Friday, November 03, 2006

Looking Haggard, Ted Steps Aside

In a scenario reminiscent of the Jim Bakker scandal decades ago, Ted Haggard, pastor of a 14,000 member Evangelical Church in Colorado Springs and one of the heads of the National Association of Evangelicals who has led the charge in the state by state organizing against gay marriage, has at least for now stepped aside from pastoring his church. Why? Because Mike Jones of Denver says that the 50 year old pastor, married with five children, has been having same sex sexual relations and doing metamphetamines with him for three years! The acting pastor, Ross Parsley told KKTV-TV that Haggard had confessed to him that some of the allegations were true. It remains to be seen which ones.

Here is the link to the story on MSNBC--

Before we ask-- has the world gone mad, it might be good to reflect for a minute on the leadership climate in the rarified air of big time Evangelical mega-churches. of course it will vary from church to church, but there are a few things in common with most of these churches which needs to be rethought:

1) most of these large churches are not part of denominations which have a connectional enough system to hold the individual church leadership accountable through peer leaders in other churches. By this I mean there is little outside accountability. There are no covenant relationships with other church leaders, no covenant relationships with other churches, the leadership structure is entirely controlled INTERNALLY between influential lay persons and the ministers. There is normally an overseeing board of some sort. But how do they work? Are they rubber stamps? Do they contain professional counselors and ministers to whom a minister in crisis could turn? Usually not. And sometimes there is only a once a year "accountability moment". For example there is a large mega-church in California which does accountability this way--- the pastor gives the congregation in an open meeting the chance for an up or down vote on his ministry once a year. So far as I can tell this is not done by secret ballot, just by a public acclamation or vote. What's wrong with this picture? If something objectionable shows up in the ministry plans etc. during the year and the time for the accountability moment is not near, then there is no accountability. It is handled internally.

2) The culture of patriarchal Evangelical leadership involves a lot of power and isolation at the top. Too often it involves a cult of personality kind of scenario, with the "pastor-superstar" model, and the pastor put way up on a pedestal-- from which he is almost bound to fall. The isolation from normal accountability structures and peer correction leads to all sorts of abuses of power. It is quite simply too much power in too few hands. The minister begins to feel he is bullet-proof, can do no wrong. And if there is something not right in his personal relationships with his wife or family, then moral slippage tends to happen in various forms. One of the reasons, though not the only one, for this is that the patriarchal culture of male leadership isolates men from the critique of the opposite sex, and often it is the opposite sex which will first see the early warning signs of sexual trouble. Any sort of local church accountability or pastor-parish relations committee should involve both men and women, and not those hand picked by the pastor. Men watching over men when it comes to sexual matters is too often like the fox watching the hen house.

3) One of the unspoken realities that needs to be dealt with especially in high pressure large churches is male menopause. Yes, you heard me right, male meonpause. Men, beginning in their late 40s and continuing on into there mid to late 50s also go through a change of life. What happens besides the hormonal changes (usually accompanied by chest of drawers disease-- that's when your chest falls down in your drawers) is this. It is a time of life when all the bills come due. What I mean is, if there have been problems and flaws in one's life which have not been dealt with along the way, then they tend to reach a critical mass at this juncture in life when the man's emotional life is going through a change. The results can be catastrophic-- a total melt down of marriage, ministry, and other cherished parts of one's life. Of course it can be said, and is true, that this is not the normal behavior pattern of this person. But that's precisely the point-- who is watching to see subtle changes in behavior patterns, particularly more secretive behavior? Whose checking the minister's emails, voice mails and the like. In Haggard's case it is voice males which did him in. What do we do about this? All ministers should have some accountability, but during the period age 45-55 male ministers especially need those trained to notice the warning signs of changed behavior pattersn and call the person to account.

What happens internally to the menopausal male is that there is a biological clock ticking which sends the subtle message that time is running out on one's sexual life, and "its now or never" if one is going to have some sort of fling or walk on the wild side. This internal prompt leads to immoral behavior. Sometimes, the person is not even aware of what is happening to him until it is too late. Yes, its possible to be oblivious to the subtle and subconscious forces that are driving one's life. This is especially likely to happen to A type personalities who are very goal driven and not introspective, and indeed do not receive critiques or corrections at all well. In other words, it is likely to happen to those with narcissistic personalities which are very self-centered, which at the bottom reflects a very weak ego.

I do not know how much of this applies to Ted Haggard. What I do know is this-- I have seen many good ministries destroyed due to lack of proper accountability and lack of good marital relationships, and lack of spiritual formation of the leader himself. Its time to change the climate and culture of leadership in many parts of the Evangelical world. We could start with Ephesians 5.21-- "let all submit to one another out of reverence for Christ". We could add to this "confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James. 5.16). Notice it does not say confess only to God, nor does it say confess only to the priest or your ministry partner. Open confession within a context of a church accountability group will be the beginning of healing.


Jeffinoh said...

Well... I guess this is an interesting follow-up to the Foley post. You stated that sexual misbehavior will undoubtedly emerge in the non-Catholic Christian world, and of course it has. And in a very big, high-profile, politically-important way. I added some of my own commentary at the Foley post re: sexual misbehavior in Wilmore and how I suspect that connects to holiness culture - so I won't repeat that here.

Interesting thoughts, Ben, and agree with much of what you've written. Very interesting stuff to digest re: 'male menopause' - never really thought about that concept. My own observation, though, is that for many people, sexual misbehavior simply comes to light whenever someone gets caught. That doesn't mean it hasn't been happening all along.

I noticed there was no reference in the post to the fact that Haggard is accused of sexual behavior with another man, not a woman (and only fleeting reference to the amazing political ramificationsm, given the anti-gay-marriage ammendment vote in CO next Tues.) Is Haggard's alleged same-sex activity relevant here? Or is it enough to speak about the lack of accountability, the 'star' status of mega-ministry, and male menopause? As I see, it, if the accusations are true, Ted Haggard is very evidently a gay man. And a gay man should not be married to a woman, let alone pretending to be straight while crusading against gay marriage. That is the primary issue here, in my opinion. Denying one's sexual orientation - for whatever reason - has led to disastrous consequences for many men and women. And if the allegations against Haggard are true, I'm guessing this is one more example. Not to excuse Haggard - but to express hope that he will find peace by being honest with both himself and the public.

David said...


Thank you for your thoughtful post. A few thoughts:

1. Sexual misconduct among pastors in the 45-55 age group is much higher than I would have ever guessed when I was in my 20s or 30s. This is the sort of problem that we naturally want to keep in the closet. Therefore, we haven't actually addressed the challenges you mentioned other than to say "don't do it!". To say the least, this has not been effective.

2. The challenge of providing accountability in very large churches is not limited to non-denominational congregations. While, in theory, denominational structures (I'm a Presbyterian) provide more accountability - pastors of really large churches tend to be treated like stars that can't be touched. This may be related to the fact that many people associated with such star pastors perhaps believe that their livlihoods are dependent upon the charismatic personality of the pastor (e.g. The Radio and T.V. "ministries" will collapse if the pastor has to step down. Also, it is easy for Elders to become concerned that getting rid of the Senior Pastor will make it difficult to pay the multi-million dollar mortgage on the stadium sized church building. This lends itself to corporate crisis-managment rather than the godly leadership of the local Church).

3. Even in small churches, pastors can be remarkably isolated. I'm astonished at how many pastors (and pastor's wives!) have told me that they can't have any friends in the congregation because that would cause trouble. A denial of such friendships will naturally leave pastors craving intimacy and particularly vulnerable to sin.

4. While homosexual scandal makes headlines, the vast majority of sexual misconduct among pastors is heterosexual. We should remember how attractive pastors can appear to church members, and others, who are struggling with loneliness (as my friend Lig Duncan used to say: "this is only because other people mostly see us well groomed and talking about characteristics of godliness that we wish we all had more of"). Pastors, and their churches, should be more upfront about the limits of personal private contact that pastors have with members of the opposite sex. Often the best way to resist temptation is to not be there.

In Christ,


Jim said...

I'm a Pastor and my rule is quite simple- it's never ok to be alone with anyone except my family. Even in counseling my rule is strictly adhered to. If someone needs to talk to me, either someone they choose can be there or my wife will be there. Period.

High profile pastor's are so prone to the corruption of popularity that it's no surprise that they fall to temptation. They get the god complex and believe they are above basic morality.

But the real tragedy here isn't that another evangelical has shown himself to be a hypocrite. The problem is that once again, Christ's name is besmirched by the actions of a self centered disciple.

Alison said...

Haggard's accuser failed a lie detector test this morning. I don't know what that means in light of Haggard already confessing to something.

K.W. Leslie said...

I'm still to reserve my opinion about Haggard until the details are in. Pastors are accused of sin all the time; sometimes it's true, sometimes just rumor.

Thing is, it doesn't matter if there's accountability systems in place or not. My last church had accountability systems in place, and it still didn't stop the senior pastor from having sex with an emotionally disturbed woman he was counseling; nor did it stop our treasurer from embezzling thousands of dollars. It meant that they lied to the deacons, the congregation, and the district. Plus the accountability apparently didn't extend to the public; when the newspapers contacted, their comment was, "This is an internal matter. Please don't investigate."

Ultimately the problem is that we assume that clergy is temptation-proof. If our Lord was tempted, and if Scripture depicts priests (like Eli's sons), prophets (like Balaam and Jonah), and apostles (like Peter and the disciples) caught sinning, what hope do any of us have? We're all humans tainted by sin. We should expect that our leaders are sinners. What's more, as leaders, we should expect that they'll be tempted more often than the average person, and accordingly be twice as forgiving when they stumble.

But we aren't, so they aren't forthcoming, hide their sins, and fall big when they're caught. They're in the perfect hiding places, too. Nobody ever suspects the person that comes out so forcefully against the very sins they're practicing. Nobody except Jesus, who uses the word "hypocrite" so often you'd think there were hypocrites everywhere. And there are.

Andrew C. Thompson said...

Whenever a former colleague of mine used to hear some incredible church-related scandal, he would always say, "You just can't write this stuff." In a way, that's true. Who would ever - in a million years - think that something like this would come out about a pastor who is essentially one of the 2 or 3 most prominent evangelical voices in the country.

In that sense, I think this is bigger than Jim Bakker back in the '80s. Ted Haggard supposedly talks with folks in the White House on a weekly basis, for Pete's sake. Both for his religious views and his political stances (particularly regarding same sex relationships), this type of scandal engulfing the president of the NAE is almost unbelievable. You just can't write this stuff.

Regarding Dr. Witherington's comments about mega-churches, I think this issue raises the question of 'how big is too big' in relation to local congregations. There are all kinds of reasons that churches the size of small towns might not be a good idea, but the alleged scandal with Ted Haggard certainly highlights a pastoral one. Preachers are called to be servant leaders, and it is hard to keep that mindset when you are being treated like a rock star. Accountability and moral responsibility are often the casualties of the ecclesial cult of personality.

All that said, I hope all parties will reserve judgment until the truth of this matter comes to light. That is perhaps especially important in light of Alison's comment that the accuser failed a polygraph. It is entirely possible that this is a politically-motivated attack aimed at Haggard's support for the proposed Colorado amendment on same sex marriage. Then again, it's entirely possible that it is all true.

Jim Martin said...

Ben--the whole thing is very sad.

I agree very strongly with what you have said. I appreciate you addressing this. Perhaps this incident will serve as the beginning of a conversation about ministers, integrity, etc.

Bill Barnwell said...

Here's the latest bizarre twist:

But if you watch Haggard's initial 15 minute interview denial he denied ever meeting Jones and acted as if he had never heard of him.

Rainsborough said...

No BS about the MSM here--no deflecting of blame onto the gentiles, nor any kicking a man when's he's down--and no pretending an eminent evangelical hasn't betrayed his flock.

But instead an analysis instant in both senses--prompt and very much to the point. And very constructive, going to the roots of the problem in a way that shows how it can be effectively ameliorated.

At a hard time like this good men like Dr. Witherington are most needed. We're all, insiders and outsiders, fortunate to have him.

And we're fortunate also to others who are no less clearsighted and constructive, like jeffinoh, david, and bill barnwell.

How disturbing that a pastor must fear to be alone with anyone but his family! Surely that isolation is a problem that needs to be addressed.

It's maybe helpful to recall that these sorts of problems are nothing new. The Didache advises how to deal with financial shysters, and Paul's Corinth probably had its supply of Haggard types.

Finally, I hope everyone will visit the fairly recent Haggard tape up at beliefnet, where he holds himself up as an ideal family man and tells others how easy it is to conform to his high standards. And as you watch the man, think of how he might be heard by a conscientious Christian woman struggling in an abusive relationship. Smarmy is way too kind a word for Haggard, and hypocrisy by no means his only sin.

Mark said...

Ben: I appreciate your thoughts and careful discourse. Walking in the rain tonight, listening to a message by A. Begg and thinking on this revelation, I had this thought: the current Christian fundamentalist movement in America today, the part that is inextricably embedded in Republican power politics, represents the Pharisees of our day. They are more concerned with power and influence in this world than reaching out to the lost with the message of Christ. That's the short version of my thought. Thank you.

Shea said...

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. -Gal 6.1

I am glad to see the gentleness and carefulness in handling this situation. Lets continue to talk about Haggard as a brother in Christ. Even though I don't agree with much that he says or teaches we must remember that before we make much of the sin in others that we must see the sin within ourselves first.

usarkurt said...

i very much appreciate your insightful comments!
to vociferously oppose gay marriage and, supposedly, engage in such contacts, well.
i`m not quite sure,completely lacking any better ones, whether psychological explanations will do.
kurt usar,md

Steve Bedard said...

We all hope that Ted will be restored, whatever the full extent of his transgression. My question is: how much more difficult will it be for him to regain respect because of the homosexual nature of the sin? We have as our official belief that all sin is sin (sexual or nonsexual, homosexual or heterosexual) and that, as Jesus taught, even the looking in lust is adultery. But there seems to be an unwritten rule even among conservative Christians that "boys will be boys" and these things happen and can be forgiven. Will it be so with Ted. I do not think that this about the hypocrisy of samesex marriage beliefs. I am sure that he sincerely wants traditional marriage even if he has been tempted in this way. My question is: does the church have different standards for different sins?

Jeffinoh said...

Good question, Steve. My guess is that the church WILL be harder on Ted because of the homosexual nature of his sin.

I disagree, though, about what is most troublesome in this matter. While there is an important dimension of personal morality involved (esp. in regard to his family and church relationships), the justice issue is very significant. Straight people in traditional churches look at a situation like this and tend to think it's about a basically heterosexual person with a 'homosexual problem.' I most often disagree with that perspective. Strongly. How many hetero guys do you know who seek out male prostitutes when stressed or lacking accountability? If Ted is like most guys who find themselves in this situation, he is a gay man who has been hiding/pretending all his life. It's a sad and common situation. To crusade against same-sex marriage, though, while regularly seeking out male sexual contacts, is the absolute height of injustice and represents the worst of hypocrisy. It's no surprise both the Christian and non-Christian gay populations on the web are beside themselves over this. It's bad enough when people use religious reasons to deny civil rights to others. Doing so while enjoying the 'benefits' of same-sex activity in secret is hypocrisy of biblical proportions (ref. to Jesus' condemnations of hypocrisy.) While Ted might actually "want traditional marriage though tempted in this way', there's something very insidious about a system that condemns committed monogomous relationships and is willing to basically say "oh well, we're all sinners" in response to promiscuity and infidelity.

All of these opinions assume Ted has actually done what Mike Jones alleges. I'm waiting for more info before believing Ted is guilty of these injustices and moral failings.

KentF said...

Thank you Ben for this male menopause information. As bizarre as this man's actions have been, I think most of us men in the same age range can relate at least a little. I have a freshman daughter in a private university and a soon-to-be 16 year old daughter. It does seem like a lot of "stuff" will come crashing in, down and around over the next 3-6 years that I can admittedly say I'm not prepared for. Throw in a strong amount of exhaustion and the other issues you mentioned and, well....that God for His grace, mercy and patience - and Hope!

KentF said...

sorry - my post should say "thank" God, not "that" God - although I was talking about "that" God up there.

phred said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric said...


It is rather odd, in my opinion, that your strongest opposition here is to Pastor Haggard's objection to Homo-Sexual Marriage. Listening to your testimony, one would be lead to believe that all homosexually attracted people are in favor of Same-Sex marriage.

I have had very close friends who have same-sex attractions, yet are emphatically against Same-Sex marriage. It is in fact only a recent phenomenon, of a politically charged nature, that has equated Same-Sex Marriage to a Justice/Equal rights status. Your comment paints with a brush too broad, and seems to a casual observer as politically motivated and disengenuous.

Mr. Haggard, deserves our prayers and support. Whatever his sins, we must abstain from persecuting him and committing additional sins of our own. We haven't heard the whole story, and as outsiders we probably will not and have no right to know all of the details.

Ben has offered a thoughtful and genuinely Christian commentary. Which although I don't completely agree, is a strong starting point to evaluate the weaknesses of church and family life inside the church body.

Rainsborough said...

Doubtless it's true that in middle age men often behave with extraordinarily foolishnesss. Certainly Haggard has.

But why did Haggard in particular behave with such recklessness? I know nothing of his inner life, just the external facts. He's the father of five children, says he spends a lot of happy time with them, and is a highly successful pastor. And now we know (I think with reasonable certainty) that Haggard strongly desires sex with men--is gay.

My guess is that about the same time Haggard discovered he had a calling to and gift for the ministry, he also had indications that he was attracted to men. But he took it that those were indications of weaknesses and sinful inclinations that could and should be overcome.

Only decades later (or possibly earlier) did he find out--to his dismay and chagrin, one imagines--that they couldn't be.

Scripture, as most Christians, including Haggard, read it tells us that Haggard's homosexual desires were wrong, and that his only proper course of action would have been either to resist them (as he presumably did try to do) or to lead a celibate life (but if he turned to a male prostitute in the circumstances he did, in some sense he must not have been capable of doing that).

Haggard may not be alone in underestimating the power of these desires and basing his thinking on assumptions that have proven to be wishful, false, and disastrous.

phred said...

I love your blog. Thanks.

I'd encourage you to listen to a radio interview done with Tony Campolo by a station in Denver, KOA 850. Lois Melkonian does a great job interviewing him. He gives us good parameters in which to process this mess. and click on "listen" and then on "audio clips" and then scroll to "The Ride Home" and you'll see the Tony Campolo interview. It's worth the time and effort to hear Campolo.

José Solano said...

It's interesting that everyone has focused on Haggard's possible sexual sins but ignored his possible drug problems. People consuming methamphetamine do all sorts of horrendous things. Drug addicts are notorious liars and deceivers. If they are intelligent they can be particularly notorious. They can sink to all levels of depravity in their quest for drugs and in the relationships that they keep in drug consuming circles. When they are celebrities they are also vulnerable to many forms of blackmail.

We may never know the real details of what his activities have been. It's enough to know that if he has confessed to either conduct, consuming methamphetamine or sexual sins, he is ruined as a pastor. He may change, and I pray he does if the allegations are true, but his pastoring days are over.

We must, nevertheless, objectively differentiate between the truth of his message and his sinful personal conduct.

Jim said...

Oh it's not fear that dictates that Pastor's be careful not to be alone with some folk- it's common sense and planning. Accusations true and false can flow from disgruntled and angry church folk who have heard their pet sin denounced in a sermon. It's best not to give satan an opportunity than it is to do so.

Ben Witherington said...

Well this has turned into quite the conversation. In the meantime, according to Ted's fellow minister, he has confessed to: 1) purchasing crystal meth; 2) knowing the man, a male escort, whom he first denied knowing; and 3) getting a massage from this man. All of this is huge red flag territory and should not lightly be dismissed. This man needs some serious counseling, and no ministeral functions for a good while, at a minimum.

Secondly, it is true that the male escort has now failed a lie detector test, and one has to question his timing for this revelation, of course.

More in a bit while I digest the interview on MSNBC.


Rainsborough said...

After a visit to Wikepedia's "crystal meth... and sex" I'm less taken by jose solano's point than I initally was. It seems that in the gay community sex and crystal meth run together (even if meth's reputation for added thrills may not be deserved).

Remember that the administrator of the lie detector test--whose reliability is disputed--himself said that it might well be invalid. On the evidence thus far, as between the testimony of Haggard and Jones, shouldn't we presume that the former has more of a motive to dissemble than the latter?

Anyway, Haggard's church has now found the evidence justifies dispensing with his services.

Sue said...

Ben, you would like "accountability" to do exactly what the world does: add yet another procedure, another law, another rule that sits on people to keep them in line. As several have already noted, all one has to do to circumvent such a system is lie. Lying is done in megachurches and lying is done in small, backwoods churches. There is nothing superior about ecclesiastical structure. Such a structure makes it possible to hide the grossest of sins. The biggest accountability factor in Christianity should be the Spirit-filled conscience. That so many (whether in power or not) do not have one will not be magically put in place by a formal review board or bigger and better rules.

I have this argument with a Nazarene pastor friend who thinks a denominational structure is "safer" and "better" than a nondenominational one. I agree with her that there are problems in the nondenom church, notably, as others have pointed out, that the entire church sits on the personality of the pastor. But if that pastor is listening to the Spirit and is a humble and trustworthy person, then you are safe. If he is not, you are at the mercy of his conduct and self-justifications. And the same is true of a pastor in a denomination. This pastor friend of mine was horribly mistreated by an unscrupulous and treacherous pastor who runs his congregation like he is a police captain. He has yet to be seriously counseled, reprimanded, or hauled to accountability by the very sweet but ineffectual district superintendent who hates conflict and so avoids it. In the end, it's all about dealing with the deeply flawed characters of men and women. We keep creating new denominations to address just this type of thing. Has it really worked yet? And anyway, didn't the board that Haggard put together act quickly and with efficiency to remove him and put out a statement to that effect? They haven't played lightly with the allegations. It will be interesting to see if Ted pulls a Charles Stanley and asserts the right to rewrite the church bylaws so he can reinstate himself. (Did the denomination to which Stanley belongs stop him from doing that?)

In the end, we have to search out men and women of character and support them, and walk away from those who don't have it. I think it's been that way since Christ went up in a cloud. No, wait--even before. "Do as they say but not as they do," he said. Amen.

Jeffinoh said...

Eric - in response to your comments - No, of course not all same-sex-attracted people are in favor of same-sex marriage. Those who acknowledge same-sex attractions but are uncomfortable with themselves to to point where they submit to 'ex-gay' therapies or other means of denying their orientation are not likely to support same-sex marriage. All 'out' gay men and women I know personally are supportive of equal marriage rights for all, even if they would not choose marriage for themselves.

Eric said...

Those who acknowledge same-sex attractions but are uncomfortable with themselves to to point where they submit to 'ex-gay' therapies or other means of denying their orientation are not likely to support same-sex marriage.

Would you therefore state that the reverse is true? That everyone self identified as having same-sex attractions, yet unsupportive of same-sex marriage, is a denier of their oreintations, and will be suspect to submit to "ex-gay" therapies? I don't want to cut the hair too short, but this can't possibly be true.

Jeffinoh said...

No, of course there are always exceptions, Eric. I know of a few folks attracted to the same gender who do not support same-sex marriage. They do so for religious reasons, based on their understanding of Scripture. They openly acknowledge their orientation ('gay') and have discovered the futility and bad science of ex-gay therapies. I believe such people are definitely a small minority, and I respect their convictions and personal choices. MOST celibate LGBT persons I know who are celibate for religious reasons do not seek to impose their personal beliefs on general society in re: to marriage. And likewise, most non-gay-affirming same-sex-attracted persons I have met, DO oppose same-sex marriage. These generalities form the basis for my comment, but I am glad to clarify since I don't want to over-state generalities. Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, has stated publicly on numerous occasions that if he had been given the option of legal same-sex marriage, he would not have pursued 'change' and heterosexual marriage. Why he and others believe the rest of civil society should conform to his experience is a mystery to me.

Parker said...

Did I read that right? Not enough denominational accountability, not enough women critiquing him, and hormonal imbalances led to insecurity and ultimately sexual immorality? Wow. Thats gotta be the most interesting evaluation I've heard thus far about the Haggard issue.

Rick and Gary said...

The "male menopouse" aspect of your post was really interesting. Thanks. I wonder if this also played a part in the motivations of Haggard's accuser, who is 49.

roger said...

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