Thursday, November 30, 2006

December Darkness and Christmas Hope

December Darkness and Christmas Hope

Doubt is at the heart of faith. This statement is no abstraction to me but a center bit in what I believe about God and Jesus and love. I look at my dear wife's brown eyes and face that seems as open to me as a flower or God's heart and remember nights twenty years ago where my heart was cold with sadness after being left by my first wife. And I am reminded to trust in Love, place my hopes in Him, my faith in His work still progressing despite all exterior signs to the contrary.

I remember last week sitting with others doing something quite liturgical for such a low-church mutt as me, a "Lectio Divina" in which a passage of Scripture is read, discussed, read again, meditated on, discussed, and read yet a third and fourth time -- each time causing one's own heart to burn with the truth and beauty of the words / Word's meanings.

We read from Lamentations 3:21-26:

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

My heart leapt up in me not for joy but for pain as I read the last verse. My doubt makes it so hard to deeply accept the goodness of waiting for the salvation of the Lord when… well, a for-instance: an Iraqi mother kneels in the dusty remains of her house holding her dead seven-year-old son and crying out (tears come to my eyes as I mentally replay it) "God---Where is God?---where is God?!?" The cynic answers he was in the bombs from a Christian nation that was making Iraq safe for democracy. The young men, many of poorer families of my own country, are given lip service and sent into a war fewer and fewer of us believe had any purpose or any merit. My heart melts in me like wax from a cheap church candle.

Yet… another voice read the passage from rightly-named Lamentations and my resistance gave way to slow understanding. I realize that to see as God sees is indeed an act of faith rather than complete understanding and that God is Love if anything or anyone is and that he alone sees all and mourns all and has -- is -- and will draw history and humanity toward him as we are willing to be so drawn. In the mystery of Christ's suffering is the only answer for our sufferings and the sufferings of others. We participate in it, or we remain in denial, or we cave in to rage and despair.

Heaven is like the baby in the manger, here but not recognized, as my wife's eyes of gentleness are here but not recognized as being God's eyes in proxy. Her hands are likewise His hands doing me good all the days of my wife / life and her heart yearns over her children now grown as the Father Heart yearns over his children but will not force their love for then it would not be love.

And I do not know what is to become of that Muslim mother who mourns and cries out to her God. Perhaps it is like C. S. Lewis' "The Last Battle" where the earnest young Tash worshipper finds out that he has in fact loved the real God even if he didn't really understand fully who that God was – God is Love and He will know what to do. I identify with her suffering, which is of course so much greater than mine has ever been. I see Christ's sweat and blood in Gethsemane, his tears at the tomb of Lazarus (because he mourned not just Lazarus' death, but the reality of death itself, which would eventually reclaim Lazarus despite Jesus' miracle). I see the blood on the cross, which is the only way meaning can be given to that Muslim mother's screams of agony.

I do believe that Jesus was no televangelist and had no handsomeness or blond hair or blue eyes to attract a Hollywood producer. More likely he had olive skin and dark hair and perhaps wholly unremarkable (to us) New York Arab cab driver face so that none could come to him except they see as God sees: the character of a man singularly striking and wholly desirable.

It is nearly Christmas and the carols are sung and trees lit and stores making billions of dollars. None of this is wholly good or wholly evil and the heart of faith beats slow but steady in the breasts of Love's people. The child lies in the manger and in the mangers each of us knew were empty until His Advent became not a past event but a present knowing and future promise. For those who desire it, the baby takes up residence in our barren hearts making them fruitful mangers of Love.

Rejoice always it is said and again rejoice as the wealthy find their God today and lose him tomorrow and the poor bleed and despair -- their God is Despair -- Apollyon the Destroyer who steals their personhood and creates of them an army of ghosts invisible to the wealthy and even to many of God's people. Yet rejoice -- and work -- which is also rejoicing in the belief that Love has conquered through the manger and the cross is conquering through the Risen Christ and will conquer through Love's visible return.

Christmas is the promise of Messiah fulfilled and the surprise that God chose to fulfill it through the poor couple in that stable. I hope to go to that stable, holding my dearling’s hand, to find Jesus -- the place He has always been is with the poor -- and to worship and love Him in the Holy Faces of "the least of these" (Matthew 25:31-46).

My Carol -- my wife's name -- is indeed a "Song of Joy" to my heart's downward turnings, and a signpost toward that for which we patiently wait. I hope you are there to wait quietly with us for the salvation Love brings in Jesus—and to be a labourer for Love in a loveless, hopeless, faithless world.

Merry Christmas season!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Rev. Louis Sheldon Admits He, Other Christian Leaders Knew About Ted Haggard's Homosexuality

I've long been aware of, and irritated by, the Christian Right's Traditional Values Coalition. But recent comments made by its head, Rev. Louis Sheldon (left), are more than irritating. They are, to put it bluntly, infuriating.

In an interview with Larry Kohler-Esses, editor-at-large for Jewish Weekly, Sheldon said that he and "a lot" of others close to Ted Haggard knew about the latter's homosexual leanings "but we weren't sure just how to deal with it. Ted and I had a discussion,” Sheldon told Esses, and stated Haggard revealed his struggle at one point: “He said homosexuality is genetic. I said, no it isn’t. But I just knew he was covering up. They need to say that.”

There's plenty I could say about that last sentence. But I'll hold myself in check for now on that score. If you knew, Rev. Sheldon, he was covering up, why didn't you confront him? Did you push him toward getting counseling? Did you insist he confess these temptations to his Church board and his fellow leaders amongst the National Assocation of Evangelicals? Did you ask him if he struggled with porn use, internet porn, or had ever acted out sexually? Did you urge him to join, and monitor his progress in joining, Sexaholics Anonymous or another such group that helps those struggling with sex addictions?

I do happen to believe that gayness is not genetic. I have seen real gays change, including my friends John Smid and Mario Bergner. But I also don't believe it is easily battled or even easily discussed. Yet not discussing it can result only in the many who struggle with same sex desires within the Evangelical Church being left in a double-bind. "Don't ask, don't tell" -- that's the way we do it, huh? Leave the Haggards of the world in a situation where everything is okay on the surface, but don't let me see beneath the surface to who you really are as a human being in all your darkness and pain and hurt. After all, that might reveal my own hurt and darkness. Better to leave all this untouched, while advocating a moral America which never did, and never will exist.

And what does this teach the watching world about our attitude toward temptation -- any kind of temptation? Is it wrong for someone to be tempted homosexually? The answer is no. Yet if we make it dangerous even to mention that we are tempted, what will be the inevitable outcome? Temptation undealt with leads to failure -- sin. If we cannot even be honest about homosexual temptation -- heck, sexual temptation period! -- how can we hope to model in our actions and lives a morality that is anything more than the most hypocritical puke?

This all makes me angry. And to you, Rev. Sheldon, along with all the others who knew and allowed this struggle to remain a secret, shame. Ted's sin may be less than yours. I ache for the day when this sort of "super-spiritual offal" is finally shoveled out of our pulpits, radio shows, and maybe even lives. Real Christianity can't even get started while the centerpiece of our lives is all about appearances. Why? Because real Christianity is about shedding them.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Soren Kierkegaard's Warning Regarding Politics & Eternal Truth

"The crowd is untruth. Therefore was Christ crucified, because he, even though he addressed himself to all, would not have to do with the crowd, because he would not in any way let a crowd help him, because he in this respect absolutely pushed away, would not found a party, or allow balloting, but would be what he was, the truth, which relates itself to the single individual. And therefore everyone who in truth will serve the truth, is eo ipso in some way or other a martyr; if it were possible that a human being in his mother's womb could make a decision to will to serve 'the truth' in truth, so he also is eo ipso a martyr, however his martyrdom comes about, even while in his mother's womb. For to win a crowd is not so great a trick; one only needs some talent, a certain dose of untruth and a little acquaintance with the human passions. But no witness for the truth - alas, and every human being, you and I, should be one - dares have dealings with a crowd. The witness for the truth - who naturally will have nothing to do with politics, and to the utmost of his ability is careful not to be confused with a politician - the godfearing work of the witness to the truth is to have dealings with all, if possible, but always individually, to talk with each privately, on the streets and lanes - to split up the crowd, or to talk to it, not to form a crowd, but so that one or another individual might go home from the assembly and become a single individual. 'A crowd,' on the other hand, when it is treated as the court of last resort in relation to 'the truth,' its judgment as the judgment, is detested by the witness to the truth, more than a virtuous young woman detests the dance hall. And they who address the 'crowd' as the court of last resort, he considers to be instruments of untruth. For to repeat: that which in politics and similar domains has its validity, sometimes wholly, sometimes in part, becomes untruth, when it is transferred to the intellectual, spiritual, and religious domains. And at the risk of a possibly exaggerated caution, I add just this: by 'truth' I always understand 'eternal truth.' But politics and the like has nothing to do with 'eternal truth.' A politics, which in the real sense of 'eternal truth' made a serious effort to bring 'eternal truth' into real life, would in the same second show itself to be in the highest degree the most 'impolitic' thing imaginable."

A portion only, from Soren Kierkegaard's "On the Dedication to 'That Single Individual'"; thanks to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, where many lovely and painful and true things can be found.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Blue Evangelical Expresses Hope... and Anger

Well, as both Montana and Virginia (unless dirty tricks impede) will fall to the Dems, in my giddiness I thought I'd just go ahead and give this new Congress my wish list. I know they're waiting with baited breath to hear from me (uh-HUH!). And I will also offer a second wish-list to the Christian Right... who really, really want to hear from me (No, SIR!).

One preliminary note, just to remind everyone... I alone am responsible for this post. It is not an "official" position by any religious or Church group with whom I am affiliated.

For the Congressional Dems (and any Republicans willing to help) here's my list, without any real order or priority:

* Mr. Rumsfeld... oh, never mind. I'd just told a friend that he'd go "within two weeks." I'm a week and six days behind already.

* Can we finally see some humility in Washington? If the past six years have taught us anything, it is that arrogant, deaf-to-reality leadership is not the way to accomplish realistic goals or win over the American Public. Some pundits expect the Dems to go after Bush with investigations and so on... which part of me would love to see. But the saner part says, "Nah. Let's try to get some positive things done. Like..."

* Can we finally get some help on creating truly affordable housing? This wasn't all that great under the Dems, but under Bush housing in Chicago for the poor has practically dried up. Our Cornerstone Community Outreach Shelter programs in Chicago deal with so many poor families who are unable to find housing anywhere within walking distance of the services they so desperately need. As the inner cities are filled with condos (many of which are vacant) the poor are forced into decrepit older suburbs where they basically live only to work for minimal wages and extra hours, travel to work and home again via public transportation, all making their world more and more like the old domestic servants of the 1950s and earlier. Call it classism or racism or whatever... it exists as a blight on many lives. Housing must become a real issue again.

* End the War in Iraq. Do it sensibly, but get our people out of there. We were lied to about why we went, Washington's execution of the war was almost Keystone Cops, and American soldiers are at risk in a failed attempt to impose western democracy on a nation with no history in that regard. Will more Iraqis die with us gone than are dying now? I used to think so, but now have my doubts. It's botched! Get out.

* Can the Dems (a few of whom I note are pro-life) work with conservative but realistic Republicans to come up with a compromise on abortion? I think the time of "all or nothing" is likely past on that issue. But I also think that as long as Roe v Wade's incredibly broad permissions exist, the Right will use abortion to beat otherwise viable Democrats and to push the nation to the Right. This election does not mandate Roe v Wade, in case anyone was dubious on that score... and the Right has not lost all its vigor by any means. The Dems themselves have moved to the Right... gun control, anyone? (sigh)

* Make massive changes as regards public school funding. "What, you mean socialism or something?" Whatever you want to call it. Jonathan Kozol has done some of the best work on this issue. My favorite observation of his is that if you want to find the poorest, most ill-equipped, least educational, and most dangerous public schools, look for the ones named after Civil Rights Movement heroes. Oh, the other prime indicator of a bad school on almost every level? The darkness of the students' skin. Kozol's "Race and Class in Public Education" talks (apparently hard to find without paying for them) are stellar, and should offer a basis from which the Congress can make meaningful changes to hundreds of thousands of students' lives.

* Public (as in National) Health Coverage. "What, you mean socialism or something?" Uh, whatever you want to call it. I can testify that in Chicago, the very poor have such coverage via Cook County (Stroger) Hospital. Will that change? I certainly hope not. And I only wish it were so for the rest of the nation.

* And I'd love to see (and perhaps am seeing) some attitude adjustments for Democrats regarding evangelicals. Look, while polls last night seemed to indicate that three quarters of evangelicals were voting republican in, for instance, Ohio, it was noteworthy that one quarter of evangelicals were NOT voting that way. Evangelicals are increasingly on board when it comes to Global Warming, for instance. Evangelicals are on board when it comes to AIDS in Africa (and more and more, AIDS and HIV in America!). Evangelicals increasingly "get it" that though homosexual marriage is not something they want, some sort of legal union for gays should be part of our wide-open democratic process. The day of the New York Democrat who looks down his nose at the "rubes" who believe in Jesus is gone, or at least going. While a blue Evangelical minority works on becoming a majority, perhaps the Democrats could make our job easier by not being ignorant of the whole "God thing."

* And that leads to a three-book required reading list for Democrats wishing to understand Evangelicals. Ready? Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (being an intellectual isn't contrary to being Christian). Cost of Discipleship by WWII martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a very brave Christian's deeply thoughtful expression of faith). Born Again by Chuck Colson. Wait.... did you say -- Yes, I did. I am no fan of Mr. Colson's politics, as he seems to me to have (using Christian parlance) backslidden in that regard to his Nixon days. But his book reflects a far different Colson, a man newly made aware of power's dangers and his own hubris. It also helps a non-believer grasp some of why we who do believe find our faith so central.

Alright... NOW for that wish-list to the Christian Right.

* Stop confusing America's well-being with God's will. Really. Nationalism, last time I checked, was a form of idolatry. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that America is "God's chosen nation." Heck, it doesn't even say that about the modern state of Israel. (Whoa! Did he say that?!) Now that doesn't mean we shouldn't pray for our nation. But it does mean we shouldn't keep living in the false myth that America was at one time a Christian nation, and will be restored to that state by an active Christian Right. False premises lead to false conclusions.

* Stop telling us what the will of God is... frankly, you do not know and sometimes appear to be on the wrong side, supernaturally speaking. The War in Iraq, for instance, is so obviously Satanic I cannot find the words to express my disgust for Christian spokespersons' support of it.

* Stop using homosexuality to rally voters to a party which only cynically uses Evangelicals to get themselves elected. Can you understand how your entangling Christ with Rove's use of "hot button" issues targeting gays destroys any Christian witness we have to this culture? Homosexuality demands nuance and wisdom, not hacked together political assaults upon gays only serving to put them on notice that we hold them in contempt. They are our neighbors. "Love your neighbor as yourself."

* Stop linking abortion to the Right's agenda. By doing so, you only underscore what pro-abortion forces believe about Evangelicals. Namely, that we teach: women are lesser than men; Women belong in the home, men on the job; Women are to submit to men, be under men, be directed by men. Well, many of us do NOT teach or believe those things, nor do we view women and men as defined by (pseudo-biblical) "roles." Yet we are against abortion on demand. And we are more than a bit irritated by your continual attempts to use abortion to coopt us politically. It so happens that, apart from abortion, we think the feminists basically understand reality better than you do.

* Stop fronting as "God's men" white males who actually are more gifted in the realm of corporate enterprise than they are in hearing the Voice of God. (Sure, there are a few women, and leaders of color, who also qualify in this dubious category.) These people more and more seem to speak a language we cannot hear, dance to music we do not like, and present a version of God foreign to either what we read in Scripture or what we experience Him to be in our own lives.

So please. Stop being "Right" and start being biblically Christian.

More Montana on CNN

Was I right? CNN still needs that lesson on Montana -- both geographically and politically. But they did this morning have a reporter interview the Dem's Senate candidate, Jon Tester, by phone. Maybe that's the best way to do it.

Choteau County, where my birth home town of Fort Benton is the county seat, did go narrowly for Democrat Jon Tester. Sure, he came from Big Sandy, also a small town in Choteau County. But for a Democrat to take that county is a major event. It has almost always been hard-core Republican country. Likewise with the rest of the state, until now. It appears Montana may end up being "blue" except for its lone Republican representative in the house...

Unless the message is received by Washington, I'd say Montana may be a bellweather of things to come...

It is possible the Republicans may still win the Senate seat. Right now, Tester is only 1,500 votes or so ahead. I think he takes it, though. And inside, this Chicagoan-once-Montanan is smiling.

Hey, CNN, What About Montana?

I am watching CNN at nearly 2 am Chicago time. And I'm fascinated by how little anyone at CNN knows about my home state of Montana. As someone born and bred in and near Fort Benton, less than an hour's drive from Democratic Senate Candidate Jon Tester's home in Big Sandy, I was bemused to observe how little they knew about the state.

One commentator sent to Billings talked about how the "east side" of Montana favored incumbent Conrad Burns while the "west part" of the state favored Tester. I was bewildered by these designations. Montana, as anyone remotely familiar with the state will tell you, is a huge and elongated state in which "east" and "west" would be very poor designations to describe anything. There is northwestern Montana, with Glacier Park and Flathead Lake; there is eastern Montana, with... well, not a lot of anything except vast expanses of Great American Desert. And then there are the many other portions of Montana, including North-Central Montana, from where both Jon Tester and myself originated. It is a beautifully understated sort of geography and a fiercely independent sort of person you'll find there.

CNN? Most painful was their ignoring the data I was pulling from their own website. The race between Tester and Burns was heating up, the Democratic challenger's lead slowly being eaten away. While they prattled on about Virginia (which was, after all, looking close most of the way until an over 10,000 vote lead opened up for the Democrat in that race) Montana's race was getting very hot.

Right now, two percentage points and only 7,000 odd votes separate the two Montana candidates. Ah. They just mentioned the Montana race, giving it half a sentence. And why? Because they don't know thing one about the Treasure State, that's why.

I'm giving them a few more minutes before I go to bed in disgust.

Or maybe not.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006 & up and running -- Plus, what election returns so far tell us

It seems appropriate this election day to announce the launch of a very bare-bones page -- inspired by this blog -- which will in the future serve as a front end for much if not most of my writing online. and both point to that page. Stay tuned.

As the election returns come in, one thing is very obvious. No spin, no equivocation, no alternate reality can protect the current occupant of the Whitehouse from what Americans think of his war in Iraq. Perhaps the Republicans will barely hold on to the Senate. But a sea change is in progress, one very promising to me as a "blue" evangelical. I see a number of Democrats, for instance, being elected to the House on a pro-life platform. Fascinating stuff! Frankly, I'm thrilled.

Those are my very rough notes, and I will certianly follow the blue pro-life folk as they enter the nation's political bloodstream. I'm hoping they're not just red-staters wearing a Democratic Party button, but instead are truly rounded folks with a new, break-out agenda focused on "the least of these" wherever such are found.

I also must admit I get a kick out of seeing Illinois Democrats so prominently part of the national scene right now, from Barack Obama to Rahm Emanuel.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ted Haggard's open letter to his home church answers much, but not all

This letter from Ted Haggard was released to his New Life Church family this morning. The below copy is typed in by me from a fax copy, so any errors of spelling or typing are likely mine rather than Ted Haggard's. I offer it without commentary, except to say it is moving, honest to a degree unusual in these sorts of cases, yet does not answer what exactly it is he is confessing to. (Having five children who such information couldn't help but impact may have something to do with that decision at present.) I trust those questions will be answered in the near future. Ted Haggard indicates there has been a long-term problem with sexual sin, which may involve additional revelations. That also one expects will be explained in time, and would I hope kindle a deeper, more intense conversation among evangelical on how to create both transparency and accountability.

The letter (again, with potential errors due to my typing):


November 5, 2006

My Dear New Life Church Family,

I am so sorry. I am sorry for the disappointment, the betrayal, and the hurt. I am sorry for the horrible example I have set for you.

I have an overwhelming, all-consuming sadness in my heart for the pain that you and I and my family have experienced over the past few days. I am so sorry for the circumstances that have caused shame and embarrassment to all of you.

I asked that this note be read to you this morning so I could clarify my heart's condition to you. The last four days have been so difficult for me, my family and all of you, and I have further confused the situation with some of the things I've said during interviews with reporters who would catch me coming or going from my home. But I alone am responsible for the confusion caused by my inconsistent statements. The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.

I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

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.

The public person I was wasn't a lie; it was just incomplete. When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe.

The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry. Our church's overseers have required me to submit to the oversight of Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett. Those men will perform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family.

I created this entire situation. The things that I did opened the door for additional allegations. But I am responsible; I alone need to be disciplined and corrected. An example must be set.

It is important that you know how much I love and appreciate my wife, Gayle. What I did should never reflect in a negative way on their relationship with me. She has been and continues to be incredible. The problem was not with her, my children, or any of you. It was created 100% by me.

I have been permanently removed from the office of Senior Pastor of New Life Church. Until a new senior pastor is chosen, our Associate Senior Pastor, Ross Parsley, will assume all of the responsibilities of the office. On the day he accepted this new role, he and his wife, Aimee, had a new baby boy. A new life in the midst of this circumstance--I consider that confluence of events to be prophetic. Please commit to join with Pastor Ross and the others in church leadership to make their service to you easy and without burden. They are fine leaders. You are blessed.

I appreciate your loving and forgiving nature, and I humbly ask you to do a few things.

  1. Please stay faithful to God through service and giving.
  2. Please forgive me. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. I caused all this and I have no excuse. I am a sinner. I have fallen. I desperately need to be forgiven and healed.
  3. Please forgive my accuser. He is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins, and others, need to be dealt with harshly. So, forgive him and, actually, thank God for him. I am trusting that his actions will make me, my wife and family, and ultimately all of you, stronger. He didn't violate you; I did.
  4. Please stay faithful to each other. Perform your functions well. Encourage each other and rejoice in God's faithfulness. Our church body is a beautiful body, and like every family, our strength is tested and proven in the midst of adversity. Because of the negative publicity I've created with my foolishness, we can now demonstrate to the world how our sick and wounded can be healed, and how even disappointed and betrayed church bodies can prosper and rejoice.
Gayle and I need to be gone for a while. We will never return to a leadership role at New Life Church. In our hearts, we will always be members of this body. We love you as our family. I know this situation will put you to the test. I'm sorry I've created the test, but please rise to this challenge and demonstrate the incredible grace that is available to all of us.

Ted Haggard

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ted Haggard: New Life Church acts quickly on grounds of "sexually immoral conduct"

This tonight from New Life Church, where Pastor Ted Haggard has been pastor.

November 4, 2006
New Life Church
Colorado Springs, Colorado

We, the Overseer Board of New Life Church, have concluded our deliberations concerning the moral failings of Pastor Ted Haggard. Our investigation and Pastor Haggard’s public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct.

The language of our church bylaws state that as Overseers we must decide in cases where the Senior Pastor has “demonstrated immoral conduct” whether we must “remove the pastor from his position or to discipline him in any way they deem necessary.” In consultation with leading evangelicals and experts familiar with the type of behavior Pastor Haggard has demonstrated, we have decided that the most positive and productive direction for our church is his dismissal and removal. In addition, the Overseers will continue to explore the depth of Pastor Haggard’s offense so that a plan of healing and restoration can begin.

Pastor Haggard and his wife have been informed of this decision. They have agreed as well that he should be dismissed and that a new pastor for New Life Church should be selected according to the rules of replacement in the bylaws.

That process will begin immediately in hopes that a new pastor can be confirmed by the end of the year 2006. In the interim, Ross Parsley will function as the leader of the church with full support of the Overseers.

A letter of explanation and apology by Pastor Haggard as well as a word of encouragement from Gayle Haggard will be read in the 9:00 and 11:00 service of New Life Church.


I have nothing to add to this. Obviously the accountability structures set up -- many by Ted Haggard himself -- are initially working. Let's continue to pray for the New Life Church family, Ted's family, and Ted himself.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Come clean, Ted: My advice to Pastor Haggard... and to myself

This story continues to be amended as new facts come to light...

As many folks by now know, Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and head pastor of the Colordao Springs-based mega-church, New Life, stepped down yesterday from both positions after being accused of homosexual liasons with Mike Jones, a self-admitted gay prostitute. The meetings allegedly took place over a three year period, approximately once a month. These encounters also were said by Jones to involve the use of amphetamines, and at least one phone message was produced by Jones which appears to contain Haggard's voice asking Jones to purchase $100 to $200 of something unspecified.

Initially, I hoped and suspected these accusations were similar to false accusations made by a man against Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago in the mid 1990s, accusations which Bernadin handled with grace and patience until they were exposed as being lies.

But I was wrong, according to an email sent to members of New Life church by acting pastor Ross Parsley regarding Pastor Haggard being accused:

It is important for you to know that he confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true. He has willingly and humbly submitted to the authority of the board of overseers, and will remain on administrative leave during the course of the investigation.
That admission has only further fueled the controversy, especially as initially Ted Haggard denied having anything to do with Jones or even knowing him.

As of this afternoon, Pastor Haggard says that he met Mike Jones once to buy amphetamines but then "threw them away" without using them, and has never used amphetamines at other times. He additionally said he went to Mike Jones for a massage. Asked by an NBC reporter (see video) if he'd had sex with Jones, he said "no." Pastor Haggard said he met Jones through a "referral" at the hotel he was staying at at the time.

But back to those tapes. One of two tapes Jones provided offers an individual called "Art" (Haggard's middle name is Arthur) who sounds very like Pastor Haggard saying: "Hi Mike, this is Art.... Hey, I was just calling to see if we could get any more. Either $100 or $200 supply." The second tape, which is of a call a few hours after the first, indicates the two men had in fact met before: "Hi Mike, this is Art, I am here in Denver and sorry that I missed you. But as I said, if you want to go ahead and get the stuff, then that would be great. And I’ll get it sometime next week or the week after or whenever."

The italicized-by-me portion of the above indicates -- to me, at least -- that this was not the first time Ted Haggard had purchased drugs from Mike Jones. His low-key manner when affirming that he can "get it... whenever" is also an indicator the two have dealt with eachother before. And that would indicates Haggard caught in a problematic pattern of lies. First, he doesn't even know the name Mike Jones. He denies the story altogether. Then he says he bought but did not use the drugs, and it was only one time. He also says he got a massage but not sex.

My advice to Ted Haggard is to come clean, do it now, and accept whatever consequences befall. There is zero chance the whole story will not emerge. There is zero chance that stonewalling or "spinning" of any kind will work. The absolute worst thing anyone in Pastor Haggard's position can do is think there is any way to hide sin.

The biblical referent is an obvious one. King David seduced Bathsheba (or perhaps just outright ordered her to his bedroom, using his position and power). She got pregnant. He panicked, and when he couldn't get her faithful soldier-husband, Uriah, to go to bed with her (to make it appear the baby was Uriah's), he had Uriah murdered on the battlefield and married Bathsheba himself. God is not mocked, however, and sent Nathan the prophet to confront David. In the end, this great sinner repented. "I have sinned against the Lord." David was forgiven, yet he also reaped great consequences.

Not the least of which was having his sins published! Throughout the centuries, believers both Jewish and Christian have read about David's sin as instructive toward confronting our own. And of course, David wrote Psalm 51 as a prayer of repentance, in which he summed things up (verse 17):

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Pastor Haggard cannot afford to practice the unbelief of concealment. Exposing his own faults fully is the only avenue through which healing and restoration can come. He cannot allow himself to think that telling a few trusted friends is all it will take. Flinging the phrase "board of accountability" around as some sort of instant incense of forgetfulness has been tried before, unsuccessfully.

By entering the national and even world stage, Pastor Haggard has also become accountable to those outside the evanglical camp. He owes them honesty. (I would argue all we evangelicals owe such a debt, but that is for another time.)

Rock Throwing Begins at Home

As those who've read my blog in the past know, I'm sometimes quite critical of Ted Haggard. (His touting, for instance, of evangelicals' prayers being behind American troops' killing of Saddam Hussein's sons.) But when it comes to sexual sin, I've got no stomach at all for assaulting another guy's weaknesses and failures.

Instead, I have a number of thoughts which will irritate everyone, I hope.

* The evangelical model of ministry, based on the American corporate model of one person (usually a white male) as founder and boss, seems only more flawed the longer I watch it. There's a lot of noise about accountability... but the proof, I suspect, is in our pudding. Sure it works as far as building giant ministries. But it also sucks as far as horizontal accountability goes. The "type-A" hyperactive, energized go-getter is a prime candidate for immorality, and least likely to cultivate mature relationships with others. Yet we continue to stick these corporate types into our major pulpits and presidencies.

* Male leaders are at tremendous risk to sexual sin these days. It is not a matter of if they will encounter opportunity to transgress, it is a matter of when. The resistance of many evangelicals to women in leadership seems all the more obtuse when considering how vulnerable males apparently are in such roles. (I'm thinking of Swaggart, Bakker, apparently Haggard, as well as a plethora of lesser-known pastors and parachurch leaders).

* All of us are at major risk for sexual sin. I am sitting this instant in front of a machine that can take me to triple X rated film, pictures, or text in the matter of seconds. And no one will know. I could, for all you know, be sanctimoniously telling you about Ted Haggard's indiscretions and -- in another browser window -- have open pornographic images so grotesque they'd make Haggard's alleged sins look tame. I do not have that window open. But... how do any of us find accountability in such a world of instant gratification of our worst desires and instincts?

* The evangelical / charismatic world is a breeding ground for sexual sin. (See, told you I'd make folks mad before we finished here.) Why? Because within this world is cultivated the model of strong, massively male leaders who have submissive wives, 1950s-era families, and pretty much a direct pipeline to God. What a set-up for sexual misconduct! Why not cultivate instead a world where strength and dependence on others are not mutually exclusive? Why not rethink the hierarchical male models of church leadership and marital dominance? Imagine what might happen if we conceptualized leadership as a communal rather than individualist enterprise!

In the end, I find myself saddened greatly. I do pray that Pastor Haggard, his family, and his fellowship at New Life church find the clear path toward restoration and healing.

Getting Real Personal

And finally, I admit this: If I were placed in Pastor Haggard's position, with all that power and prestige and all those people looking toward me for spiritual answers to their burning questions... if I were looked up to as one of those powerful, dominant, forceful males our evangelical culture seems partial to...

I would sin. I would sin sexually. It might take me a month, a year, a few years. But in the end, the unreality of that strength I allegedly had would take its toll. And I would fail. I am no better, and perhaps worse, than Ted Haggard. My only plus is that I am loved and known and accountable to so many others. Though that is no guarantee against sin, of course -- especially due to the power of this lust magnet known as the computer -- it is a powerful disincentive.

Self-perception for me more and more has to be about letting go of power, strength, and righteousness of my own. I can say those words, but doing them is an ongoing process I don't expect to complete in this lifetime.

So please, if you've read this far as a non-believer, chuckling at the newest mess we evangelicals have gotten into, take a moment more to ponder the miracle that not all of us fail. Sometimes we really do live what we preach, remain honest and true to our spouses, love our neighbor as ourselves, and even -- our starting point, really -- love God.

If you are a Christian, especially a somewhat critical one such as I am who views Pastor Ted Haggard as part of the Christian Right, do not allow yourself for a moment to think you're any different than he is. We don't yet know the full extent or nature of his transgressions, or if his accuser is totally truthful. What we do know is that he, his family, his fellowship, and his accuser need our most humbled and broken-hearted prayers.