The Haggard Truth

What are Christian leaders to make of the spectacularly painful experience of watching Ted Haggard this past week? The president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of giga-church New Life Community in Colorado Springs, Colorado, gradually admitted to purchasing methamphetamines and the services of a male prostitute. We asked Leadership editor-at-large Gordon MacDonald to reflect on what we should learn from this episode.

It is difficult beyond description to watch Ted Haggard's name and face dragged across the TV screen every hour on the news shows. But as my friend, Tony Campolo said in an interview last week, when we spend our lives seizing the microphone to speak to the world of our opinions and judgments, we should not surprised when the system redirects its spotlight to us, justly or unjustly, in our bad moments.

We are still in the process of learning what has actually transpired over the past many months on the secret side of Ted's life. In just the last few hours the leadership of New Life Church has announced that he has been asked to resign. His ministry at New Life Church and as leader of the NAE is over.

I've spent more than a little time trying to understand how and why some men/women in all kinds of leadership get themselves into trouble whether the issues be moral, financial, or the abuse of power and ego. I am no stranger to failure and public humiliation. From those terrible moments of twenty years ago in my own life I have come to believe that there is a deeper person in many of us who is not unlike an assassin.

This deeper person (like a contentious board member) can be the source of attitudes and behaviors we normally stand against in our conscious being. But it seeks to destroy us and masses energies that - unrestrained - tempt us to do the very things we "believe against." If you have been burned as deeply as I (and my loved ones) have, you never live a day without remembering that there is something within that, left unguarded, will go on the rampage. Wallace Hamilton once wrote, "Within each of us there is a herd of wild horses all wanting to run loose."

It seems to me that when people become leaders of outsized organizations and movements, when they become famous and their opinions are constantly sought by the media, we ought to begin to become cautious. The very drive that propels some leaders toward extraordinary levels of achievement is a drive that often keeps expanding even after reasonable goals and objectives have been achieved. Like a river that breaks its levy, that drive often strays into areas of excitement and risk that can be dangerous and destructive. Sometimes the drive appears to be unstoppable. This seems to have been the experience of the Older Testament David and his wandering eyes, Uzziah in his boredom, and Solomon with his insatiable hunger for wealth, wives and horses. They seem to have been questing - addictively? - for more thrills or trying to meet deeper personal needs, and the normal ways that satisfy most people became inadequate for them.

November 05, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 20 comments


December 16, 2008  11:17am

Thanks for the article.. I have a major problem with a judgmental attitude myself even though I've of course failed so many times myself. I let myself be deceived and got a boyfriend over the internet half a year ago.. And over 250 persons found out because I laid it all out on Facebook (I was mentally ill at that point). I'm so afraid of being judged and am not bold at all anymore, all I feel is fear and shame. I don't want to judge Ted even though my feelings does that sometimes.. I feel like I can't trust him anymore even though he's repented and am sorry for his sin. My friends didn't judge me at all but I feel so judgmental myself and that doesn't give me much hope, I feel like a hypocrite. Well.. God can take care of this, even though I almost can't look at a picture of myself and others who'd done the same thing as I did without feeling that something is "wrong" with the person I see. I know that's not Christ-like and I hope he'll change me. He wants to, so I put my hope in that.

Report Abuse


January 01, 2007  9:06pm

Why are we suprised when pastors fall? We need to remember that they are not Jesus-they are not perfect. They are fallen, sinful men like the rest of us–they only have to hide it better because they are pastors and if they show any sign of weakness or struggle people think this disqualifies them. The bigger problem is why there is no support system for pastors to confess sin and struggles to one another without fear of being 'found out.' One pastor has written a timely book called "Confessions of A Pastor: Adventures in Dropping the Pose and Getting Real with God." Everyone should read this book and remember that your pastor has struggles too.

Report Abuse

Sally in Virginny

December 07, 2006  8:24am

It has been a few weeks since the Haggard story broke but I'll toss this into the fray just because I feel like doing so! My dear, sweet mother died at age 88 in 2003. She used to say this about sin: "Inside every one of us is a Bad dog and a Good Dog who are fighting for control of our soul. The one that wins, is the one we feed."

Report Abuse


December 07, 2006  4:43am

I hate to say it, but you reap what you sow. This man sowed the seeds of hate, and watered them with his every word, and then saw it come to life - only to attack him without mercy. As an ex-evangelical who saw firsthand the greed, deceit and control that goes into the making of the largest of the churches, and the sheer hate that comes from every corner towards anyone "worldly" who doesn't want to convert (I admit here that I used to share it - it took a long time after leaving at age 17 to reeducate myself), I found myself questioning my entire faith and threw the baby out with the bathwater. I know a lot of young people in the same situation - many unlike myself concluded that there is no God and became staunch atheists. I didn't, but I realised that I was a hateful, judgemental teenager with a lot of prejudices fed to me by the church that I needed to overcome. In a way, that process is still continuing 11 years later. I think if I go back to a church it'll be the Uniting Church, because they at least seem to have the right idea about who and what God actually is. I often wonder if Jesus were around in the modern day, if he walked into one of these churches, would he be rejected as some kind of worldly liberal because of his qualities of forgiveness and humanity?

Report Abuse

Aniekan thomas

November 17, 2006  5:56am

The Haggard story has taught me three lessons. 1.Don't give into sin.Sinful Christians are the Devil's best publicists. 2.Don't elevate the leader higher than God.This keeps him from getting help. 3.Don't grade sin.Homosexuality is no more worse a sin than Adultery or gluttony.There is no "hard" or "soft" sin.Sin is sin! Aniekan. Abuja,Nigeria.

Report Abuse

jhunnelle sebastian

November 13, 2006  5:51am

it breaks my heart reading the articles about Ptr. Ted Haggard, i thought the news were only all over america, but i was so shocked reading that in newsweek... i am from the Philippines. I may not know Ptr. Haggard personally but my heart trully bleeds about him and his family... this is really a wake up call for all of us not only in america but all over the world. When i first heard about that the first thing that i did is to check my self... am i really doing the things that the bible is saying... and personally this is a wake up call for really embrace the cross, to really humble myself to God and to the church. Thank you for your article. i echo your prayer.

Report Abuse


November 13, 2006  2:38am

I am a member of New Life Church and will say that this is certainly a tragedy, not only for our church but for Christianity because of Haggard's realm of influence. We as a body are hurting...some angry... but we're going through this greiving process as a family. The interim leadership is providing healthy counsel to us, and I am certain the church will pull through. While I am also sure that we will lose "members" who were attracted by the greatness and influence of a man, hopefully that will not be as many whose faith is now stretched to analyze their own beliefs, own holiness, own commitment to Christ. Its amazing how near God comes to those who are brokenhearted...its really not a bad place to be at all, folks. Just a little insider's perspective. Grace and peace to us all as we try to "work out our own salvation" in the midst of this.

Report Abuse


November 10, 2006  11:35am

It is interesting to read all the posts in response to the article. Gordon McDonald certainly lends credibility and rightfully addresses the issues we are faced with. I have only two additional thoughts I did not see on the posts. Is anyone caring about the soul of the prostitute? My heart broke for him. He was simply an object to a man who professed to be a "pastor" and shepherd of souls. My prayers have been for him. May he come to know how precious he is in the eyes of God. As one who has experienced miraculous deliverance from sin, I want to speak for those of us who know the Power of God to save. First of all, I did nothing to deserve my "deliverance". Secondly, I could do nothing to cleanse myself, but confess and leave it in the Hands of a Living God. I was humbled when He delivered me, just as every other human who encountered the Presence of God. For those who dispair because they cannot overcome the sin that so easily besets them, know this: God knows and loves you still. Do not consider yourself a slave to sin, but to Him who saved you. Trust the promise that you can resist the Devil and he will flee from you. When you fail, seek His forgiveness and forgive yourself because you have no right to judge His servant. In my experience, deliverance from sin was a humbling thing–completely outside myself and a Gift. Therefore, I have no right to point a finger, BUT I do understand that some behavior is destructive, because the Creator has said it is destructive. It would be unloving of me (or any other servant of God) to endorse a behavior that God says is destructive. It would be equally unloving of me to advocate "separation" from sinners as though I was not one myself. I can only say what I know – He overcame the World and empowers us to do the same.

Report Abuse


November 10, 2006  2:17am

Thanks Jimmy for your kind post. It's the first one I've seen like that in many of the articles I've been reading. Jesus loves you as much as any of us. I'll pray for you and for a more compassionate body of Christ. This article was excellent in so many ways. I'm a member at New Life and have known Ted for years. This was a hard week, but God is good and exposed the deception taking place. He has shown me so many things this week, but especially to be compassionate and not to judge. We are all praying for the Haggard family and I am especially praying for unity in our country. We can't help anyone if we judge without listening -we should speak the truth in love. If we just go around condemning people when we ourselves are sinners, why should anyone listen to us? With God's help, we as a country have to figure out how to be the United States of America, not the red and blue states. God bless you all.

Report Abuse


November 09, 2006  5:55pm

This whole thing is really ... ehm ... scary. I think its about time the church really started praying for her leaders, and everyone who stands to minister in one way or the other. 'Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour' 1st Pet 5:8. For the first time, i now see the reality of this verse. My heart bleeds for Ted, and his family. I pray that he can forgive himself, even after God has forgiven him.

Report Abuse