I was in speaking in Denver on November 1, 2006 when the local 10:00 PM news broke a story that Pastor Ted Haggard of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO, and President of the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) had been accused by Mike Jones, a male prostitute in Denver, of being involved in homosexual trysts with him for 3 years as well as being a Crystal Meth addict. Mike Jones was interviewed as was Pastor Haggard. Haggard at first denied that there was any truth to the allegations. My friend Bill Honsberger of Haven Ministries in Aurora, CO is familiar with several of the reporters at the station which broke the story – and although he and I hoped there was indeed no truth to the allegations, we were concerned. We wanted to believe that these were false accusations, timed to impact the election. Haggard, as President of the NAE had been vocally opposed to Gay marriage. On the other hand, these particular reporters are fairly careful to check out their sources and some are known to be Christians. As a result, they try to be doubly careful to not carry false accusations.
The next day (Thursday) Haggard resigned as the President of the NAE and put himself on administrative leave at New Life Church. That did not look good, although Haggard still protested his innocence. Then, on Friday morning, Haggard announced that part of the allegations were true but didn’t clarify which ones. By Friday afternoon, he was admitting that he had bought Crystal Meth, but only once, and claimed that he never actually took it, but threw it away. He also said that he had let Jones give him a back massage, but still claimed that he had not engaged in sexual relations with Jones. It was all beginning to sound very Clintonesque, as well as bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to the Bakker/Swaggert scandals of the early 1980’s.
Late on Saturday afternoon AP Writer Kim Nguyen published the story “Evangelical chief quits amid sex scandal” which carried an announcement by the Church’s Overseer Board, which stated:
“Our investigation and Pastor Haggard’s public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct.”
The Overseer Board will continue the investigation:
“to determine how extensive Haggard’s misconduct was.”
Finally on Sunday morning the honest confession came and was read before the congregation in both morning services, and with it self recrimination and a request for forgiveness.
As awful and as sad as this episode is, I am not here going to join the ranks of the “Ted is evil” club – nor will I in any way attempt to defend him. God judges and restores His own in His own time. I think there are bigger questions at stake in this for all in positions of leadership.
When this story first broke, some friends of ours wondered aloud if this behavioral pattern is somehow linked to charismatic extremism. After all, Haggard is closely linked with Word Faith and other false teachers. There is, after all, a sorry history with Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, Earl Paulk and similar accusations leveled against Paul Crouch. But non-charismatic leaders have been guilty as well. Bill Gothard’s ministry was rocked by a sex scandal, Southern Baptist executive committee member and pastor, Lonnie Lathum, Gordon MacDonald and other big guns within Evangelicalism have also been involved in sex scandals. So what is the common denominator?
When Kings Go Out to Battle
2 Samuel 11: 1 opens with the words:
“Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.”
The text doesn’t tell us why David stayed behind, but mentioned it because it was highly unusual for the king not to be leading the army. David had been a hero of epic proportions for Israel since he was a youth. The next verse tells us a bit more:
“Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance.” (2 Samuel 11:2)
Why was David lying in his bed in the afternoon? We are not told but clearly there is something amiss with this man of action, this hero of epic proportions. As we read through the balance of the account we find that David had an affair with this woman, Bathsheba. She became pregnant and David devised a plan to cover up his sin by having her husband retuned from battle, so he and others would believe that he had fathered the baby. The problem was that the husband, Uriah the Hittite, believed that loyalty to God, Israel, Judah his commander, his comrades and his purity of devotion took priority over his personal pleasure:
The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in temporary shelters, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the field. Shall I then go to my house to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? By your life and the life of your soul, I will not do this thing. (2 Samuel 11:11)
Uriah’s fidelity to his calling cost him his life – David plotted to place him in the front line of the battle – and he wrote out Uriah’s death sentence and had Uriah personally and unknowingly deliver it to his commander, Joab. How very different is this man of power and wealth who is terrified of being found out as a weakling than he was as a weakling who trusted in God? As a youth he was very much like the man he just ordered to his death. I wonder if that thought even crossed his mind?
We first met David in 1 Samuel chapter 16 when Samuel was sent to anoint him as king. He was the youngest son of Jesse and the least likely candidate. David was small of stature, at least in comparison to his brothers for when Samuel looked at them and their size God told him:
Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7).
While Saul was off to battle David tended his father’s sheep. David had no power, no position but was a servant and realized that he was a servant. His father sent him with some provisions for his brothers who were at the battle lines with the king and David obediently complied. Saul, if you recall, was a head taller than the rest of the people (1 Samuel 10:23). When David arrived at the battle lines he observed something which perplexed him. A large Philistine was publicly taunting God’s people who were terrified of him. David told Saul something to the effect of “Don’t worry. I can handle this.” (1 Samuel 17:32). We see here a real contrast between the man of power, Saul, and the powerless man, David:
Then Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine ” And Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you.” (1 Samuel 17:33-37)
Saul tried to give him his protective armor but he was so much bigger that it proved to be more of a hindrance than a help and David took it off. He went with very little from a human standpoint. A small youth with a slingshot, five smooth stones and a view to please and trust God while all watched. We know the end of the story. David killed Goliath and cut of his head with his own sword. So what happened between these two points in the life of David?
Thou Art the Man!
David’s loyalty to God was gradually replaced with largess in his life. When he was young with no position, no possessions and no personal power, he had complete trust in God. As he became a person of position and power he acquired a sort of amnesia which led him to behave as if he could do what he wanted without consequence. He lost his fear of God. Just when David had become comfortable with the idea that he had successfully hidden his sin, God sent him a message through the prophet Nathan. Nathan used allegory and told the story of a rich man with a huge flock and a poor man with one little ewe lamb. The rich man stole the poor man’s ewe lamb and David became so enraged that he said, “As the Lord live, surely the man who has done this deserves to die.” (2 Samuel 12:5) After David pronounced his judgment in verse 6 Nathan turns David’s words against him when he said, “You are the man!” God through Nathan then proceeded to remind David where his possessions, power and position had come from to begin with:
Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. (2 Samuel 12:7-9)
Everything David had, his power, his possessions and his position, was from God. God would have gladly given him more. Instead David had blinded himself by forgetting his place and where his heart should be. By forgetting his place in serving the nation at the head of the army, he stayed home. He was alone and unaccountable with no thought to how his actions would affect others. He deceived himself into thinking that he would be able to avoid public exposure and accountability by virtue of all he had attained. But after all of his manipulation and progressive sin God said in effect, “Enough is enough! After all I have given you, you have despised Me.” (2 Samuel 12:10). The ripple effect of David’s sin is huge. He would perpetually be in a state of war (v:10). There would be turmoil within his home (v:11) and it would be visible for all of Israel to see (v:12). The child of this union would die (v:14) and bring additional sorrow to Bathsheba who had lost her husband (v:24). We see many of these things come to pass in the following chapters.
Back to Ted
I would suggest that Ted Haggard is but the most recent example of someone who achieved position and power and in the process lost sight of God. In a sense this brings us full circle back to where we started last week:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur stricter judgment. (James 3:1)
The higher one is elevated in positions of leadership in the church, the more accountable they become to a larger number of people. That is because what we do has a profound effect on those we lead and especially those who are the closest to us. Gayle Haggard is very likely devastated, and will have to suffer shame and grief right along with her husband Ted, for what he did without her knowledge. Their children will be crushed as their father, their protector, their hero seems to be a total stranger to them, and they too will have to suffer the humiliation of his actions. The ripple effect extends out. The church leadership was forced into taking a position against someone they considered their friend and leader. The church will have to struggle to build credibility within their ranks as well as within the community. The NAE will suffer and Evangelicalism has received yet another black eye. And people outside of the church will have another opportunity to deride people of faith, and perhaps another reason to reject God Himself.
Church leadership structure is not supposed to be an unaccountable top-down authoritarian structure. Jesus Himself made this very point:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave just as the Son of Man did not com to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28)
As leaders, remembering who we are (servants), what we are called to do (serve the body and glorify our Lord) and how our actions impact those around us can go a long way toward preventing us from falling into a pattern of sin. The cost is simply too high. We desperately need others around us to regularly remind us not to believe the PR about us. Pedestals are too rickety to maintain a good foothold, and to take our stand upon one can invite a disastrous fall.
Thousands cheer, chant, and clap as one of their own
is proudly carried toward the lofty pedestal.
The audience urges him up the stairway,
step by step, higher and higher,
far above the masses on the prominant platform.
The media is there with lights, cameras
and prime-time coverage.
Publishers huddle around the base,
for they know pedestal-people sell well.
The crowds on satellite hook-ups
hang on every last word,
for he seems so close to eternity.
Yet he feels unsure, unworthy,
afraid and very alone . . .
But at that height
no one notices,
no one questions,
no one confronts.
And so, in a split second,
the trap door swings,
the noose tightens,
the crowd gasps.
Undeterred, the mob moves on
to build more pedestals;
to encourage another of their own
up the starlit steps.
But mostly to wonder why those
at the pinnacle keep falling
from the heights.
(c) Copyright 1988 James N. Watkins
Used by permission from James N. Watkins