(Photo: Lifetree Cafe via The Christian Post)
In his third featured interview this year, former megachurch pastor Ted Haggard asks why it is so hard for the Church to live out its teachings on forgiveness and restoration, noting that the secular world is doing a better job at this than Christians.
"The differentiation between the Church and everybody else is that we should respond with restoration, healing, hope to people's sin condition, our sin condition. We're losing that right now," he argues in a new video interview with Lifetree Café, a Christian-based network of local discussion groups.
He expresses frustration over his observation that many celebrities – including Martha Stewart, Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, David Letterman – were restored by their secular organizations compared to Christian leaders, including himself, who do not receive restoration by the church.
Ted Haggard resigned as lead pastor of the 14,000 New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., following a drug and sex scandal with a gay prostitute in 2006. His self-admitted "sexual immorality" also forced him to leave the presidential post of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Now, a pastor of St. James Church in Colorado Springs – a new church he founded last year – Haggard griped about the hypocrisy of the Christian church in his conversation with Lifetree.
"I saw Jimmy Swaggert, who's been living fine for 25 years now since his scandal, and the Church still hates him," highlights Haggard in the interview. "The Church only believes in forgiveness and restoration for insignificant people because we can market it."
"The NFL's doing a better job at it. CBS is doing a better job at it. KMART is doing a better job at it,” he continues in his tirade. "Virtually every institution on earth is demonstrating that they are doing a better job at restoring people than the Church. And we're the only ones who market that we know how to do it. We are idiots. We are hypocrites."
What Haggard omits in his interview is that following the revelation of his scandal, the pastor did have a chance for recovery through a restoration program led by four ministers. Despite the overseers' indication that the recovery process could take years, Haggard reportedly quit 14 months into the program.
In a Feb. 2008 statement, New Life officials said "the process of restoring Ted Haggard is incomplete" and expressed their disapproval of his return to vocational ministry.
[Updated: Thursday, February 17, 2011]
Following the publication of this article, St. James Church executive pastor Phil Chamberlin contacted The Christian Post to dispute the restorative nature of the program..
"It wasn't a restoration agreement. It was a 'get out of town' process," said Chamberlin, a former New Life Church member.
According to the "Restoration Agreement" obtained by The Christian Post on Wednesday, Haggard and his entire family were to "permanently relocate outside Colorado;" he was not to engage in ministry; and he was to sign documents in front of church leaders to request churches that ordained or licensed him to revoke his ordination, licensure or certification.
Haggard was also to submit plans for a new career, sell his house, and to not step foot into New Life until he was allowed to by the Restoration Team and Overseers, the contract stipulated.
Out of the 12 requirements mentioned in the contract, only one line mentioned anything about Haggard receiving counseling or help. Line 5 said Haggard was to "participate in mental health therapy and related testing, twelve step programs, and spiritual direction" under the direction of the restoration team.
If they had helped restore Haggard, Chamberlin said "it would have been one of the most amazing events for the Gospel ever. Instead it became not that at all. It became, 'we got to get the sin out of the church.'"
In the Lifetree interview, Haggard also stresses that Christian leaders – just like everyone else – commit sin and are in need of grace.
"For some reason, we in the Christian movement have somehow gotten the idea that if they become a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, a megachurch pastor, a deacon, or an elder that they no longer sin. It's just not true," says Haggard.
"Everybody sins, everybody needs grace, everybody needs encouragement someday or another," he says.
Haggard's interview is part of Lifetree Café's forum topic next week, "Temptation: Why good men go bad." In the interview, Haggard talks about being sexually abused as a child and how that contributed to his temptation. He also addresses the characteristics of temptation and shares what has helped him since the scandal.
"Nobody knows what their temptations are going to be 10 years from now," the former evangelical leader contends. "When I was 40, I never dreamed I would have the temptations I had when I was 50 that led to the scandal."
Next week, participants of local Lifetree discussion groups will watch the interview and share their thoughts on temptation, forgiveness and the role of the church.
The Lifetree interview follows two recent appearances, his January appearance in a reality-style documentary, "Ted Haggard: Scandalous" on the TLC network and his shocking interview in the February issue of GQ magazine.
Lifetree Café was founded by Group Publishing founder Thom Schultz. The network is designed to bring people together to talk about how thought-provoking issues relate to life and faith, serve the community, and experience God through Jesus Christ.
For the week of Feb. 27, the topic of Lifetree Cafés will be on whether medical marijuana should be legalized.