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Blessed Are the Opportunists

Jim Burroway

November 5th, 2006

A prominent conservative pastor, seen on television and followed by millions, falls from grace in a sordid sex scandal. The accusations are first met with strong and angry denials, but these denials crumble as more evidence is revealed. His wife is visibly shocked; his children are left to suffer their grief in the glare of the spotlight while wondering how they will face school the next day. Church members are bewildered, although some are convinced that it’s all part of a nefarious plot. Meanwhile, fellow pastors and church leaders promise to pray for him and to stand by his side as he undergoes a long road to rehabilitation.

Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and now Ted Haggard. There is a familiar ring to all of this, and if there is any truth to the notion that history repeats itself, talk of rehabilitation for Ted Haggard is just that: talk. Already we can see that the long knives are out for him.

Steven Bennett was the first to exploit the scandal with a cynically crass act of self-promotion. In his press release of Friday morning, he took the time to get the name of his tiny little church out in the press (and to mention that he’s writing a book and is available for media interviews). He claims that before he found God, he dated two male prostitutes and was a cocaine dealer. And he contradicts himself several times over in his reaction to the scandal:

“If these allegations are true about Rev. Haggard – America’s Top Evangelical Christian – I am completely disgusted and dismayed. After being in major Christian circles for many years, the hypocrisy that I have found and personally seen in main stream Christianity is unfortunate and heartbreaking.

“I understand Rev. Haggard is innocent until proven guilty. However, seeing the reports that I have – along with millions of other Americans – this is a time we need to pray. The Bible says, ‘Judgment begins in the house of God’,” said Bennett. …

“The more and more hypocrisy I see each day, the more I realize next Tuesday we are going to get EXACTLY what we deserve. Yet I must NEVER forget where I came from and always remember ‘But for the grace of God, there go I.’”

What an act of shameless self-promotion. Haggard’s innocent until proven guilty, so I call on everyone to judge and condemn him. I am disgusted and we are getting exactly what we deserve, “but for the grace of God go I.” And don’t forget the name of my church, and I’m writing a book and I am available for media requests. Here’s my contact info…

Others see Haggard’s fall as an explanation for his very few “moderate” stances. Christianity Today points out:

Haggard is a loyal member of the Religious Right who dials in for a White House conference call every Monday. Yet he embraces ecological concerns and says the Supreme Court made a good decision in the Lawrence v. Texas case, ordering the government out of the private lives of homosexuals.

These very modest deviations from the hard-right’s stance are now seen as an infection that must be exercised. Bob Schenck is in charge of the rival Evangelical-dominated National Clergy Council, a rival to Haggard’s National Association of Evangelicalsm, and he isn’t shy about calling his competition out:

The moral failure of recently resigned president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Rev. Ted Haggard, may explain in part the leftward drift of the organization over the last several years. It has been a mystery to many of us who watched this venerable institution shake lose of its once secure foundation and slide onto the shifting sands of political correctness, postmodern jargon and social trends.

I recommend NAE leadership call all of us who label ourselves Evangelicals to a time of humble repentance, contrition and seeking the Lord and His will. Instead of concerning ourselves with what rock superstar Bono thinks we ought to do, let’s instead inquire of the Lord and His Word.

Of course, that’s it. Haggard’s queer. That’s why he is concerned about the environment and doesn’t think Lawrence vs. Texas was such a bad thing — even though he strongly condemned homosexuality from the pulpit many times and was a vocal advocate for constitutional bans on gay marriage.

In Scriptures, we are constantly reminded of the need to forgive our neighbors. This commandment is not conditional; we are called to forgive whether our forgiveness is asked for or not. But Scripture is also clear on something else: when someone asks for forgiveness, the response isn’t just acceptance, but celebration. The prodigal son is rewarded with a banquet of the fatted calf; the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

But that reaction is not very likely here. It doesn’t matter what course of action Haggard follows from this point forward. Rehabilitation is likely to remain elusive. In the heavens created by conservative Christian politics, he will always be last from now on.

See Also:

Ted Haggard: “I’m Not Gay”
The Megachurch, Mike Jones, and the Suspension of Disbelief
“There Is A Part Of My Life So Repulsive and Dark…”
Blessed Are The Opportunists
Haggard Resigns; “I Know What You Did Last Night”
Prayers and Assistance for the Haggard Family
I Did Not Have Sex With That Man!
Jones “Fails” Lie Detector?
Fall of the House of Haggard

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