I wonder if the body of Christ as a whole will ever learn how to deal with the moral failures of its leaders. The predictable reactions have already begun. First, separation into two camps: Shoot the Wounded and Excuse the Sinner.
The Shoot the Wounded crowd has already begun to get its digs in. There are two motivations: a desire to distance oneself (and one's chosen Christian subsgroup) from the offending party (and his chosen Christian subgroup), and a sense of vindication that it's the other guy's brand of Christianity that got tarred. For example, we have Phil Johnson arguing that
The fashionable brand of NAE/Christianity Today-style "evangelicalism" actually abandoned historic evangelical principles long ago, and hasn't taken a firm stand for biblical and evangelical doctrine for some time. The current scandal is only a symptom of that much deeper problem.And Ingrid Schlueter writes
The sad truth is that evangelicals have asked for this for a long time. Rather than be about the Great Commission left us by Jesus Christ, Christians have sought temporal and political power and influence.So you see, Ted Haggard isn't just Ted Haggard and a moral failure isn't just a moral failure; it's a Symptom of the Sad State of the Apostate Church of Our Day.
The logic that is being attempted here can be expressed syllogistically as follows:
- Ted Haggard has been a representative of the kind of evangelical / charismatic / megachurch / politically-conservative / seeker-sensitive / arminian / market-driven (choose one or more epithets) "Christianity" that I (to put it mildly) disapprove of;
- Ted Haggard is guilty of moral failure and probably of living a double life;
- Therefore, the kind of evangelical / charismatic / megachurch / politically-conservative / seeker-sensitive / arminian / market-driven "Christianity" that I disapprove of has been demonstrated to be morally bankrupt.
I haven't seen much from the Excuse the Sinner crowd yet, but it will happen. We can't possibly imagine the stresses Brother Ted was under; we are all sinners, after all; who among us could cast the first stone; it's our duty to forgive; what would Jesus do? (This last one is taken in the most marshmallowy sense possible.) There is truth in all of these statements, but there is a crucial difference between forgiveness and restoration on one hand, and making excuses and denying responsibility on the other.
At the time of this writing, Haggard claims that he "purchased methamphetamine from a gay escort after contacting him for a massage, but never used the drugs." I'm sorry, but this smacks much too much of admitting only what on has to, based on what the hard evidence has already proven to be true. Who buys meth with no prior history of drug use? And Haggard could have gone to a health club for a massage; why hire an, erm, escort? If Haggard wants any credibility in the future at all, he needs to come clean with what really was going on in his life. Which is not to say that he needs to do that publicly right now; I don't think he needs to talk to the press at all during this time. But if he's going to do so, saying something plausible might be a good way of going about it.
Thank God that those two crowds aren't the only ones out there. I do think that some people are getting it right. Michael Spencer writes,
I’m a preacher and a sinner. I have intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be the person who is preaching against an issue where I am personally failing.... If we aren’t willing to be humiliated to know Christ, we are quite likely not going to know him at all.David Wayne writes,
Christian engagement with the world (whether political, social, evangelisitc or otherwise) is not based on a position of moral authority. It is based on grace.... But let's also be careful that we not assume some moral superiority to, or moral authority 0ver, Ted Haggard.And Ben Witherington makes some very good points on accountability and being real with temptation and sexual issues among pastors.
The truth is, Christian leaders are just people. If they're doing their jobs right, they merely act as signposts, pointing others to Christ. The attempt to make them more than that, to elevate them on a pedestal, to follow them rather than the Lord they serve; or conversely, to make them emblematic of All that is Wrong with the Church Today, is a form of idolatry. And the sin of idolotry is committed, not by the idol, but by the one who worships it.