rebelling against low expectations

Ted Haggard: The Destructive Power of Secret Sin


Ted Haggard: The Destructive Power of Secret Sin

Most of you are aware of the recent scandal surrounding conservative Christian leader Ted Haggard, who stepped down as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals and was removed from his position as senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs following recent allegations of a three-year homosexual relationship with a former male escort.

The details of the case have yet to be revealed. We should all avoid any foolish speculation or gossip. For now we know that Pastor Haggard has admitted sexually immoral conduct. That is all we need to know.

This situation raises profound questions for all of us who claim the name of Christ — for rebelutionaries in particular, because we aim to be the leaders and reformers of our own generation in the many different spheres of life — questions about hypocrisy, sexual sin, Christian leadership, and the right response to public sin and scandal.

We are affected both corporately and individually by this situation. It raises issues that a generation of future Christian leaders must be prepared to confront with unity, integrity, and commitment to biblical orthodoxy. But at the same time it is also a very personal reminder of issues that many of us already deal with in our own lives and in the lives of our friends and family members.

What We Can and Cannot Say

It is beyond Brett’s or my level of wisdom and experience to answer all of these questions and issues in a single post or even in a series of posts. Older (than us), wiser, and godlier men have already done so and we will be linking to many of those articles, blog posts, and sermons at the end of this post.

There remains, however, one particular lesson that we feel burdened to share with you all, and that is the destructive power of secret sin. Secret sin is not limited to any particular kind of moral failing, but sexual immorality and lust, whether heterosexual or homosexual in nature, is a common and destructive one.

Not only that, but it is common in both men and women. Experts across the country are coming to agree that lust is not just a “guy problem” — it’s a human problem.

With that in mind we would like to offer three principles demonstrated by this situation. Ted Haggard’s fall should not cause us to doubt the truth of Christianity, but should prove to us the danger of living an incomplete Christian life, where Jesus Christ is Lord everywhere but in our secret lives.

1. Secret sin will eventually destroy.

Ted Haggard was a true giant in the conservative Christian movement, yet there was a side of his life that he kept hidden. For many years that sin did not prevent him from pastoring a 14,000 member church, leading a national ministry, and counseling the President of the United States. Now everything he has is lost or threatened — his church, his ministry, his reputation and credibility, even his family.

It is crucial that we get this: We can be great Christian young people in public and still be harboring secret, deadly sin in private. Unless it is forsaken, through repentance and effective accountability, it will eventually destroy. It could be our jobs, our marriages, our families, our ministries, even our souls. We cannot serve two masters.

May God use this heartbreaking situation to teach us a vital lesson we might have missed otherwise: Lust is not a harmless pet that we can control, it is a monster that will destroy us if we don’t destroy it first.

2. Vague or inconsistent accountability is not enough.

Mr. Haggard says that he sought help in a variety of ways through the years, but that nothing was effective for him. Then, because of pride, he began deceiving the people closest to him because he didn’t want to hurt or disappoint them.

It is easy to drift into saying vague things like: “Yeah, I struggle sometimes. Every once and a while it gets really bad, but God is good.” Or the simple: “Yeah, I looked at some stuff this week.” Or maybe: “I’m doing really good,” just because you’ve stayed relatively clean since your last “bad” fall.

This kind of accountability is almost worse than nothing at all, because you can get the false idea that you’re safe just because you’re “accountable.”

History repeatedly proves that our sin will find us out. We will never regret being transparent about this issue. The longer we wait the farther we’ll fall. The sooner we confess, the sooner we’ll find freedom.

3. Not Moving Forward = Moving Backward.

Lust is never satisfied. You will never appease it. It is constantly pushing for more, pushing you deeper and deeper into sin, both in thought and action.

“When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me,” Ted Haggard wrote in a letter to the congregation of New Life Church. “As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe.”

If you’re not in accountability right now, you need to be. Lust loves lone rangers. We must all make a conscious commitment to take a pro-active role in the fight against sin.

Work with your parents to eliminate areas of weakness. For example: “There’s a loophole in our filtering service that gives me access to pornography. Can we close it or get a better service?” or “It is really hard for me when you’re gone on Wednesday evenings and I have the house and computer to myself. Can we change the login password and lock it before you leave?” or “Having the computer in the study makes it easier for me to get away with reading or looking at stuff I shouldn’t. Can we move it into the family room so you can see what I’m doing?”

Those are just a few examples of the kind of things we should be doing if we’re serious about this — and we’d better be. It might make doing certain everyday things harder, but it makes feeding lust harder, and that is far more important.

Here is a collection of some of the best posts, articles, and sermons on the issues surrounding the Ted Haggard situation that we have found helpful.

Letters from Ted Haggard and Gayle Haggard

Justin Taylor at Theologica, who has provided the best coverage of the situation that we have found, posts the letters from Ted and Gayle Haggard that were read to the congregation of New Life Church this past Sunday.

Just Like Ted Haggard?

Rick Phillips at Reformation21 breaks down what’s right and wrong (biblically) about both the “denounce Ted” and the “just like Ted” positions that many evangelicals have taken in response to the scandal.

The Scandal

Tim Challies reflects on his own sinfulness and the potential for similar “scandals” in the hearts of all mankind. A powerful and compelling article.

Ted Haggard and Homosexuality

Justin Taylor has compiled a post with many links, as well as lengthy excerpts from a message by Al Mohler addressing homosexuals and the church on the topic of homosexuality.

Further Reflections on Haggard and Sin

Carl Trueman at Reformation21 brings reassurance to Christians whose faith is shaken when their leaders fall and a warning to those who aspire to lead.

Homosexuality and the Bible

Justin Taylor links to an interview and lengthy treatise by Robert Gagnon, an Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, on the church’s historic understanding of homosexuality and the Bible.

Avoiding Sexual Sin

John Piper, in a paper written many years ago, shares some of the best counsel on the pitfalls and protections against sexual sin for Christian leaders that we have found.

Practical Suggestions for Christian Leaders

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle shares some very helpful and practical advice for Christian leaders, especially young men.

Strategies for Fighting Sexual Sin

John Piper presents twenty-six critical strategies for fighting sexual sin.

What Ted Haggard Has Taught Me About Sin

Bob Kaulfin at Worship Matters shares some excellent and Bible-saturated thoughts on Ted Haggard and sin.

Setting Captives Free

A highly-recommended course for anyone who struggles with lust or pornography. Includes courses for both heterosexual and homosexual temptation.

Safe Eyes: Internet Filtering and Accountability

The filtering and accountability service Brett and I use. Gives a great amount of flexibility, security, and instant accountability. Try it for free for 15 days.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • You make some good points about the entire Ted Haggard situation. I know several people who go to or used to go to New Life, and I know that many of the people in the church are devestated. I think this is because they placed Ted Haggard on some kind of pedestal, idolizing him really, and when they found out he wasn’t what they thought he was, they were crushed. We need to be careful that we don’t place anyone on a pedestal that only Jesus should occupy. We also need to pray for some of the younger Christians in that church, that this whole thing will strengthen their faith and that they’ll learn to rely on Jesus, not any human.

  • Um not ONLY did Haggard the hypocrite have sex with a male prostitute. He also used crystal meth. That’s a federal crime and the guy should be in prison. The fact that he was preaching and teaching to so many parishoners and so many children is really a shame. But it simply shows that none of these so-called “Christian” men are infallible.

  • Katie: Ted Haggard has committed serious sin. That is without doubt. However, the allegations that he committed physical adultery or used crystal meth are not confirmed. Unless (or until) they are, it is not our place to judge him on those counts.

  • As my mom always says, “If not for Christ, there goes I.”

    Here’s what my dad said. Yes, Mr Haggard has sinned. Yes, he will be held to a higher standard of judgement because he is in the public eye. However, if Mr. Haggar repents and turns away from his sin, he is forgiven by the same God that forgives our sins through Jesus Christ.

  • Thank you very much for this post and the various links; not so much because I’m interested in the Haggard case, but because the subject of lust and resisting temptation is such an important one. Through this post you’ve provided us with good support in our own struggles, and that’s a great thing to have done!

  • Thanks Alex,
    This has been such an intersting time for my school and the Christian Community in Colorado Springs. I don’t know how many times I have talked about or written about or thought about this whole situation. Im glad you took the time to write on this, because there are so many important lessons to be taken from this. You touched a lot on the secretiveness (Im not sure if thats a word) of his sin. I think that that part about this whole situation is so important and is often overlooked. At our youth group on Sunday night we discussed quite a bit and we did start talking about accountability. Its a great thing let me tell you! My closest friend and I have started a consistent time when we meet and share and pray. I think it may be hard for people because it puts you in a spot of vulnerability.

    But through this whole ordeal I have become so thankful for Gods grace and forgivness. I as well as my school have felt this in a hard way, but I think it has taught so many important lessons already. Well thanks for posting. I hope everything is going well for you and Brett! May God bless you and the work you are doing for Him!

  • Thank you for bringing out some of the warnings we can take from this very sad situation. I appreciated your last point; avoiding temptation often requires taking severe measures. Jesus pointed this out in the Sermon on the Mount, telling us to cut off hands or pluck out eyes that offend us (i.e., cause us to fall) and teaching that it is “profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matt. 5:27-32).

    Of course we should literally harm ourselves (that wouldn’t fix our hearts anyway); the message is that the habit of sin demands extreme counteraction. And truthfully, the willingness to put guards around ourselves has to come from a desire to know God – a desire to know Him by obeying Him, to obey Him by living holy lives. Frankly, accountability is rough – the discomfort and pain of tearing sin out of the heart, of bringing it not just to the surface but directly back to the eyes of those offended by it, and confessing it even when the offense was either long forgotten or never known…that is no party. Honesty with God is the first step, and the honest Christian must be prepared to become even more honest before God is through with him. I have a long way to go, and I’m certainly never incapable of falling as Mr. Haggard has, but the painful process of purity is worth it – very worth it. So thank you, Alex and Brett, for encouraging us to do the hard, but right, thing.

  • Wonderful series. I have been enslaved to a secret sin for over three years (Although not relating to this). When I finallt confessed it to my parents, only in that did I have the freedom to fight it. Sure it was himiliating…but for any of you who think you can overcome it yourself…you are wrong. I “repented” hundreds of times, but there is a battle over our souls and without the support of fellow believers you will never be able to conquer it. Please, take it from someone who tried to free herself for THREE years, and continually failed. Excellent post and links guys. I completely agree.

  • P,S, the freedom you have in confession and true repentance is more beauitful than you can possibly imagine! Praise you Jesus for freeing, and sticking with me, through years of self-deception

  • he ADMITTED to doing it. He has sinned. It is absolutely pathetic that these men who call themselves Christians will JUDGE other men for having homosexual relationships, then turn around and have their own.

    Use of crystla meth – again- is a federal crime. he should be in prison, not in rehab.

    • Choosing prison vs. Rehab, in some cases, is choosing solving the problem or carrying out a rule. The bible considers love the fulfillment of the law.

  • I really appreciate this post… Especially the way you stuck to the facts of the whole situation surrounding Ted Haggard. What you said about lust is so true. Secret sins are a detriment not only to ourselves, but usually, if not always, make a negative impact on many. It is so sad to see Haggard as a prime example of that… not only has he deeply hurt his family, but also the clergy and members of his church, and evangelicals nation-wide. The damage has been done.

    Thanks for this write-up as well as the helpful resources. God bless you.

  • Ted Hagaard was featured in “Jesus Camp,” the recent documentary film on Evangelical life in America. When I saw the film last month, before the news of his demise hit the public, I was struck by the arrogance that Hagaard portrayed. We now have only to pray for him and his family. AND I really like the way you two emphasize the ways in which small sins and attitude choices can lead to serious enormous downfalls. Our destiny is truly determinted by the smallest of choices.

  • Katie: Whether he admitted it or not, whether he’s done it it or not, we are commanded to love our betheren. I agree that it is a horrible example of christianity and I hate the thought of how thousands of unsaved people will see his example. But we have to trust that God will somehow use this for good, for His greater plan.

    MM: “Let him stands take heed lest he fall” You’re right. I bet he was arogant.

    We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

  • Just a clarification on my comment above – the first sentence in the second paragraph should say “shouldn’t”, not “should”. Sorry for any confusion. 🙂

  • The SafeEyes filter, though not perfect, is probably the best on the market. You can install it on up to three computers. I use it at home for me and the family and in my pastoral study at the church. the email accountability feature is VERY worthwhile. Just thought I’d give a pitch 🙂

  • I agree with all you said. I don’t think Haggard should have gone against his preaching and even lied about it; but unlike what Katie up there says, Christians shouldn’t be thought of as 100% hypocrites because of one man’s sin.

  • Hello friends, just another note on filtering systems- there is a really good one (I believe only available in Australia at the moment unfortunately) called webshield. It is not just a filter ontop of your service provider but rather a service provider with a filter (hence everything is blocked at the server so you cant just uninstall the filter). It has several options such as sites you want to be available and unavailable. A cut off (so after (E.G) 10 pm everynight the internet goes off). It also provides a three strikes and out filter. Finally it also provides its own email system which is carefully monitored. Alot of faith and hardwork has been put into the company so I hope it can be yet put to more good use. We realise of course that this is a filter and not an answer to the conscious so may we keep striving for perfection and judging in ourselves what we are doing.

  • Ive just recently heard of this, and it breaks my heart. Ted like any one of us is human, not that it makes light of this in any way, but if I was in his place I sure would pray that other believers would not throw stones but Love and by love I mean to pray for not judge.

    • Good point. We do sometimes assume that pastors and preachers have it all together, but no one really does.

  • this is so true!!!secret sins destroy the person that is bound to it in every possible way. i’ve experienced this in my own life and God released me through accountability. Until i didn’t confess my sin I went through spiritual ,emotional, physical, (even psychical) and relational torment. When I confessed I had the surprise to discover that that person had been through the same problem and I found love, understanding and encouragement. I thank God that He had mercy on me and while fighting with my sin and shame I experienced the power of prayer and of the verse “I can do all things through Christ”(Phillipians 4:13).
    Soli deo Gloria!

rebelling against low expectations

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