Saturday, November 04, 2006

Heads Up: On the Haggard story

Over the past several days, I have been busy offline with some fairly serious email exchanges on issues tied to the rise of modern liberty.

I had intended to focus on a Mark Steyn article on the demographics of the West vs Islam, which is rich in insights especially when crossed with Daniel Pipes' 2002 remarks on the comparative rise of Islam and the Southern Reformation:

Which of the world's largest faiths, Christianity or Islam, is experiencing the greater ideological reassertion and demographic surge?

"Islam" is surely nearly everyone's answer. As American Christians experiment with ever-milder versions of their faith, Muslims display a fervor for extreme interpretations of Islam. As Europe suffers the lowest population growth rates ever recorded, Muslim countries have some of the highest.

But, argues Philip Jenkins recently in the Atlantic Monthly, Islam is the wrong answer. He shows how Christianity is the religion currently undergoing the most basic rethinking and the largest increase in adherents. He makes a good case for its militancy most affecting the next century.

But, this will have to wait for a little while, as we see over the past few days yet another case in point of the politics of personal destruction in America on the eve of an election; here, targetting the leader of their 30 million member National Association of Evangelicals [NAE]. (Note, too, how the AP report I use below distances itself from this quite credible number. This is a typical, subtle reflection of the attitudes and biases in the mainstream secularist progressivist media.)

More broadly, the intent on the part of the accusers and spreaders of this accusation is of course to cloud the issues on several morally tinged concerns through casting a pall of scandal over the election due Tuesday next. And in a world with 24/7 news and views coverage, that has direct implications for the evangelical faith here in the Caribbean as well.

Before we go further, we should therefore first of all pause to note that the current [Sat Nov 4, AM] AP report on the case, observes:

Jones took a lie-detector test Friday, and his answers to questions about whether he had sexual contact with Haggard "indicated deception," said John Kresnick, who administered the test free at the request of a Denver radio station.

Jones told reporters afterward: "I am confused why I failed that, other than the fact that I'm totally exhausted."

Now, while a so-called lie detector test is not conclusive, it is often sufficiently reliable that we should view it as an indicator that we should bear in mind when we see and hear news and commentary on the matter over the next few days and weeks. More, of course, may well emerge, especially on some alleged voice mail messages. But, at this point, we should recognise a credibility gap on the part of the principal accuser, compounded with the context and evident political agenda at work on the eve of a major election.

In short, even if all that the accuser says proves true, the underlying moral issues raised by Romans 1 regarding homosexuality, and the associated lack of wisdom in the current attempts to deem it "normal" to the point of playing legal games with the definition of marriage, would remain unanswered -- and unanswerable in fact, in the light of the underlying resurrection-anchored credibility of the gospel:

RO 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

RO 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened . . . .

RO 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.

RO 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

In that context too, we may wish to take more seriously Mr Haggard's admission of partial guilt -- purchasing [but not using] drugs from his accuser, but not going on to trysts with him:

On Friday, Haggard said that he received a massage from Jones after being referred to him by a Denver hotel, and that he bought meth for himself from the man.

But Haggard said he never had sex with Jones. And as for the drugs, "I was tempted, but I never used it . . . "

This may well shed some needed light and balance on the situation.

However, on a related note, we need to understand and respond to the major media better than we are wont to. For, the statement by Mr Ross Parsley, the interim pastor, in a world in which accusations are given lurid and instant global coverage, is plainly seriously defective for want of specificity:

“There has been some admission of indiscretion, not admission to all of the material that has been discussed. But there is an admission of some guilt . . .”

If we did not know the existence of statements on specifics above, from Mr Haggard's own statements, and the lie detector test results, we would not realise that -- so far, on the evidence and reports we have access to -- the admission of guilt is apparently limited to the purchasing [but not use] of drugs. [Cf Nov 6 Update below.]

While bad in itself, and deserving of censure and discipline as well as counselling and recovery treatment, that is a long way from the accusations being made, and a much longer way from substantiating the underlying political agenda of the accusation: that those who object to the same sex marriage etc. agenda are hypocritical opponents of liberty, and are often closet homosexuals themselves.

Some wider remarks are therefore in order, as we continue to watch for developments and to evaluate for fairness, balance and accuracy.

For instance, political posturing aside, the moral challenge issue is serious, and reflects the fact of moral struggle that we all face as human beings, Christians or otherwise. So, we must tread the path of repentance, renewal, revival and reformation.

Dr James Dobson strikes a very helpful, balanced note, as well:

James Dobson, founder and chairman of the evangelical ministry Focus on the Family, said he is "heartsick" after learning today Rev. Ted Haggard acknowledged some "indiscretions" regarding accusations made by a male prostitute . . . . "We will await the outcome of this story, but the possibility that an illicit relationship has occurred is alarming to us and to millions of others" . . .

[Haggard] "has been my close friend and colleague for many years. He has been used mightily to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Colorado Springs and around the world."

"He will continue to be my friend, even if the worst allegations prove accurate," Dobson said. "Nevertheless, sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual, has serious consequences, and we are extremely concerned for Ted, his family and his church."

Dobson asked Christians to pray for Haggard and his family, but said even if the allegations are false or not as reported, "the situation has grave implications for the cause of Christ, and we ask for the Lord's guidance and blessings in the days ahead."

. . . . Yesterday, before Haggard made any admissions, Dobson issued a statement saying, "It is unconscionable that the legitimate news media would report a rumor like this based on nothing but one man's accusation." . . . .

"Ted Haggard is a friend of mine and it appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday's election – especially the vote on Colorado's marriage-protection amendment – which Ted strongly supports . . . "

The underlying biblical principle we should bear in mind in times where scandal and slander often substitute for serious engagement of morally tinged issues, comes from the Pastoral Epistles, on the qualifications, responsibilities and privileges of eldership:

Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

1 Tim 5:19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

Plainly, if one is only to be appointed a church leader on abundant and incontestable evidence of proven character, one should not be subjected to discredit on the basis of what may be no more than uncorroborated slander. However, should the accusation meet the threshold of adequate proof, then strong correction is appropriate; for even church leaders of the highest character and track record can fall into grave sin.

The NAE's remarks [currently, and understandably, on the opening page of their web site, and on several other pages too] are therefore also very much on target:

. . . National Association of Evangelicals President Ted Haggard submitted his resignation from NAE leadership when serious allegations were made on a Denver radio talk show. In response to Rev. Haggard’s admission yesterday to church leaders in Colorado that there were some indiscretions, the eleven-member Executive Committee met today via teleconference and unanimously accepted his resignation with regret.
Rev. Haggard has rendered invaluable services to the New Life Church of Colorado Springs, to the National Association of Evangelicals, to the Evangelical Christian movement, and to the Church universal. We appreciate his many years of effective leadership.
Knowing Rev. Haggard, we found the initial reports of misconduct to be shocking and difficult to believe. As evangelicals we recognize, however, the stark reality of the power of sin in all our lives, and acknowledge that we are all capable of grievous moral failures. Moreover, we believe that the Bible holds Christian leaders to higher levels of accountability. Therefore, it is especially serious when a pastor and prominent Christian leader deliberately violates God’s standards of conduct.
The NAE is a para-church organization, not a church. Rev. Haggard has rightfully submitted himself to the pastoral oversight and ecclesiastical discipline of the independent New Life Church board of overseers. We commend him to their wisdom, as they are involved in the accountability process and have a more detailed knowledge of the situation through their extended meetings with him.
We are thankful for the grace and mercy of Christ who is able to forgive all sorts of sin. Yet, due to the seriousness of Rev. Haggard’s misconduct while in the leadership roles he held, we anticipate that an extended period of recovery will be appropriate. We pray that the overseers’ ministry to him will lead to his eventual moral healing, restoration in Christ, and service in the Church.
We pray for and stand with Rev. Haggard, his wife Gayle, and their children, and the New Life Church congregation at this difficult time. We also pray for the man who has accused Rev. Haggard.

Let us learn from this case, and let us pray for the people caught up in yet another scandal-tinged American media storm on the eve of a major election. END

UPDATE, Nov 5: Overnight, The New Life Church -- according to a press release dated Nov 4 at 2:50 pm -- has removed Mr Haggard from the pastorate, announcing that "[o]ur investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct." The repeated lack of specificity [as opposed to giving out salacious details] is, IMHCO, an error of judgement. However, it does note in the cited press release, that "A letter of explanation and apology by Pastor Haggard as well as a word of encouragement from Gayle Haggard will be read in the 9:00 and 11:00 service of New Life Church." Perhaps, that will give enough to clarify and resolve the situation. I have also slightly edited the above.

FURTHER UPDATE, Nov 6: Mr Haggard has released a statement here, and his wife a letter, here. In the former, Mr Haggad states, in part, that:

. . . I asked that this note be read to you this morning so I could clarify my heart's condition to you. The last four days have been so difficult for me, my family and all of you, and I have further confused the situation with some of the things I've said during interviews with reporters who would catch me coming or going from my home. But I alone am responsible for the confusion caused by my inconsistent statements. The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem . . . .

The public person I was wasn’t a lie; it was just incomplete. When I stopped
communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe. The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry. Our church's overseers have required me to submit to the oversight of Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett. Those men will perform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family. I created this entire situation. The things that I did opened the door for additional allegations. But I am responsible; I alone need to be disciplined and corrected. An example must be set. [Emphases added.]
The situation is plain enough: the accusations are in part false, but sufficient of them are true that there is merit in Mr Haggard's stepping down. Deeply saddening, and a warning on the implications of the sins of leaders in the church -- one that should be plain all the way back to David and Bathsheba.

We should note, too, that "sexual immorality" is of course a far broader term than the accusations made. That is, there is still force to the evidence by the Polygraph analyst that the statements by Mr Jones regarding "sexual contact" may indeed be in material part deceptive and/or misleading.

However, be that as it may, the underlying fact is that Mr Haggard confesses to sexual immorality, in the context of a long-term struggle and deception of those around him.

He needs prayer, but that neither removes the force of the underlying issue that Christian leaders MUST be people of high and proved integrity, nor the point that the issues that this scandal were meant to deflect attetntion from and undermine, remain true -- indeed, they are glorified common sense:
Marriage and family under God's Creation Order are the bedrock of sound civilisation, and we trifle with it at our peril.
I strongly recommend that we listen to Dr James Dobson's broadcast this week, on When the Church Hurts. An audio file is accessible online here, and it should be on many Christian and general purpose radio stations over the next several days. A list of stations is here.

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