I was intrigued by a friend’s Facebook recommendation so late last night found myself on a Documentary website watching a very personal biography on Ted Haggard, disgraced evangelical super pastor. Twenty minutes into the documentary I realized I was feeling sorry for the guy. Let me explain.
I have very little pity for self-made rich hypocrites. Like most of you I get a sick delight when I hear that Donald Trump or Conrad Black has gotten themselves into something dicey. I love listening to religious bigots like Mark Driscoll make an ass of themselves. So why do I feel sorry for Mr. Clean, Ted Haggard?
Haggard didn’t even say he was “100% heterosexual” but was held accountable for it anyway. He couldn’t find a regular job after he got canned and when he did start selling insurance door-to-door he still could not escape his notoriety. As part of his separation package he wasn’t even allowed to live in Colorado in the family home for over a year and a half. Christians lined up to lambast him. He had no savings and was actually becoming poor. Watching this man have the pride kicked out of him was actually sad to watch. Worse still was the complete and utter free fall his life spun into.
It’s no wonder he started another small church. He only has one skill set and not many people want to hire someone with a religious degree and nothing else on the resume except “mega church superstar”. Even Ted Haggard has to eat.
Don’t misunderstand me, Ted was responsible to live a life in keeping with his elevated viewpoints and standing. He was, after all, the mouthpiece of evangelicalism for many and had the ear of the president. He hid his lifestyle choice and paid the price. The question we need to ask is, however, why did he have to hide? I fully understand that he could not “come out” to his congregation without staggering financial and spiritual ramifications. I get that. What is disturbing is that Haggard had NO ONE he could be honest with, no one he could tell without being prematurely outed and shamed. There was no mechanism in place for him to be honest without some dire consequence. I love what someone has written under the Youtube of “The Trials Of Ted Haggard” –
The message of the documentary is also a concise indictment of the distinct lack of care for the “unrighteous” demonstrated by Ted’s brand of Christianity and should be broadcast in fundamentalist evangelical churches as a moral lesson their bible apparently fails to teach them.
The point I guess is not necessarily the failure of fundamentalist Christians to walk their walk…it is that the walk itself is fundamentally flawed – the literal acceptance of implausible and unnatural moral standards fill otherwise rational minds with a twisted legacy of ancient prejudice and conceit, the only consolation being the relativists dream of escaping such an “objective morality” via grace. The situation is ludicrous. Of course you require grace to be saved ( from something??) because if the standards you set for yourself were not broken everyone would be absolutely miserable, which also explains why they are so frequently broken.
To not put too fine a point on it the problem with Ted Haggard is not simply Ted Haggard. The system propagates the notions that pastors cannot, must not, be honest about their own fallibility. I have known hundreds of pastors and I can tell you straight up, they are a fallible lot. The pressure to be “everything to everyone” is overpowering and it is no wonder than that so many clergy have “secret sins” that they are afraid to be honest with anyone about.
I spent some time, recently, talking to a man who had been a volunteer youth pastor in a church and went on to be convicted of child molestation. We talked about his journey and it became immediately evident that this person felt that there was no one, not even me, that he could talk to about his heinous problem. He was so incredibly shamed by his own religious rigidity that he could not even admit to himself, let alone others, that he liked young males. There was no mechanism in place to help him battle his urges or make good decisions. His shame and his guilt, combined with his aberrant behaviour actually served to prolong his crimes. I spoke to one associate minister who told me that after telling his senior pastor he was struggling with his sexuality (and hadn’t done anything “wrong”) he was told to get out of the office while that senior pastor called the board to tell them. The associate was soon unemployed.
It’s just another job. Expecting your clergy to be any better than you is unrealistic and profoundly erroneous. The real tragedy with the Ted Haggard story, the Jimmy Swaggart story, Jim Bakker, etc is that we are still surprised at all. Throw millions of dollars at a guy who has little accountability and buckets of power and influence and then freak out when he makes poor decisions. It’s akin to being surprised with Justin Bieber does something stupid. He’s a dumb kid with millions of dollars and cars of “yes” men and women. Why are we shocked?
The only difference between Haggard and so many others is that he got caught.
Who can clergy be honest with? They have copious evidence to support the assumption that their parishioners believe they are more understanding than they in fact appear to be.
Leadership is lonely. Trying to live up to impossible standards while trying to make a difference must be tough. Doing all that with a good sense of self-esteem and balance seems almost impossible. As I have often heard, “it’s the easiest job in the world that will totally break your heart.”
Have fun with that.