Monday, November 13, 2006

Hypocrisy vs. Failure: Ted Haggard, analyzed in the abstract

After Jeff's recent post about Haggard's problem being hypocrisy, not the flesh, I ran the issue by some local compadres.

Most of them immediately agreed with Jeff.

However, I then posed this hypothetical to them: suppose you knew that your pastor had at some point in the last year done something he wished he hadn't done: he'd looked at pornography. Should he then never say from his pulpit that you shouldn't look at pornography?

There's a difference between hypocrisy and failure; and Christianity has built into it a certain degree of failure on the part of its adherents.

However, another person brought up the need for transparency or honest, saying this is what would save someone from hypocrisy. 'It's one thing to fail to live up to your own ideals, it's another thing to imply that you are living up to them, when really you are not.'

So that's what I'm about: failure with transparency.

I'm not familiar with Haggard's work, but I suspect that his preaching implied that he himself wasn't indulging in sexual immorality, so that was probably hypocrisy.


Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

After reading your post, I went away and read the statement that Ted Haggard wrote to be read from the pulpit of his church. The statement was all very honest and correct. The remedy for his problem is being handled appropriately within the structure of the evangelical community. I am especially happy that Pastor Barnett will be one of his spiritual fathers in helping him through his repentance and restoration. (I know this is Orthodox talk, but that's what we call it.) I don't know Ted Haggard's ministry. In fact, before this happened, I don't know that I ever really heard of him before. I don't consider any of his sins anything worse than any of mine, they're just more visible. The loser here is satan because, having led him along to this point, he has now lost him, as God's angel vanguard has intervened. May God guard us all who sin secretly and give us the opportunity to repent. This is an affliction that has attacked the church since the beginning. It's proof of God's incredible love, though, that He always is faithful to save us, even when we're too weak to ask for help.

-Dave said...

In the list of reasons I enjoy reading comments by Romanos, this ranks near the top:

"It's proof of God's incredible love, though, that He always is faithful to save us, even when we're too weak to ask for help."


Jeff said...

I agree that there's a difference between hypocrisy and failure, but I don't really buy that the allegory you used is appropriate here. No one would condemn the hypothetical pastor for what Pink Floyd fans would call a momentary lapse of reason (we'll assume that the pastor believes that viewing porn is wrong - a valid assumption among most Christians). I would, in fact, hesitate to call such lapses "failures" in any sweeping sense of the word.

Haggard's activities are a different breed of cat altogether. Here is someone who openly railed against homosexuality as immoral, and yet engaged in homosexual behavior on a regular basis. What's more, he even paid for it. Imagine that the pastor in your example had a subscription to Hustler, and you might have a better idea of what we're talking about. If such a pastor railed against porn while getting it in his mailbox every week, would he not be a hypocrite?

It is not the fact that he fell short of his ideals. We all do that. I wouldn't be so hard on him had he only tried a little experimentation here and there. It is the fact that he made a pattern of engaging in activity that he decried quite loudly in public. Falling victim to temptation is one thing - living an alternate life is another.

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

Responding to Jeff's points, yes, it seems that brother Haggard is a hypocrite, not a man prone to momentary lapses into any particular sin. I don't know whether the sin of hypocrisy, though, is any more blameworthy or damning than the homosexual acts or the possible drug use.

From what little I've read (only Haggard's statement to his congregation), I gather that he has been fighting homosexual temptations all his life. Nevertheless, trusting in the God who "saves us and bears our burdens," he stepped out in faith (some would say in stupidity) and got married, raised a family, and followed a call to ministry. He did this, no doubt, because he knew that the homosexual temptations were exactly that (not that he was born that way), and he trusted in the Lord to either deliver him from that "thorn in the flesh," or at least give him the strength to resist.

You only live once, and as a young man struggling with issues of sexuality as a Christian, you come to a place where you have to decide whom to believe, against all odds. Will it be God as revealed in His written Word, or will it be the multiple and chaotic theorists that write books about what they know nothing about? Haggard chose to believe God's Word. In doing that, he has risked not only his life, the life of his woman, and their children's lives as well. Maybe, it would've been better to have believed God's Word, and just stayed celibate, or tried to. It would've been harder, though, and he'd likely have lost in the end and yielded wholeheartedly to the temptation, and abandoned all faith. Of course, you can never say what would've happened. All you can say is, what did happen.

How many men, attacked all their lives by this temptation, live among us? How many have endured it, fought the good fight, and maybe lapsed or tried what they gave up out of obedience to God, and then, repentant, went back to it no more? How many men, Christians even, have tried to follow Christ and God, ignorantly mis-led by false teachers who have explained away the danger of yielding to homosexual sin, telling them it's alright? And are they actually sure they are doing nothing wrong? Is God's Word conditioned by culture after all? We will have to wait for Moshiach to tell us the answer to that, when He comes (again).

I don't know brother Haggard, but I love him, and I feel for him, a brother who has momentarily fallen in battle. That fall may cost him everything, but his soul, his life, will be saved, if he repents and returns to God. No amount of human comfort, even yielding to homosexual sin (if that is in fact comforting!), can make up for the life God has created us to enjoy, to start living it here, and continue living it in the life of the Age to come. I am sure the man caught in this crisis knows the truth of what I've been trying to say, and I hope God will be merciful to him—no, I KNOW He will, because He is the Only Lover of mankind, He wants us. And He is faithful.

Erin said...

I think Romanos raises an interesting question about whether hypocrisy is better / worse / equivalent to other sins. I agree with him that all sins are equally repulsive to God's holiness, and that God has mercy on hypocrisy just like all other sins once we repent. (and that God loves us, wants us, and is faithful - these are all great reminders)

The problem with hypocrisy, though, is the way it affects other people (both Christian and non-Christian). If living a life that is holy and loving and pleasing to God is the ultimate witness, hypocrisy is the ultimate anti-witness. When you proclaim yourself as a Christian and say that certain things are true, but regularly act in a way that runs contrary to your words and then get caught, it makes Christianity look like a sham. It causes your Christian brothers and sisters to doubt, and it gives the world one more reason to point at Christians and call us frauds.

Again, I think that God forgives hypocrisy when people repent. And I think Haggard is handling things as well as he possibly can, so this is not a rant against him. Just a point that while all sins might be equally bad in the eyes of God, they have different effects here on earth.

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

Responding to Erin.

Yes, hypocrisy can have bad effects on a wider range of people, but I hardly think that the world is turned off to Christianity because of the periodic public lapse of a Christian leader.

The world treats Christianity as so much rubbish in large part because that's what Christians, by and large, do. When the institutionalised churches aren't making pronouncements far left or far right of the Good News, getting people polarised, worked up, or disgusted, the run of the mill inhabitant of the local sheep pen is racing after the almighty dollar, stuffing his belly with Costco and super-sized big gulps, getting glued to the tube, passing laughing gas, or going on Bible cruises with TV personalities.

Uh oh, is my hypocrisy showing? I go witnessing while my own spiritual house is a shambles. Do I stop and try to fix it, or do I keep riding the wave that God is sending me? Either way, I'm the bad guy to somebody.

No, bottom line, I don't think anything but good will come of Ted Haggard's fall, because anything and everything that gives us or the world cause to ask "Who's there?" when we hear the knock, is weighted in God's favor.

Everyone deep down wants the Good and wants to follow the Good. Somewhere and pretty early on the sin of the world starts turning us sour on the Good, sour grapes, yeah, you can't have them, you're not good enough, and some of us fall for it, some more, some less.

That's why Jesus had to come, to die for us, yes and Amen, but also to show us the way of the Cross.

Thanks be to God, He has allowed us the privilege of taking up our crosses, and following Jesus.

Erin said...

Excellent points, Romanos - you have lots of wisdom, and your sentence about institutionalized churches is hilarious / true / well-said.

It's good to remember that we're all hypocrites, at some level, and that I should be more worried about getting my own spiritual house in order than pin-pointing how other people have got it wrong.
(removing my plank before i go for other people's specks)

Jeff said...

Romanos - I really had to take a deep breath before writing this. Suffice it to say that your views on homosexuality struck a raw nerve with me. As someone who has watched friends struggle with their sexuality and with the decision of whether to be honest with themselves and others or to live the lie that they feel society/parents/God wants them to live, I cannot assent to your assessment of homosexuality as a sin and an immoral choice. I do not believe that God would want His children to live a lie - rather, I believe that God would want the gay men and lesbian women in His flock to be open about who they are and to live good, moral lives.

But that's a theological discussion for another time and place. (E-mail if you want my full rant on why homosexuality is not a sin.) I do, however, respect that you are honest enough to voice your opinions here and not worry about what others will think. Such candor is truly missing in our world today.

Regardless, I wanted to point this out to y'all. In Jewish tradition there are two types of sins - sins against God and sins against your fellow man. The former are serious (they're why we have Yom Kippur) but are always forgiven for the truly repentant. The latter? One must make peace with all those harmed by his sin in order to achieve true atonement. The relative importance of the two types of sin is elucidated by this legend: it is said that the First Temple was destroyed because of our sins against God. The Temple was rebuilt in a generation. The Second Temple was destroyed because pious people had ignored their fellow man... 2000 years later, the Temple has yet to be rebuilt.

Should we believe, as you do, that homosexuality is a sin, it is certainly one of the former variety, since it is not harmful to anyone. Haggard committed two sins of the latter variety - adultery and hypocrisy. Obviously adultery is Haggard's severest sin (it being one of the Big Ten). But if we follow this logic Haggard's hypocrisy must certainly be placed on a level far above his homosexuality, for not only is it a more serious sin, but it affected all those unfortunate enough to participate in his ministry. What's more, it was the sin that led to his adultery.

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

Thank you, Jeff, for your respectful stance in challenging me on the issue of homosexuality, but either your language is imprecise or your reading of what I wrote was not careful enough.

I cannot find any instance in my commentary in which I even use the word homosexuality, much less call it a sin. I wrote of homosexual temptations as a condition, and of homosexual acts as being sinful. But nowhere did I say that homosexuality is a sin. So please do not say, "Should we believe, as you do, that homosexuality is a sin." This is not just a matter of semantics, at least not to me. What are you calling "homosexuality"?

I stand by what I wrote. Even though people think of themselves as "gay" or "homosexual", it's only because they've heard this explanation so often, that they simply repeat it, parrot-like, and accept it uncritically.

Unfortunately, sin is master in this world. If we want to enter the Kingdom of God, we must expect to fight sin. Sin hurts. In fact, sin kills. No one, least of all me, is unsympathetic or unsupportive of others when they are tempted to do anything sinful. We try to help each other overcome in ourselves what is wrong. Rather than giving in, we resist, because when we fight against the attack, we know that God is with us, whether we win or lose. But if we don't resist at all, but give in to what we know is against God, who is with us? Who will save us from ourselves?

This is what I think is being hinted at in the Talmudic saying:
If not I for myself, who then? And being for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

I've been posting some of the comments from this discussion directly on my blog.

After a night of reflection, once again on the issues surrounding Ted Haggard, but particularly with regard to the homosexual relationship, it becomes clearer to me than ever (I suppose), that what to do if one is faced with that temptation, even lifelong, is still summed up in the Cross of Christ. I realize that Jeff is a Jewish brother to whom that concept will not have the same meaning as it does to us, but the bearing the Cross is no strange concept to his people, as they have been cross-bearers all through their history, as a people, because their presence is baneful to the princes of this world, just as baneful and unwelcome as was the presence of Jesus to the world order of His day.

For Ted Haggard and for everyone who is the object of homosexual temptation, it still comes down to the choice of bearing that Cross, or of running away from it, in which case (as Thomas à Kempis says) heavier crosses will follow.

What Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, as I quote in my blog post, is this:

To endure the Cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. … the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life.

It is not suffering per se but suffering-and-rejection, and not rejection for any cause of conviction of our own, but rejection for the sake of Christ. If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity… We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering.

What proves to me the truth of God's Word about the nature of this affliction, is that to resist it brings suffering AND rejection. To bear both of these identifies the fighter with Jesus Christ, and that voluntary suffering for God's Word is, beyond all human comfort or judgment, the seal of salvation on the fighter's life. He or she has laid down life itself, and received back justification before Jesus, the faithful Witness, and before His Father.

It's all in Revelation.

Go with God, brothers and sisters, and pray for Romanós the sinner.

Jeff said...

"Sin kills"? I'm not sure I buy that. Killing kills. Telling someone else to kill kills. Lying and gossiping can kill if you're really malicious with it. Most sin, though? Hurtful, perhaps, but probably not killers.

Most modern psychologists believe that homosexuality is a trait one is born with. Others may disagree. I understand, though, that self-denial is part of the Christian ethos and so those who experience extra homosexual tendencies would have to work harder to push those down, just like a kleptomaniac would have to work hard to not steal. For those who believe homosexual acts are sins, this is valid.

I'll not quibble with that point - my disagreement with that statement is immaterial. I would, however, like clarification on why homosexual acts ought to be placed on a par with serious sins that "kill" and not on a level with other, less important sins. To the point, why is Haggard's so-called "sexual immorality" (which hurts no one) as reprehensible as his hypocrisy (which hurt his entire congregation)?