Going To Hell with Ted Haggard
I didn't plan to care about Ted Haggard. After all, I have access to Google and a Bible. I heard about what he did and knew it was wrong. I saw the clips from the news and the HBO documentary about his life after his fall. I honestly felt bad for him but figured it was his own undoing. When the topic came up with others I know in ministry, we would feign sadness, but inside we couldn't care less. One close friend said he would understand it more if Ted had just sinned with a woman. I agreed with him at the time. It's amazing how much more mercy I give to people who struggle with sins I understand. The further their sin is from my own personal struggles, the more judgmental and callous I become. I'm not proud of that. It's just where I was at that time in my walk. But that all changed in one short afternoon.
Eating our own
A while back I was having a business lunch at a sports bar in the Denver area with a close atheist friend. He's a great guy and a very deep thinker. During lunch, he pointed at the large TV screen on the wall. It was set to a channel recapping Ted's fall. He pointed his finger at the HD and said, "That is the reason I will not become a Christian. Many of the things you say make sense, Mike, but that's what keeps me away."
It was well after the story had died down, so I had to study the screen to see what my friend was talking about. I assumed he was referring to Ted's hypocrisy. "Hey man, not all of us do things like that," I responded. He laughed and said, "Michael, you just proved my point. See, that guy said sorry a long time ago. Even his wife and kids stayed and forgave him, but all you Christians still seem to hate him. You guys can't forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he will take me as I am. You say he forgives all my failures and will restore my hope, and as long as I stay outside the church, you say God wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him." Then he uttered words that left me reeling: "You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will."
Change of heart
He was running late for a meeting and had to take off. I, however, could barely move. I studied the TV and read the caption as a well-known religious leader kept shoveling dirt on a man who had admitted he was unclean. And at that moment, my heart started to change. I began to distance myself from my previously harsh statements and tried to understand what Ted and his family must have been through. When I brought up the topic to other men and women I love and respect, the very mention of Haggard's name made our conversations toxic. Their reactions were visceral.
Please understand, this isn't just my experience. Just Google his name and read what is said about him in Christian circles. Most Christians would say God can forgive him, but almost universally people agree that God will never use him again. When I pressed the question, "Why can't God still use Ted?" I was dismissed as foolish or silly. Most of these people got mad and demanded I drop the subject. Perhaps they saw something I was missing, but this response seemed strange. After all, I reasoned, Jesus restored Peter after he denied Christ. That's a pretty big deal. And what about the Scripture that teaches us that the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable? So I felt I needed to meet Ted for myself. So I had my assistant track him down for a lunch appointment. I live outside Denver and he was living in Colorado Springs, a little over an hour away. Perfect!
We exchanged a few emails and agreed on a date and a restaurant. I took two men from my staff, and we met him for lunch. All the way there, I quietly played out in my head how he would act. Would he be reserved? Sad? Angry or distant?
Surprised by friendship
In less than five minutes of talking with Ted, I realized a horrible truth—I liked him. He was brutally honest about his failures. He was excited that the only people who would talk to him now were the truly broken and hurt. During our conversation a lady approached him. He instantly went into "pastor mode" and cared for her. Deep inside God was teaching me that true salvation is an ongoing process. We spent two hours together and decided to stay in touch. I began to call and ask him church-related questions. He possesses a wealth of wisdom. He even has a growing church in the very city that knows him for his biggest failures. I thought I had it tough as a church planter! But God is causing his church to really grow. I met his wonderful wife, Gayle. She is a terrific teacher of grace and one of my heroes. When I grow up, I want to be Gayle Haggard. And so I became close friends with Ted Haggard.
But then the funniest thing started happening to me. Some Christians I hung out with told me they would distance themselves from me if I continued reaching out to Ted. Several people in my church said they would leave. Really? Does he have leprosy? Will he infect me? We are friends. We aren't dating! But in the end, I was told that my voice as a pastor and author would be tarnished if I continued to spend time with him. I found this sickening. Not just because people can be so small, but because I have a firsthand account from Ted and Gayle of how they lost many friends they had known for years. Much of it is pretty coldblooded. Now the "Christian machine" was trying to take away their new friends.
It would do some Christians good to stay home one weekend and watch the entire DVD collection of HBO's Band of Brothers. Marinate in it. Take notes. Write down words like loyalty, friendship, and sacrifice. Understand the phrase: never leave a fallen man behind.
Where's the love?
I had a hard time understanding why we as Christians really needed Ted to crawl on the altar of church discipline and die. We needed a clean break. He needed to do the noble thing and walk away from the church. He needed to protect our image. When Ted crawled off that altar and into the arms of a forgiving God, we chose to kill him with our disdain. I wrestled with my part in this until I got an epiphany. In a quiet time of prayer, Christ revealed to me a brutal truth: it was my fault. We are called to leave the 99 to go after the one. We are supposed to be numbered with the outcasts. After all, we are the ones that believe in resurrection. In many ways I have not been aggressive enough with the application of the gospel. My concept of grace needed to mature, to grow muscles, teeth, and bad breath. It needed to carry a shield, and most of all, it needed to find its voice.
Grace must pick a side in the light of day, not just whisper its opinion in the shadows and dark places where we sign our name Anonymous. When a leader falls and then repents, grace picks a side. Grace is strong. Grace is a shield to those who cannot get off the battlefield. Grace is God's idea. Like a spiritual Switzerland, we stay in our neutral world where we can both forgive and judge but never get our hands dirty caring for the fallen. And when we don't pick a side, the wrong side gets picked for us. Crematoriums are more sanitary than hospitals. Let's change this!
Of course, I understand that if a person doesn't repent there is not a whole lot you can offer. But Ted resigned, confessed, repented, and submitted. He jumped through our many hoops. When will we be cool with him again? When will the church allow God to use him again? It's funny that we believe we get to make that decision.
The Ted Haggard issue reminds me of a scene in Mark Twain's, Huckleberry Finn. Huck is told that if he doesn't turn in his friend, a runaway slave named Jim, he will surely burn in hell. So one day Huck, not wanting to lose his soul to Satan, writes a letter to Jim's owner telling her of Jim's whereabouts. After folding the letter, he starts to think about what his friend has meant to him, how Jim took the night watch so he could sleep, how they laughed and survived together. Jim is his friend and that is worth reconsideration. Huck realizes that it's either Jim's friendship or hell. Then the great Mark Twain writes such wonderful words of resolve. Huck rips the paper and says, "Alright then, I guess I'll go to hell."
What a great lesson. What a great attitude. I think of John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." Maybe it's not just talking about our physical life. Perhaps it's the life we know, the friends we have and lose. Maybe I show love when I lay down the life we have together to confront you on a wrong attitude or action. Maybe we show no greater love than when we are counted with people who others consider tainted. Becoming friends with Ted was a defining moment in my life, ministry, and career. Sure, I lost a few relationships, but I doubt they would have cared for me in my failures. So really, I lost nothing. If being Ted's friend causes some to hate and reject me—alright then, I guess I'll go to hell.
Michael Cheshire is pastor of The Journey Church in Conifer, Colorado and author of How to Knock Over a 7-11 and Other Ministry Training (2012) and Why We Eat Our Own (2013)
by USBritJanuary 24 at 4:22 PM
a stumbling block (to me) is anything or person that could influence us to participate in deliberate sin. You are right we can "love" everyone! I was simply stating "discernment or caution" is required when someone is not willing to give up their sin that we are not drawn into the same. It is wonderful that you can be that light amoungst the darkness. I personally can only do that in limited periods of time, so that I don't fall into judgement of others. God will bless that you are able to do more. :)
Its all very personal, what we need to seperate ourselves from, what would be a stumbling block. Many are called to places full of sin to be a light amidst the darkness.
Respect is good, Love is better. I believe in loving people whether they have sin in their lives or not. Support and encouragement are human needs and should be offered to all not just those who are walking how we think they should.
I have not read all the posts, but we are supposed to have discernment about things, not judgement. It is not our place to judge, but we are to discern whether something is "right" or "wrong" for our own lives, discern whether the people we spend time with are a stumbling block for our own lives. That does not mean that we don't treat everyone with respect, We absolutely DO.... it means that if we have chosen not to drink, we don't hang out at the bar, etc. Just as parents would not cho0se for their child to hang out with drug addicts for fear that they would have a negative influence on that child.
Christians are taught to love the sinner, but not the sin. However we are to surround ourselves with like minded people to encourage and support so we are not tempted to participate in sin. If someone chooses to change their life and give up their sin......we are to embrace that person and support and encourage them.
If you are not a Christian, and don't want to be one....it is hard to understand....I truly understand. I wasn't a Christian until I was 48 years old
January 24 at 6:46 PM
Gag me. That guy has always been a puke, imo.
Who? The author or Ted Haggard?
Do you think Mr Haggard deserves forgiveness?
Haggard is a dweeb. Ya, he deserves forgiveness---we all do...but his sins are between him and God...and his wife.
by FromAtoZJanuary 24 at 8:55 PM
I am sorry to hear all that but I know it happens. I had a Priest tell me I couldn't receive communion for certain reasons so I stayed away from the church for many years. I was much younger.
When things started to get to me, I started back to Church realized what I had missed by being away. When I came back to the Church I talked about earlier, I was mature enough to know all Catholic Churches wern't like that and found another Church. I am not saying that in a negative way towards you, just telling what happened to me.
I guess I have a hard time understanding this. I went to a Church for years where the people were unkind.When I finally walked away I found another Catholic Church. There are so many of them out there that are doing what they are supposed to do.
This brings up a good point. Of course, many will fail to see it, read it, hear it or feel it.
The point of this article is one of the reasons I walked away from the Catholic church. I have never walked away from God, He is not nearly as judgemental as some of His more conservative followers.
This was many years ago. I attended the same Catholic Church for years, grew up there. I had my first daughter out of wedlock and her father was divorced. Huge shame. You deny my child, you deny me.
For years, while attending Church, I always had the questions no one wanted to answer or even address. Even way back in the 2nd grade. How dare I question the Church and what I was being taught. There was one Father whom I adored. He would sit and talk with me, not to me. I will always remember him and take his words to heart. Then he passed away from an accident. It was quite sad.
I had been wrestling with myself and the Catholic faith. I did not dare tell my mother, I would have embarrassed her. So instead, when I was 26, with a child, with a man who was divorced and the Church made it clear I was no longer welcome, she was indeed embarrassed and acted much like the Church did. That was her cross to bear. Not mine.
That was when I knew I had to leave. When you are told to leave, told your child is unworthy.........and had your own doubts about certain aspects of the particular faith, for years...........there was no doubt that the Catholic Church and I were not on the same page.
There probably are other Catholic Churches that would have welcomed my child, and myself, but the bottom line was that I did not believe all of what they were telling me. I was raised with it, with the Church. I had had enough. I simply do not believe in most of what they sell. That simple. Nor can I, in good conscience, follow much of what they preach.
My relationship with God became even more clear, more beautiful and my walk, my journey, more fulfilled once I was following my own heart and mind and not the heart and mind of the Church.
Many people leave, whether it be the Catholic Church, or another, and continue on their journey. It has worked out to be one of the best decisions I have made. For me.
No one else has to understand. *shrug*
I understand. I am glad that you found a Church you feel comfortable with and call home.
by CutenessmomJanuary 25 at 9:48 PM
He was a huge Tv personality guy... He gave a huge talk but , did not walk the walk...
I feel like when you our in a leadership role you be held up to a higer standard... So the fall is that much greater... He deserved that fall should be forgiven yes if he is trully sorry...
Then again this is one main reason I will never be a Chrisitan to much hypocrisy for me then, you might say that, of most religions...
It does seem like alot of serious zealoted Chrisitans like said above, our hugely focused on going ot Hell and screaming at people and discrimating and violence...
To me if you want me ot join your religion go and do what oyu say your about!
by cammibearJanuary 26 at 12:27 PMSad, but true. It's said that the Christian Army is the only army that shoots its wounded and takes 3 months off in the summer. *sigh*
by Jack_SquatJanuary 27 at 2:23 PMWhat is the atheist agenda? Lol
I don't even know who this man is. Why do people pay attention to people they dislike and the stupid things they say on the regular basis? Does it fuel and further the liberal or atheist agenda?