When a Leader Falls
By Joanne Highley
The news of Pastor Ted Haggard from the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, having been involved with a male prostitute and using drugs during the experiences, was devastating. We had met him and his wife while we were in Colorado Springs as part of a Focus on the Family Apologetics Conference for Teens. Our dear friends, Brian and Susan Kerkhoff attend that church and had introduced us to the Haggards after a Sunday morning service in August 2005. In the past two years, Mrs. Haggard had requested our teaching materials and had told Susan she wanted us to come to teach a seminar at their church. Then we saw the report on television regarding his sin.
How tragic that a man who was chosen to build such a huge, thriving church and who spoke for thirty-three million American evangelicals, should be involved in this sin. He has been removed from all leadership and he and his wife have gone to a ministry to seek restoration and freedom. There is always a reason for this sin and it will be discovered and he will be set free. I believe the Lord will use all of this for good as he is slowly brought to his senses and freed from the trap of Satan to do God's will. But some very painful days lie ahead for him and for his family.
It was interesting to see the various reactions to this fall of a leader among our friends and counselees. The most frequently expressed reaction among our counselees was, "I am so discouraged. If he can't be free, how can I ever be free?" This is a misconception about a pastor and addiction, presuming he understands and can take the time to do the emotional work necessary to uproot the old ungodly reactions to pain in childhood, even if he is in touch with or aware of such a thing. It was said of Pastor Haggard that he had tried to get help in the past, but it was not effective. We at L.I.F.E. always counsel a person in ministry to step down, confess the sin and take time off to be set free from the emotional lies and bondage which constitute addiction--especially homosexual addiction. (We believe all homosexuality is addiction.) This was obviously not done. Also as Pastor Haggard had more and more public presence in the media, the attack of Satan became stronger to corrupt and besmirch the ministry and the name of Jesus. So to compare yourself to a pastor with this kind of pressure and demonic opposition is not rational. Besides, we must learn to deal only with our own unique set of issues. They are like no one else's issues and must have individual attention. Comparisons with others who have homosexual problems are only a hindrance to freedom. They are discouraging, distracting, time-consuming and needless.
Others we talked to said, "He's only human." This is another way of saying we do not truly become a new creation in Christ at salvation, but rather stay in the condition of being unregenerate. Of course, we sin after regeneration, but our desire is to be pure for God and to "put off the old man and put on the new man". This position of "He's only human,” seems to draw us to reckon ourselves alive to sin and dead to righteousness. After twenty-eight years of working with people coming out of addiction, I have seen clearly that old emotional storage from childhood or youth became the final reference point in place of truth and those emotions are what connect to the sex drive in homosexuality -- those old ungodly reactions to pain and the demonic power laced in these lying emotions because the inherent sin in them has not be repented of.
This is what happened to Pastor Haggard. It was not that he was human, but that he was deceived about what would take away the pain. And that is true of every person caught in this sin/addiction. The role of pastor is perhaps the most insidious one for tempting a person to swallow any feelings that would appear ungodly and put on a cheerful face when in the presence of others. This can create a serious storage of emotions on top of the old childhood emotions and make the person vulnerable to Satan's attacks. It can also cause evil desire to have someone who "understands" and will seem to take the burden off the pastor and give him relief from the pressure.
It was truly eye-opening to read the article on Pastor Haggard written by Gordon MacDonald, a former pastor, now editor-at-large of the Leadership Journal. Twenty years ago he had a similar fall, but in heterosexual adultery. He stated, "From those terrible moments of twenty years ago in my own life, I have come to believe that there is a deeper person in many of us who is not unlike an assassin. This deeper person (like a contentious board member) can be the source of attitudes and behavior we normally stand against in our conscious being. But it seeks to destroy us and masses energies that – unrestrained -- tempt us to do the very things we ‘believe against’”.
Don't we see in this statement who it is that seeks to destroy us and tempt us? This is the power of Satan or one of his minions in our own unrepented sinful emotions, driving for our destruction and we must never accept that power as a part of us and feel we must keep it on a leash. It must be renounced, fought against with weapons of our warfare (Ephesians 6) and uprooted (cast out). Identifying with these demonic powers is deadly and keeps many people who do not understand in the bondage of constant vigilance.
Mr. MacDonald goes on to say, "If you have been burned as deeply as I (and my loved ones) have, you never live a day without remembering that there is something within that, left unguarded, will go on a rampage.” Wallace Hamilton wrote, "Within each of us there is a herd of wild horses all wanting to run loose." I sympathize with Mr. MacDonald but I must stand against his conclusion borne out of great pain. If he works through those traumatized yet ungodly emotions, he will have the peace that passes understanding and can put down the guard because the wild destroyer and tempter will have been kicked out.
The church has simply got to look at these truths and learn how to deal with ungodly reactions to pain. It will make a new and vital Body of Christ, prepared to face the coming days with power and truth.
What then should our response be when a leader falls? We must remember that God will use this experience mightily in all of us to strengthen His people, to remind us of our own sin and the need to repent and be cleansed, and to learn to intercede for the Haggards to be restored at the proper time. (Not to New Life Church, but to the total Body of Christ and to a specific work). We need to hold up all those who are wounded and disillusioned by this tragedy. May we all learn to trust in the Lord to work all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.