The Godliness of Shame

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Last week’s revelation that National Evangelical Association President Ted Haggard may have been involved in drug use and homosexual activity came days before Coloradoans go to the polls to decide whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal. While the political relationships of the scandal are clear to most people who are paying attention, what is not made clear by the secular media is how the scandal (if it can be called that) has demonstrated that when a biblical process of confrontation and restoration is followed, good things happen. In the case of Ted Haggard, his open shame is restoring him to godliness, and protecting the integrity of the church.

Haggard was exposed to public shame by male prostitute and apparent drug dealer, Mike Jones (who ironically does not seem to be under any public shame for being a male prostitute or drug dealer). On a Denver talk radio program Jones accused Haggard of engaging in monthly homosexual activity with him for three years, and helping Haggard acquire methamphetamine. Haggard immediately denied knowing Jones (a lie), that he used Jones’ services (another lie), or that he bought meth (a lie again). When gay prostitute Mike Jones revealed taped phone messages from Haggard seeking more meth, the jig was up. The timing of the revelations have lead to some speculation that Mr. Jones’ actions were politically motivated, a charge he denies. However, it might be answered, why does a drug dealing gay prostitute need to keep recordings of his phone messages anyway—to maintain a client list?

In less than a week, Haggard came forward through the encouragement of an overseer committee and confessed. In fact, though Haggard has not elaborated on the charges publicly except through a letter to his church, he has essentially confessed that the allegations against him are true and submitted himself to disciplinary and restorative measures by a group of evangelical leaders. Haggard’s days with NEA and his 14,000-member church may be over, but he and the men he are accountable to have demonstrated, thus far in the process, integrity (the early lies notwithstanding).

In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus gives the model Christians are to follow when confronting sin within their midst. The process is: private confrontation, if necessary semi-private confrontation, and if necessary public confrontation, all leading to restoration. The concept is not to bring a brother to open shame or simply be rid of him because of his sin or the sake of disagreement. The idea is to confront sin for the specific purpose of restoring that person. You hold out your hand to that person so that you can take hold of that person in forgiveness and compassion and not let go. Haggard was not confronted exactly according to Matthew 18, but no one expects a drug dealing male prostitute to use discretion. His board of overseers, however, did attempt to minimize the damage to Haggard by first dealing with things privately even though the sin was already exposed. They demonstrated what a friend of mine from Campus Crusade for Christ once told me is the whole point of Matthew 18: To confront your brother’s sin so that you can support your brother—not oppose him. Isn’t that what forgiveness is supposed to be all about? (“Love covers a multitude of sins” James 5:20).

Haggard’s ordeal is not over. He has some very tough days ahead as he wrestles with the shame and embarrassment of his behavior and the effect it has had on his family, church, and other relationships. Ultimately he has the absolute assurance that God has forgiven him and that his love for him remains unchanged. If Haggard continues on the course now set before him that love will restore his testimony for Christ, though sadly, he like King David will always bear a mark of reputation for his public fall.

Without wanting to dwell too much on Haggard’s issues, the real point here is not how Ted has handled things—it’s how his church handled it. By following the prescription of Matthew 18 they have diffused scandal, maintained integrity, and “turned a sinner from the error of his way” (James 5:20) so that they can support him. They are a model for the church at large, and especially ministry leadership on how to handle the confrontation of sin in a loving matter that will restore a person completely. Sin really is a terrible thing, but no matter how minor or how awful, it need not keep brothers from dwelling together in unity (Psalm 133:1, Colossians 3:13-14).

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