It seems painfully ironic to me that the same week I posted about Christians taking each other down, we have a high profile example of Christians taking themselves down in Ted Haggard. It seems the church’s biggest marketing problem isn’t typos or cheesy graphics, it’s false advertising.
So what should we learn in the light of the Ted Haggard mess?
- It’s been said before and we’ll say it again: Pastors and spiritual leaders obviously need our prayer and support.
- It’s also been said just about everywhere else, but we’ll say it again for good measure: Pastors need to be careful. Same goes for anyone in a leadership position in church, from volunteers to children’s workers. Your church needs to be a safe church. That means taking steps to be accountable and make sure you don’t get in trouble. Billy Graham has famously worked very hard to avoid the appearance of misdeeds in everything from his personal encounters to his finances. Pastors need to do the same.
- Pastors, just like anybody else, can and do screw up. We should stop expecting perfection from clergy. It doesn’t excuse Haggard’s behavior or make it acceptable, but it does make it easier to understand if we remember that pastors aren’t perfect. I think the truly difficult issue here is finding a way to practically cope with that. We should expect more of our spiritual leaders, but there needs to be a fine balance there.
- Churches should be talking about these kind of issues. Perry Noble has been drawing lots of attention for talking about tough issues like extramarital affairs and masturbation. It’s clear these kind of problems don’t go away just because the church ignores them. People struggle with ugly stuff, and the only way to contfront it is to bring it out into the light.
- Jenell Paris suggests that the Ted Haggard situation isn’t an isolated incident. Sex scandals happen all too often in the church. It’d be interesting and a bit scary to compare the numbers of sex abuse and sex scandals that happen in churches compared to other institutions. If we really have the life-changing message we claim to, why are so many lives ruined at the hands of the supposed faithful? It’s disheartening to see the church at the center of or implicated in the two most recent national sex scandals (Ted Haggard and Mark Foley).
- Finally, the issue that speaks most to our faith is what happens afterward. Will churches spin this as another example of what not to do? Or like the Amish so recently did, will churches forgive the offense? The difficult thing is that it’s easy to say we love and forgive Ted Haggard. It makes for a nice blog post and a happy sentiment to express from the pulpit. But what does really living out that kind of grace entail? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s more than a few easy words.
Overcoming its own hypocrisy has to be the biggest communications battle the church faces. And unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of an improvement in the last 2,000 years.