Ted Haggard, Isaac Hunter, and Snakes in the Desert
Image management, Christian celebrity, sickness.

"Fallen" former mega-church pastor Ted Haggard blogs about the apparent suicide of former mega-church pastor Isaac Hunter:

There are more grays in life than many of our modern theological positions allow...

I can only image what many Christians must go through trying to reconcile the things we Evangelicals say are true with the realities of their own lives. Do we actually believe that the many pastors who have been characterized as fallen decided to be hateful, immoral, greedy, or deceitful? I think not.
… Saints, I have a high view of Scripture and am persuaded that the theological underpinnings of Evangelicalism are valid, but I am growing away from the Evangelical culture we have created. I think our movement has abandoned the application of the Gospel, and as a result we spend too much time on image management and damage control. Maybe we should be willing to admit that we are all growing in grace, be willing to be numbered with the transgressors, and stop over-stating and over-promising.

Snakes in the desert

Such "image management" and "damage control" is only needed in an evangelical culture where celebrity has become a spiritual and practical "necessity."

Humans, I think, are too easily enchanted by a stage. Christians—ministers even—are no exception. Sometimes we elevate our leaders like Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness. As something to pin our hopes to. Something to heal us, because we sense, somehow, that we are sick and need saving. Something to look to vicariously because we are desperate for something of God that we can barely articulate. Something up there.

So, we take the beautiful, the talented, the fortunate from among us and lift them up on a stage. We fawn over them. Feed them. Praise them. Buy and sell their books, or books written in their name. Look to them, if we are honest, with more hope than is healthy, fair, or godly.

And because our expectations are for "miracles," the celebrities disappoint, and will always disappoint. The Haggards and Hunters fail. Unlike Moses's bronze snake (or the Lifted One that it prefigured) we do not find healing for our ills in gazing upon them, or any of our elevated leaders. Instead, our love of celebrity is a mirror, showing us that we've not yet learned to either live well or love the right things.

Haggard, later in his post calls for repentance. I agree with that call wholeheartedly. Not just for a culture that cannot handle failure, but for a culture that lifts people up too far above the sand.

An editor of PARSE, Paul is also associate editor for Christianity Today's Leadership Journal and PreachingToday.com. A writer and grassroots pastor, he holds an M.A. in exegetical theology from Western Seminary.

December 13, 2013

Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments


December 14, 2013  12:36am

"Haggard, later in his post calls for repentance. I agree with that call wholeheartedly. Not just for a culture that cannot handle failure, but for a culture that lifts people up too far above the sand." Interesting article, Paul. Even more interesting is Mr. Haggard, whom, I last recall, was quite unrepentant in his..."return." Perhaps things change as much as people do...but I often have found in talking with people is that their quite insightful in pointing out what is wrong in others even though what they see in those others also resides in them. Perhaps this is from whence he speaks, and in that regard he has much to say. I think this is less a church problem, or even a problem of faith...as this issue can be found in any organization of people...be it Christian, religion, entertainment, and government. We...we human beings...are always propping up something immediate, something tangible that we can admire and point too as an example of what represents us...represents our world view, represents our voice, represents our self-identity...Mr. Jethani has written much about this, and still the persistent need to have something represent us moves us to either create an idol, or have one created for us. It is our fallen nature at work...and it seems...we still struggle with it. Repentance...is rethinking the way we approach our lives, in our conduct, in our speech, in our thoughts, in our spirits. The world chases after idols, seeking meaning in something, and yet the restlessness of the world never allows them to linger on one idol...no...the idol is torn down, revealed for the sham it is, and that restlessness throws the old idol away in exchange for a fresh one...till it too is discarded ...and so we followers of G-d...we supposedly happy group of saved souls...are no different than the world. So here is a question that G-d posed to me near two decades ago, and one I still am trying to answer...perhaps...it is because I'm too much of a fool to answer it honestly... "Why are you so jealous of the world?"

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December 13, 2013  2:20pm

I think this gets at part of the issue, which should be addressed. However, the mega-pastors are not just victims of humanity in the church, as if the church body is pushing these unwilling pastors onto a pedestal. Many pastors are placing themselves up there as well, seeing this as 'success' being the main guy over a church body and gaining notoriety. Shared leadership would help in this regard with our cult of celebrity, humility must be modeled as well as pastors with wisdom to push against the pedestal mindset- saying no to book deals, scores of conferences, pointing out their own insufficientcies and not just their strengths and such.

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David Fitch (via Facebook)

December 13, 2013  1:36pm

I would contend there is even something more to the issue than what you Paul Pastor so rightly point out in this article. The evangelical monolithic culture does not have an adequate ongoing practice of sanctification that is exemplified and preached before and in their communities. Ted Haggard therefore is right to point out the duplicity in it all... but of course these megachurch pastors have basically been the leaders who helped structure things this way. So thx to Haggard for these words which illumine the problem of Evangelical individualistic processes of sanctification which basically amount to "hating their sins, repent, pray, fast, memorize Scripture, and plead with God for personal holiness" This "model" of evangelical sanctification is completely bankrupt ... and I'm not sure we should only default (although we can discern and make use of) to modern therapies... Well there I go ... the opening of pandora's box with tons more issues ... But now I go back to work

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