Saturday, February 14, 2009

It didn't have to be this way.

While traveling last week and flipping through the TV channels in my hotel room, I saw an ad for an HBO documentary entitled "The Trials of Ted Haggard". I decided to stay up and watch it. The maker of the documentary had previously filmed and interacted with Haggard when he was riding high as pastor of New Life Church and president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Now the filmmaker returns to chronicle how Haggard, his wife and his children are adjusting to life after his fall from fundamentalist favor due to his alleged drug use and homosexual activity.

We see the Haggards, broke and broken, traveling around the Southwestern U.S., staying in cheap motels and in the guestrooms of stranger's homes. Ted tries to find work but his career as a pastor has left him completely ill-equipped for employment outside of the church. He eventually gets a job selling life insurance door-to-door on straight commission and actually loses money.

Haggard comes across as naive, pathetic, depressed and perhaps suicidal, but still trying to put on a happy face and unconvincingly mouth positive-confession platitudes. Watching the documentary provides the same feelings one gets when slowly driving by a bad accident on the highway. One has to assume that he allowed himself to be filmed in this condition because he needed the money.

The truly tragic part is seeing how much of the Haggard's misery is caused by the walls of shame that they have allowed themselves to be trapped within. They have been ostracized by the Evangelical powers and by the church community they founded, and have been sent out into the wilderness to fend for themselves. It reminds me of an old saying that the Christian church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.

The truly sad part is that it doesn't have to be this way. There are people and churches and communities that would embrace the Haggards--just as they are. I think of similiar journeys by Mel White (who came to accept his homosexual orientation) or Carlton Pearson (who was cast out of the Pentecostal in-crowd because he believes that God will ultimately save everyone). Both of these men came through the wilderness to find a brave new world of people outside of the Evangelical fortress who welcomed, loved, accepted, enfolded and appreciated them. They found refuge in communities made up of broken people who are tired of acting like they have it all together.

My prayer for the Haggards is that God leads them to such a community and that they would be able to drop their baggage and allow themselves to be accepted and loved without any pretense or condition.


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