In the midst of all this mess about Haggard and Mike Jones, I’ve been trying to find one person talking about the real social issue under the microscope here. There are already over 2,200 articles linked on Google news (and certainly more to come), and yet no one seems to be saying what keeps coming up in my mind and heart about the unthinkable reality we’re all trying to understand (though David Kuo had some good early perspective here).
This isn’t a political blog and I don’t intend to make it one tonight. There’s so much more to this story than a marriage amendment or a fall from grace. Yes, pride comes before a fall, but who among us hasn’t been guilty of that? We don’t have to understand the how and why and take in every last detail in order to understand that the real issue here is what happens to our cultural perspectives and expectations about our Christian leaders (again). How will our view of sin and church leaders and the myriad related concepts be affected by this?
Perspective: this is not the worst thing to ever happen. I drive by New Life church every day on my way to work. I pass Ted Haggard’s books on the bookshelves in the lobby, and I gaze at the big, blue-domed building from the window in the conference room during our weekly staff meetings every Tuesday. Some of us attend services at New Life on Sundays. The church will go on.
Expectation: No one expected this. Security is something none of us can take for granted. When I spoke with Ted last, he was telling me about his position on Jesus Camp, the documentary featuring Becky Fischer, whose camp was recently closed after a cowardly act of vandalism. He asked if I’d seen his statement on the news sites yet. And ironically, he was encouraged that I had, that it had gotten picked up and run so quickly. Now those sites are printing a different kind of news as it happens. And life will go on.
None of us is immune to the kind of pressures Ted faced. And no one gets to escape being the recipient of others’ perspectives and expectations. So none of us is immune to the double standards and hypocrisy that claims certain people and certain sins are more terrible than others. And so none of us can easily escape the unwritten standards and rules that restrict our perspectives when we face such difficult situations as this. I think some of this understanding was at work in my former boss, James Dobson’s statement on the issue, expressing his solidarity with his friend, and believing the best about him despite appearances.
We do feel these things going on around us, but we rarely recognize them or stop to think about the consequences, the fallout of our own sin of complicity. When scandal and disgrace take place, we are as bad as the one on the block, judging, casting shame, making ourselves complicit with it. We are scandalized, disgraced as well. It is our own shame we share in, our own embarrassment and scandalous humanity.
We are all guilty with the guilty.
I stand with Ted Haggard, guilty of sin as deplorable as his. Mine is no less significant, though no one is likely to be convinced. I know I am a sinner. None of us gets to shake our heads and say, oh, what a shame on him. It is my sin that’s on my mind. And yet, I hurt for the public attention his is being paid, and will continue to be paid, as though there’s some backward public cleansing in so much horror and moribund curiosity at seeing this symbolic figurehead taken down. Why should his sin be worse because he’s a public figure? Our double standard is the real scandal.
Yes, he is responsible for more than most, and he is a bigger man with more on his shoulders. And yet, whose life doesn’t touch others? Ripples or tidal waves, the splash of our sin affects more than we know, in ways we can’t even imagine. Let’s consider the lesson here and not be stupid. Don’t condemn Ted. Consider yourself. Get down off your high horse and turn that finger around. It’s us he’s representing. You may not have a church or an association behind you, placing all their hopes and dreams on you, but thank God for it. You still have a chance to make a change, if need be. Recommit to the right course, despite your particular perspective or expectations. Do what matters to make sure you’re in the right place when you venture to speak. And if you’re hoping to be called upon to share your message, start by admitting your inadequacy.
Jesus gave us the blueprint: get right first if you want to lead. Surround yourself with support. Apply checks and balances. Resist the acclaim and seek wise counsel. Pray and practice humility. Make your heart a place of true love for others by recognizing God’s love for you. You can’t achieve the goal otherwise. Be forgiving and don’t be out for your own interests.
I believe this is the first task of every serious writer. Can there be any more important preparation than ensuring our authenticity? Being real is the only way to write truly good work. Gather with those few friends you can really trust, those who believe the importance of your work, and confide in them. Trust them and seek the truth.
Learn the lesson here: good books are the result of more than just good minds. Don’t neglect your heart and spirit in the process. It takes courage to live in the path of others’ attention. You must give up trying to look the part. Get right first or give up trying.