event.
All in all, it's incredibly sad incident. Thankfully, our allegiance is to a perfect God rather than to imperfect men.
Ben Witherington made some excellent observations about the Haggard situation, most of which I agree with. Definitely worth checking into.