I’m always dismayed when I hear about a pastor or religious figure going down in flames over some kind of scandal. The latest one involves Ted Haggard, head of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of a mega-church. Haggard, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, has been accused of being in a homosexual relationship and taking drugs. He’s stepped down as head of the NEA and been fired from his church position (you can read more about it here).
This bothers me for several reasons, but first, let me tell you what doesn’t bother me about this. While his actions concern me for his own well-being, it doesn’t bother me that Haggard was in a homosexual relationship and was a drug user. We all have our baggage. No one is perfect. Because he’s a public figure, Haggard’s dirty laundry is more visible than most people’s, but it’s no more soiled than yours or mine or anyone else’s.
What does bother me is this: First, it bothers me that the office of ministry has once again been abused. I know I just said that the guy deserves some slack, but my feathers get ruffled when I hear of any clergy abusing their office. Why? Because, like it or not, the actions of one clergy can reflect upon all clergy. When the Catholic priest abuse scandal was in full swing, I noticed a difference in the way people reacted when I told them I was a pastor (by the way, many people around here don’t know the difference between priest, pastor, minister, deacon, or elder. They’ll ask, “What should I call you? Father?” I say, “‘Kory’ will be just fine”). It’s as if people assume all clergy are cut from the same cloth. I should have more patience for pastors who cook the church books or run off with a congregation member, but that’s one place where God and I don’t see eye to eye. As clergy, we are entrusted with an incredible amount of authority (whether we deserve it or not); to abuse that authority is, to me, one of the most egregious of offenses.
Second, it bothers me that Haggard put on a public persona of being vehemently against one of the very things he himself struggled with. Why so strongly oppose gay marriage when homosexuality is a part of your own life? Is it an attempt to compensate publicly for what goes on privately? Maybe so, but it still bothers me. It would have been better for Haggard to pick other battles and privately work on his own issues.
What Haggard’s actions do is strengthen the argument that Christians are hypocritical. “Look at that guy! Protesting against gay marriage on Sunday and engaging in homosexual activity on Monday!” I’ve heard the “all Christians are hypocrites” argument many times as a reason why people are turned off by the church and religion.
You know what? They’re right. Every Christian is a hypocrite, and I’m at the top of the list. Why? Because every Christian professes faith in Christ and a commitment to a lifestyle which we can never achieve. The Bible calls us to “be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect,” but the fact of the matter is that none of us can never reach that goal. As Paul says in Romans, “ALL have fallen short of God’s glory.” All. You. Me. Everyone.
That’s why forgiveness is so important to our understanding of the faith. There’s a bumper sticker that says, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” I take offense at that a bit, because aren’t we a lot more than JUST forgiven? How about filled with joy? Sanctified? Blessed? But the point is well taken. We ARE forgiven. That’s how we can show our sorry faces at church each Sunday: we know that our Father welcomes us with open arms, regardless of how far we’ve run away the past week.
Here’s what I wish: I wish more non-Christians understood that Christians are not capable of being perfect and never sinning; I wish more Christians tried harder to be Christ-like (even if we can’t do it) and stopped refusing to take accountability for their actions (the Devil made me do it, and God will forgive me, no matter what); and I wish more pastors would model the honest struggle to live faithfully, while also calling themselves to a higher standard. I don’t know. Maybe I’m asking too much.