Recently, the evangelical world was rocked by scandal. I remember the last scandals we had on this scale. Almost 20 years ago, Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart also confessed to sexual immorality. I cringed then, but this time was different. Ted Haggard is my friend.
The Rev. Ted Haggard, (pastor of the New Life Church of Colorado Springs, Colo.), was a natural diplomat, bridging groups of Christians and issues that others had not attempted. I will keep being Ted’s friend. We in the church will not shoot our wounded. Though he is out of leadership, he is not out of God’s grace or out of our family.
Some people are mad at Mike Jones, a male escort who brought the scandal to light, for what he did; the reality is we owe him a debt of gratitude. The spread of the faith is never hurt by the truth, no matter how difficult the truth is to hear. God is truth; Satan is a liar. Truth eventually leads us back to God.
Yet the tens of millions in the evangelical part of the church must now ask, “What will be the legacy of a fallen leader? What should be the effect on the church?”
1. We must never make our efforts depend upon the perfection of human leadership. If we are not focusing on God, on what is right and what is wrong no matter who is in power, we are in trouble long before anything bad happens.
2. We must be sobered to realize again how sin can destroy any of our lives, and devastate those who love us. For Christians, this is not an issue about the outcome of gay-marriage amendments; this is an issue about human temptation, and the struggle to devote ourselves totally to the God who loves us.
3. If the authority we have does not come from the kind of life that we live, we will someday be stripped of that authority. Jesus only had repeated reproaches for one type of sinners: hypocrites.
Fallen leaders, though, do not just leave us with cautions; their falls remind us of the type of world that we so desperately need to build:
1. We must not falter because of our faults. Our personal and cultural imperfections are the very reason to work toward a culture that has more characteristics of love than of lust.
2. God has chosen to make the evangelical movement a significant religious, social and political influence to shape the culture in which we live. We do not need to abdicate our momentum, or withdraw because one of us is caught in a trespass. This is about what Christ is doing at this time in our world; the rest of us need to keep running the race set before us.
3. The issues of compassion that the evangelical movement are beginning to address in earnest are too important to turn back from in order to just focus on sin and “get our own house in order.” We work on sin not only by changing our own habits, but also by serving others.
People need us to be involved in all of the pro-life issues: We need to be taking care of God’s creation, empowering the poor in our own communities and making sure the vulnerable who can’t speak for themselves have our voice and vote. As the old saying goes, “If we are busy enough doing the good stuff, we won’t have time for the bad stuff.”
Eventually, the only way to overcome evil is with good (Romans ).
Joel C. Hunter is president of the Christian Coalition of America and senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, which worships at sites throughout Central Florida and on the Web (www.northlandchurch.net). He is the author of Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won’t Fly With Most Conservative Christians and serves on the boards of directors for the World Evangelical Alliance and the National Association of Evangelicals.