Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ted Haggard And The Youthworkers. . . .


This is a difficult blog to pen. . . difficult because I want to be very careful about what I say and how I say it. That also happens to be the stimulus for my thoughts today. . . the issue of being very careful about what we say and how we say it. That issue was also the catalyst for some heated conversation over the weekend at the National Youthworkers Convention in Nashville. That conversation was widespread, and I'm still sorting out the many questions I was asked by attendees along with my own response. So, here goes. . .

If you weren't there, you missed Ted Haggard and his wife Gayle sharing some of their story with interviewer Tic Long on the main stage Sunday morning. Just to clarify, I was not in the room, but catching bits and pieces on the live feed. I say that because context is important and if I botch anything in my response/reaction regarding the facts of the morning, I will need to be corrected. But I caught enough from the feed and from those who were there and that's what I want to comment on today. In addition, I've watched and listened to Haggard and his wife enough - especially in recent years - to struggle to respect his views, conclusions, and demeanor. . . even though I feel very, very badly about any victimization he suffered at the hands of others when he was young enough to be manipulated. Whenever I watch Haggard, I feel like I watch pride eclipse remorse, narcissism eclipse the beauty of discipline and accountability, and a man who needs to humbly walk with his head held low cheapen grace by holding his head high while sometimes making the mistake of extending the necessary words "I was wrong. . ." to include a series of "buts. . ." followed by excuses and explanations that frame himself as a victim. To be honest, it reminds me of dealing with a middle-schooler who just got caught. I felt that way once again when I heard him speak on Sunday morning. . . which was really driven home by his off-the-cuff and inappropriate racist remark in response to the noisy military flyover.

And so, some of the thoughts that have been spinning through my head since Sunday morning. . .

First, I know that Haggard's racial comment DOES NOT in any way, shape, or form represent Youth Specialties, parent-company YouthWorks, or any of us who ever speak at the National Youthworkers Conventions. Everyone I talked to was stunned and bothered. Still, many are questioning why Haggard was even invited in the first place. YS has always been known to want to stir up the pot from the main stage and start a little discussion. While many of us would have a main stage philosophy that might differ, the pot was stirred and there is a buzz. In the immediate aftermath, the convention planners and up-front folks from YW and YS handled the situation extremely well.

Second, we should respond by hoping that the redeeming moment will come in the discussions that follow Haggard's time on stage. It's especially important for those present Sunday morning who are older and wiser, to process and sort out the Haggard story for those who are young and perhaps more green.

Third, let's use the time to see what we can learn about ourselves and the need for scrutiny. Many would defend Haggard saying that we shouldn't judge him, criticize him, or question him at all. Haggard himself sometimes leaves the impression that he might be in the front of that line. But here's the deal and we all know it - when we make a choice to enter the spotlight, stand in front of a crowd, lead people, teach seminars, write books or blog, we invite scrutiny and we should welcome it. People will interact with us, our stuff, and our stories. None of us are above it. And by all means, part of what we should be using our platform for is to encourage those who listen to us to ask the right questions, evaluate things in light of the Scriptures, and use Godly discernment. And, when necessary, we should encourage them to speak up in response to things that just aren't the way they're supposed to be.

Fourth, we need filters. In other words, we need to think carefully about what we say before a watching world. And when our filters fail either one time or consistently, we need people to call us out on it. I wonder if Ted Haggard has anyone like that in his life.

Fifth, Haggard's story continues to bring to mind the opening line of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic book, The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer wrote, "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace."

Sixth, Ted Haggard provides me with a host of living lessons I want to teach my kids. The biggest lesson of all. . . I tell them that not one of us is a better person than Ted Haggard. If we don't have a healthy understanding of human depravity (especially our own!) and the fact that we're all just one bad decision away from the place Ted Haggard found himself in 2006 and beyond, then we're really in trouble. In fact, in the days after Haggard's 2006 exposure, I sat down our CPYU staff and my kids to talk about Gordon MacDonald's wonderful yet sobering article in response to Haggard's sin and the reminder that there's an asassin that lives inside us all. Ted Haggard's story should humble us. Sadly - and I truly wish it wasn't this way - I also feel the need to use Ted Haggard as a "don't be like him" example not only in regards to his secret life before he was found out, but in his response to discipline and accountability in the years since he was found out.

Finally, what happened at The National Youthworkers Convention on Sunday morning has served to remind me of a hot ministry topic I remember hearing discussed years ago. It was at the time when a series of high profile athletes, musicians, and celebrities were coming to faith in Christ and being thrust into the spotlight to speak at all kinds of Christian events. Some of these new evangelical heroes were pushed in front of the mike before they even had a chance to grow enough to have even a limited understanding of the faith or something of substance to say. Some quickly fizzled and denounced their faith either verbally or through their actions, leaving those who put them in front of the mike in the first place with egg on their faces. Perhaps we should also be sure that when a brother or sister falls, the best favor we can do for them and the rest of the body is to surround them with grace, prayer, guidance and accountability, rather than an audience. Healing takes time. And sometimes when we think we are all healed up, we really aren't. . . and we need people to remind us of that. Far too many of us in the church are quick to grace-lessly crucify fallen brothers and sisters. That's not right. But we must also do all we can to grace-fully keep them from crucifying themselves.

And for those who weren't at the convention this year. . . you missed a great time of being encouraged and equipped.

11 comments:

Gretchen said...

Well said.

It was a reminder for me to do the least and most I can for those who are in difficult situations (regardless of my thoughts and feelings about them), pray.

emergingyouth said...

Walt
thanks for your response and insights.
I was there and wrote about my reactions as well
www.emergingyouth.com

I would love to hear your thoughts as well

Chris Weide said...

Agreed, Walt. For me the redeeming moment came in the subsequent session when Tic, the consummate professional, opened up with his apology. I love that Tic Long.

Haley Wherry said...

Well said. I came away with the same thoughts regarding a lack of hummility. I think the comment about the airplanes (while inappropriate) was a minor thing compared to what came across to me as arrogance In fact, I think the attempt at making a joke in the middle of a serious conversation on the Church's lack of compassion and love erased any credibility he may have had.

I pray that this controversy does not distract us from the whole point of having them there...that we, the Church, need to help restore/redeem members who stumble instead of shooting our wounded. I appreciate YS's attempt to bring attention to our need for accountability and compassion.

Anonymous said...

Yes, while true is it nice to stir the pot. I like that, I like good discussion, challenging the status quo, but not sure who was thinking when asking this guy to speak. It would be nice if "those present Sunday morning who are older and wiser, to process and sort out the Haggard story for those who are young and perhaps more green" be on the board who signs up speakers. What a shame.....

Jim and Diane Ruehling said...

"This is a difficult blog to pen..." You penned it perfectly Walt.

"Whenever I watch Haggard...frame himself as a victim." What an incredible sentence! Wow! You have such a gift to express your feelings in such a meaningful and picturesque way.

Haggard is nothing more than a modern day snake oil salesman and his invitation greatly demeaned the convention and attacked it's integrity. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

Ashley said...

Walt- this is the first time I have commented on your blog. But this story caught my eye as I have heard Gayle speak at many events and I have always been blown away by her story of grace.

While I wasn't at the specific conference you attended nor do you list the offensive comment Ted made, it is a little disturbing to me that all these people are passing judgement on the condition of someone else's heart.

What if he is a victim? What if he's a bad speaker? Maybe he was nervous. I think some grace needs to be extended. At least he, in the midst of his sin, has gone public with it & still saying that the church is his only saving grace.

Roshelle said...

I was not present at this conference, but I saw Ted and his wife on one of the national morning shows being interviewed... maybe a year or so ago. (I had seen him in person speak about 10+ years ago in a small setting). I left that programming feeling very uneasy. Like something was missing... confession, admition of guilt. I heard lots of excuses from him and his wife. I almost felt like his wife was the one denying his sin and enabling his victim mentality. I left there thinking "really?!" Thanks for putting to words to my thoughts. It was like he was broken that he got caught, not about his sin (which he never admitted to...)

I agree with all your thoughts and points made in this blog. As far as filters, I assume that he probably does/did have those people in his life calling him out, but I bet they are gone now either by his dismissal or his handlers dismissal. I'm sure they quickly reject truth and accountability; they call those people (us) haters, nay-sayers, merciless, etc.

I think Ted is an excellent bad example of confession, forgiveness and repentance.

I admit that I am not very good at extending grace... especially when I don't feel the offender has taken ownership of his/her sin and repented (changed the way he/she thinks about it) Vicitim mentality is faulty thinking and so limiting. Without ownership and repentance of our sin we can never move past it and grow and change into the person who is moving in a direction of a closer and more meaningful relationship with Jesus... we're too busy justifying ourselves and pointing the blame finger away from ourselves. When self comes first, God is dethroned in our life.

I love what you say here..."Perhaps we should also be sure that when a brother or sister falls, the best favor we can do for them and the rest of the body is to surround them with grace, prayer, guidance and accountability, rather than an audience." For me, it's hard to extend them the grace and prayer when they don't want the guidance and accountability. That says that they're really not interested in changing, just interested in having this "thing" (their sin) blow over.

I think I need to read "The Cost of Discipleship." That first line entrigues me.

I love your blog. Thanks for keeping it real and your head out of the sand. I live in a pretty rural area, so trends are much slower to come here, but they eventually do. Thanks for the heads-up on so many issues to watch for with my teen... and my two tweens.

Ralph said...

Great post Walt. Haggard just does not “get it”. You do. He amassed his fortune on this sleazy, phony, manipulative approach and he is trying to recoup his fame and fortune the same way. He doesn’t know any other way. Check out the medical definition of a sociopath. It fits him to a tee. I cringe whenever I see him speak on TV, knowing that religious doubters and disbelievers see him as an esteemed example of a contrite Christian.

Unfortunately for those not familiar with all the great speakers at this conference, including yourself, his presence and highly promoted appearance, gave the conference a carnival-like atmosphere, reeking of sensationalism, without anything substantive being offered. Totally contradictive to what it was truly about. His presence did not do this conference justice. The baggage that comes with him overshadows the real purpose of the conference. Plus, could anyone tell me what in the world does he have to offer to youth workers? A totally inappropriate invitation. It only served to legitimize him.

PS. Ashley. He only went "public with it" when his male prostitute and drug sharing mate produced overwhelming evidence of their long standing escapades. Until the evidence was all-conclusive, Haggard vehemently and steadfastly denied it, thus taking away even the smallest virtue of a confession.

Stephanie said...

TV preachers such as Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggert, Benny Hinn, Ken Copeland, Joel Osteen, Robert H and Robert A Schuller, Peter Popoff, Joel Osteen, Kenneth Hagin, Creflo Dollar, Charles Stanley, the late James D Kennedy, etc. etc. etc., are nothing but megalomaniacs. They thrive on manipulating the emotions of their audiences, resulting in stuffed coffers. You manipulate people through their emotions. You teach them through their intellect.

Christ’s overwhelming teachings and actions were directed at helping the poor. That is never given even the slightest attention in the deliveries of these charlatans. The real followers of Christ are sacrificing a world of power and wealth to live, teach, and assist the poor in some of the most economically depressed regions of the world-their names unknown. These are the real “stars”.

I’m off to a Thanksgiving extravaganza where all will give hearty thanks to our Lord for the over-abundance of food He has blessed us with, literally more than we can possibly eat. At the same time innocent others, just as worthy as myself, God is allowing to literally starve to death, while I am feasting on His blessing.

It is so confusing.

Roshelle said...

I agree with Stephanie! Manipulation through emotion.... I get so sick of seeing that even in my own small church. And then I'm the bad guy when I don't jump on the bandwagon. I can definitely see why the Lord refers to us as sheep.

And I cannot stomach Osteen.