When news came out about the sordid details of Ted Haggard’s private life, an evangelical friend of mine remarked, “What worries me is that this will make people more jaded about evangelicalism.”
But, you know, what really disturbs me is not so much what Haggard did. Rather, it’s that a lot of evangelical pastors don’t give people the space to be human. “You have to forgive this person.” “Don’t lust.” “If you feel this way, then you don’t really love God.” “If you were truly on fire for God, then you’d be excited about this!” “Get along with your spouse, for the fruit of the spirit is love, patience, etc.”
Look, people have very real internal and external problems, and many evangelicals assume they can be solved simply by going to the front of the church and crying during a prayer.
The problem is that a lot of the pastors saying these sorts of things have many of the same problems themselves. They struggle sexually, or they have a hard time getting along with certain people, or they haven’t laid aside all of their resentments. Who are they to lay heavy and impossible burdens on others, when they fail in the same areas that we do?
I like evangelical pastors who talk like we’re all on a journey of spiritual growth together, who give me new ways of looking at things. Rather than saying, “Do this, or God won’t bless you,” the pastors I like explain why something is right, and how to do it. They may even acknowledge that they have a long way to go, while also talking about their spiritual progress. That too can be helpful.