What sort of church am I projecting/perpetuating/participating in: reflections on Ted Haggard, me and all of our church families

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As business guru W Edwards Denning said: “your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you are getting.” In other words, if every third car rolls off the production line with bumpers installed upside down you don’t blame the bumpers. You’ve got a system this is unintentionally designed to produce defective cars. So what is this system we call 'the church' producing? And since I believe in the church and am part of the church more than that - what sort of church am I projecting, perpetuating and participating in? I want to look briefly at my own thoughts about the tragedy of what has happened to Ted Haggard, reflect on my own experiences of my struggles within one sort of church environment, finally explore with you what sort of church I now want to be involved with/in and asking you the same...

Unless you have been taking an internet fast for the last week you will know that the one story that has dominated church conversation, especially in evangelical circles is that of the revelations about Ted Haggard's life. Ted has stepped down from leading new life church and his sincere letter of apology was read out to his church family on sunday. His wife, Gayle, also wrote a graceful letter which was read out as well.

A story of why we all need to continually experience God's grace, love and forgiveness

However I felt about Ted's theology or ministry style seems to be irrelevant now in the face of this tragedy. Here is someone who's world had collapsed and its remains being poked through and gossiped about by the rest of the world. I feel immense compassion for the man, Gayle, his children, his church and the evengelical movement that he led and my prayers are with them and for them all. I see not a former church leader gone bad but a brother who is as broken as I am and in as much deserving of God's grace, love and acceptance as me, you or anyone else. Would you or I like our lives disected apart and all the darkness, brokeness, hurt and hypocrisy that we have done exposed to an equally broken world? All of us need the light and love of Christ to flood us and to continue to fill us, we are sinners and I for one have no stone in my hand.

Good out of bad

Spare a thought also for the evangelical movement, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), that Ted led as president. It is a time for reflection and introspection and I hope that they find leadership and direction to help them steer through these times. It takes all sorts of different churches to reach all sorts of different people and the evangelical movement is one that has done so much to make the gospel understandable and then communicates it very clearly. Both of these are two immense contribtions, amongst many, to the wider church and indeed it is why I am a Christian today. In one of the most hopeful and insightful comments on Ted, Rich Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs at the NAE, told the Press: ‘‘There is something good, believe it or not, that could come out of this. My hope and prayer is that this whole tawdry affair will lessen some of the vitriol that has gone on between gay rights activists and evangelicals.’’

The cracks in the machine []

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I genuinely feel sorry for Ted - he was a person torn between who he thought he was and who he thought he should be and found himself unable to be honest with with either camps.

I think he is merely another in a long line of pastors in the modern church who have been unable to be honest and unable to find a way of engaging in relationship with Jesus that is honest rather than trying to collect, pen in and defend truths (as he understood them to be) about Jesus and what it is to be a follower of him.

Which leads me back to the the quote from W Edwards Denning: "your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you are getting." Where have we gone wrong in the church that we can define all manners of orthodoxy, doctrine and truths of the faith but can not be honest about our own inner struggles?

Why I thought being strong meant not showing weak

I can empathise and understand something of the tearing feeling of Ted’s feelings - although I am not an denominational leader, a mega church pastor which must have further XXL pressures - or inded any sort of pastor, for years I had felt torn between my own sexuality and a life that I thought was the model portrayed in the bible. The thing that I struggled with the most is that I just couldn’t be honest for a long time about it. I felt if I was honest that i would be underminding the very truths i was trying to claim rather than actually let any of those truths be tested in my own life to see if they actually had a practical meaning/application - the so what of them if you will.

When I finally was inspired by someone’s courage to be honest with me and actually asked for people to pray with me to be able to start talking and praying with people about my internal conflict i experienced some life changing liberating outcomes - not least being that I decided i could no longer be a model of christianity where it needed me to be strong and going upwards on a path to greater glory for it to all hang together.

For me it turned out that my sexuality was the result of a vow I had made as a boy not to be weak/passive like my dad and had shaped not just my sexuality but also my ability to never admit I was wrong, to always want to be in control of the situation, to use whatever form of manipulation it took to get me in control. To have followed my sexuality then for me would just not have been a healthly lifestyle to have followed so I am in part glad that I did struggle with it, I did have something outside of me other than heh just do what feels good/right, just be who you are… who i was back then is a lot smaller person than I am now and no doubt who I am now will be a lot smaller a person than I am in another 10, 20, 30yrs time.

Weak is the new strong

Now it gets me a little angry to think I projected/ perpetuated/participated in a system where we ended up believing we need to live in denial to be a good Christian and to please everyone else. No more for me, I cannot live that sort of religious death sentence ever again. This is where grace smacks me straight between the eyes – to me that’s the whole point of grace that I don’t have to fake til I make it, I don’t have to look good on the outside as I die on the inside – that’s what is so radical about it, God loves us and accepts us where we are so we can be honest and open, we can take a deep sigh and say it is ok to be me, I have a hope of a future that can change but I am loved where I am.

So now I just feel sorry for Ted and everyone like him and me, where no one modelled for us that weak is the new strong and let us have the space/opportunity to be honest. You may not struggle with sexuality, maybe its theology, wonderin how you can honestly follow God in a postmodern world for instance, maybe it's something completely different or perhaps at the moment you don't feel a struggle at all. The good news is that we all share a Kingdom promise from Jesus that we can claim:

"Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

So for me I do not think that sorry, pity, compassion is not enough - what is the loving response here? Well for me it comes down to what sort of church do we want to belong to? One where weakness is ok? One where we can wear our imperfections on our sleeves? One where we can be honest with each other about our sorrows and trials, love each other, kick each up the backside when needed (spurring each other on) and one where we can confess to each other and pray. In the words of James:

"Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you've sinned, you'll be forgiven—healed inside and out.

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn't rain, and it didn't—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again."

Some thoughts on what I can do...

If this is a church we want to be part of, and I know I do, then where can we find it? Well I would suggest that we decide to try and be intentional about the following with each other:

1) we are all experience degrees of brokeness, sorrow and trials - we don't have to experience them alone. In Christ we follow a healer, a liberator, a friend as well as a King.

2) we are not called to follow Christ alone but as part of a community in our communities - it is as we reach out to each other in love and service that we often encounter Christ in our own hurt and brokeness.

3) it takes courage to be honest, sometimes we need to take a risk and be honest first.

4) we all will mess up - we therefore need to learn about being humble, open, gracious and teachable.

5) Love comes at cost - getting involved with people costs us our most precious commodity - our time (and wear big spurs :)

What sort of church do you want to project/perpetuate/participate in?

Those have been some of my thoughts - so what say you? What sort of church do you want to be in? What role are you playing to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem? How can we get there together and support each other? Please do share...

Paul Mayers