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For those of you who have been living under a rock the past few days (or just been buried with work like I have), the story of Ted Haggard, the former pastor of the mega-church “New Life Church” in Colorado Springs has drawn a lot of attention on Larry King Live and other shows.  If you’re interested in reading about the whole lurid story – tales of gay sex, snorting meth, heaven-for-cash letters, and the whole rest of it – go here.  It seems to get more lurid – and ludicrous – by the day.

Whether or not the man is guilty or not of all the things that have been said about him is beside the point.  What *is* the point is the completely unforgiving attitude his former church seems to have displayed towards him and especially his wife.  While there may be some question as to whether or not he had truly repented (as evidenced by the continuing revelations and shenanigans revolving around his conduct), there has never been a question of his wife’s complete innocence – but, according to published reports, the church kicked both of them out!  I can completely understand removing the man from the ministry until he demonstrates by his conduct that he has turned away from his sin, but barring him permanently seems to me to be a bit extreme, and kicking his wife out of the church is completely over the top.  This is not the first time that church leadership has exacted the harshest punishment for those who were in sin and attempted to repent, or who weren’t even involved in the first place, and unfortunately it probably won’t be the last.

What would Jesus do?  Well, let’s see what Jesus did do when confronted with something similar.  In the first part of chapter 8 in the book of John we find the story of the woman caught in adultery.  The Law of Moses says that both the man and woman caught in adultery “must be put to death“.  As a rabbi, Jesus certainly knew that he had the obligation under the law to condemn her on the spot and have her stoned to death.  There was no leeway for compassion, for forgiveness, for leniency – the law was quite clear.  Jesus knew it, the Pharisees knew it, and so they tried to use the Law against him.  Jesus had been preaching the law of love, but the Pharisees were in no mood to hear it – their entire ministry, their standing in the community, even their culture, was based on adherence to a strict interpretation of the Law, and no dissent, criticism, or debate was tolerated.  The Law was the Law (gee, where have we all heard that one before?), and so there could only be one answer to the question, but that answer would be contradictory to the teaching, the entire mission of Christ.  How could he have her stoned to death while at the same time forgiving others of their sin and insisting that others do likewise?

What a conundrum!  But Jesus wasn’t the meek and mild wimp that some churches love to portray – far from it!  Jesus waited to answer until the attention of the entire crowd was on him – then he said “if any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  The Pharisees were undoubtedly astonished at this completely unconventional answer, but astonishment gave way to conviction, and they quietly melted away, into the shadows, until only Jesus and the accused woman were left.  “Where are your accusers?  Is there no one left to condemn you?”  “No one, sir.”  Jesus replied, “Then neither do I … go, and sin no more.”

His reaction was completely consistent with his teachings – love of God and love of one’s fellow man.  Jesus certainly knew the woman’s heart, knew she was repentant in her heart of her sin, else he wouldn’t have said what he did.  He wasn’t condoning her sin, but he had compassion on her because of her change of heart.  The Pharisees, on the other hand, were completely consumed by the law – not to uphold it in and of itself, but to use it as a club against the people, to establish and reinforce their own egos, their own sense of vengeance, and their own status in Jewish society.  Jesus, of course, would have none of it – his harshest words were reserved for those who hypocritically used the Law as a club to beat people with and at the same time broke the very spirit of that same Law they were harshly enforcing.

It’s interesting today that the harshest words of church leadership are reserved for those in sin, or coming out of sin, even if those people are doing their best to turn their backs on sin and to repudiate their actions, or even those who never even committed the sin in the first place, but by being with the sinful person is guilty by association somehow!

Where is their compassion, the compassion Jesus showed time and time again in the Gospels?  Jesus hung out with sinners, loved them, had compassion for them, while at the same time exposing those at the top of the leadership pyramid who were the most guilty of hypocrisy, all acts which many in church ministry wouldn’t dream of being caught at.

Where is our compassion?  Do we read stories like that of Ted Haggard and feel for his wife and family, or secretly cheer in our hearts that someone on such a lofty perch of ministry has been brought down, that all along he didn’t deserve to be where he was in the ministry?  Do we disagree with others who want to condemn the man, or nod our heads in righteous indignation that someone entrusted with so much betrayed that trust?

Interestingly enough, Ted Haggard has written about the morals of those who would condemn those in similar situations:

“One of the greatest marks of bearing His [Christ’s] character is our response to someone else’s sin.  If we handle others’ mistakes with a life-giving attitude, then we (and they) have the opportunity to enjoy great power and freedom.  But if we handle others’ mistakes negatively, then we’re eating from the wrong tree and will begin to die.”

I hope that Ted Haggard, as well as the rest of us, has learned from his mistakes.

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