Pastor Alan Hawkins of New Life City Church in Albuquerque, NM, took exception to my post on Ted Haggard’s church restart in Colorado Springs:
Liberal used to mean tolerant. It is apparent that you are unaware of what has transpired with Ted Haggard in the last 3 years. You could probably have found out with very little effort. It is easy to scorn but it isn’t that hard to seek out the truth either. Give it a try.
Two important notes:
- Ted Haggard spoke at New Life City Church back in April, so it’s unsurprising that Hawkins is an apologist for him.
- Liberal churches may have well meant tolerant in the past, but anyone who follows the Anglican-Episcopal world knows better (as evidenced by this.) Emergents such as Brian McLaren should take a lesson from this, but I doubt they will.
Now to the heart of my response. Hawkins is doubtless unaware of this, but I have worked professionally with ministers for over a decade. I’ve known some great ones, men and women of selfless dedication and service to God. Most of these will never have the fame (or infame) of a Ted Haggard. But anyone who works with ministers for any length of time and who is realistic about them finds uncritical adulation impossible. Some people who hold credentials simply have no business doing so, and that includes “successful” pastors and ministers (those with a large following and the income to go with it.) Maybe I’ve worked in the church for too long, but I just don’t buy a lot of what ministers have to say about themselves any more.
Having said that, there are a few things that Pastor Hawkins has probably not considered:
- The incidence of moral failure (I’m not fond of that phrase, but that’s what they’re calling it these days) is rising amongst ministers. To put it bluntly, that’s mostly driven by pornography on the internet, although Haggard took moral failure to a new level with his gay prostitute. That’s just a reality we have to deal with.
- Independent churches do not have a really effective method of performing ministerial restoration. Denominations struggle enough with this, but to use Al Gore’s infelicitous phrase there’s “no controlling legal authority” with independent churches. In addition to exaserbating the problem I discussed two years ago in Authority and Evangelical Churches, restorations end up being self-validating. And I don’t believe in self-validating restorations any more than I believe in self-validating leadership, which is another plague in Evangelical churches.
- Ted Haggard’s ability to reconstruct a church will probably be based on the personality cult he has created more than whatever restoration he has experienced. I’ve given ministers a jab, but now it’s the laity’s turn: lay people are too prone to hang their relationship with God on the man (usually) to whom they are attracted. If some of those are well heeled–and my guess is that Haggard has some “heavy-hitters” in his quiver–it’s easy to get an institution going.
- Ministers are notorious for confusing their core relationship with God with their ministry. They thus conflate “restoration” with “forgiveness” when in fact the two are distinct. One thing you should learn early in ministry work is that it’s more important that you go to heaven than have a ministry, and you can do the former without the latter. “What good will it do a man to gain the whole world, if he forfeits his life? or what will a man give that is of equal value with his life? For the Son of Man is to come in his Father’s Glory, with his angels, and then he ‘will give to every man what his actions deserve.'” (Matthew 16:26-27) That applies as much to ministers as it does to wealthy lay people.
- No one is indispensible to the furtherance of the Gospel. If that truth would sink into the church world, we would be much better off, because there is simply too much driven by personality rather than purpose.
- Ted Haggard’s new church will definitely drain people and resources from the existing New Life church he started before. He doesn’t even have the common decency to change cities before doing this, even though he is a national and international figure with good name recognition. Whatever he does will also bear the taint of his past actions whether he likes it or not, and that will be a bad reflection on all of us.
These are the reasons why I am cynical about Ted Haggard’s re-emergence from the shadows. Experience is a hard teacher, but some of us are trying desperately to learn. Some are not.