I have read a lot of reactions to the Ted Haggard story. The opinions within the Christian community have run the gamut from attempts to be compassionate and forgiving to disgust and dismissal. Outside the family of faith it is almost all denunciation of blatant hypocrisy. In addition, the attackers seem to forget the basic rules of logic, but that is not usual when the goal is advancing a cause. A simple example is Haggard’s accuser’s statement for exposing him.
Jones told ABC News, “I had to expose the hypocrisy. He is in the position of influence of millions of followers, and he’s preaching against gay marriage. But behind everybody’s back [he’s] doing what he’s preached against.” Jones hoped that his statements would sway voters. Wikipedia
There is a logical disconnect between saying “he’s preaching against gay marriage” and “[he’s] doing what he preached against.” The accuser outed him for engaging in homosexual activity, not trying to get married as a homosexual (doing what he preached against). Leaving all the other considerations aside it is logically possible to be homosexual and against “gay marriage”. Instead, this was blatantly political, and what Haggard was guilty of had nothing to do with the ballot issue. The whole circus was meant to discourage faith-based voters from going to the polls by using the shock tactics of shame and disgust.
Despite the obvious logical disconnect (to those with basic thinking skills), the issue of hypocrisy is an even bigger issue that will have repercussions for some time to come. Let me unequivocally state that the only people who are NOT hypocrites are those who have no morals in the first place. In a true sense, all Christians are hypocrites to some degree. We all sin. We all betray our values, our beliefs, at some point. John was very explicit, stating “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8
We also, as a whole, keep our sin to ourselves. Some would see that as hypocritical. However, there is a difference between committing sin, which we all do, and keeping that to ourselves and possibly our confessor, and having that sin become a repetitive part of our lives (some would say that sin becomes part of our lifestyle), especially when it is serious sin.
That said, there is also a significant difference between the sin of the average struggling Christian and the sin of those who have chosen to take up positions of leadership, and in doing so take on the mantle of teaching and advising others about what they should do. James (3:1) warns those who presume to teach that they will be judged more strictly.
With that all out in the open, there are specific issues I have with Ted Haggard (and anyone else in leadership in Christian ministry who would act in a similar manner):
1. While it is obvious now that he has struggled with homosexual desires since he was a young man (which in and of itself is not an issue–it could be any besetting sin), once he accepted the mantle of leadership in the Christian Church, he did not enter into an accountable relationship with someone that would hold him to task in that area of his life. If that were true, this scandal would have never happened. He would not have been an active Christian leader.
2. Once he began giving into sin in that area, he did NOT take the required step of removing himself from his position of authority in the Church and seek help. Instead, he continued on a reckless course of private activity over several years that, given his notoriety, would inevitably lead to public humiliation and the dishonoring of Christ in the worst possible way, as well do significant damage to his family. Serious sin that is not properly dealt with eventually finds a public outlet that forces the issue and those most hurt are often not the sinner.
3. When exposed, he was not honest and forthright. He sought to control the situation and mitigate the damage to himself. His attempt to spin the affair only added to the public condemnation and increased the dishonoring of Christ in the marketplace and discouraged many in the Church.
We, as the Church, are required to judge those in leadership, to hold them to high standards. It is right that Ted Haggard’s church removed him permanently from ministry. This is not a Matthew 7 situation where Jesus warns against off-handed judgment by those expecting not be measured by the same rod they just used. It is more like John 7 where, while Jesus warns against cursory judgment, he does advocate proper judgment. “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” John 7:24
All in Christian ministry should expect measurement with the same strict discipline applied to Tedd Haggard, not because we are unmerciful (we are most merciful), but because God’s holiness and honor demand it. Unlimited forgiveness is always available, but there are consequences to sin, and serious consequences to continual serious sin that becomes part of the fabric of one’s life, especially to those in leadership.
The true hypocrites are not those who sin, but those who sin without dealing with it and who expect to be able to go on as if nothing were happening.
Lord, in your mercy give us the grace we need to see our sin and confess it, not to hide it. Help us to deal with our weaknesses, but hold us ever accountable to the promises we have made, the responsibilities we have undertaken. For even though the heart is willing, we know the flesh is weak. May we never dishonor you by what we do, or fail to do and in all things may we act in ways to bring honor and glory to your name. Amen.