In case you haven’t heard, this Thursday HBO will air a special
documentary entitled “The Trials of Ted Haggard.” The documentary was shot by
Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and includes home
footage shot during some of Ted’s lowest moments since the scandal originally
broke out in 2006.
For millions of Americans, the documentary will undoubtedly
evoke a wide range of emotions reminiscent of the ones they felt when the story
first unfolded just a couples years ago – feelings of anger, disbelief,
betrayal, sadness and devastation, among many others. For me, and probably for many Christian leaders across the globe, the documentary will force us
to revisit the horrendous moment we found out that yet another high
profile Christian leader had fallen. Painfully, we asked, How could this
happen? How does the pastor of a 12,000 member church, the leader of the 30
million member National Association of Evangelicals, a representative to the
White House, one who holds so much influence and voice in so many lives do
something like this? More than two years later, we are still trying to come up
with an answer.
Pelosi has said that she hopes the documentary will turn out
to be a story of forgiveness. I do too. I hope that the church, New Life and
the Capital “C”, responds by embracing Ted by showing him love and grace, by
apologizing for the things that were handled poorly, and by welcoming him back
into fellowship. But I fear that the documentary itself will reveal just the opposite.
I fear that it will reveal an all too familiar story in which a once beloved
and admired man makes some poor choices, embarrassing himself and the church,
and is then abandoned by those who so often talk about “forgiveness,” left to
try to pick up the pieces himself.
Why is the church so
quick to shoot their wounded?
I will readily admit that I am thankful I was not one of the
elders at New Life when this all came out. I am thankful I did not have to
decide how to try to handle such a difficult, painful, embarrassing and complex
situation under the scrutinous spotlight of the American media. I am thankful
that I did not have to try to faithfully handle and lead through the emotional
and spiritual fallout that continued in Colorado Springs long after the
journalists and news crews had moved on to the next big story.
But I think most would agree – if not now, certainly after
the documentary airs – that the church (New Life and the Capital “C”)
essentially abandoned Haggard in his darkest hour. Sure, they gave him a
generous severance package, but throwing money at a problem never solved
anything. Even in the business world that is considered only professional, not
especially gracious. And when you consider that New Life demanded Haggard not
speak publically about the issue and that
he move out of state, it just doesn’t look good. Even those far from the
church perceive this to be inconsistent with the person and message of
And to make matters worse, I have recently found out that a
former staff member of New Life – a childhood friend of mine – is responding to
the documentary by bringing further allegations against Haggard and the church
in a coming interview with ABC. This time, however, the allegations include things that reportedly happened that were not consensual. In other words, this thing will get worse
before it gets better.
But here is the deal: we understand that moral failure
always has devastating repercussions. And when it is a leader, the fallout is
exponentially worse because it affects the lives of so many others. This is
true regardless of the circumstances. But I have to believe
that this could have been a different story – one of tremendous grace and
Can you imagine what might have happened if New Life would
have responded by coming around the Haggard family and embracing them? Can you
imagine what might have happened if instead of requiring that they move out of
state, New Life had urged them to stay in Colorado Springs as a part of the
church where they could be loved, served and provided for? What if the New Life
staff had resolved to encourage those in their church to extend grace to the
Haggard family and to personally come around them when they needed support the
most? What if, instead of releasing official statements to the press, Pastor
Brady and the rest of the New Life leadership were able to respond to these new
allegations alongside Ted and his wife, as friends, admitting mistakes wherever
needed but doing so in the context of friendship and a mutual commitment to get
through it together? And then what if, instead of demanding that Ted not speak
publically about the issue, He was encouraged to share about his restorative journey after
a period of time, if he desired to and when he was ready as an example of how a
community of Christ followers can come alongside those who fall with grace and
love in order to see them restored?
Imagine the kind of message that would have communicated. Imagine the kind of impact that might have had. Imagine
what could have been if only we had responded differently. I do hope that this
story turns out to be one of forgiveness. And I hope and pray that we, the church, get
better at loving those who need it most in the times to come.