I usually ignore scandals in the church and don’t write about them mainly for two reasons.
- Sin in the church is not news.
- Unless it occurs within my own local church or denomination, I am not qualified to pronounce a public judgment — only the elders of that particular church should do that.
However, I wanted to use this scandal as an illustration of why I left the so-called “evangelical” movement a few years ago. I joined an Reformed church that I consider to be truly evangelical. A truly evangelical church literally preaches the whole Gospel. The Ted Haggard scandal and the response by “evangelicals” shows the major problem with evangelicalism. The Law of God is not considered to be part of the Gospel — and is even considered to be an enemy of the Gospel.
The following linked article (”What Ted Haggard’s fall could teach Christians“) is typical of the reason why the evangelical church in America is in such a bad state. It totally ignores the fact that Ted Haggard was a pastor and leader of an international Christian ministry. It treats him as if he was “Joe Public” pew sitter in need of moral guidance from his peers. It ignores the biblical law regarding qualifications for elders and deacons.
Invariably I hear such pietistic drivel whenever a major Christian leader commits a sin that the Apostle Paul said “deserves death” and was punishable by stoning in the Old Testament. I have to laugh at evangelicals who say that swift steps must be taken to ensure his restoration to ministry. And woe to us that we could not have fostered an atmosphere in which he could have been more open about his sin and received help!
We are also told by Haggard that all he did was buy some illegal drugs (that he never used) and receive a back rub. Here’s the infamous “I didn’t inhale” excuse once again. Yet most assume he was removed by his elders for hiding something that is more egregious than this. Otherwise, he would have simply denied that he did anything seriously wrong and voluntarily submitted to rehabilitation or counseling to deal with some personal problems.
We are obviously not hearing the whole story and he is still covering something. Now we are told by some pietists that God is judging him for his “judgment and anger” because he opposed “same-sex marriage.” This wrongly assumes that we should forgive Haggard for a crime he has yet to confess and that he was “intolerant” of homosexuals in his own church.
The simple fact of the matter is that the interim pastor at Haggard’s church admits that they allow openly homosexual members of their church to receive communion. These people are not subject to church sanctions and Haggard himself fostered an “open” and “loving” attitude toward sodomites.
Ted Haggard’s situation is similar to a pastor I knew in Melbourne, Florida who was never supportive of the pro-life activists in his church because he didn’t want people to think of him as intolerant toward the “pro-choice community.” It might hinder his ministry toward them. Later during the height of a so-called “revival” in his church in the 1990s that was chronicled by major Christian media, he was exposed in the sin of adultery with the daughter of his church’s founder. The simple fact is that if you are an adulterous pastor, you need abortion to cover your sin. If you are a homosexual pastor, you need male prostitutes in your church to service your sin.
And so on.
But this is nothing new. The kings and patriarchs of Israel allowed temple prostitution to go on and rarely enforced the sanctions of God’s Law. The kings of Israel multiplied their wives and committed open adultery. What is new is the pervasive pietism among conservative Christians that ignores the Law of God in favor of something they think is “more compassionate” than what God himself requires. It’s not enough for us to ignore and violate God’s Law, but we also must portray God’s Law as harsh and judgmental and beneath our modern sensibility.
Can Haggard be forgiven?
Yes of course, that is the heart of the Gospel. Ted Haggard can even be used of God again in some sort of service role in the church or in public life. And if he repents, he can be used soon. But there are temporal judgments for those who commit crimes against the Law of God. He should never again be allowed in an ordained ministry position. In a nation that loved God’s law, he would receive some type of civil penalty as well. We are in such a bad state not because sin is rampant in the church, but because we have forsaken the only valid measure of righteousness and judgment that can bind our conscience — and sadly I need I define that — the Law of God.