Ted Haggard: The Destructive Power of Secret Sin
Most of you are aware of the recent scandal surrounding conservative Christian leader Ted Haggard, who stepped down as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals and was removed from his position as senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs following recent allegations of a three-year homosexual relationship with a former male escort.
The details of the case have yet to be revealed. We should all avoid any foolish speculation or gossip. For now we know that Pastor Haggard has admitted sexually immoral conduct. That is all we need to know.
This situation raises profound questions for all of us who claim the name of Christ — for rebelutionaries in particular, because we aim to be the leaders and reformers of our own generation in the many different spheres of life — questions about hypocrisy, sexual sin, Christian leadership, and the right response to public sin and scandal.
We are affected both corporately and individually by this situation. It raises issues that a generation of future Christian leaders must be prepared to confront with unity, integrity, and commitment to biblical orthodoxy. But at the same time it is also a very personal reminder of issues that many of us already deal with in our own lives and in the lives of our friends and family members.
What We Can and Cannot Say
It is beyond Brett’s or my level of wisdom and experience to answer all of these questions and issues in a single post or even in a series of posts. Older (than us), wiser, and godlier men have already done so and we will be linking to many of those articles, blog posts, and sermons at the end of this post.
There remains, however, one particular lesson that we feel burdened to share with you all, and that is the destructive power of secret sin. Secret sin is not limited to any particular kind of moral failing, but sexual immorality and lust, whether heterosexual or homosexual in nature, is a common and destructive one.
Not only that, but it is common in both men and women. Experts across the country are coming to agree that lust is not just a “guy problem” — it’s a human problem.
With that in mind we would like to offer three principles demonstrated by this situation. Ted Haggard’s fall should not cause us to doubt the truth of Christianity, but should prove to us the danger of living an incomplete Christian life, where Jesus Christ is Lord everywhere but in our secret lives.
1. Secret sin will eventually destroy.
Ted Haggard was a true giant in the conservative Christian movement, yet there was a side of his life that he kept hidden. For many years that sin did not prevent him from pastoring a 14,000 member church, leading a national ministry, and counseling the President of the United States. Now everything he has is lost or threatened — his church, his ministry, his reputation and credibility, even his family.
It is crucial that we get this: We can be great Christian young people in public and still be harboring secret, deadly sin in private. Unless it is forsaken, through repentance and effective accountability, it will eventually destroy. It could be our jobs, our marriages, our families, our ministries, even our souls. We cannot serve two masters.
May God use this heartbreaking situation to teach us a vital lesson we might have missed otherwise: Lust is not a harmless pet that we can control, it is a monster that will destroy us if we don’t destroy it first.
2. Vague or inconsistent accountability is not enough.
Mr. Haggard says that he sought help in a variety of ways through the years, but that nothing was effective for him. Then, because of pride, he began deceiving the people closest to him because he didn’t want to hurt or disappoint them.
It is easy to drift into saying vague things like: “Yeah, I struggle sometimes. Every once and a while it gets really bad, but God is good.” Or the simple: “Yeah, I looked at some stuff this week.” Or maybe: “I’m doing really good,” just because you’ve stayed relatively clean since your last “bad” fall.
This kind of accountability is almost worse than nothing at all, because you can get the false idea that you’re safe just because you’re “accountable.”
History repeatedly proves that our sin will find us out. We will never regret being transparent about this issue. The longer we wait the farther we’ll fall. The sooner we confess, the sooner we’ll find freedom.
3. Not Moving Forward = Moving Backward.
Lust is never satisfied. You will never appease it. It is constantly pushing for more, pushing you deeper and deeper into sin, both in thought and action.
“When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me,” Ted Haggard wrote in a letter to the congregation of New Life Church. “As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe.”
If you’re not in accountability right now, you need to be. Lust loves lone rangers. We must all make a conscious commitment to take a pro-active role in the fight against sin.
Work with your parents to eliminate areas of weakness. For example: “There’s a loophole in our filtering service that gives me access to pornography. Can we close it or get a better service?” or “It is really hard for me when you’re gone on Wednesday evenings and I have the house and computer to myself. Can we change the login password and lock it before you leave?” or “Having the computer in the study makes it easier for me to get away with reading or looking at stuff I shouldn’t. Can we move it into the family room so you can see what I’m doing?”
Those are just a few examples of the kind of things we should be doing if we’re serious about this — and we’d better be. It might make doing certain everyday things harder, but it makes feeding lust harder, and that is far more important.
Here is a collection of some of the best posts, articles, and sermons on the issues surrounding the Ted Haggard situation that we have found helpful.
Justin Taylor at Theologica, who has provided the best coverage of the situation that we have found, posts the letters from Ted and Gayle Haggard that were read to the congregation of New Life Church this past Sunday.
Rick Phillips at Reformation21 breaks down what’s right and wrong (biblically) about both the “denounce Ted” and the “just like Ted” positions that many evangelicals have taken in response to the scandal.
Tim Challies reflects on his own sinfulness and the potential for similar “scandals” in the hearts of all mankind. A powerful and compelling article.
Justin Taylor has compiled a post with many links, as well as lengthy excerpts from a message by Al Mohler addressing homosexuals and the church on the topic of homosexuality.
Carl Trueman at Reformation21 brings reassurance to Christians whose faith is shaken when their leaders fall and a warning to those who aspire to lead.
Justin Taylor links to an interview and lengthy treatise by Robert Gagnon, an Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, on the church’s historic understanding of homosexuality and the Bible.
John Piper, in a paper written many years ago, shares some of the best counsel on the pitfalls and protections against sexual sin for Christian leaders that we have found.
Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle shares some very helpful and practical advice for Christian leaders, especially young men.
John Piper presents twenty-six critical strategies for fighting sexual sin.
Bob Kaulfin at Worship Matters shares some excellent and Bible-saturated thoughts on Ted Haggard and sin.
A highly-recommended course for anyone who struggles with lust or pornography. Includes courses for both heterosexual and homosexual temptation.
The filtering and accountability service Brett and I use. Gives a great amount of flexibility, security, and instant accountability. Try it for free for 15 days.