In 2006, Ted Haggard joined the “pantheon” of fallen megachurch pastors after being caught red-handed in a gay sex and drugs scandal. Most Christians weep over such incidents, grieve for the damage done to the church of Christ, pray that the man will repent and find forgiveness with God, and hope that he will take a quiet and unpublicized place in the church of Christ for the rest of his life.

Usually it’s a vain hope. As it was in this case too.

After a short period of “restoration,” the Haggards returned to the public eye with books, television interviews, and a re-launched ministry.

I suppose we all still hoped that despite appearances, there had been true repentance, that Haggard really had owned his sin, taken responsibility, accepted the blame, and sincerely confessed his guilt.

But a recent blog post raises a huge question mark against that hope. In Suicide, Evangelicals, and Sorrow, Haggard used the recent suicide of another megachurch pastor’s son, Isaac Hunter, to continue his attempts at resurrecting his name, reputation, and ministry. His post really is an almost perfect example of how not to repent.

So why highlight it? First, because it will help us to spot these characteristics when dealing with others who have fallen into public sin and scandal. Sadly, there are predictable patterns to these things that we’d do well to acquaint ourselves with so that we are not duped.  And second, because we can use it as a personal heart-check to examine how we respond to our own sin.

1. I’m no worse than anyone else. In a number of places Haggard basically says, “OK, I’m not perfect, but neither are you. We all fall short. We’ve all had sin intrude horribly into our lives. Only Christ is perfect.” In other words, why make such an example of me when you’re no better.

2. My problem was not spiritual. ”The therapeutic team that dug in on me insisted that I did not have a spiritual problem.”

3. It was something that happened to me. “Contrary to popular reports, my core issue was not sexual orientation, but trauma.” It’s not so much about what I did, or who I am, but about what someone else did to me.

4. I wasn’t responsible; someone else was to blame. ”I had a physiological problem rooted in a childhood trauma.”

5. I needed therapy, not faith and repentance. ”I needed trauma resolution therapy….I went through EMDR, a trauma resolution therapy.”

6. It wasn’t a personal choice. Haggard asks: “Do we actually believe that the many pastors who have been characterized as fallen decided to be hateful, immoral, greedy, or deceitful?” Then answers: “I think not.”

7. Christians are cruel and unforgiving. In a number of places Haggard attacks Christians saying that they lack sympathy, grace, and forgiveness. “My sin never made me suicidal, but widespread church reaction to me did.” He also speaks of the “brutal mail” and “hurtful communications” he received, and he imagines the Warrens and Hunters did too. He lambasts an “evangelical culture that alienates those who fall and spiritualizes their struggles.”

8. Attack the accusers. Throughout this piece Haggard is continually swiping at his accusers and those who initiated church discipline against him. They are “flat-earthers,” “Judaizers,” “scrutinizers,” “Pharisees” who are “too busy with the sins of others.”

9. You just don’t understand me: “When I explain [my trauma and the trauma resolution therapy] to most Evangelical leaders, their eyes glaze over.” He goes on to characterize Christians who rejected his excuses as simplistic fundamentalists.

10. My sins were not as bad as you think. ”My accuser failed his lie detector test and refused to take another, and I passed four lie detector tests given by three different polygraphers saying that the primary accusations were false.”

Sadly there is no shortage of naive people who will swallow this self-pitying self-justifying narrative hook, line, and sinker. (And sadly there’s no shortage of media outlets who will happily use Haggard as a stick to beat the “unforgiving” church with.)

Even more sadly, our own hearts can also do a Haggard when we are confronted with our own sins.

Real repentance looks and sounds radically different. It says: “I’m worse than you, worse than you think, and did worse than you can imagine. No matter what was in my past, I deliberately chose these sinful actions and accept full responsibility for them. I deserve whatever consequences result from them. I shamed my Lord and His church. If some Christians treat me badly, that’s OK, I understand. I can’t and won’t complain. I won’t say or write anything that will portray the Church or Christians in a bad light. I’ve brought enough damage on the church already. And I certainly won’t use the tragic suicides of others to further my own public rehabilitation.”

That’s the kind of repentance that leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).

  • http://www.larryfarlow.com Larry

    Amen, brother.

  • Andrew

    This is so incredibly helpful. Thank you. I personally need it to be consistently clarified what precisely is the repentance that God requires.

  • Billy McQuade

    The language of blame shifting changes but basically he’s doing what Adam did in Genesis 3:12. “Everyone is responsible but me”

  • http://tedhaggardblog.com Ted Haggard

    David, thank you for taking the time to think about and write about my blog. As you might imagine, I had several thoughts: 1) Repentance produces fruit. Look at the fruit before and after the fall. Before demonstrates the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the midst of my struggle, after demonstrates the fruit of repentance. 2) To minimize the four years of working through these issues after the crisis before doing any ministry again. That included extensive time with pastors and therapists, selling insurance to fund my family, attendance at a good church without any participation in leadership, etc. As a result, I was healed, my family is intact, and the Bible obviously has been proven true. 3) I have repented verbally and more publicly more than anyone in recent American history. 4) What if the facts I present are just the facts, and not excuses? It’s been seven years, so I did decide that at some point people needed to deal with the facts of my healing instead of presuming. 5) To presume to know the motivations of another is a difficult place to be. 6) I am fully responsible for everything I did, and I am deeply sorry for my willful fall into sin. Simply because we searched out the core for my weaknesses doesn’t mean I displace responsibility or blame. I am responsible. However, I needed to know where I had let that stuff in. I needed to know why I was weak. Once that we unearthed, it was helpful to me so I could walk out my repentance. And I have repented, which is evidenced by both my words and my life. It’s true, if I had written this blog the week after the crisis, your insights might have been more valid. But to write what you have seven years later, ignoring the way I resigned, repented, submitted, and went through the process of working this out in the Spirit and the Scriptures was hard work. This is just about 2014. Now enough time is past that dealing with the facts is not an attempt on my part for tit-for-tat, but instead a desire for the truth to inform our thoughts so we can all be helpful in walking others to the holiness that they desire.

    It might be interesting for you to note that no major leaders have resigned, repented, submitted, and gone through the prescribed process since the church used my repentance against me. Since 2006, the high profile ones who have been caught paid off their accusers, hired lawyers and threatened people, hired publicists, and the church went along with that process instead of mine of repentance, healing, and restoration.

    7) I certainly did not intend to immorally comment on anyone else’s demise. The Hunter family were friends of our before my crisis and have been incredibly gracious to us since 2006. Their son’s story is very personal and painful to me. The mental illness issue with Rick Warren’s son’s story is also relevant, and all of these are very public stories. Your insinuation that I was kicking someone while they were down is wrong.

    I have a few other thoughts but I think this is enough to simply say, give me a call and let’s talk. My cell is 719-338-0079. My e-mail address is tedhaggard7@aol.com. I look forward to hearing from you. Ted

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      I appreciate some of what you have said in your response and I’d like to take your assurances in good faith. But I’d be much more encouraged to do so if you didn’t keep attacking other people who you sinned against and with, and those who were involved in your discipline, even in the comment you left. I just keep seeing this kind of deflecting and diverting conduct again and again when church leaders fall into gross open sin. From all that I’ve seen in other similar cases, it does not bode well. If you were willing to talk about that, I’d be open to a call.

  • Terry Robbins

    The response by Ted Haggard demonstrates exactly David Murray’s blog post is spot on. Thank you David for your candor.

  • Kerry James Allen

    I guess some people can’t accept the truth of Proverbs 6:33. Please do something else Ted, before you bring any more reproach upon the thrice holy God and His Word. As Spurgeon said of David, after his sin with Bathsheba, he never danced before the Ark again, and went limping all the way to Heaven. Accept your limp, Ted, you caused it.

  • Abram Hess

    Mr. Haggard, repentance is a beautiful thing, and fundamental to the Christian life. As Martin Luther wrote, when Christ commanded repentance He intended that the Christian life would be one of continual repentance. The true church does not censure repentance, but encourages and cultivates it.

    That said, true repentance bears fruit, just as John the Baptist commanded, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!” Therefore, the proof of your repentance is in its fruit. Of what have you repented, and what is the fruit thereof? If pride in position, self-aggrandizement, fame, and the adulation of men were in any way connected to the public humiliation that God mercifully blessed you with, then true repentance will involve abandoning all of those and embracing humility. It will mean embracing obscurity. It will mean finding a new line of work where you will no longer be tempted by those things (because you’ve already proven yourself weak to them, and you shouldn’t put yourself in that danger again).

    Mr. Haggard, please repent, not just of the public and embarrassing sins, but repent of your hidden sins, too. And bear fruit in keeping with repentance! Pursue your own obscurity, and that will be to the glory of Christ’s church.

  • http://tylereiland.com Tyler

    Such a sad story.

  • Don

    May Ted should use the excuse “I am a hopeless narcissus “. It fits.

  • http://www.thiswillpreach.blogspot.com Rich Christen

    Pro 6:33
    “Wounds and disgrace he will find,
    And his reproach will not be blotted out.”

  • Derek

    I happened across this and had to comment:

    “However, I needed to know where I had let that stuff in. I needed to know why I was weak.”

    More than anyone I’ve read in recent memory Ted Haggard actually gets what’s on my mind a lot. I’m not sure if anyone commenting has experienced a significant childhood trauma or not but I was sexually abused as a child for several years. I have no idea whether this is what Haggard experienced or not but you come to the realization that it was something God allowed in your life and again I have no idea if this is something that Ted has accepted or not. I would suspect so, I guess, but I haven’t came across that in his writing. So as I read a few of the comments here I’m curious if anyone has dealt with such significant events in their lives? Typically, I’ve found, that those who have, have much empathy for those who’ve gone through similar things. Personally, I have a much easier time trusting someone who may have gone through something similar to what I have because of the equal ground we share. I’m not quite sure what my overall point is here but it seems, as Christians, we take pleasure in shooting our wounded. I think that we should not judge a man too harshly without walking a few miles in his shoes. Thanks.

    • Alma V

      I heartily agree with you. We need to show compassion and helping hand to our wounded and fallen brothers and sisters.

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  • http://www.jesussaidfollowme.org Greg Gibson

    David’s post is about how NOT to repent. Now let’s compare Ted’s “repentance” to these Bible characters who repented…

    “How to Repent of Your Sin”

    “I am unworthy…My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 40:4, 42:5)

    “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17)

    “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’” (Is. 6:5)

    “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk. 5:8)

    “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.” (Lk.7:6-7)

    “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” (Lk. 15:21)

    “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Lk. 18:13)

    “yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” (2 Cor. 7:9-11)

    Ted, have you ever really met the same holy God those Biblical characters knew?

    I’m not sure you’re as healed as you think you are. Just because a psychologist pronounced you healed doesn’t mean God pronounced you healed. When we’re truly healed by God, then we will stop proudly blaming, and start humbly worshipping.

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  • http://www.graceforlife.com Terry Rayburn

    I have followed the Haggard case for all these years, having written a blog post on it shortly after it happened.

    I removed the blog post a few years ago, because my mind changed regarding the sincerity of his “repentance”.

    My first “take” was something like, “Hey, give him a chance, don’t kick a brother when he’s down, blah blah blah.”

    But I’ve observed a lot in the intervening years, in Haggard and in the Church in general, concluding the following:

    1. Sadly, “the ministry” too often attracts what the world calls Sociopaths. (Sociopaths are characterized by a. a lack of conscience, b. narcissism, and c. a high level of intelligent ability to manipulate people).

    2. This is true, sad to say, because Christians are too often…no nice way to say it…gullible. Usually, this is because of a default setting of “love”, which is a great default setting, but unfortunately combined with biblical ignorance regarding doctrine of various kinds.

    3. I’ve never seen repentance BORN OF CONSCIENCE in Haggard, only a general admission of “wrongness” after getting caught. But admission of wrongness is not repentance at all if one justifies that wrongness in any way, or deflects personal sin, as David Murray points out.

    4. The saddest thing of all is that this Sociopathic tendency is rampant in Church leadership, from the smallest of little local church fiefdoms to the hugest of prominent ministries.

    If you doubt that, watch for the three [primary] characteristics mentioned above:

    a. a lack of conscience
    b. narcissism (often accompanied by fake humility, btw)
    c. a high level of intelligent ability to manipulate people

    And treasure your leaders if they exhibit the opposite:

    a. a tender conscience
    b. a self-less love for others
    c. a refusal to be manipulative to get what they want

  • David Kowalski

    Ted Haggard’s comment seems to me a bit like someone saying, “2+2=4 and 4+4=10. Am I right or wrong?” Haggard is right in saying he is to blame for his conduct but he does not stop there. He then blames his conduct on a non-specified, psychological issue that caused him to do the things he did. His real issue is supposedly psychological and not moral, and what he really, supposedly needed was therapy rather than correction. He then offers his time in therapy as a badge of honor and rebukes those who sought to correct him. He claims now to be “healed” of the unspecified, psychological malady he was a victim of that made him do what he did. He thus takes full responsibility for his victimization — which is psychobabble doublespeak.

    Unfortunately, many people in the church share Haggard’s views on immoral conduct being caused by a psychological problem that needs healing through talk therapy. They ignore the fact that this approach is a proven failure with recidivism rates that are deplorable. They also ignore the fact that their approach to changing behavior cannot be found in Scripture — a very odd omission from a book that is largely about such change if the talk therapy approach is really valid. I am in favor of counseling in such cases as Haggard’s but only if it is biblical.

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  • Stacey Campbell

    I have to say that I am so disappointed in this blog and its followers. Obviously, there are many Christians who divide the Bible and see the Old Testament as strict, harsh, and full of the Law, while the New Testament as grace, forgiveness, and love–as if God himself has a split personality. They tend to see the Old Testament as tough on sin, while the New Testament as soft on sin. It is very obvious where this blog lands.

    It saddens me that many on this blog, including the author himself, seem to come from a strictly Old Testament perspective. To suggest that someone who sins “will take a quiet and unpublicized place in the church of Christ for the rest of his life” fails to embrace any semblance of grace, forgiveness, and restoration. I can only be grateful that God did not view David this way, or Paul, or most definitely Peter. Not only is this a punitive and judgmental response, but simply unbiblical. God always calls for the full restoration of the person who has stumbled, no matter the sin, no matter the reasons, as long as the individual is submissive and repentant. God even restores the person to the prior position–and sometimes even more so–than what they had before…yes, even in the Old Testament (see 2 Chronicles 33).

    I can only be grateful that God does not treat me or others who sin like the ones on this site suggest.

    Greg Gibson, were you with Ted in the aftermath of his scandal? Have you read his journals to know how he cried out to God? To pass such harsh criticism on a man like Haggard for a situation that happened over 7 years ago without knowing him and without even having a conversation with him (including both David Murray and Terry Rayburn, apparently) is both irresponsible, inexcusable, and frankly, quite immature. I understand that this sort of writing drives traffic to our blogs and websites and articles, but as members of the same family of God, we can do better than this.

    But I suppose the image of an evil, unrepentant sociopath is simply more exciting than the truth.

    • Abram Hess

      Ms. Campbell, it seems almost inconceivable that Mr. Haggard’s fall wasn’t inextricably tied in with pride, self-aggrandizing, a hunger for fame, and a desire for the adulation of his followers. If that’s the case, then the fruit of his repentance will be to repent of pride, self-aggrandizement, fame, and the adulation of men, because he has publicly demonstrated that he is weak and susceptible to those temptations. Such repentance would require his complete exit from public life, his employment in a humble line of work, and his cultivation of his own obscurity. It is not vindictive to expect this of Mr. Haggard; rather, it is for his own protection and the protection of the church, to guard him from falling into the same sin again, and to guard the church from being betrayed by him in the same way again.

      The kind of repentance I described above are all things which are not yet evident in his life, which leads the discerning Christian to question the authenticity of his repentance. You’re right that repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation are the heart of Christianity; however, we are also commanded to no longer be gullible children, but to be mature men in our understanding and discernment. We are commanded to be gentle as doves, and shrewd as serpents. So please, make a shrewd estimate of Mr. Haggard’s repentance, and make a discerning judgment as to whether or not he has escaped his temptation to betray the bride of Christ (once again) in order to indulge his own lusts. It looks to me, and many others on this blog, like Mr. Haggard might just be up to his same old tricks. Shouldn’t we be wary?

    • Dann Youle

      As an evangelical man who was sexually abused as a child and who has struggled w/ a bisexual orientation as part of the “fallout ” I think this blog article and many of the comments have left out an important point. The point being that healing was needed for Rev. Haggard throughout both repentance and therapy. It seems to me like it may have been lacking on the repentance side. As far as restoration which affects a significant population within the Body of Christ, it seems like the restoration should come after a period of time, with a care team around the person-godly individuals who have walked with the fallen leader through their repentance and restoration process. When the Holy Spirit leads them to publicly restore the individual it should be lead by this team of godly individuals. The person who is be restored should humbly accept whatever limitations and accountability the leadership team feels need to still be in place-both for complete restoration and so the restored leader doesn’t have to “promote” themselves and convince people they’ve truly repented and restored. If the church leadership would bother to deal with Biblical restoration to it’s fullest extent, these questions wouldn’t still “hang in the air,” and they wouldn’t have to be on “public trial” for people to decide for themselves whether or not that individuals restoration is complete!

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