Reply to New Lifes City’s Alan Hawkins on Ted Haggard’s “Restoration”

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:

  1. Ted Haggard spoke at New Life City Church back in April, so it’s unsurprising that Hawkins is an apologist for him.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

6 thoughts on “Reply to New Lifes City’s Alan Hawkins on Ted Haggard’s “Restoration””

  1. Don, good stuff, right down the line. However, “Liberal” churches were, I think, first called such by Henry Emerson Fosdick in is sermon, “Will the Fundamentalists Win?” in which he drew the line in the sand: Those narrow-minded, backward folks have that side, but we, the open-minded elite, are the truly “Liberal.” So “Liberal” has been somewhat a self-congratulatory ruse from the gitgo.

    Restoration? Authentication? Fellowship/accountability? (Independent) churches have been following this will o’ the wisp for a long time now. We disagree with our home church, go off and start a new one we can agree with, suffer a loss of “authenticity” for a generation (more or less), plant a few daughter churches, and, zango, we’re Authentic! Restoration isn’t relevant. We’re established, and so we can elevate our own “truth” as on-par with everyone else’s, and be fully accountable to ourselves. Isn’t that what Jesus wanted?

  2. Don,

    Thank you very much for a careful response. But I wonder what it is you have written that you think I do not know. Your previous letter was simply a cavalier dismissal of Ted Haggard. This is apparently an attempt at a dismissal of me.

    In fact there is nothing you have written that I find surprising, only about 10-20% of those entering ministry will finish their ministerial life in formal ministry. And of course moral failure is high on the list of disqualifiers. That Ted had a moral failure is not in question.

    That the restoration process was something of a failure is also obvious and will likely become much more obvious as information becomes public. Ted was released from that ‘process’ and is not currently under any restraint in that arena.

    Now I have stated elsewhere that there are fair questions my friend should be prepared to answer. 1) Why now? Why is he prepared to re-enter public ministry, if in fact that is what he is doing. 2) Why Colorado Springs, no doubt you are correct he will draw from the old church and other existing churches. 3) By what authority is he operating? Those questions are all fair and some other are as well.

    My reaction was to your dismissive wave of a hand. Ted would likely have spoken to you and answered your questions. You do not know what has transpired with him these 3 years and that you took time to dismiss him no doubt indicates that it matters to you on some level.

    What you wrote above certainly vindicates your own qualifications but it does nothing to answer the questions that you might easily have found out from Ted himself or even from others.

    Yes I had Ted in my church in April. I do not know how that counts as taint to my response. I make no pretense of my affection for the family Haggard and my hope for their full restoration to all they are capable of achieving. Is he indispensable? Of course not but he is valuable.

    Help us get him back do not write him off with casual slurs. Your work in this field surely has equipped you to deal with him as a person. Thank you for what you do and for responding.

    1. Pastor Alan, your comments re Ted Haggard’s restoration confirm some of my suspcions re its quality. Unfortunately there are those out there who accept any declaration of restoration uncritically.

      Ted Haggard was an important figure in the Evangelical world; his fall was a major blow. He spoke at my own church, a church which has dealt with high profile moral failure with at least two past pastors (we’re 103 years old, so we’ve had many pastors in those years) and, in one case at least, an attempt to establish a competing church nearby. So we know first-hand the devastation that results of this kind of thing.

      Haggard’s debacle is complicated by the sexual orientation of the affair. It is a long term objective of the leadership of the LGBT community to convice/force the Evangelical community to accept homosexual behaviour as beautiful and good; it would be a tragedy if the course of Haggard’s life subsequent to his fall forwards that objective.

      My wish in this situation is first and foremost that Ted Haggard get past my item (4) above. If he does, the rest is a process. If he doesn’t, nothing else matters.

  3. in your vedio on the first trumpet i am in agreement except the part about the pope, it is in my humble oppinion that the spirit of ceaser nero comes from the abyss and enters the false one who is given power from the man of lawlessness, john was afraid to use his name so here is wisdom the man”s name is 666.if you have the i would love to here from you. your brother in CHRIST
    JERRY FRATELLA

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