Pastors are sinners in need of redemption, like everyone else. A pastor must forgive and be forgiven, and this is something that the flock must be taught and must embrace, or subtle Donatism will creep in with the latest gossip.
Nonetheless, beginning with the Pastoral Epistles of Saint Paul, Christians have also been taught that, for the pastor, a higher standard applies. In each Christian tradition, there are penalties for certain clerical sins—sins that diminish the teaching authority of the office. Do this, and you may no longer wear that frock.
Which seems to modern ears a bit unfair. Here in the Age of Yes, it sounds a little . . . unforgiving. Is there any sin that God cannot forgive? And if we refuse to forgive a pastor who has fallen, then don’t we prove the old saying, “Christians are the only soldiers who shoot their own wounded”?
By his own account, fallen evangelical megachurch pastor Ted Haggard has had his brains blown out by the Church. “I thought we were a family,” he glumly told ABC News’s Dan Harris.
Near the end of 2006, a muscle-bound, drug-dealing, call-boy masseur, Mike Jones, accused the now-former president of the National Association of Evangelicals of having lots of sex with him and buying dope. Haggard denied it, then admitted to one dilly-dally, then took four polygraph tests to prove his semi-innocence. New Life Church of Colorado Springs ousted him, and he submitted to the supervisory discipline of a council of four evangelical leaders, including Dr. James Dobson. Among other things, this council required that Haggard leave the state of Colorado, refrain from any sort of ministry, and cut off all contact with members of his former congregation. He was also required to comply with his church’s efforts to have his ordination revoked. And he was instructed to provide evidence that he was pursuing another career.
The media had a field day with the story, armed with video footage of the cloyingly ebullient pastor preaching, just weeks before he was dragged out of his closet, about the evils of “gay marriage.” To America he was presented as both repulsive and sympathetic, as cameras followed him into his tiny hotel home in Phoenix, Arizona, quite a punishment for the former flockstar. But the real villains were the nasty evangelicals who punished him for being himself, for creating a world in which Haggard was forced to hide his light under a bushel of Bible verses.
Haggard soon joined Phoenix First Assembly, where the Holy Spirit speaks very directly and clearly into the ears of those who listen, without the encumbrances of Scripture or tradition. On December 12, 2007, just one year after the call-boy masseur hit the fan, “the Holy Spirit” said (three times, no less), “‘When you were 28 years old, I called you to Colorado Springs. No one on Earth has the authority to negate that call.’”
One year later, Haggard was back in the shadow of New Life, working on an HBO special (The Trials of Ted Haggard), and doing Larry King, Oprah, and anyone else who would have him on. Amid the media orgy, in which Haggard relayed his therapist’s proclamation that he was officially a “heterosexual with homosexual attachments,” a former member of New Life, who had come to him for help with his own homosexual attachments, accused him of another sexscapade. Haggard clung to the fact that his four polygraphs proved “that there had never been sexual contact” between himself and anyone associated with New Life Church. (Getting into bed with him and masturbating in front of him and offering him hush money do not count, Mr. Ken Starr!) More allegations have been met with similarly polygraphic denials.
This past summer, Ted Haggard started a new church in Colorado Springs. His flock (large enough to have to move from his dainty barn to a rented facility after a few short weeks) is a mixture of newcomers with various attachments and poached members of New Life. He is sorry for all of the hurt he caused the “gay community” over the years by judging them, and he is sorry for being unfaithful to his wife, who remains at his side, talking about their wonderful sex life. He refuses now to say that homosexuality is a sin, only that it a sin for him, since he is married.
What we aren’t hearing from Haggard is that he is sorry for sodomy qua sodomy, or for the shame he has heaped on Bible-believing Christians of all denominations for his lies and for slandering the men who tried to place him on the path of repentance—which, incidentally, has something of a linear relationship with the forgiveness a minister of the Gospel is called to dispense and receive.
By his own account, Haggard is more than ready to dispense, having performed works of supererogation. Concerning his brief time sans frock, he told the Wall Street Journal, “I over-repented.”