Ted Haggard recently admitted to buying sex and meth from a gay prostitute. That might not make the news any other day, but Haggard is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of New Life Community Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Or rather, he was. Now he is just another example of evangelical hypocrisy.
Surveying the damage Haggard has done to the cause of Christ, pastor and author Gordon MacDonald makes a few soul-searching remarks about how to proceed. Back in the 1980s, MacDonald himself committed adultery. His church discipled him, with help from leaders in the evangelical community, and after several years, he was able to resume ministry. Chastened by his experience, MacDonald has become very attuned to the ways in which pastors and other Christian leaders are tempted to go wrong. Here's a sample of his remarks:
I've spent more than a little time trying to understand how and why some men and women in all kinds of leadership get themselves into trouble, whether the issues be moral, financial, or the abuse of power and ego. I am no stranger to failure and public humiliation. From those terrible moments of twenty years ago in my own life I have come to believe that there is a deeper person in many of us who is not unlike an assassin. This deeper person (like a contentious board member) can be the source of attitudes and behaviors we normally stand against in our conscious being. But it seeks to destroy us and masses energies that—unrestrained—tempt us to do the very things we "believe against."
If you have been burned as deeply as I (and my loved ones) have, you never live a day without remembering that there is something within that, left unguarded, will go on the rampage. Wallace Hamilton once wrote, "Within each of us there is a herd of wild horses all wanting to run loose."
It seems to me that when people become leaders of outsized organizations and movements, when they become famous and their opinions are constantly sought by the media, we ought to begin to become cautious. The very drive that propels some leaders toward extraordinary levels of achievement is a drive that often keeps expanding even after reasonable goals and objectives have been achieved.
Like a river that breaks its levy, that drive often strays into areas of excitement and risk that can be dangerous and destructive. Sometimes the drive appears to be unstoppable.
This seems to have been the experience of the Older Testament David and his wandering eyes, Uzziah in his boredom, and Solomon with his insatiable hunger for wealth, wives, and horses. They seem to have been questing—addictively?—for more thrills or trying to meet deeper personal needs, and the normal ways that satisfy most people became inadequate for them.
Ever since the beginning of the Bush administration, I have worried over the tendency of certain Evangelical personalities to go public every time they visited the White House or had a phone conference with an administration official. I know it has wonderful fund-raising capabilities. And I know the temptation to ego-expansion when one feels that he has the ear of the President. But the result is that we are now part of an evangelical movement that is greatly compromised—identified in the eyes of the public as deep in the hip pockets of the Republican party and administration. My own belief? Our movement has been used.
There are hints that the movement—once cobbled together by Billy Graham and Harold Ockenga—is beginning to fragment because it is more identified by a political agenda that seems to be failing and less identified by a commitment to Jesus and his kingdom. Like it or not, we are pictured as those who support war, torture, and a go-it-alone (bullying) posture in international relationships. Any of us who travel internationally have tasted the global hostility toward our government and the suspicion that our President's policies reflect the real tenants of Evangelical faith.
And I might add that there is considerable disillusionment on the part of many of our Christian brothers/sisters in other countries who are mystified as to where American evangelicals are in all of this. Our movement may have its Supreme Court appointments, but it may also have compromised its historic center of Biblical faith. Is it time to let the larger public know that some larger-than-life evangelical personalities with radio and TV shows do not speak for all of us?