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Haggard Scandal, Confession Shakes Evangelical Community

Jenni Parker | AgapePress | Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Haggard Scandal, Confession Shakes Evangelical Community

Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals and former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, has been in seclusion today as the evangelical Christian community reels from news of his admission that he lied to conceal his "sexual immorality."

Amid scandal involving allegations made by a male "escort," Haggard has stepped down from his posts and, in a letter to his church community, confessed his struggle of many years with "repulsive and dark" desires. According to Associated Press reports, the former pastor denied in the letter that all of the allegations against him are true but said "enough of them are that I was appropriately removed" from church leadership.

The Overseer Board of New Life Church released a statement Saturday concerning the former pastor's resignation. In it, the church board stated that public statements made by Haggard had "proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct." Also, it said the board had decided after consulting with leading evangelicals and experts about the minister's behavior that his dismissal and removal would be the most positive and productive step to take.

In addition, the statement notes that the Overseers will continue to "explore the depth of Pastor Haggard's offense so that a plan of healing and restoration can begin." Meanwhile, the church leaders will begin immediately the process of seeking a new pastor according to the rules of replacement in the church's bylaws.

Haggard's letter was read Sunday from the pulpit of New Life Church after children were dismissed from the service. Afterwards, a second letter was read from the disgraced minister's wife to the women of the church, in which she noted that she still loves her husband and remains "committed to him till death do us part" and that he is now "the visible and public evidence that every man, woman, and child needs a Savior."

Christian Community Reacts With Shock, Sorrow and Sympathy Christian community members and leaders in Colorado Springs and across the U.S. have commented on the scandal, many sounding notes of sympathy for the disgraced pastor and his family. New Life Church member Tina Cardwell noted that she thinks it would be "terrible if all of our sins were broadcast across the nation" and said that it was unfortunate for Haggard that "his are." However, she expressed confidence that New Life would survive under new leadership.

Dr. James Dobson of the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family ministry issued a statement last week, when news broke that Haggard had acknowledged some "indiscretions" with regard to the allegations against him. Dobson described Haggard as "a close friend and colleague for many years" who has been "used mightily to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Colorado Springs and around the world."

The pro-family ministry founder said last week that Haggard will continue to be his friend, "even if the worst allegations prove accurate." The statement went on to say that sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual, "has serious consequences," and to urge the Focus on the Family constituency and Christians everywhere to "pray for Ted and his loved ones."

Haggard's situation "has grave implications for the cause of Christ," Dobson asserts, "and we ask for the Lord’s guidance and blessings in the days ahead." Meanwhile, he and everyone at Focus on the Family "are extremely concerned for Ted, his family and his church," he adds. "Our hearts go out to all of them."

Christian broadcasters Pat Robertson and David Cerullo also weighed in on the events surrounding Haggard's very public downfall. The two made their comments at the recent groundbreaking for Cerullo's new City of Light near Fort Mill, South Carolina, which is going up 15 miles from the spot where Jim Bakker's PTL ministry was brought low by similar allegations of sexual impropriety coupled with a financial scandal.

Cerullo, CEO of the Inspiration Networks, called Haggard's situation a tragedy and said he believes the former NAE president deserves forgiveness but probably should not hold a leadership position again. One of the biggest mistakes Christians can make is "to look at people and to set them up as some type of image or idol," Cerullo noted.

"Jesus didn't call us to be followers of other people," the head of Inspiration Networks pointed out. "When we get our eye on other people," he added, "they're going to fail us." Also, he observed that just as the church might reach out to prostitutes, drug addicts, or the homeless, the body of Christ should reach out to fallen Christians, who are "every bit as much" in need of being restored.

Meanwhile, Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson reflected that Haggard, who publicly opposed same-sex "marriage," may have made himself vulnerable to attack as an outspoken Christian spokesman. According to Robertson, political involvement makes "high-profile" ministers more of a target.

In any case, Robertson emphasized that Christians are human and "have the same failings" as everyone else; and if one goes astray, he added, "it doesn't mar the fact that Jesus is ... the Lord, the truth and the light." He and Cerullo both contend that Haggard's sins should not reflect on other Christians nor diminish the faith.

After Haggard's Resignation, NAE Moves Prayerfully Forward Since unanimously accepting Haggard's resignation on November 3, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) has named the Rev. Leith Anderson of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, as interim president of the 30-million-member organization. Anderson, who headed the NAE before Haggard became president in 2003, will serve as temporary leader of the organization until a permanent replacement can be found.

The Minnesota minister, who serves as senior pastor of the 5,000-member Wooddale Church, is also the author of eight books and the host of the Christian radio program "Faith Matters." The NAE's board chairman describes him as a "man of great personal integrity and spiritual leadership" whom they trust will be able to step into the role of president "without missing a beat."

A November 3 statement from the National Association of Evangelicals notes that Haggard rendered "invaluable services" to the NAE during his term as president, and the organization appreciates his "many years of effective leadership." Knowing the former president, the NAE states, the initial reports of his misconduct were "shocking and difficult to believe," and in light of the seriousness of his conduct, the evangelical group anticipates that "an extended period of recovery will be appropriate."

The remarks from the office of NAE chairman Rod Taylor went on to acknowledge "that we are all capable of grievous moral failures" and to express gratitude for "the grace and mercy of Christ, who is able to forgive all sorts of sin." But because the Bible holds Christian leaders to higher levels of accountability, the statement continues, "it is especially serious when a pastor and prominent Christian leader deliberately violates God's standards of conduct."

The NAE message commends Rev. Haggard to the wisdom of the New Life Church board of overseers and its accountability process, adding a prayer "that the overseers' ministry to him will lead to his eventual moral healing, restoration in Christ, and service in the Church." The group's statement adds that, in addition to its prayers for Haggard and his family, the NAE also prays for the man who has accused him.