Monday, November 06, 2006

Living in an airless room

Holden tipped me to this:

The letter was read to the church by the Rev. Larry Stockstill, senior pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, La., and a member of the board that fired him. Haggard asked for forgiveness for himself and for his accuser.

In a separate letter, Haggard's wife drew laughter when she promised to remain with her husband and said church members no longer had to worry about her marriage being so perfect she couldn't relate to them.
I actually have some sympathy for Ted Haggard. Not the "there but for the grace of God" kind of sympathy, or "he's a fellow sinner" sympathy, but real sympathy for someone who is, however little he would have deigned to recognize me, a fellow pastor, someone who simply couldn't stand the strain. Is that self-created, or created by the expectations of others? It isn't clear, and it isn't easy to decide. Haggard bought into a number of ideas I consider lies; but they are powerfully seductive lies, especially considering the prominence and authority and power they give you. That's a bad thing, yeah? Except bishops and Popes get pretty much the same power, though perhaps without the celebrity (few bishops get to make regular conference calls to the President, or become the head of an organization of like minded, enthusiastic, and generously giving people). From what I can see in the Episcopal Church, for example, Bishops don't have anyone above them restraining their abuse of power. Perhaps if it were blatant enough; but then, Ted Haggard's abuses seem to have been pretty blatant.

So I sympathize, somewhat, even as I look cynically at what he did for himself, and think theologically about the dangers of forgetting the importance of Christian humility, which certainly would have obviated many of Ted Haggard's problems. Christians are supposed to be last of all and servants of all. Kind of hard to convince yourself that's your calling, when you've already convinced yourself your calling is to be head of sales for God, and when the President solicits your opinion. That's heady stuff; not fit for servants. At least bishops have a structure that tries to remind them they have obligations other than to their own aggrandizement (bishops don't head up mega-churches).

But then I read a statement like this, and I realize these people have pretty much left the planet. The oversight board of pastors that removed Haggard from his church said he was "not in touch with truth and reality." I'm afraid that's an obvious conclusion from this letter. This is the real problem of making the focus of your ministry yourself, instead of God: you seal yourself up in an airless room, and too late realize you can no longer breathe.

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