Community,Politics, and Pastoral Shenanigans


Election Day is only days away and news breaks of the Ted Haggard scandal, conveniently timed (as the whistleblower himself notes) to cause the most political fallout. 


We've been talking about community here lately, and while this post isn't part of the "Being the Body" series we're in, it's close. It's a tale about what happens when folks are removed from real community.

For the less media inclined, Ted Haggard, now the ex-leader of the National Association of Evangelicals and the ex-pastor of a huge Colorado megachurch, has fallen in some sort of scandal, causing him to resign both those roles. The allegations that brought Haggard down are unseemly, and I don't want to go into them here. But Haggard claims that some parts of them are true and, for the purposes of this post, that's enough.

The Godblogosphere is loaded with commentary on the Haggard situation. Everyone is weighing in with the reasons why this happened, but the analysis is the same tired lament focused on the usual suspects.

Recently, I reviewed a book by David Fitch called The Great Giveaway. One of the chapters dealt with pastoral sin, pointing the finger not so much at the pastors, but at the system we've created in our churches that sets the pastor apart as some kind of CEO, celebrity, or otherwordly figure with no ties to the rest of the church body. I believe that Fitch's analysis is far more accurate than what we're seeing discussed on the Godblogs.

A few points:

1. We've created a cult of celebrity around our most noted pastors. That kind of proto-idolatry only sets them up for failure because we no longer allow them grace to fail in the small things before they become larger.

2. Failure and sin are natural parts of the human condition. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, as we know. This includes our pastors, but we act as if it doesn't. Our mental disconnect sets up pastors for further failure.

3. Because of these factors, pastors find themselves separated from healing community. They cease to be fellow brothers within our church communities.

4. God institutes community for correction, even of leaders, yet our cult of pastoral celebrity destroys the natural workings of the correction. This places pastors outside the community and outside of the community's ministry TO them.

So once again, we see what happens when we do not allow the natural workings of godly community to police, protect, and encourage—even the pastorate.

While I do not condone what Haggard appears to have done, I'm not outraged. If anything, I feel sorry for what our kingmaker attitude has done to the pastorate. Unless we reform our communities, stop treating pastors as superhuman, get off our judgmental attitudes, and get back to recognizing that ALL the sheep have gone astray (not just some), we'll continue to see more high-profile pastors fall. We've got to be grace-filled communities that recognize the sin in our own leaders and allow them to receive grace from us, rather than blackballing them, stripping them of their ordination, and so on. With the constant threat of the "laity" turning on them like a pack of vicious dogs, pastors are all too likely to go into "coverup mode." No wonder the small sins wind up turning into monstrosities.

And don't believe that it can't be your favorite big-name pastor. I'm seeing a lot of people claiming their man is immune, all the while dancing on the ashes of Haggard's ministry. That's sickening, frankly. And unless we get wise to the fact our crippled views on community are what make stories like Haggard's possible, we'll continue to treat these pastors like they're a ruling class, rather than as sinful brothers in need of grace, just like we are.

We don't talk politics on this blog, but I wanted to drop that for one second to talk about this Tuesday's election.

I live in a state racked with pain. Ohio is in serious trouble. Our current Republican administration in this state is rife with malfeasance and failed agendas. The Republican governor has been an unmitigated disaster. His failures have resulted in Ohio being anathema to businesses of all sizes, driving many out of the state and attracting nothing to take their place. Now Ohio, the birthplace of more presidents than any other state, is in dire condition economically. We're the number one state for job losses, one of the worst of the worst signs of trouble.

I've noted in recent months through one of the series I did that I'm what they term a Crunchy Conservative. While much of what I believe politically sounds Republican, I oppose the Republican Party on many environmental, employment, and social issues.

This political season has underscored for me that we're drastically in need of some kind of reform in government. The Republicans don't represent the average family when they put big business ahead of the environment and small businesses. They don't represent the average family when they make all sorts of claims about supporting the family, but their final interest only comes down to supporting the richest one percent of families out there.

The Democrats, on the other hand, mouth some sort of allegiance to the little guy, but their party is responsible for supporting nearly every social evil imaginable.

And in the end, it seems like they're all liars anyway.

I believe that the same problem of making kings out of our pastors has soiled our politics. While politicians say they're part of the community, the community they're a part must only be millionaires and hedonists. I'm divulging no new truth here when I say that most people aren't like that. But the demographic on Capitol Hill doesn't reflect the common man out struggling to live in America 2006. It represents CEOs and loud-mouthed deviants.

My current rep is gung-ho about putting a nuclear waste site in a poorer area of the state not far from my home. Remember, I live in OHIO, not the Sonora Desert. She claims to be a part of my community, but I've got to wonder how any sane person would consider putting nuclear waste in a populated area with a high water table upstream from a major American city. I've got to wonder what PAC got to her and for how much. Isn't that sad?

She's a Republican. I don't know how I can vote for her, though. Her Democratic opponent supports a number of grievous moral sins. I can't vote for the opponent, either.

In short, no one represents most of the people I know in this district. Though they would vehemently protest my assessment, the candidates in this election aren't really part of our community. They're a part of some other class of people entirely who don't get us as much as we don't get them.

Sounds like some of the pastors in our churches, doesn't it?

I'm not sure what we can do about the problems in politics, but we can start doing a better job in our churches of allowing our pastors to fail in our community just as we ourselves are (or should be) allowed to. We need pastors who are like us, too, not outsider glamour boys who seem more attuned to politics than pulpits. 

10 thoughts on “Community,Politics, and Pastoral Shenanigans

  1. Dee


    I am in a similar political pickle here in Missouri. The situation is so bad that most of the literature and tv ads don’t even tell which party the candidate represents. Could it be they are ashamed to admit which party supports their candidacy?

    On top of all of that is Ammendment 2 – the so-called “ban on human cloning” which seems to redefine the term. Last week in our church folks from BOTH sides of the issue were debating the proposed ammendment to Missouri’s constitution which would guarantee the right (and tax dollars to support) fetal stem cell research and placing the cell nucleus from one cell into a human egg (hey, wait, isn’t this called “cloning”?) and allowing that egg to develop into an embryo that can be destroyed (hey, isn’t that called “murder”?) so that its stem cells can be harvested for research purposes. The proposed ammendment would prohibit the implantation of the embryo into a womb because THEN it would be called “cloning”.

    Even if we are disillusioned with the choices of candidates, we need to get out and vote.

    Pray for our nation!

    • Dee,

      Thieves or Deviants.

      Boy, that truly inspires me to vote!

      Truth be told, for the first time ever I decided this year to work for a candidate I truly think is outstanding, the Republican candidate for governor of Ohio, Ken Blackwell. He’s been one of the few consistently excellent politicians I’ve ever known. He oversaw the financial boom in Ohio many years ago as State Treasurer, plus he’s a rock-solid conservative. I agree with almost every position he takes.

      That said, when someone from his organization approached me several months ago, I told him that I was willing to do anything the campaign needed me to do. I’d call people, put up signs, organize events, anything. The only thing the guy asked of me? “Can you give us money?” When I told him that I was like many Ohioans in that I’d been hard hit by jobs leaving the state and the depressed economic conditions here, he asked me the question again and I told him I couldn’t contribute money, but would be willing to help out any other way. He said someone would get back to me.

      A month later I got another call from the campaign. They wanted money. I repeated what I told the previous guy. They told me some would get back with me.

      A couple weeks later I got another call from the Blackwell campaign. “Could you give money?” No, but I’d be willing to do anything the campaign needed to help get Blackwell elected.

      In short, the election is tomorrow and no one associated with Blackwell’s campaign ever had the sense to take me on. All they wanted was money. I could give everything else but that for a candidate I think is the best hope for Ohio. Nope, they didn’t want me. Didn’t matter that I’d never once before considered helping any politician.

      I suspect that Blackwell’s going to get killed on Tuesday. If so, he should blame his campaign manager for a large part of that defeat. The campaign never even bothered to send me signs to put up in my yard. I’ve seen one Blackwell sign within two miles of my home. That’s really sad. What a bungled opportunity.

      Needless to say, I’ll never be associated with a political campaign again, Blackwell’s or anyone’s.

    • Thabiti,

      You’re welcome. Thanks for taking the time to leave a nice comment. Have you read the book The Great Giveaway? It’s not perfect, but it has plenty to think about and act upon.

    • Francisco,

      Our pastor took considerable time to admonish people to vote. He didn’t take sides, just reminded us how important voting is. Still, even though the pastor said nothing about parties, I can tell you that almost everyone in our church will certainly vote pro-life, so you know what party that means.

  2. I suppose that when we treat pastors like rock stars, we shouldn’t be surprised when they start acting like rock stars. There is no moral growth in a spiritual vacuum.

    As to politics…The choices here in Tennessee were about as inspirational as Ohio. While we fortunately do not face a Nuclear Waste recycling depot (with it’s potential for “thousands of jobs!” Ugh.) The choice of a pandering conservative and a wolf in conservative clothing was, shall we say, a real bummer. The way the election process works in this country is so warped and twisted that it seems that the only people who can get their names onto the ballot are those who are best at prostituting themselves. They need money to pay for all those ads on TV, the auto-dialing companies that pester us unceasingly, and the bulk mail that fills our landfills. But how many of them can raise an army of volunteers who would go door to door and explain the candidates stand on issues, answer questions and rebut arguments.

    But wait, shouldn’t our churches work the same way? Shouldn’t our churches be raising armies of disciples who will go out into the world and explain the gospel, show people the hope that is within them, and convincingly argue the cause of Christ. Instead we get an offering plate and the latest “project” to draw people in to the body. Money is desired, not workers, numbers are desired, not converts.

    Is seems that our churches and our government have much in common.

  3. Bill Van Loon


    Thanks for the thoughtful and compassionate comments regarding pastoral shenanigans. I have witnessed the kingmaking to which you refer and I was a member of a church that had something simliar happen to what we have seen with Ted Haggard.

    I do have one brief comment and then I’ll go. While many of our congregations make idols of their pastors, pastors make choices too. Ted Haggard made a choice (most likely repeated choices) to sin. He wasn’t compelled. In the church to which I referred, the pastor made choices also and he wasn’t compelled. Was it the will to power? I don’t know.

    But here’s perhaps one more angle, one more dimension to this. What role did shame play in Mr. Haggards’ demise? We are so inclined to make kings of our pastors, there’s seemingly no room to address temptation and even sin an then the trap is set. The result is simply to hide it because for Christians and all our proclamations of how much we want and love the Light, we fear it; or better yet, we are afraid of Him. Too bad.

    In terms of the community about which you speak and in Ted’s case, the community missed an opportunity to help before it all started. I hope we don’t miss another one in helping restore a fallen brother.

    The peace of Christ to you.

  4. It’s not just the mega-church.
    Me thinks its a sign of the end-times. You know the scriptures.

    I was discussing with my wife about how many pastors in the 3rd wave movement have fallen into sexual sin. My theory is that those who constantly seek after emotional spiritual experiences – sensations – manifestations – most easily are attracted to other sensual experiences such as sexual immorality (and in this case drugs, although like Clinton, he did not inhale).

    My wife reads Tozer a lot and says that A.W. agrees. See his writings on spiritual gluttony.

    I don’t think its all about what he have made our pastors. I think its more about what they have made their god.

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