Newsweek is mistaken.
Anyone who actually reads the article will realize that Christianity offers the only hope for any individual, like Pastor Haggard (and every human being), who struggles with inner demons. Haggard, who lost his leadership positions but not his faith in Christ, said this about his struggles with sexual sins.
"I no longer struggle with homosexual compulsions. I still have thoughts from time to time, but they're not powerful thoughts. I still have temptations from time to time, but they're not powerful temptations. They're not compelling."
The honesty of Haggard is refreshing. He knows he is a sinner. He knows he struggles. He understands the damage of acting out on his temptations and he knows that Christ has died to forgive Him of his sins. In other words, Pastor Haggard is living out the gospel.
Let's compare his former life as a famous pastor and his current life as a life insurance salesman.
During Pastor Haggard's pastoral leadership at New Covenant, Pastor Haggard pretended to not struggle inwardly, and his people followed him. By all accounts, Pastor Haggard's ministry was successful. Many came to faith in Christ. Many joined the church. The Pastor had his picture taken with Presidents. Yet, it was while pastoring the church, Pastor Haggard was meeting regularly with a gay prostitute.
Now, Pastor Haggard is an insurance salesman. He is honest about his inner struggles. He still believes the gospel. He still believes homosexuality is a sin. He is honest and transparent, and he is no longer acting out on his personal temptations. He has no church to lead. He has no requests for pictures with Presidents. Yet, Ted Haggard is now probably at a better state personally, more capable of true discipleship, and arguably more able to lead now than he was when he was labeled a "succesful pastor."
We Christians should take an honest look at what it is we think qualifies a person to lead. I sometimes wonder if one of the problems of modern Christianity is that we have created such a false sense of super-spirituality that we succomb to a certain mode of pretending that we never struggle. Christians, especially we who lead, sometimes try to act as if we are perfect. We have pastors who bully those who question them, denominational leaders who call those who oppose their decisions "liberals" and other actions that lead me to believe we have a God-complex among some of our leaders. This false sense of moral invincibility has led to a climate where transparency, honesty, and personal integrity are no longer a part of our corporate faith. Image is more important than integrity. Public perception about our perfection is sought more than presenting the power of the gospel to transform sinners. While the Apostle Paul called himself the "Chief of Sinners," we Christian leaders act as if we don't even belong on the reservation set aside for sinners.
Ted Haggard had this to say about his time as pastor:
I hadn't lied about anything except to keep quiet about what was going on inside me." His lies, which were simply statements that caused his congregation to believe he had no inner demons, eventually led him to secretly act out on his temptations. Had people known of his struggles, they could have held him accountable. Had people had the sense that their leader was fallible, they might have never given him such unbridled freedom and authority.
The problem with organized Christianity is not the gospel. The probem with organized Christianity is that too many Christians have forgotten that leaders are fallible.
Haggard's wife has stood by him. Ironically but not surprisingly, she says their marriage is now better. "As you might imagine, with greater openness the intimacy is better," says Gayle, who says she stayed with Ted for two reasons. "No. 1, he's worth it, and our children are worth it."
Haggard still opposes gay marriage, telling filmaker Alexandra Pelosi that "God's best plan for human beings is for man and woman to unite together," and he believes that homosexuality is a learned behavior "like alcoholism." Pelosi is producing a movie for HBO which will profile Haggard, and one would expect that Pelosi, the daughter of liberal Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, will use the film to denigrate Christianity.
Yet, in my mind,the true gospel is only strengthened when Christian leaders lose their public sense of absolute authority and spiritual perfection. Anybody who presumes to talk on behalf of God should remember that the treasure we possess (the gospel) is carried in fragile, clay jars.
One of these days we Southern Baptist leaders and pastors will learn to stop pretending that we are above the inner struggles experienced by sinners. The lust for power and absolute authority, the lust for fleshly gratification and paralyzing materialism, and the lust for personal recognition and praise are all inner demons that every SBC pastor and leader faces. The only way to prevent leaders from acting out on such temptations is to realize that these sins are common to fallen man, to never bestow absolute authority or unbridled freedom on any man, and to resist the idea that any Christian leader is beyond being questioned.
The SBC church, institution or agency that believes the "leader" is beyond simple accountablity will find that leader has the capability to ruin the organization. When and if that happens, the fault will reside not only with the leader, but those laymen who were unable to see that a lack of transparency is the first indication that something is wrong.
In His Grace,