Ted Haggard — Born Again Again?

tedhaggard2When my friend, Donny, invited me to visit with him and Ted Haggard, I jumped at the chance. I raced to a local hotel, and joined the conversation in progress. You can read Donny’s excellent series of articles here.

I arrived with a healthy dose of cynicism, even though my wife tells me I’m too trusting and too forgiving. Before me sat a man whose face I’d seen on the evening news, and whose story offers a moral fable to anyone willing to listen.

Emotion gushed from him.  Contrition. Anger. Sadness. Humor.  I could see why he rose to the levels of leadership he did–Ted Haggard can be a force of nature. He admits his wrongdoings, and freely talks about them.  He shared painful parts of his life that made me feel like I was treading on holy ground. Embarrassing stuff. Hypocritical stuff. Sad stuff. Vulnerable stuff.

At times I got the sense I was  viewing a stop-motion snapshot of a fast moving object. He has not finished working through his moral/sexual issues… but he’s come a long way. I’m sure his answers to Donny’s questions will be different a year from now.  He’s still moving. Still changing. Still in God’s school of redemption.

It’s not my place to tell his story… I can only tell mine.

Mine is that I believed him.  I think he’s being real. In my Inner Mess book, I talk alot about secrecy and how it feeds our guilt and shame.  Ted recounted 30 years of highly public ministry, and yet a deep secret shame that got “shouted from the rooftops.” Who can’t understand that?

Could he be faking it?  Of course. Could I be naive? Maybe. But I can’t operate under that assumption.  I don’t want to be that cynical.  I can’t see his heart. I can only take him at his word, and if I get burned, so be it.

Should there be ramifications? Yessir.  Who should inflict them?  Not me.  Probably, not you either.

Perhaps this Scripture applies:

“I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt your entire church more than he hurt me. He was punished enough when most of you were united in your judgment against him. Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise he may become so discouraged that he won’t be able to recover. Now show him that you still love him.” 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, NLT.

In the movie, Notting Hill, Julia Roberts plays a famous actress, Hugh Grant a working-class bookseller.  In a famous scene, Julia’s character says, “I’m just a girl, standing in front a boy, asking him to love her.”

That scene flashed into my mind while I visited with Ted. In that moment, in that hotel lobby, he wasn’t a famous celebrity. He wasn’t a mega-church pastor. He wasn’t the leader of the nation’s evangelicals.

He was just a guy.  A messed-up guy, like me. Like all of us.  A guy who’s trying to put his life back together; trying to be true to his heart and family and God. A contrite guy reaching out for God’s healing. And the church’s acceptance. I’m just a guy, sitting in front of some brothers in Christ, asking them to love me. How can you possess an atom of compassion and say no to that spirit?

Doesn’t Christ’s Cross pay in full for every sin? Isn’t the Gospel about hope through Christ for the worst of us? And the worst parts within us?

Ted talked about his pastoral friends abandoning him. He admitted he brought it on himself, but he felt shunned. On the same day we met, I heard of another pastor who had a moral failing. I found him on Facebook, and messaged an offer of friendship, prayer, and redemption. I’ll leave the consequences to others. Could it be that we’re too quick to gang up on a brother who messes up?  I can’t say. I just know I’m going to change my ways.

I felt humbled after our meeting. Introspective. Moved.

Most of all, I felt grateful… to God… for his mercies… new every morning.

I’m glad for that.

I pray God’s best for Ted Haggard and his family.

[Donny… thank you for inviting me]

33 thoughts on “Ted Haggard — Born Again Again?

  1. Thank you SO much for posting this, Bill. After kind of a sour discussion at my dinner table last Sunday about Ted Haggard, I’m grateful to see someone willing to step out and offer a hand to the hurting and repentant. I don’t know his heart more than I do anybody’s, but I love the scripture you referenced, because so many of us Christians think we’re being biblically sound when we write someone off as forever being disqualified when he/she fails. Drives me nuts. This spurs me to pray for the man and for many other leaders in the larger Body of Christ, that God will have opportunity to restore so many more of the hurting out there through the testimony of grace.

  2. Seems to me the danger is not in being “taken in” or “duped” by one who seems to be repentant. A false repentance will bear its own obvious fruit over time. The greater danger is that we become hard and cynical, unable or unwilling to grant to others the mercy we ourselves have received through Christ. When we continue down that road we eventually find ourselves unable to experience the mercy we’ve been granted, experiencing instead the same judgment we’ve heaped on others.

    Thanks for your own vulnerability, Bill. Let us all take heed lest we, too, fall.

  3. Grace is never the outcome of legalism. The pervasive and insidious disease of Grace Deficit Disorder is rampant in the evangelical church today. There is more preaching “against” things, than there is preaching of the gospel. Against sin, against TV, against “the world,” against homo’s, perverts, porn. You name it. Rather than relying on God to help us grow into Christ-likeness, we’re taught to man-up and be “accountable.” No room for screw-ups like Haggard, right?

    The outcome of legalism is the wreckage of a life like Mr. Haggard’s. Did he deserve this. Yup. But, so do I, and so do you. We all deserve this, and much worse.

    A healthy church would have fired him, and them come alongside him, to help him recover. And to support his family. Privately. Evangelicalism has focused too much on “promisekeeping” and “accountability.” And we’ve focused too little salvation by grace through faith, followed by spiritual growth and true community BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH!.

    Bill, thank you for showing mercy. Your example needs to be replicated. Mr. Haggard’s story doesn’t need to be analyzed, because it’s pretty simple. False maturity is easy to fake. It looks perfect, like sliced white bread. The big red flag was that people said he was too good to be true. True maturity is messy because it shows the truth about me.

    Dear Church: You can’t handle the truth!!! WWJD? What He did was hang out with, and REDEEM guys like Mr. Jones, and Mr. Haggard. And me too.

    God help us to find communities of believers that replicate the life of Christ by emphasizing spiritual growth. And that welcome sinners, and preach the gospel.


  4. Thanks for this blog! Why is it that after we are a Christian we are expected to be perfect? It doesn’t excuse the sin but we should still stand with a fallen brother and help him get back up.

    Good blog!

  5. Thanks Bill for unabashedly preaching the Grace of God. I’m reminded of how God in the OT forgave Manasseh (who guaranteed the fall of Jerusalem through all his evil acts (see 2 Kings) who entreated the favor of God(see 2 Chron 33). God’s grace was still extended to him after all he had done (much worse than Haggard by any standard)….so if God who is perfect extends forgiveness, who are we not to?

  6. Thanks for showing your pastor’s heart, Bill, but I have a question. (In a former life, I was a cynical journalist).

    When I repent of my sin, I try not to return to where the temptation came from. It seems to me, some of Mr. Haggard’s temptation came from being in the limelight. I have no reason to doubt his repentence, but I’m wondering why he feels the need to talk about it on the public stage frequently. Wouldn’t he be better off admitting his errors, accepting forgiveness and returning to quiet, civilian life?

    He’s thrown away his ability to be effective for the gospel in my opinion. Unfortunately for him his sin was played out before the world’s stage. How helpful is it to his family for him to be back on the world’s stage again? When do they get to start healing?

    They cynic in me thinks it’s about publicity and money–money in particular. And so I don’t approve.

    But–thanks for reaching out to him as a man of God.

    • Thanks for commenting, Michelle. I get the “cynical journalist” perspective too. Yeah, a quiet civilian life. Sounds like a good plan, but I don’t get to pick that for Ted Haggard and his family. I’m a big fan of Christian liberty. I’m not sure of any Scripture that says he’s thrown away his ability to be effective for the gospel, so I’ll remain open on that question. As far as his family’s healing goes, I think Donny’s blog will address that… but I’ll just say that the Haggards have been travelling and speaking together, as a couple. His kids, he says, have rallied around him, and feel closer than ever before. Again, I don’t read minds or see hearts. I listen to words and go with my gut. I was right were you are when I walked into the meeting. I came out with a different point of view. Either way, I pray God’s best for him. Check out Donny’s blog for details on the interview; it’s his interview, and I’m trying not to step on his toes.

    • Michelle,
      If sin negates our ability to miniister, we are all in a mess. Restoration is not being put on a shelf never to be used again but being restored to ministry. Ted’s effective in the limelight and his impact on the Kingdom, prior to his moral failure, cannot be ignored. His moral failure did not come from being in the limelight it came from a demonic influence that had access to his life for decades. It had nothing to do with the limelight.
      If sin in the life of a Minister keeps them from ever ministering then all of our churches pulpits would be empty.

  7. Bill,
    I find it amazing that you got to speak to person who is so infamous in evangelicalism. This is not me being flippant, but when the Lord speaks of “Cut of your right hand”, isn’t this what He is speaking of. A supposed “Man of God” with his proclivaties should do everything possible, including medically, to suppress those urges.
    I read that Mr. Haggard was against Proposition 8 (Yeah California on that one) which made me write him off. The Lord can and will forgive the truly sorry and we should as well. Having said that, we are in a war for the soul of our nation and we must be strong, resolute and “in your face” about our beliefs, especially with what passes for a leader in D.C

    • Robb, I appreciate your dedication to our nation’s submission to the Lord. I can’t agree, however, that Jesus was talking about cutting off the right hand in terms of ostracizing or shunning fallen leaders. I don’t know his view on Prop 8, or other political issues. I have no comment about that… just about the personal matters of grace and forgiveness.

  8. I’m a frequent poster on World Magazine’s blog–do you have any idea how often the Christians have to fend off the anti-Christians on subjects like Ted Haggard? The ugliness that is attributed to Jesus because of poor examples like Haggard– and continue the list of fallen saints– hurts the gospel and our ability to explain. Yes, we love grace and forgiveness and yes, a lot of the unbelievers “get” that concept. What they don’t understand, and I don’t blame them, is why such notorious sinners than return to the world’s stage–seemingly with the applause of Christ-followers.

    I was impressed when Jim Bakker wrote his book “I was Wrong.” Finally, he appeared to have understood. But then he went on the lecture circuit and was back to talking about TV shows and I thought–he didn’t get it. Jesus forgives us all, yes, but when we seek our own glory under the guise of “loving Jesus,” we prostitute the gospel and taint the well for those who try to be lights to the increasingly dark world.

    Again, I don’t know these people, but dragging your family back out on the road–when do they heal? You’re back showboating once again and the family’s feelings are given back burner.

    I hope I’m wrong–for everyone’s sake.

    But again, I know you went with good intentions and probably because God sent you–which is the best reason of all to reach out and embrace the lost, the recovering lost, and the found.



  9. I’ll start with the bottom line: He’s a sinner saved by grace, just like I am.

    That being said, and you knew there’d be more, why do we rush to hear his story more than anyone else’s? I don’t think people like him, like Gordon MacDonald, like Jimmy Swaggart, etc., realize the damage they do. And we feed it because we feed their sense of celebrity. And this feeds the world’s sense of cynicism about the church and the church’s sense of cynicism about itself. I’ll believe his sincerity when he DOESN’T come out with a book about his fall and God’s amazing restoration (for just 25 bucks). If he quietly goes about a quiet ministry, that’s enough.

    I remember a comment made by someone when we were discussing the restoration of a minister who had engaged in a series of sexual affairs. This fellow said that when he comes back he would be able to more effectively minister to fallen believers because he had gone through the situation himself. I thought, “Well, then, let’s get rid of the desks and chairs in our seminaries, replace them with beds and pillows, and call in some hookers. We’ll prepare men to more effectively deal with the sin of the world.”

    Can people like Haggard (could Dickens have picked a more appropriate name?) minister again? Personally speaking, I sure hope so. And if the Holy Spirit wants him to, try to stop him (Him). But let’s stop holding them up as if they are role models. I don’t want to look to him about how to deal with temptation. I already know how to give in. As C. S. Lewis told us, Jesus knew far more about temptation than we’ll ever know, because He saw it all the way to the end.

  10. I saw Haggard speak recently and he spoke of grace and forgiveness and brokenness, but only of those things on a INDIVIDUAL level. Has Haggard repented of the CORPORATE sin he helped create and perpetuated in the church he started in Colorado Springs? Not from what I saw. I’m not saying that bans him from salvation, but I think its a SERIOUS issue that no one is talking about. How many people did Haggard push away in the same way he was pushed away? Did he repent of that?… or just his lying, drug use and homosexuality? Did he repent that he created a place that would treat individual sinners, and only those committing specific sin, they way that church later treated him? Did he repent of creating a place where the people who kicked him out and didn’t show him grace could exist in the positions they had?

    He created the system (the church) in which hatred and severe absence of grace was allowed to exist… and then ironically (or not) he paid the price for that. When I heard Haggard speak he made it clear that he would like to be a part of the church’s leadership again… which makes me wonder if he has repented of the main sinfulness at work at all.

    • “He created the system (the church) in which hatred and severe absence of grace was allowed to exist” WOW, how do you know this? Have you repented of judging things of which you know nothing?

      • Because I know people who went there… before being all but asked to leave.

        I am not judging I am asking.

        I also heard Haggard speak and these are his words… the church that he built, in his words, was a place absent of grace…

        [portions deleted by the blogmaster]

      • Hey Browning, see my post below re knowing Ted and knowing the church. I know people involved on “both sides” (I think the high road for either “side”… it’s a shame there are sides… is to not air out grievances publicly), and as much as I love Ted, I think his recounting of the story at this point is understandably a tad skewed. New Life when Ted was here was a place of great grace, and had it not been for the amazing encouragement and grace I received through years of struggle, I would have been so condemned that I would have never returned to God. New Life is still a place of great grace. I love Ted A TON, and will defend him as my friend for the rest of my life. Nonetheless, please take with a grain of salt what is said by him re his old church. He is understandably going to have some difficult filters through which to view the events.

  11. I could be quite wrong here, but I think people would want to hear about his life now, whether good or bad. I’m happy that he’s hopefully on the road to recovery. Isn’t it healthy to go back and tell others you’ve hurt that you’re sorry and trying to heal. In this sense he’s affected a wide population that is unfortunately probably eager to hear more about his indiscretions. So he’s giving them a story about repentance. I think he needs grace….like we all do.

  12. I’ve known Ted for 14 years. He’s not a man that craved celebrity even when he was the head of the National Association of Evangelicals. I have stories of when Ted turned down the spotlight. He did a ton of stuff for people out of the public eye.

    I read comments from people talking about how they have to “suffer” because other people bring up Ted as an excuse (of course, the story they were told in the media is that Ted was a crusading hate-monger, when in fact he was much more kind to homosexuals than most evangelicals… they demonize him for promoting “hate” when in fact I only heard him preach on loving the person, but that’s a tangent) for why they don’t believe. But people will ALWAYS have an excuse, and he was just the excuse du jour… that’s because WE ALL are hypocrites. WE ALL are stumbling blocks. So, some may not struggle with the obvious “moral” issues, but more than any obvious sin, I think OUR OWN pride, arrogance, judgment, and self-righteousness gets more in the way of others coming to Christ than any moral failing. If you get down to a “gut-level” talk with most non-Christians, it isn’t the moral failings of believers that keep them away, it’s the prideful attitude (even manifesting in false humility or piety) of Christians that keeps them away. It’s the masks we put on that repel people who think they could never be “so good.”

    Anyway, I just find it interesting that people who weren’t directly affected have a harder time forgiving than those of us who were. To be vulnerable to a lot of strangers, I’ve never been so sad as I’ve been in the last 2.5 years. Ted meant the world to me. I knew him more than as just a spectator, but not as close as one of my best friends to whom Ted was a mentor. I have a lot more “right” to be bitter, watching my close friend being completely devastated and his world turned upside-down. I have a lot more “right” to be bitter that a man who was so influential in my life disappointed me. But it’s not about me! My heart has broken for how hurt Ted must have been by himself. We get in to so selfishly thinking how we’re supposedly affected, that we completely miss God’s heart for the person most affected.

    Should Ted minister again? I don’t know, did God tell David to relinquish the throne and that he wasn’t a man after God’s own heart anymore? Did Jesus tell Peter that when the rooster crowed he’d be disqualified? Do these examples mean Ted should minister again? I don’t know. I’m not God. To be honest, it seems a bit early to already be out sharing his story. But you know what? I’m not Ted, and I’m not God. Whether Ted’s right or wrong in this instance, I don’t know. I do know this, that he’s a good man. Is it too early? Maybe, maybe not… again I’m not God and I’m not Ted. But what isn’t in question to me is that Ted’s a very decent person who absolutely loves people and absolutely loves God… the two greatest commandments.

    • “I think OUR OWN pride, arrogance, judgment, and self-righteousness gets more in the way of others coming to Christ than any moral failing.” AMEN. This is SO true! Thank you for your thoughtful and articulate words here, Dave. What is the thing that God hates the most? PRIDE. And many of us Christians who have not fallen into anything but “little” sins rationalize our judgment of those who experience greater falls. I personally experienced this kind of self-righteous attitude when I thought “I will never stoop so low as to do ‘that’ kind of sin.” So where did Satan aim his arrow? (Probably after asking God’s permission, he attacked straight on, and God revealed my own vulnerability). I will never say never again (oops – maybe I just did). But you know what I mean–God has creative ways of humbling us when we pass judgment on someone else’s “worthiness” to testify of God’s grace. All I can say is, I’ve got no stones to throw. And none of us does, really.

      Let’s not forget the joy of the father when the prodigal returned and the amazing celebration that resulted–I do NOT want to be (any longer) that brother who complained about the attention being lavished on this wayward brother, but I’d rather join in the celebration, praising God that this brother has come home!

  13. “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.”
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    The Church in general has boarded the wrong train, it is time for its leaders (all believers that on the wrong train) to get off at the next stop or jump now and get on the right one of reconciliation, grace, forgiveness and understand the power of real love. Real love that has blended into it a wholeness of common sense, God’s wisdom, holy discernment, discipline and the real one-another’s of giving a hand up instead of slap down. Ted and Gayle were not only shoved out with a ten foot pole, but hit with it constantly by people who should have known better.

    The “leaders” at NLC – NAE and others, chose not to inculcate the truth into action and then they ignored the biblical truth that with the mercy given to others will be the mercy you are given. Power not only brings responsibility but mercy, they failed on both parts showing real power and mercy. While I forgive them for their ignorance but it is hard to ignore their elitism without continuing to speak out asking them to repent. Much godly fruit would have been born by now for the world to see “if” and even now it would “if” they would act on what Jesus said in John 14:9 – 17:26. What is it that drives people to think they are the Holy Spirit or the Father?

    Ted and Gayle were my pastors at New Life for eight years while we served at New Life as volunteers and with two COS ministries. Much was learned, much was gained by their passion for life and their leadership. Our Father became more immersed in us, they were a healthy part of that and we are thankful! While we had issues at times through those years we spoke either to them or with the offending party with respect and gentleness and mostly had positive responses. Those that we didn’t we didn’t lose hope, we just know people and know that truth over time wins and the power that people have over us is what we give them. We aren’t perfect but we daily seek to think Christianly and seem to be successful because of our Lords love.

    But, I will say to all, that our friends and fellow Christ followers (Ted and Gayle) were treated in a totally non-biblical fashion (sadly I know more than most) and it stunned and deeply saddened us.

    [NOTE: The blogmaster deleted portions of this comment that were directly critical of a particular institution and its leaders…]

    Having now been in either a pastoral position or now as a College President for over thirty-three years, my bride and I have seen much & personally experienced much in ministry. My father was a pastor (sixty-eight years) and he told me of much of the same stuff in his day. Satan isn’t very creative but sadly though successful from time to time. Satan is successful with the one he wants to destory and with the others who are quick to take on the role of the Father and Holy Spirit to convict and pass sentence.

    It has been our focused prayer for the real process of restoration to begin, maybe it is. I am thankful that there are parts of the Kingdom and leaders like you and others willing to reach out your hand to give that hand up. We love Ted and Gayle and family much and desire peace and fullness of life for them all! Much lovingkindness, grace and peace to you, as you and other real Kingdom leaders speak into the condemning spirit that is a mold spoiling the freshness of the Bride – the Church!
    Keep leading!
    Yours in Lovingkindness,

  14. Bill,

    Thanks for your insight. As a longtime friend of Ted and Gayle and as one who is currently walking alongside him at this stage of the journey, words like yours help him carry on. He is fully committed to finishing the race set before him – not for the approval of men but for the glory of God.

    If there is not restoration, then why are we so confident there is such thing as salvation? Both come from the same TREE – Calvary!


  15. Pingback: Which is worse? [Ted Haggard #2] « maxgrace.com

  16. Bill,

    My respect for you increases every day. Great post, and some amazing comments as well. Thank you for this as well as the post that follows this one.

  17. Excellent words! So needed as well in our churches. Teds process will speak to others. It should also set a new standard for true redemption. I got nothing to say against him. Who am I to judge. If the accuser was allowed to he could bury all of us with the true things we have done and said. None could stand. Whether it happed before or after salvation or as a minister or just a “non-minister”.
    I am surprised it takes so much convincing to get people to stop hating.
    We got a local guy who is suffering the same judgement from the church folks around him. How can we afford to look so far behind us. He answers to God, his wife, his church and his conscience. No one is asking us to buy his book and we don’t have too. Although i read Primary Purpose and i would read it again. God can make straight lines with crooked sticks…look at Donny Pauling (lol jk) Lets rejoice not in our powers over darkness or our great doctrinal positions or our ability to judge each other so wonderfully …lets rejoice that our names are written in His book.

  18. Thanx from Germany to. I followed with personal and spiritual intrest the whole arie with Ted. Do feel for him, can fully understand how it is possible to come in to a situation like he was/is.

    Bless you

  19. Pingback: Conversations with Ted Haggard (Part I) « Donny’s Ramblings

  20. Pingback: Conversations with Ted Haggard (Part II) « Donny’s Ramblings

  21. Pingback: Ted Haggard – Born Again Again? « Official Blog for Pastor Ted Haggard

  22. Pingback: Donny’s Ramblings: » Blog Archive » Conversations with Ted Haggard (Part II)

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