So, I go on sabbatical and come back blogging about mission, the environment and “astonishing generosity.” Frankly, those topics could fill all the space I would ever need.
And then Ted Haggard, the president of the 30 million strong, National Association of Evangelicals, resigns his post at NAE and the pastorate of his 14,000 member church, after he is accused of paying for gay sex and buying methamphetamines. The pastor wrote to his congregation:
I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.
Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn’t want to hurt or disappoint them. The public person I was wasn’t a lie; it was just incomplete. When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe.
Frankly, these things happen so often that I am rarely surprised. I truly do understand the depths of our brokenness as fallen people, I seek to humbly face my own temptations and I shudder at the reality that any of us, at any time can find ourselves deceiving those whom we love the most.
I read the news reports and prayed for those involved. I was genuinely touched by and respect Ted Haggard for the way he took responsibility for his sin, praised his family, charged his congregation to carry on, and even thanked God for his accuser for bringing his sin to light. (See this for another blogger's appreciation of Haggard's candor.)
And I would have left it at that. My blog is more specifically about the church as Christian community and how we-together—are to live out the faith for the sake of the world. I even intentionally shy away from what is “in the news” because too much is often said too quickly to be of any lasting good. (ALso because his accuser came forward on the eve of election day to thwart Haggard's support for a Colorado election issue that would prohibit gay marriage, and since I try to stay deliberately non-political in my blog, I would have easily skipped writing on all of this.)
The evangelical church needs to be honest and admit that prayer, accountability, Bible study, preaching from the pulpit and exorcising demons does not guarantee the end of sexual addiction or sexual sin for many people. What if the church said that much? What if evangelicals admitted that breaking bad sex habits is beyond the scope of its ability and is not a promise in Scripture?
Instead the church ought to advertise what it is best at: coming together to share our lives in community — to care for each other when we're sick, to pray for one another, to offer help when someone has a baby, to give food to the poor... What if someone said, "I'm struggling with sin," and the church said, "We can't promise you that you'll change, but we can offer you a place where you'll make friends and find meaningful work to do in spite of your struggles?"
When people say that Haggard should have been more honest with himself, I want to say that evangelical theology is guilty for his dishonesty. The promises are lies. They make a mockery of leaders who depend on the promises and find no relief. What else does a pastor do but lie when the practices he preaches don't work for him?
Christianity does not cure addiction. Christians are forgiven for sin. More importantly, Christianity is a pathway to community and caring in spite of sin. Honestly, a caring community is worth a lot in this postmodern fragmented world. Nothing to sneeze at!
If evangelicals started with the humble truth, they might not have so many sick people joining up in desperation hoping to find a magical cure for what they do in secret. In fact, the church might then become that sacred space where all are welcome, where honesty is valued and where some are helped, too.
I am grateful for these harsh, but honest words. While I believe that the power of the Holy Spirit can do amazing, even miraculous things, it is important for those of us who believe in the Spirit to continually acknowledge that those moments—amazing and miraculous—are rare. We are and should continue humbly proclaim to be more like Paul who called himself a “wretched man” in need of rescue from this “body of death” (Romans 7), who had to learn that God’s grace is sufficient when God refuses to deliver us from whatever ailment or dis-ease, that “for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
Can God heal? Yes. Can God even heal sexual sin? Yes. Does God promise that healing to all this side of the new creation? No. So, what is promised? What can we rely on and what do we proclaim? Forgiveness, that we are a new creation who will someday be made totally new (2 Cor 5, Revelation 21), that the presence of Jesus is with us in everything, that he will “not leave you orphaned” (John 14), that he will “never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). And that in this world we will have trials, tribulation, and temptations. That we will fail, falter and fall back. And that our only hope is in the one who has rescued us from sin, is present in every circumstance and will someday be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28, Eph 1:23).
In the meantime, how do we create loving, authentic communities that live under the authority of the Scriptures, that genuinely and generously care for one another and offer the world the true hope of Christ, without promising, hyping or “selling” that which the Scriptures never claimed to deliver?
While this post may seem a departure from the last few on “astonishing generosity”, I submit that “generosity” as a function of gratitude and humility are deeply connected in the Christian life. I also believe that authenticity, especially when dealing with our own sin and need for Christ, often leads to the most lavish acts of devotion and love (Luke 7).
In his latest book, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, Miroslav Volf connects “giving” and “forgiving” as the two acts, par excellence for revealing the glory of God in the world. Giving and Forgiving. Not perfection. Not blamelessness. Not healing. But giving and forgiving. Now, that’s pretty astonishing, I’d say.
And where I want to continue this little series next.