Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Making (Some) Sense of the Ted Haggard Scandal

Most people had never heard of Ted Haggard when I sat down with him at an outdoor coffee shop in Colorado Springs in 1993 to conduct one of his first interviews with the Christian media. He talked about his many nights of prayer in the Garden of the Gods wilderness area near Pikes Peak. He shared how witches from Manitou Springs had left animal remains on his doorstep. He told how he “prayer walked” a segment of property near his church and claimed it for God—and how it was later purchased to be the headquarters for Focus on the Family.  

When I wrote that cover story about Ted for Charisma I made a close friend, and I even considered going to work for him. His gregarious personality, his refreshing commitment to teamwork rather than the one-man-show, his passion for prayer and evangelism, and his giant heart for the next generation made me want to pull up roots in Florida and move to the Rockies.

I almost became a Ted Haggard groupie. And who wouldn’t want to follow him? He is immensely funny, disarmingly open about his personal struggles and eager to connect leaders in the church who don’t see eye to eye. He became a role model and a standard-bearer.  

I wasn’t surprised when Ted’s New Life Church began to experience explosive growth. With that growth, of course, came more and more media exposure—and soon Ted was the poster child for the evangelical movement in the United States. His boyish grin appeared on the cover of every major newspaper in the country, and he was often asked to provide the obligatory Christian response on news programs. Most of us were relieved that someone with such a refreshingly honest and nonreligious style could be our spokesman.  

But we all gasped collectively last weekend when Ted admitted that he’d been involved with a male prostitute in Denver. It all seemed like a bad dream when he took leave from his position as pastor of his church and resigned from his post at the National Association of Evangelicals. For me, the reality didn’t hit until he told his church, “I am a liar and a deceiver.”  

Boom. Just like that, another hero had fallen.  

Ironically, it was Ted who gave me hope that American church leaders could become relevant to their culture and approachable to the media. Ted also taught me valuable lessons about integrity and personal accountability. That’s why it was so devastating that this man had such a humiliating moral failure in front of a hostile audience.  

Sin doesn’t make sense, so we’ll probably never completely understand why these tragedies happen. But I have nailed down three things we need to remember as we assess this situation:  

1. Ted deserves our long-time support. The leaders of New Life Church have already removed Ted from his pastoral role—a move that he and his wife, Gayle, fully supported. The proper biblical discipline has been applied, swiftly and with dignity. What the Haggard family needs now are our prayers for their full recovery.

2. We need to guard ourselves from the snare of pride. We Americans love our celebrities. We make them, and then we watch them implode. I am not blaming anyone for Ted’s sins, but I do think there is something sick about the way we create larger-than-life idols, even in the church.            

The Ted Haggard I knew in 1993 was a man of prayer who didn’t care if anyone noticed the work he was doing in Colorado Springs. But after 10 years passed, he found himself in some pretty heady situations, including conference calls with the White House and regular interviews with the New York Times. Could you stay humble with those kinds of opportunities?

After televangelist Jim Bakker fell into adultery and went to prison for his financial misdeeds, he admitted that his big mistake was pride. It is usually the root of most moral failures. When we fall into pride, the grace to resist temptation wanes.  

3. We must address head-on the challenge of homosexuality. As soon as news of Ted Haggard’s sin hit the fan last week, gay activists were gloating over the apparent hypocrisy of Christians who oppose homosexuality on one hand while they participate in it secretly. Homosexual activists want us to change our message by admitting that some people are simply born gay and are entitled to enjoy gay sex with God’s approval.

We can’t rewrite the Bible, but we must offer our society more than pious condemnations of homosexuality. Only the grace of Jesus can reveal to people the need for purity—and give them the power to break from sin’s grip. Although Ted Haggard fell from that grace, he has placed his life in the hands of the One who can repair his brokenness. Hopefully his eventual testimony of restoration will help many others do the same.

J. Lee Grady is the editor of Charisma and an award-winning journalist.

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Reprinted with permission from Charisma Online. Copyright Strang Communications Co., USA. All rights reserved.

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