Monday, November 06, 2006

Secrets: Addiction's Not So Secret Weapon

Ted Haggard has confessed to a struggle his whole adult life that has now destroyed his ministry and his reputation. In my last post I was pretty hard on Ted's friends and accountability partners. Over the weekend it came out that he intentionally deceived all those people driven by guilt over the dark truth about his addiction. Addicts are secretive, shame filled and often very successful people. No one can convince me that President Bill Clinton wasn't a sex addict. He is also one of the most effective politicians in this modern era. Ted Haggard is one of the most successful pastors, much the same as Jimmy Swaggart was a generation ago. He, too, fell prey to his secret sexual addictions.

This "moral failure" in Ted's life has nothing at all to do with sex. It has to do with the self-protective mechanism of addiction. Built into people in childhood, addiction is the human response to traumatic events. It's a deformed, unhealthy coping device that comes booby trapped with enough shame and guilt to keep a person from seeking real help and learning healthy ways of dealing with life. An addict truly believes the urges and behaviors they resort to in response to the challenges life throws at them are so awful and outside acceptable human norms that they can never admit them to anyone lest they be shunned by all humanity. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it's true. Just read Ted Haggard's apology letter to his congregation. You can tell he held onto a dark secret for his entire adult life, thirty years, rather than confess it to someone. He allowed that secret to destroy him in an ugly and public way rather than confess it privately. I believe in the power of secrets and addicts have secrets they are convinced will destroy them if they don't keep them hidden. The irony is, in keeping the secret such damage is done that, eventually, their greatest fears are realized.

I'm excited for Ted Haggard. Although he has been destroyed publicly, God will use this to restore him as a human being. I promise you that he had lost his humanity to his addiction(s). Now he has a chance to be whole. The power of his dark secrets has been destroyed. Secrets thrive in the darkness and die in the light. I pray for Ted that he has the courage to drag all his secrets into the light. I pray that for you, too, and that you heed the cautionary tale of the pastor who fell from the top of the world.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Here We Go Again

Once again a high profile Christian leader has publicly embarrassed himself and, by association, the church. This isn't going to be some scorching diatribe against Ted Haggard. I have no interest in adding to the pain and humiliation that he will experience because of his incredibly poor decisions. No, this is a chance to once again point out that church is an incredibly dangerous place. Often it is most dangerous for those in leadership. Interestingly, Ted appeared to have done things right. He had a four member oversight board and he had accountability partners. He also served as the lead pastor to a congregation of over 14,000 people, served as head of an organization representing 30,000,000 Christians, had national fame and recognition and the ear of the President of the United States.

How many of you can honestly say that wouldn't go to your head? I can't begin to understand the pressure that comes from having your Christian faith and walk in that kind of spotlight. I'm not excusing Ted Haggard even though I'm sure he came under some pretty vicious spiritual attacks. His situation does make me wonder who was watching out for him. In my experience pastors are often the lonliest people in the church. They are revered (hence the name Reverend) and respected and often avoided. People are often intimidated by "men of God" feeling they don't measure up and fear offending the pastor. So they avoid the pastor. Every pastor can tell you stories about being out with people when someone lets lose with a swear word or an off color joke then turns to apologize to the pastor as if they'd just ruined their chance to get to heaven.

Everyone wants their pastors and church workers to be healthy. I guarantee not a single person at Ted Haggard's church is enjoying this weekend. In my years as a church worker many people would tell me that I should take care of myself. They wanted me to spend time with my family, take my vacations, find time to play and not be overwhelmed by the job. With very rare exception, however, no one ever actually did anything to see that I followed through on their encouragement. In church work the truth is, if you show up on Sunday morning, make a few meetings during the week and put on a happy face when people are around, you can do whatever you want most the rest of the time. That combination of trust, respect, freedom and personal avoidance can leave a pastor awfully lonely, lost and vulnerable. Not everyone handles that well. Not everyone makes healthy choices when it comes to dealing with those feelings. Pastors are not immune to making bad choices...even great pastors who seemingly have the world by the tail. Emotional pain can do incredible damage in the life of someone with malformed coping mechanisms.

It's no longer acceptable, as if it ever was, to honor, revere and avoid our pastors as if they somehow live above the fray of human existence. Maybe if we got to know our pastors as people we could hold them accountable for the little things along the way and avoid the big disaster that puts their name on the front page of the paper. I don't know Ted Haggard at all and I don't know if he had any close friends who were watching out for him. But, if he did, I have to wonder why at least one of them didn't see this coming. The church needs to find healthy ways to care for our pastors and protect them...even from themselves!